Archive for the ‘food’ category

New Zealand: Arthur’s Pass National Park

March 27th, 2011

Many abject apologies for the total lack of blogging recently.  We had some server difficulties which made it impossible to access pictures for about a month. Things are back online now, and there should be more frequent updates!

After leaving Abel Tasman National Park on Christmas Eve, we drove south through the interior and finally along the west coast…..and drove, and drove, and drove.  The south island is far less populated that the north island, and this is evidenced by the total lack of traffic, the overabundance of sheep and cattle, and the one lane bridges, (more on these next time).  Our destination was Arthur’s Pass National Park. The weather was volatile, as usual, but we did get some partial clearing and a rainbow or two along the way.

After turning away from the coast, and heading back towards the center of the island, we were aiming straight for the Southern Alps.  This is the mountain range that runs the length of the south island.  It is large, remote, wild, virtually uninhabited and has very few passes over it.  As you may have guessed, Arthur’s Pass is one of them.  Eventually, we started our climb up through the mountains.  It was late in the day, and a mist and fog was laced through the valleys and snaked around the peaks.  We started looking for Gollum to poke his head around the next jagged rock outcropping looking for the One Ring.

We finally arrived at the tiny village of Arthur’s Pass, and tried to seek out a Christmas Eve service.  As it turns out, the tiny chapel in town only has services on Sunday mornings, and Christmas is no exception.  So no Christmas carols for us.  This was  a pretty big blow for me.  I had never been away from family before on Christmas, and never missed the Christmas Eve church service.  To me, it’s an integral part of Christmas, and I wasn’t going to get it this year.  There were tears and I threw a pretty big pity party for myself.  Luckily, I have an amazing husband, who not only dealt with the pity party, but had a BACKUP PLAN.  The backup plan, aside from heroically offering to drive another hour back to civilization after we had already set up camp and night had fallen, was to bust out dinner and the laptop.  While I moped, Tom chopped vegetables for pasta sauce.  Now remember, we were camping, so making nice food is a bit harder.  We had a very yummy dinner of pasta with fresh veggies, which helped lighten the mood.  To top it all off, Tom had loaded a bunch of Christmas movies onto the laptop that we brought with us, and we watched Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer and Charlie Brown’s Christmas. As silly as it sounds, eating yummy food and watching fun movies really did make Christmas Eve special.

The next morning, we had our own little mini-Christmas with presents that we had painstakingly brought all the way form home to exchange on Christmas morning.  Tom got me a two person travel game that we played throughout the rest of the trip called Mr. Jack Pocket.  I got him a new pair of underwear!  Hey, I knew it would be about half way through the trip when we exchanged gifts, and I wasn’t exactly sure what the laundry situation would be.  It was nice to have a bit of Christmas, even if it was sunny and very far from home.  (The photos of Christmas Eve and Day aren’t fantastic…but they do tell the story!)

After our oh so delicious breakfast of Cadbury “breakfast bars”, we headed out to the ranger station. For long, strenuous hikes, the rangers like for you to register your intentions, so that if you don’t come back, they know where to go looking for you.  The ranger station was open for only 20 minutes due to the fact that it was Christmas Day, so we needed to be prompt.  When researching the hikes for our trip, the one consistently mentioned in the Arthur’s Pass areas was the Avalanche Peak Trail linked with the Scott’s Track to make a loop.  Now, the Avalanche Peak Trail was considered “very challenging” and the Scott’s Track, “moderately challenging”.  Since it was December and we were feeling a bit out of shape, we decided to go out and back on the Scott’s Track.  This was our first experience with the fact that Kiwis TOTALLY understate the difficulty of their trails.

We knew we were in trouble when the “trail” seemed to be more or less a stream bed, complete with rocks, roots and boulders.  In fact, the word “trail” is a bit of an overstatement of the situation actually.  However, it started in lush beautiful forest full of weird looking plants and more fern trees, so at least we had nice scenery to look at as we hoofed it up and up and up.  Eventually we broke the tree line and were rewarded with jaw dropping views of the valley below and the mountains above.  The higher we climbed, the better the views.  We were right in the middle of the island, and had quite dramatic vistas where the mountains dropped off to the east and west, and where they climbed further to the sky towards the south.  Magnificent.


The higher we got, however, the more exposed the trail was, and the wind was really whipping.  There was some rain forecast to come into the pass in the afternoon, and we could literally watch the storm starting to come in from the west coast.  Eventually it got a bit too windy for this red head, and I called for a lunch stop to reassess our situation.  After dining on sandwiches and chicken flavoured chips, (yes, that’s a real thing, and yes, they are delicious), we decided that the summit was just not in the cards for the day.  It was still over a mile away with probably another 1,000 ft of elevation gain, and we could see the rain coming.  I think Tom would have been up for it if I was willing, but he wasn’t too fussed about turning around.  The views had been amazing, and we were ready to call it a day.

After our decent, the rain began, and we took refuge in the town of Arthur’s Pass on the front porch of a convenience store, which conveniently, (hehe), had wifi that we could use to call our parents via Google Voice.  Crazy technology these days!  While we rested our aching feet, we were visited by several curious kea.  These are the indigenous alpine parrot that lives in the Southern Alps of New Zealand.  They are incredibly intelligent, very curious and often quite mischievous.  They have been known to rip open tents, carry off hiking boots and unzip backpacks to get at hiker’s hidden treats.  They’re fun and quite beautiful.  It was fun to watch them fly and climb around.

We spent one last evening in Arthur’s Pass before heading back to the west coast.   Up next, Franz Joseph Glacier, Queenstown, the elusive kiwi bird and even more rain!  Stay tuned!

Making Blackberry Jam

October 22nd, 2010

It all started when I thought it would be a good idea to buy a flat of blackberries.  They were a deal, and I was able to bargain (!) to get a lower price.  So then we were stuck with all.these.blackberries.   Right.  Not to be discouraged, I exclaimed “Let’s make jam!”  Tom and I have made jam before, and it’s usually a sticky, messy good time.  However, in the past, we have never had the quantities of berries that we were faced with this time.  This was going to require two batches of jam making to happen at the same time.  Now, this wouldn’t be a problem on a normal 4 burner stove, because you would have one burner for each pot of berry mixture, and one burner for steralizing your equipment and one burner for processing the jars.  Here’s the rub:  we only have two burners.  Oh, and this weird induction plug in thing that kinda acts as the third burner.  But no fourth.  Hm.

We started out by cleaning all the berries and crushing them, four cups at a time in one of our larger pots.  We added kind of a lot of sugar, but it’s tastier that way.  Then we boiled the mixture, finally adding pectin at the end.  Then we poured this liquid magma like stuff into jars that have been steralized, added the canning lids, and dropped them into a boiling water bath for processing.  The jars came out sealed like magic.  At least, this was how the first batch went.  Nice and smooth.

   

 

However, we had to start the process all over again with the second batch about midway through the first batch.  About the time that the boiling mess of blackberrysugar needs pectin and pouring, the other blackberrysugar mess needed to go on the stove.  There were not enough burners, and very few places to put things because once the jars and utensils are sterilized, we try to interact with them as little as possible.  It was a three ring circus of blackberry jam. 

We did get both batches finished and canned though, with only one jar that didn’t seal correctly, but that’s not too bad, because we’ll just use it!  Oh, and for “clean up” we may have wiped the left over jam out of the pot.  It might have been amazing.

 

 I like how cute the jars look all lined up.  If you’re good, you might end up getting of of these for Christmas! 

Tom’s SURPRISE Party!

August 23rd, 2010

 

Tom and I had a wonderful time celebrating his birthday together, but I knew that he would want a party with all of his friends as well.  Several months ago, I contacted pretty much everyone we knew to see who would be interested and available to come to a surprise birthday party for Tom.  I also solicited ideas about where and when we should have the party. We decided on the weekend following his birthday,  and decided to have a big camping party.  In college, camping parties were a staple, and I figured it would be a nice throwback.  So I rallied the troops, roped some folks into helping out, and jumped into party planning mode with both feet.  It was not easy keeping the secret from Tom, and there were MANY logistical details to work out and coordinate, but with lots of help from friends, and some good luck from the weather gods, I was able to pull off the surprise. 

  

 

We ended up camping at Penrose Point State Park, which is south and west from Tacoma.  I reserved three campsites, and got as many people to come as possible.  Folks arrived around 4:00 to start setting up tents, food and of course, booze.  Tom and I arrived a little after 5:00, and everyone was there, waiting at the site, with party hats and noise makers.  He was totally surprised.  It was wonderful! 

 

We spent the evening with our friends, laughing, drinking, and grilling.  There was a dinosaur cake, cheese balls, snacks and many grillables.  There was a whole picnic table for drinks.  There was swimming in the ocean, and staying up late talking around the fire.  I was so glad that everything came together in the end, that so many of our friends were there to celebrate with Tom, and that he was, indeed surprised.  Thank you so much to all of our friends who helped out!  It was great!

Happy Birthday Tom!

August 22nd, 2010

On August 11th, Tom turned 30!!  Since we’ve both had a very busy summer, he decided to take the day off so we could enjoy it together.  We started the morning with a cupcake party!  The previous day, SIL Suz came over, and we proceeded to make 30 cupcakes, in three different flavors, (ten of each flavor).  It was chaos, with two stand mixers going, and flour flying, but we got them finished, iced and hidden before Tom came home.  The next morning, I set the cupcakes up in the number 30 followed by a !, and surrounded with Reese’s Cups, his favorite candy.  It was so cool. 

 

Cupcakes were followed by presents.  He got lots of pretty cool presents this year, including some handmade pillows from his mom, a Lego headlamp from his sister, a GPS from my mom and Charles, and finally a Lego Star Wars set set,  one of our pictures if Mt Baker printed on canvas, and tickets to see The Waifs from me. 

 

 

After present time, we went for a hike!  We wanted to do a hike which wasn’t too far from home, as we had to get back in time for the concert that evening.  We decided on Snow Lake, which is a short, fun, flower-filled hike on the I-90 corridor not too far from the house.  We had great weather that day, lots of sunshine.  Even though it was the middle of the week, there were still a fair number of folks on the trail, but it’s a popular route, so we weren’t too surprised.  We had a yummy lunch, (complete with cupcakes!), at the lake, took a quick dip, and headed back.

 

 

After cleaning up from the hike, we headed into Seattle.  The concert was at The Triple Door, which is this neat venue that shares the building, (and the kitchen), with one of Seattle’s ymmiest restaurants, Wild Ginger.  The deal with this venue is, you arrive early, eat dinner and have some drinks, then the musicians come on stage.  It’s like dinner theatre, except with music instead of theatre.  The band, The Waifs, is a folk/rock band from Australia that we both like.  The show was excellent!

 

  

Tom’s birthday was a very fun, long day, that he seemed to love.  Happy Birthday Tom!  Here’s to many more!

Little did he know, there was still more fun waiting from him that weekend…

What’s Cookin? Pasta Salad!

August 17th, 2010

So it’s been like a gazillion degrees around here for the past few days.  Now, I know that I’m from the south, and all of you VA readers are probably laughing at my weak sauce, west coast, can’t handle the heat, wimpiness, but y’all have AC so you can shut it.  For the past few days, it’s been around 90 degrees.  IN OUR HOUSE.  Right.  So I decided I would no longer cook.  Too hot, too much stuff, and again, too hot.  But…then I got hungry.  And so did Tom.  So it seemed that I needed to provide food for us after all, since we’re trying  to be healthier, and really, eating cheese balls out of the can does NOT count as a meal.  Or so I’m told.

So I made pasta salad.  The only cooking involved was the 8minutes it took to boil the pasta.  Sweet.  I adaped this recipe from the Tasty Kitchen by adding a carrot form our garden and an extra green pepper, and also left out the tomatoes…cause I dont’ like them.  It resulted in a wonderful, cool meal we could eat on our porch.  Win.  Plus, look how pretty!

Recipe (please disregard the fact that there is a zucchini in the ingredients photo, I didn’t end up using it):

1 box Acini di Pepe pasta, cooked and cooled

1 green pepper, chopped

1 orange pepper, chopped

1/2 red onion, diced

1 carrot, chopped

about a 1/4 cup of mixed olive oil and balsamic vinegar – (to this I also added about 1/2 tsp of oregano, garlic powder and a pinch of black pepper)

Mix it all together and allow to cool in the fridge for about an hour. 

Add grated parmesan to the top if you like that kind of thing.  I know I do.

Mom and Charles Came to Say Hello!

August 13th, 2010

 

Two weekends ago Mom and Charles came out to the northwest neck of the woods for a few days.  It was great to see them, since they live so very far away.  We’ve been really lucky to have seen lots of family this summer, and to show them many of the wonderful things we love about living in Washington.  The thing we wanted to do most with them was take a hike.  As you know, Tom and I love to hike, and to explore the wild places around our beautiful state, and we really wanted to share this with them.  We headed up to Mason Lake, which is on the Ira Spring Memorial Trail out in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness.  It was cloudy and cool in Seattle that day, but after we were hiking for a while, we got above the clouds and into the sunshine.  The weather warmed up and Tom and Charles even took a swim in the lake!

 

Another highlight of their trip was venturing into Seattle, and visiting the Olympic Sculpture Park for a picnic,  as well as Pike Place Market.  We packed a great lunch and were able to “use” some of the art as our picnic table.  (Don’t worry, it’s allowed.)

 

 

Tom also prepared a wonderful dinner, which we shared with friends.  It’s great to have our house filled with our friends and family, it’s one of our favorite things of all.We had a great time with Mom and Charles on their visit!  We hope to get them back out here soon!

Where have you BEEN?

July 27th, 2010

Oh wait, I’m the one who’s been MIA.  Sorry about that.  I wanted to come by and say hello, I really did, but things kept coming up, arriving, demanding my attention.  But never fear, I’ve got photographic evidence to prove it!  So here is the bitzcrieg version of the past few weeks, since apparently I don’t have time to expand on the individual topics.  (I still may, but we’ll see)

First there was our anniversary trip to eastern Washington.  Summer in Seattle doesn’t show up until July 5th, apparently, but we wanted SUNSHINE for our anniversary.  So we headed east of the Cascades to the Dry Falls, Grand Coulee Dam area. We toured the dam, did some hiking, drove through enchantingly green fields, watched the fireworks and had the Safeway 4th of July special dinner – 8 piece fried chicken and potatoes, complete with cokes, for under 10.00.  We’re just that classy.  The trip was really fun, and we did find the elusive day star.

 

 

The following weekend, we headed north to British Columbia and Vancouver Island for our friends Cory and Haiyan’s wedding.  They live in China, so getting to be there for their wedding was extra special.  They were married in a small ceremony on the beach in Parksville, BC.  At low tide, the beach stretches out for what seems like miles.  B, E, and little baby S were there too, and it was little S’s first time in the ocean.  She liked it until she tried to eat the seaweed.  The weather was deliciously warm, and we spent two days in the area soaking up the sun and spending time with good friends. 

 

     

 

A few days after Cory’s wedding, Tom’s parents arrived in Seattle!  We’ve had some great times with them, including taking the Theo Chocolate tour.  Oh wow, if you like chocolate, and live anywhere near here, you HAVE to go.  You learn about chocolate while EATING CHOCOLATE.  How can it get any better than this?   We have also enjoyed making yummy family dinners and taking a long weekend trip to San Juan Island.  (I will probably have more to say about this in a later post).  While at San Juan, we visited English and American Camps, a lavender farm, an alpaca farm, and had some lovely picnics.  Oh, and we stayed in an Airstream.  It rocked.

 

 

 

While the in-laws have been here, they have spent some time with Suz, the sister-in-law.  While those three were out gallivanting on the Olympic peninsula, Tom and I used the downtime to catch up on things around the house, and to take a GORGEOUS hike down to Mt. Rainier.  I’m totally out of shape due to lack of working out and an overabundance of homework, and was feeling totally intimidated by the hard hike Tom wanted to do.  Because he’s awesome, we agreed to go down to Mt. Rainier instead, and hike around the Paradise area.  It felt good to get out, as I have felt quite stifled by our busy schedule of late, and have not been coping well.  While all the activities we’ve been doing are fun, I feel spread incredibly thin.  It feels like I’m doing everything at once, but nothing well, and am not doing a great job of being present in the moment.  What can I say, I’m working on it.   And before this sounds too much like complaining, I want you to know, that I know how blessed I am in my life, and how lucky I am to have all that I do. 

 

What’s Cookin’? Spring and Early Summer

June 29th, 2010

We’ve been doing a lot of cooking around here recently.  I’ve been relying on old standards such as The Pioneer Woman, Joy the BakerSmitten Kitchen,  Williams Sonoma, and, of course, Martha.  Tom’s been doing some cooking too!  Well, he mostly just cooks one thing.  Pizza. But man, does he cook pizza!  Seriously folks, I’m spoiled for life because of this man.  Here’s a peek at some of the delicious things that have been coming out of our kitchen…

 

In order from left to right, Chocolate Dipped Macaroons, (which I whipped too much and they turned out like meringues, which was NOT a bad thing), Blueberry Crumb Bars, and Two Chocolate Endpaper Tart, (ah, Martha). 

 

 

Fresh Veggie Soft Tacos, (with greens from our garden), pizza makings, (we LOVE prosciutto), Caramelized Onion Red Pepper Prosciutto Pizza, and Caramelized Onion Prosciutto Pizza.  Oh my, if you like pizza, you need  to make that last one.  Did I mention that we like pizza?   And cured meat products apparently, (sorry vegan friends). 

Since it is now summer time, and our garden and farmer’s markets are in full swing, expect more food posts to involve local food!  Yay!

Summer Camp For Grownups

June 24th, 2010

Last week, Mom and I set off for southern Utah.  That’s right, we went to the desert in the summer.  We were bound for Red Mountain Spa, a “fitness spa”, where we could basically play all day, meet nice and interesting people, and eat delicious food.  It was sweet.  And really hot.  But pretty much just sweet.  I arrived on Wednesday on a harrowing flight from Salt Lake where things were flying around INSIDE the plane, and I was failing miserably to stave off a panic attack.  “Don’t worry, it’s like this all the time”, assures the stewardess, which really makes me question her sanity.  But anyway, after finally arriving alive in St. George, I was greeted by a very nice man, and toted back to the spa with another guest, T, who would become one of our buddies for the week. 

 

Red Mountain is incredible.  It’s rust colored buildings blend in nicely with the red, browns, oranges and yellows of the surrounding desert landscape.  The resort its self backs up to Snow Canyon State Park, nestled within  soaring red rock outcroppings.  Gorgeous.  Around the resort, there are many species of native desert plants, (and some not so native, but pretty, so it’s ok), including the barrel cactus, which I had never seen before, but was very cool.  And spiky.  I had borrowed the 100mm Canon lens from friends back home and had a blast taking macro shots of all the interesting plants on the property. 

 

 

Every day is busy and full at the spa, but only as busy and full as you want it to be.  We began every morning with the guided hiking tours led by Jack and Jill, (yes, I’m serious).  Now, if you read this blog, you know that I hike a fair bit, and while I’m not in the shape I’d like to be right now, I still feel like I know what I’m doing in a pair of boots.  These hikes, especially the one where we went straight up the rock face, had me huffing.  I could give the litany of excuses: it was hot, there were no switchbacks, there was no shade, IT WAS HOT!  Honestly, though all of these things are true, and do have a real impact on performance, I think I just need to work out more.  So.  More cardio on the horizon.  Truly though, I loved the morning hikes.  They were my favorite part of the trip, especially since I got to hike with Mom!

 

 

We would arrive back from the hikes around 10, since the sun gets so intense after that.  There were any number of activities we could chose to do then, yoga, stretch, water aerobics, etc.  Each day, however, we went to cooking class!  Sous Chef Mike taught these one hour classes, and they were different every day.  We learned about different types of grains, green smoothies, drank Mormon Tea, and generally sat in awe of his awesome knife skills.  Seriously, I’m jealous.  I want to wield a knife like that.  Our places had little name tags for us every day too, making us feel very important.  Later in the week, I “worked” with Sous Chef Mike in the real kitchen when I was “Chef For the Day”.  Very cool. I sliced, (not as well as Sous Chef Mike), and diced and worked the GIANT immersion blender to puree soups.  It was rad.  I got to keep my chef’s coat.  It makes me feel special. 

 

 

Cooking class was followed by lunch, which was served buffet style.  We learned to eat cold soup, and Mom learned about hummus and flat bread.  What a wonderful thing.  We were also often joined by some of the friends we made, L, T, or B.  They couldn’t be more different from each other, but all are fabulous women, whom I hope to keep in touch with out here in the “real world”.  After lunch, we would either go to another fittness class, or take some lounge time by the pool, or ride our bikes up some killer hill in the gazillion degree heat to the local hippie-artist-coffee shop community, or get complementary makeovers.  We did all of those things.  The fittness and biking were hard, the lounging and makeovering were not.  Both were wonderful and left smiles on our, sometimes sweat streaked, faces.

   

In the evenings, it would cool off, and we would walk, or bike, to dinner, again often joined by friends.  We often sat at the “Community Table”, where anyone can join, or we created our own.  Mom and I are social creatures, and will talk to anyone.  This is how we make friends.   Dinner was usually a drawn out affair, with everyone sharing what they did that day, and planning for trips, classes and excursions for the next day.  Sometimes dinner was followed by something fun like Outdoor Yoga, a photography class, or Texas Hold ‘em.  Mom won of course, though she didn’t even know she was holding a straight. 

 

 

We had a wonderful time at Red Mountain.  It was great getting to reconnect with Mom, and meet lots of new and interesting people. I’d love to go back with Mom, or girlfriends.  It’s a beautiful place.

Triple Chocolate Peanut Butter Cookies

January 28th, 2010

Ok, so in my world, peanuts are the forbidden fruit.  Since so many of our students have peanut allergies, some severe, our school has banned peanuts.  While this is good for students who would go into shock if they even thought about a peanut, it’s sad for me, because I really like them.  Tom also loves peanuts, especially when they are combined with sugar in the form of Reese’s products.  So, when we were at the store the other day, and Tom found the Reese’s peanut butter baking chips, he hopped up and down like a bunny on speed and grinned like a fool.

Last weekend, I made the Triple Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe from Williams- Sonoma’s Essentials of Baking, to date, the best “chocolate chip” cookie recipe that I’ve found.  I added 1 cup of the Reese’s chips, and halved the other chips (white, dark and milk), so the ratios kinda worked out.  The results?  Well, as I only got to eat ONE, and the others “disappeared” in less than 24 hours, I’d say they were a success!  Yum!