Fireside Dining

This meal deserves a post of its own. Our Christmas present from Lauren and CJ was dinner at Fireside Dining at Deer Valley last Friday night. I don’t know what was more impressive. The ambiance or the meal itself. I do know the best part was the company (and that’s saying an awful lot ‘cuz the food and ambiance were phenomenal).

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We drove up snowy roads. Up and up and up, well past the World Cup hill where participants were wrapping up their tricks. The snow fairies were fluffy and swirly, creating shimmering reflections off the lights that decorated trees all along our path. It felt like Christmas again 🙂

As we stepped into the lodge we were greeted by a host who brought us into the dining room. A room that serves as ski lodge by day and ambrosial offerings by night. A huge fireplace crackled on one wall, while another wall was filled with large windows that looked out on a idyllic winter scene. A horse-drawn sleigh went by at regular intervals, completing the picture. (If you look really hard, you can see it in the background of this clip — going from right to left.)

What did we eat? Oh, what did we eat!!! There were four fireplaces, each in a different room. All our hot food was cooked on the fires. Our menu was very similar to this (we had boar rather than quail, and there were minor other differences):

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Ready for your mouth to water? Check out some of what we ate:

Chris topped off his meal with an espresso. Divine decadence.

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The snow was piled high as we headed home to rest.

What a perfect evening and wonderful gift. I will treasure this memory forever.

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Rhubarb Butter

IMG_0225I looooove rhubarb. I love it so much that I still have carefully portioned-out potential pies of chopped rhubarb from last year in my freezer since it was too special to actually use. And I’m feeling pretty silly about that as I look at this year’s first harvest. What should I do with this all? Who loves rhubarb as much as I?

My dad.

And when I harvested this Father’s Day was right around the corner. I took this picture to share with him then hit the Internet for ideas. He lives far away from me, and I wanted to find something that could ship. To my delight I discovered Rhubarb Butter!

We were still pretty busy with the move, and the weather was hot so we (Chris and I) adjusted the recipe a bit. Chris used a paper cutter (with the guard removed) to cut the stalks into 2-3-inch-pieces (saving my arthritic hands ‘cuz he’s awesome). Then we put them all into our crock pot on our porch and cooked and stirred for almost two days.

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I then sent the mixture through our Ninja then put it back on the stove for a final boil-down.

Years ago Chris figured out that if we put our canning jars in the dishwasher and used the drying cycle, they would easily seal once we added ingredients. Right before the dishwasher was done, I added sugar and cinnamon. That’s it.

 

Soooooo easy, and delicious! I had never thought to put cinnamon with my rhubarb before. This rhubarb butter (called butter for its texture) is fantastic on toast, over ice cream, and in my homemade yogurt.

If you have a plethora of rhubarb, I highly recommend this procedure.

PS. My dad loved it, too.

PPS. The horrid-looking crock pot cleaned really easily.

PPPS. I didn’t add food coloring so it doesn’t look the prettiest. But personally I prefer not adding those chemicals.

Turtles, Flowers, Sand Owls and Friends

Jen wanted to learn more about animals and the trails that they leave. I had to admit, I was curious as well. So on our last full day on Marco Island, Mary Beth took us on a local nature tour. In the pics below she showed us some turtle nests, turtle footprints, and how to identify turtle scat.

 

As we traipsed through the community, I was drawn to the different beautiful flowers. I don’t know what any of them are. If you do, feel free to let me know in the comments, and I will label them 🙂

Updating as we go along. Wendy identified Vinca (the single white flower) and Bougainvillea (the purple ones).Thanks for that! I remembered the Papaya after I wrote this.

We walked back to the house and checked out an empty osprey nest on the property.

old nest and moss

 

I also learned about a cool tree that Native Americans used to paralyze fish. The bark has paralyzing qualities apparently.

fish killer tree

 

After checking that all out, we hopped into the car to drive a few miles away. A special treat lay there as we checked out squared-off protected areas, which contained sand owl homes.

 

Doesn’t look like much, does it? But the owls are sooooo cute! They come out of the ground at night. I know because we came back after dark and saw them.

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Here is a very horrible picture of one since my phone camera isn’t so great at night. Better images are found here.

Now here is a funny scene we saw as we were driving around. We saw two turtles hanging in a yard lot. One moved in font of another and started kicking sand back on the other. For about two minutes, that turtle seemed un-fazed, then it retaliated. It started shell-bonking the first turtle! Quite funny to watch. I clipped the video so you can see just the bonking part, instead of having to wait.

So funny.

As the day wound to a close, we ate grouper and snapper at a local joint (delicious!). Some followed that with gelato.

Treasure in the Southern end of Appalachia

While those of us who work for Automattic, Inc. have an open vacation policy (no set number of days per year), we are encouraged to take at least 25 (paid) days off. Love that! And yet I realized that I have only taken about six of those days, and I’ve been here for a year on Sept. 15. Oops. Reflecting on this, Chris and I realized this was the perfect time to visit relatives we have been trying to get to for several years now.

Earlier this year, we visited my parents and sister in Pennsylvania. In early June we visited cousins in Maryland. In July we checked in with my cousin and his wife in Boston. For August, we decided to take two weeks off and have some eclectic adventures. Our first stop was traveling south (after a golf game with my co-worker, Sam, and our friend Amy) to visit my aunt and uncle.IMG_20150829_153045315

I do believe I took the longest road trip I have ever been on last week. Certainly in my almost-24 years of marriage. Chris and I petted our car, told it what a great job its been doing over the last few years and encouraged it to keep that up as we journeyed from one end of Appalachia to another point in the mountain ranges of North Carolina. Whenever we have a trip that entails over 8 hrs of driving, we generally hit the skies. This time, we hit a hotel instead, breaking the 11.5 hr trip in two. It was a good idea, although we figure we might sleep in the back of the mini-van at a state park next time we do that.

It’s unusual for me to get sick, but I was nailed with a nasty cold after camp week, and my body was still dragging, although the cold had broken a week prior to this visit. When my aunt asked what we might want to do (museums, tourist attractions, etc), I commented that all we wanted to do was sit and relax and see their world at the other end of Appalachia (I always pronounced that as apple-long A-cha, but apparently it’s a short “a” such as “throw an apple at-cha.” The things I learn. To our great delight, this is exactly what happened. We arrived at their house around 4:30 pm on Sunday and sat and yakked until 1 am when we forced ourselves to go to bed only to wake up the next day and start the gabbing all over again until the wee hours of the next morning.

This chattering was only interrupted by occasional naps (I was so relaxed, I took TWO naps the first day I was there. Talk about luxury) and by the serving of amazing food. We had pulled pork with coleslaw on it the first night (with a side of fried okra) and we also had livermush and shrimp and grits (yum!!!). Aunt Anne served up a feast each morning. Her idea of a light breakfast is several cereals, some sort of cooked egg, livermush, sausages, bacon and some sort of toast/muffin/coffeecake. My idea of breakfast (coffee only) was tossed to the wind. Amazing. I might need to reconsider this breakfast concept.

Uncle John’s brain is a treasure trove of history just waiting to be tapped. I swear he saved me back in the fifth grade when he tutored me in history. He took me beyond the dates to the actual stories, making the human connection that fed the love I have for history to this day. That hasn’t changed a bit. He still has the knack and has passed on this gift to his son. My cousin John $ regaled us with fascinating tidbits of life in the hills and the history of the Cherokee. I am more familiar with the Seneca nation so it was fascinating to see the similarities and differences in the tribes from different parts of Appalachia.

Chris, $ and I met my uncle’s cousin as well. Peter was visiting from Illinois, coming back to the mountains where he grew up for a dulcimer meeting. He blogs about his music, and to our delight, he gave us a mini concert.

I think I will write a post about this in the future so I won’t go into too many details here, but the musical conversation was very interesting and inspirational. My aunt did a nice writeup on the visit on her blog page.

On our last full day there, $ took Chris and me off to play in the mountains. We hiked for several hours through incredible views. I saw fantastic fungus and fresh-ish bear scat in addition to tempting camping spots. My biggest regret was that we hadn’t packed sleeping bags and planned to stay longer. Now we know for next time.

We completed the perfect day by going to a fabulous Mexican restaurant then headed back to the tranquil house for more yakking before hitting the hay. Wednesday morning came all too soon, and we pushed off leaving as long as we could. Aunt Anne kindly played the piano and sang The Angel Gabriel at my request. If you ever want a glimpse of heaven, you need to hear her beautiful, clear voice singing that.

Topping off the trip, we stopped in PA on the way home and visited with my niece who is in college there. We had such a nice visit, but I forgot to take a picture 😦 Next time… We also hit the Buffalo WordPress meetup as we journeyed homeward. Now I have one week left of my vacation. The car did great, and we are so proud of it. So much to see and do, and lots of relaxing with loved ones on the agenda. We are blessed.

A Testimonial to a Tree

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See that beautiful yellow transparent apple tree over the shed, shading our kids as they play?

We almost chopped it down the year we bought our house. That was 20+years and un-countable pies and cans of applesauce ago. We had this large tree right smack where our driveway ought to be, and it didn’t even bear fruit.

Or so we thought.

An elderly couple stopped by and asked if they could continue getting fruit from the tree. Observing our baffled looks, they explained that we had a unique tree in our yard. It was the yellow transparent apple tree and bore fruit every other year. It was the key ingredient in applesauce such as you have never tasted before.

That tree inspired us to chop, peel, and puree and even inspired this high-powered applesauce gadget. When winter winds trapped us indoors, we could pull a frozen pie out and pop it in the oven. The aroma and slightly bitter taste brought back memories of blue skies and picnics up in the branches of this beautiful flowering treasure.

Two years ago we came home from a trip to my mother-in-law’s and discovered that the tree was so heavy with fruit that a giant limb fell. It was a sad moment for all. But time went on, and the tree still showered us with enough fruit to keep us super-busy at canning time.

This Tuesday morning was pretty uneventful. My husband and I were were at my mother-in-law’s house once again while the kids held down the fort at home. The phone rang, and when I answered, my son said, “Well, there’s good news and bad news. The good news is that we are all fine. The bad news is that the apple tree fell during the storm last night.”

That tree gifted us right to the end. It blew down in the sweet-scented pile of its own blossoms. While it could have hit cars, the neighbor’s house, our house and/or our shed with kayak and canoe on top, it didn’t. It slightly scraped the neighbor’s house (and she didn’t care at all, bless her heart), and fell without damaging anything. I took pictures just in case we needed records of this in the future then put my phone away and moved on with life.

Later in the day, my phone chirped, telling me it put together a Life Events reel. I giggled a little at the dramatic impact music the device threw upon the saga of our fallen tree. But as I reflect, I do believe the phone was right. It was a life event. That tree gave us food and beauty, drew us closer to neighbors, gave our kids a hangout spot when they were younger, shaded our yard, and it will now provide warmth for my husband’s studio this winter. Thanks, tree.

A Favorite Meal

I’m altering the rules on this Writing 101 assignment. First of all, it’s the assignment from several days ago. Yes, I fell behind. I’m okay with that and hope you are, too. Anyway…

Today’s Prompt: Tell us something about your favorite childhood meal — the one that was always a treat, that meant “celebration,” or that comforted you and has deep roots in your memory.

I’m writing about one of my favorite meals that happened when I was a grownup (or at least the parent of children). It was when friends were visiting.

For some reason my son decided to make lunch for our friend. He was under five, I believe, and we were all quite impressed. Out came the sandwich options, and our son went to work while we adults yakked. He proudly came over to us, bearing his delightful creation of…

peanut butter and jelly — and bologna.

Yup. PBJ and B.

When my son turned around, I quickly and quietly offered to play the magical swap out trick all parents MUST have in their repertoire. But our friend kiboshed that. The sandwich was made ‘specially for him, and he was going to eat it by golly.

How he sucked that down, I’ll never know, but it sure meant a lot to all of us. This is what I do know: That friend is now our third son’s godfather.

Pancakes – Norwegian Style: It’s the Perfect Crepe

Honestly, I don’t know if they are Norwegian, Swedish, or just crepes, but as I was growing up, we called them Norwegian pancakes. They are a family favorite. Add cheese and microwave for a lunch if you have any leftovers (I have to make a triple batch if I want to have any chance of having leftovers).

  • 1.5 c. flour
  • 3 Tbs. sugar
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 3 eggs
  • 2 c. milk
  • 2 Tbs. melted butter
Heat your pan (if electric, set it to around 325-350 degrees)
Break the eggs in a bowl and mix in some milk. Add the rest of the ingredients (except the butter) and mix really well (feel free to use a mixer). Melt the butter on your griddle (we use an electric frying pan) then drain the butter out and mix it in the batter.
Use a 1/4 c. measuring cup to put batter on the pan. When it starts to bubble, flip it. The pancakes should have a light brown pattern on them when ready. If they cook too fast, turn down the heat.