Sunday, June 9, 2013

It was the best of towns, it was the worst of towns.

Wow, what an eventful few days. We visited Yellowstone, camped in a very scenic valley, stayed with the Pfeiffers in Sheridan, WY (who are AWESOME), rode horses, saw Mount Rushmore, and drove through "The Best Town on Earth," Upton, WY. It was on their welcome sign, and it was on their water tower. Unfortunately, their slogan was a little bit of an exaggeration. I'm pretty sure their slogan should have been "The Best Town on Earth... if there are no other towns after a nuclear apocalypse." Sorry, Upton.

More Yellowstone: hot springs falls that looked like they were frozen and a gorgeous water fall.
Now it's story time. After we drove through Upton, we decided to stop for lunch in a little town called Newcastle, WY, near the border of South Dakota. Our options were very limited, so we pulled into a Subway. Across the parking lot, however, was a drive-in called Howdy Drive-In.
A visit to the lovely Pfeiffer residence/arena in Big Horn, WY. And the best pie on the trip! AND the nicest cat ever.
Yogi, horseback riding, and Mr. Pfeiffer "reigning"
"Why don't we stop there, you know, support local business?" I said. So we decided to try it out. We pull into a spot but realized that the drive-in part wasn't really functional anymore. We walked inside and sat down at a booth. A girl came up to us to take our order, and there's no way she was more than 14 years old. She seemed really unsure of what she was supposed to be doing, and another woman at the store (maybe her mom?) kept telling her everything she was doing wrong. Ok, people have to learn and there are many different learning styles... So we tried to cut the girl some slack because it almost seemed like it was her first day. She forgot my chocolate milk shake (which we heard the woman say was done with chocolate syrup and vanilla ice cream unless the customer asks for chocolate ice cream, ok fine), and then our order came out wrong. Not her fault, the cook's fault. Then it came time to pay. I stood up there as the girl rung up the bill. She told me the amount, $16 and change (let's say 63 cents), and I gave her $20. She looked at the open register and the woman came up behind her and said, "Alright, count your change." The girl still stood there and stared at the register. Then the woman started counting "7, 8, 9, 70. Now a quarter, that's..." No response from the girl but she started to pull out the change as the lady said. "95, and a nickel, that's ..." No response from the girl. "17, now your dollars, 18, 19, and 20." This all occurred behind the register, and Mike and I were watching everything the girl was doing. Then the girl came in front of the register to hand me the change, and she started counting it out in my hand. I told her not to worry about because at this point, I just wanted to get the heck out. 

"No, no, she can't do that. We have to count the change," the lady said. So I said, fine whatever, and let the girl count the change out into mind hand. Scratch that, as the girl put the change in my hand and the lady counted it out. Obviously there are two possibilities: 1) the girl doesn't know how to count or 2) this concept of "making change" was not taught to her properly. Or at all. Part of me now wishes I had sat the girl down and taught her what was going on and/or went to the local store and bought her a calculator. But what happened was I said thanks, and we ran out of there. 

In all honesty, I was really pissed at the whole situation. Here we were in the middle of nowhere and we could have gone to a chain restaurant, but instead we decided to support a local business. Now I will be suspect every time we go to another town and have the choice between a chain and a local business. 

Our visit to Mount Rushmore. It rained before we arrived, so it looks like George is crying.
None of the other "towns" we went through were much better, but that's ok. We did stay in a the Nebraska state park Fort Robinson that was hosting an intertribal American Indian meeting with a powwow. That was really fun to watch but the town, Crawford, NE, was just terrible. After experiencing these towns, I apologized to my father for ever saying I grew up in the middle of nowhere.

Rainbows in Wyoming
Because you have never experienced the middle of nowhere until you travel to the northwest corner of Nebraska. That's the middle of nowhere.
The Big Horn canyon and the big horn sheep - finally!
Intertribal powwow at Fort Robinson State Park

Friday, June 7, 2013

Walmart Here We Come

Glacier NP
We're now staying with our friend Katie's parents outside of Sheridan, WY, which means I have internet again and can regale you with tales of our travels. Where did I leave off... Keller Ferry, my favorite campsite. After we packed up our tent, we headed for Glacier NP in northwest Montana. So beautiful. Just like Crater Lake, a lot of the park was still closed because of snow, but we were able to take a nice 2 mile hike up to Avalanche lake where you could see three large waterfalls way up on the mountains surrounding the lake. It felt great to stretch our legs a bit, and we got to see some wildlife, including an elk and chipmunks begging for food. No bears though, which was fine with me.

Falls on the way to Avalanche Lake
We headed out of Glacier to make camp a few hours south at Holland Lake campground. Of course it started raining as soon as we arrived, which squashed any attempts to make a fire and cook dinner. We had a couple contingency plans if it started to rain like our first night: 1) sleep in the car with the front seats laid down, 2) shift everything in the car to the front and attempt to blow up our air mattress in the back, or 3) if the rain wasn't too bad, set up the tent anyway. You might notice that getting a hotel was not an option because, well let's be honest, Mike doesn't like to spend money. So we decided to drive to Missoula for dinner and then figure out from there what to do. We found a little fried chicken place that was amazing (not the service though...), and over dinner we discussed our options. After I searched through terrible reviews of local, cheap motels, Mike suggested Walmart. It was close by and lets anyone park overnight for free so we chose that option. I've never slept overnight in a car and certainly wasn't looking forward to it, but I wanted to be a good sport since we stayed in a really nice place (Duck Inn Lodge) the night before. The tricks to sleeping in a car in a Walmart parking lot are to not park too close to other people (it was packed!), stay away from the parking lot lights, and find a spot away from sketchy vans. Once we found a spot, we made our "beds" and went to sleep. Certainly wasn't the best night of sleep I've ever had but it beat a roach motel.

Avalanche Lake
Early the next day, we headed to the National Bison Range, which had more than bison! We saw elk, a bear (from very far away though), deer, and antelope. And of course we saw lots of bison up close. From there we drove to the middle of nowhere outside Philipsburg, MO, to the Gem Mountain sapphire mine. It's pretty much a tourist trap where you buy a bucket of rocks, wash and sift them through for sapphires, which look almost like glass. I was pretty sure we wouldn't find anything but we ended up with almost 20 carats of sapphires! A lady at the mine evaluated our sapphires and said four of them weighing over a carat each were "cutable" if we wanted to set them in jewelry. Of course I want to do that! We left the mine quite happy and set off for the Lewis and Clark Caverns campground. Again, it was raining but not enough to keep us from setting up our tent. The next day we toured the caverns. It wasn't as pretty as other caverns I've seen like Luray Caverns in Virginia but you got quite the cave experience. There were many points along the trail where even I couldn't stand up, so I don't recommend it for anyone over 5'5. 

Then we headed to Yellowstone NP, and it is everything that everyone says it is: gorgeous, bizarre, full of wild life. We headed toward Old Faithful and saw many amazing geysers, mud "paint pots," and boiling pools along the way. We also saw a ton of bison, even more than in the bison range, and they just did whatever they wanted. Walk in the road, block traffic, poop by the boiling pools even though the ground isn't very sturdy around them. Worse than the honey badger. 

So I'll stop talking and again let the pictures say everything. I'll finish my story about Yellowstone and the hunt for the elusive big horn sheep when we head to Denver in a few days. 

Can you see the sapphires?
Cleaning the rocks to sift for sapphires
Lewis and Clark Caverns... that Lewis and Clark never went to.
At one of the boiling pools in Yellowstone

Old Faithful
"I do what I want, I'm a bison"

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Big Country For Sale.

Early last Sunday, Mike and I left for our cross country trip with quite a list of places to visit. Our first destination was the Avenue of the Giants outside of Eureka, CA, to see the giant redwoods. On our way along 101, we saw a sign for a tree we could drive through. Pull over? Uh, yeah. We got into the line with cars, paid $5 to drive through, and then... we waited. We were told at the beginning that the wait was about 20 minutes. It was more like over an hour. Luckily the wait was totally worth driving through a tree. Turns out a Lexus SUV is just small enough to go through - phew! Once we were through the tree, we headed for the redwoods. I couldn't believe how huge the trees were! I'll let the pictures speak for themselves. We set up camp outside of Crescent City and had a delicious one-pot pasta supper. We laid down to go to sleep, and then I heard a pitter-patter on the tent. Rain.

The next day, we packed up our wet tent in the rain and headed for Crater Lake in Oregon. The weather never improved and instead of a beautiful, deep lake, we saw a wall of fog. Not wanting to camp in the rain again, we headed back toward the coast and got a hotel in Eugene. To cheer ourselves up, we spent the next day in Oregon wine country as we drove toward Portland. Since we wanted to spend some time in Portland, we only visited two wineries: Pfeiffer (in honor of Katie) and Amity Vineyard. At Pfeiffer, we tasted twelve different wines, and they were all great. Nice surprise since we picked it for no other reason than the name and that it was open. The winery owner led us through the tasting, and when we told her we were from Berkeley, she replied, "Oh, Berkeley! I was arrested there." She spent a lot of time at Berkeley during the 60s, in particular occupying People's Park. Small world! We then went to Amity, a small winery on top of a hill with a gorgeous view of the Willamette Valley. We spent the evening in Portland, which is now a city I would love to revisit.

After a night in Portland, which included a visit to Voodoo Donuts and the Portland City Grill with a view from the 30th floor of the tallest building in Portland (I think?), we drove up to Seattle to visit Mike's friend James, We spent two nights in Seattle, the first bar hopping during the Chicago Blackhawks game followed by trivia at a Irish pub. The next day we went to Pike Place Market, enjoyed Seattle's great happy hour, bought dungeness crabs for dinner, and watched a few episodes from the new season of Arrested Development. 

Once we left Seattle, we were on our own again in national parks and forest so there's not much to write about except to say that everyone should go to the Cascades and then stay at Keller Ferry, a campground in the middle of nowhere that is just spectacular. So far, everything has been beautiful, so here's a bunch of pictures to show you what I mean. Two more things: 1) the recession has put everyone out of business and everything is for sale. I can't tell you how many businesses we passed with "For Sale" signs. We also passed several plots for housing developments that were completely empty... 2) Small towns are under the impression that all travelers want espresso. So everywhere we went, there were little shacks with an "ESPRESSO" sign. All caps...

One pot supper!
Crater Lake...
Voodoo Donuts in Portland. I had a maple-bacon donut, mmm.
View of Portland from the Portland City Grill.
A breakfast food truck.
A sassy gin Moscow mule at the Bathtub Gin & Co. in Seattle.
Snow-capped mountains in the Cascades.

"Big sky country" in eastern Washington. 
Camping at Keller Ferry (playing with our new tripod).
Long exposure of our fire (i.e., looks crazier than it actually was).
Long exposure of the horizon at Keller Ferry. 

Tuesday, March 26, 2013


Last weekend, a friend invited Mike and me to a secret wine club event. That's all I can say.

Just kidding. The "challenge" was to bring a wine you've had before and a small dish to pair with the wine. We had met the club leader earlier in March at a local winery in Berkeley, and she definitely knew her stuff about wine. For example, she mentioned that she loved Donkey and Goat's orange wine.

"What the heck is orange wine?" I asked, thinking that wine made from actual oranges might be interesting but a little bizarre. Fermented oranges? Hmm...

"Oh no, it's a white wine that's been fermented with the grape skins and seeds for a short period of time," she replied.

I thought that was called a rosé, but I was wrong (gasp!). Orange wines involve using white grapes that are allowed to sit with the skins. To make a rosé, red grapes are separated very quickly from their skins.   Learn something new every day!

So anyway, when we got our invitation to the wine club event, we figured we should really bring our a-game. After some discussion, Mike and I decided to make sliders, and not just any sliders, but special sliders of course! We went to the local Mexican store to buy a ribeye steak and short ribs to grind into our burgers. We cooked the burgers in the sous vide, a fancy word for a temperature controlled water bath, so that they remained nice and red, perfectly cooked, and then fried them to give them a nice, brown outside. Then Mike melted shredded cheese combined with a little sodium citrate (to make super smooth cheese) on a sheet pan and cut out round slices. And no burger would be complete without a bun - a homemade bun freckled with black sesame seeds. Then we added caramelized red onions and a little Dijon mustard to round out the flavors.

On Friday night, we did a test run of these burgers along with a French Malbec the sommelier at a local wine shop suggested. While a delicious red wine, it stained our mouths like no other! We decided the burgers needed tiny adjustments (more salt) but were quite pleased with the way they turned out.

We took our sliders over to our friend's friend's apartment for the main event on Saturday evening. Our sliders were a hit, and others brought amazing dishes and wines too. Some had emotional connections to their wines (i.e., they made it themselves) or knew the winemaker. And our friend and her boyfriend brought bacon jam. Bacon. Jam.

It was a great evening - good food, good wine, and new friends that also appreciate our cuisine snobbery. Once you've had bacon jam, you can't go back.

What's your favorite wine and food pairing?

Monday, March 11, 2013

The weekend and a little bit of spring.

Here's what we've been up to lately. First, spaghetti alla carbonara from The Kitchn:

A little bacon, a little egg, a squeeze of lemon, and sautéed arugula makes for a delicious comfort dinner after a long day in the lab. 

After dinner on Saturday, Mike pulled out three sticks of butter, a bunch of flour, chocolate and almond trail mix (seemed random), and a little bit of borrowed yeast from a friend. "What in the world could you be making?" I asked, shocked at the amount of butter softening on our kitchen table. 


"Is it for cinnamon rolls!?!" 

"Close...," Mike teased. After a while, I gave up and started reading my new book, A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan. Great book so far. Have any of you read it?

Mike's "borrowed" timer kept going off throughout the evening, and he would get up, pull the dough out of the fridge, roll it out, and fold it over a couple times. Repeat, repeat, repeat. Finally, he asked me to help him. "Well, are you going to tell me what you're making?"

"Croissants!" That's right, chocolate and almond croissants. He separated the chocolate from the almonds because he didn't want to buy bags of each. He cut the rolled out dough into twelve rectangles, and we filled the middle with the chocolate or the almond spread. Then we rolled the dough over and let them rise overnight.

When I woke up in the morning, a little sleepy even though it was nine o'clock (stupid daylight savings time!), I could smell the croissants baking. It smelled like a French bakery, although I've never been in France or in a French bakery, but I imagine it would smell like croissants. 

I dragged myself (i.e., sprinted) out of bed and headed for the kitchen. And there they were, golden brown with chocolate or almond filling slightly flowing out of the ends. Which one did I choose to eat first? Chocolate, of course! Don't be silly. We paired our croissants with some delicious Tonx coffee and Rachel Martin on Weekend Edition Sunday in the background. Two croissants down, ten more to go...

Finally, a little bit of spring has popped up in our backyard. Last year I bought two ranunculus plants (what's the plural of ranunculus - ranunculi?), and I swiftly killed both of them. Or so I thought! One of the plants made a comeback when it rained this winter and now it's blooming again. Beautiful pink and white flowers. Have you started any seedlings for the coming gardening season? What do you normally plant or do you have a non-green thumb - would that be a red thumb or a black thumb?


Monday, March 4, 2013

Dinner and a movie.

The other day I got a gchat from the husband asking me to pick up some things from Trader Joe's. I clicked on the link from Serious Eats and was salivating as I read the ingredients: Israeli couscous, lemon, feta, fennel, and red onion. Mike had to give an exam that night and it dawned on me that he would not be cooking. Whoa, whoa, whoa, I have to make this? I've gotten so used to Mike cooking dinner and me washing dishes (well, most of the time...). No problem, I can figure this out.

I picked up everything we needed from Trader Joe's and set to work. I chopped up the fennel and red onion to roast while watching HGTV. Side note: We've become addicted to shows like Love It or List It and Property Brothers. Can you say nesting? I use the term nesting loosely because there are no announcements, Grandma! I coated the fennel and red onion in olive oil and tossed with pepper and salt. Into the oven it went to roast. I set the timer (a timer we "borrowed" from lab) so I wouldn't forget them in the oven. From there I started the couscous, which requires sautéing in butter and adding it to hot vegetable stock. The timer went off for the roasting vegetables and I pulled them out to turn. Put them back in the oven to cook a bit longer... and I didn't set the timer. I also didn't have a timer on the couscous. Oops! I started working on some other things (i.e., watching HGTV) until I realized I had left everything on the stove and in the oven. But you know what? It turned out just fine! I don't recommend this method of cooking, but I'm thankful it turned out great.

When Mike got home around 9:30, we decided to just make grilled cheese and soup and enjoy my creation as a date on Friday. To go with the couscous, we bought chicken breasts and roasted them covered in onions and lemon, a perfect compliment.

That night we watched a hilarious movie: Lars and the Real Girl with Ryan Gosling and Emily Mortimer. The movie is about a super awkward guy named Lars who lives in the garage of the family home, which is occupied by his brother and pregnant wife. Lars doesn't really have any friends, except for an obnoxious office mate and a cute girl with a crush on him. One day a very large package arrives at the garage for Lars, and later that day he informs his brother and sister-in-law that he has a visitor. They are so excited because Lars barely interacts with them so they invite Lars and his guest over for dinner. The problem is that the guest is a life-sized, anatomically correct sex doll that Lars ordered off the internet. Hilarity (and some sadness) ensues. I really really enjoyed the movie and if you have Netflix, you can stream it on demand.

What movies have you seen lately? What's on your Netflix queue?

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Pork butt.

The other day, I was heading to the grocery store and asked Mike if he needed anything.

"Yeah, can you get me about 5 pounds of pork butt?" he said.

"For what?" I asked. And then I realized I should never question a man asking for pork butt because something delicious is going to come from it. So off to the store I went and found a nice hunk of pork butt for my man.
Mike's Miracle Hangover Cure

A couple days later, Mike put the pork butt in the oven and slow cooked it overnight. He's teaching an 8 am class so he's always up before me. So at 6:30 in the morning, half awake, I hear him stirring in the kitchen, and I smell the delicious pork he's taking out of the oven. I'm almost asleep again when he shows up with a piece of the pork in his fingers.

"Here, you want to try it?" Uh, of course. And it was wonderful and left me wanting to eat all 5 lbs.

So what did we do with 5 lbs of pork? What didn't we do! First Mike made a breakfast hash after a late Friday night out with friends with cubed potatoes, bacon, pork, scallions, and a poached egg, which we called "Mike's Miracle Hangover Cure".  Then that night we made bánh mì sandwiches, named after the Vietnamese word for bread. We filled the sandwiches with jalapeños, asian cabbage slaw, pickled carrots, and of course, pork. And last night, we made pork barbecue sandwiches with cole slaw.

bánh mì sandwich assembly

And we still have 3 pounds left. Anyone want to come over?

What's your favorite pork recipe?