Saturday, November 16, 2019

Riding To Rifle

"Every time I'm on the mountain, I'm just so happy to be there." -Chloe Kim

And so it was with a heavy heart and a bittersweet lump in my throat that after our week-long visit, we said goodbye to my second-born, Ohio-dwelling daughter, turned the car west, and stepped on the gas.

Well. Figuratively speaking. Because my shoulder injury kept me out of the driver's seat for the entirety of the return trip so my foot never even got close to the accelerator. 

But off we went, just the same, stopping on the evening of the first day in Olathe, Kansas, for a pop-in with my nephew. We chatted over heaping plates of Kansas City BBQ and ate ourselves silly. Restaurant Q39 serves up a mean plate of beef brisket and is definitely worthy of a return trip, though next time I will eat a full order of nothing but burnt ends. Pure heaven.

"Damn Good" tacos, and a not-too-shabby interior to boot. 

^ In the morning, we were off once again, crossing the plains and climbing into the Denver suburbs for an early dinner at Torchy's Tacos. Taking a meal at this on-trend taco chain out of Austin came as a request from my fourth-born, and the rust of us were happy to oblige.

I don't really even remember what my tacos looked like but I'm pretty sure this was one of my daughters'. My mind was a total blur. 

^ Much like our family favorite, Condado Tacos, in Columbus, Torchy's has an A-list of wacky taco combos that they have dreamed up and named, presumably, during a wild peyote binge. Alternatively, you can order your own combos off a list of ingredients but where's the fun in that? I chose the Trailer Trash and I "got it trashy," and the Brushfire which literally seared my sinuses. Okay, not literally, but what I'm saying is that sucker was hot. But still, nothing that a few sips of Coke and a liter of cold water couldn't cure, so I have no regrets.

These two views were just a few steps apart. If I lived on the same block as Torchy's, I would eat a ridiculous number of tacos.  

^ This particular Torchy's shop was tucked into a brand spanking new Millennial-esque community east of the city. Townhouses and apartments circled around a central green area overflowing with cuteness. Huge flower beds burst with native displays, wandering sidewalks were just right for entertaining a wound-up Irish Setter who'd spent the day in the car, oodles of benches and tables invited us in for a meal, and my favorite - a splash pad slash water feature that turned a hot Denver evening into a water party. A perfect oasis for the weary traveler and hungry taco enthusiast. .

Our tacos were soon eaten but our travels for the day were not over yet. We caught the tail end of rush hour as we climbed west into the mountains, doffing our caps to Red Rocks Park and grinding up into the Rockies. 

^ Passing under the Continental Divide, the Eisenhower Tunnel is long, high, and steep as a mother bear. 

Now I'm no stranger to punishing mountain grades. I haul myself back and forth across the rigorous Seattle area passes on a regular basis, including the notoriously dangerous climb up to Stevens Pass that I've done literally hundreds of times in the name of good skiing. And on our annual road trips across Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming or south to Oregon and California, we push ourselves up and down extreme grades several times a day. I am not easily fazed by a mountain in my path. 

But following Interstate 70 west out of Denver is always a wild ride. The inclines are steep, the curves unforgiving, and the traffic, whipping back and forth across multiple lanes, is chaotic. Given my nerves of steel, I typically drive this section of our travels, but this time - due to that bum shoulder of mine - I was forced to sit back and stomp on my invisible brake pedal as my fourth-born held the actual wheel in her competent hands. I quickly decided that it was in everyone's best interests for me to focus on the scenery instead. 

^ And so passed several beautiful hours as we rode through the Rockies and down into Rifle where we stopped to sleep for the night. 

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Road Trip 2019: read all about it.

Friday, November 15, 2019

At The Conservatory

 "Plants make me quiet. I like to be in their company." -Peter Zumthor

A sunny September afternoon in Columbus, Ohio spent wandering the conservatory is a day well spent. This was my second visit and equally enchanting as the first. Here, let me show you around.

^ The very first plant in the very first exhibit of the Franklin Park Conservatory is this little mountain creeper. I find it adorable and take endless closeups of its sweet face. 

^ The conservatory boasts a nice collection of Dale Chihuly's glassworks but for me, they don't work with the plants. The wild colors and flamboyant shapes steal the show from gentle growing things and I'd prefer for all the art to be shipped back to the Pacific Northwest where it can live in outlandish harmony with its equally dominant siblings at the Chihuly Garden and Glass museum in Seattle.

^ Jungly greenhouses are my happy place. I find a bench near an air conditioning vent where I gaze up at the sprawling canopy, listen to the nearby drip drip drip, and thank the Lord that I am not in a real jungle where I would be dying of the humidity.

^ Something hard and something soft. 

^ Something sharp and something sweet. 

^ Jade plants. Just like I grow at home, only much, much bigger..

^ The palm room is the heart and soul of the entire conservatory. Inside the airy cathedral, monumental forms of green dwarf ordinary human beings and fill me with a sense of awe. 

^ The dark green tree in the upper right corner of this shot is a fiddle leaf fig. Yes, the same fiddle leaf fig that grows as a meter-high houseplant in trendy American homes, though it's hard to imagine this tree was ever a meter tall. 

^Gorgeous fans of palms that flow down like waterfalls, 

^ or spring up as buoyant feathers. 

^Eventually, I work my way across the room and out the door. I walk across a wide sunny terrace, then turn and look back at the Victorian dream of a greenhouse from whence I came. 

^ This cupola alone explodes with character and charm against a perfect blue sky.

^ I have a thing for semi-circle windows and this one above the door sets a high standard for detail and depth. 

 ^ Looking out from the building, I'm tempted to continue on into the gardens beyond. But the afternoon air is hot and humid, and I change my mind. 

^ Back inside under the cover of green and the whirring ceiling fans, I feel quite at home at the conservatory. 

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Road Trip 2019: read all about it.

Monday, November 11, 2019

Gordon's Pumpkin Soup

I have mixed feelings about pumpkins. Sure, I love to see a fellowship of orange gourds gathered around my doorstep in the fall, and come the end of October, nothing makes me happier than to slice one up, scoop out the guts, carve a dashing grin, and light up a jack-o'lantern's spooky face for my neighborhood trick-or-treaters.

I love to look at pumpkins. But sadly, I have never enjoyed eating them. 

Even pumpkin pie

I totally understand pumpkin's appeal and the cozy, spicy vibes that pumpkin-flavored goodies invoke.

I just don't like how pumpkin treats taste. Too rich, too heavy, too much for me. 

Still, I feel a little sad that I'm missing out on the pumpkin bandwagon. So for many years, I've tried to keep an open mind, and an eye out for some kind of pumpkin delicacy that works for me.

It was a few weeks back when my daughters and I were wandering around an autumn market that my third-born pointed out this display to me. "We should try that recipe for pumpkin soup," she suggested, and I was on board in a hot minute. 

We chose one of these Winter Luxury pumpkins, took a shot of the chalkboard, and set our sights on what I hoped would be the perfect dinner for a fall winter night. 

Much to my surprise, I loved this soup. It does not beat me over the head with its pumpkin-ness. The flavor is soft and gentle, due I suppose to this particular species of pumpkin. The Winter Luxury has turned me into a pumpkin soup lover and that, my friends, is no small feat. 

Here, in an every so slightly revised form, is Gordon Skagit Farm's surefire recipe for a delicate and delightful pumpkin soup that even I adore:


4 cups oven roasted Winter Luxury pumpkin
olive oil for drizzling
salt and pepper

1 sweet onion
1 T butter
1/2 t sugar

2 cups beer
2 cups vegetable stock
1 1/2 cup water

2 cups heavy cream
2 cups shredded cheddar cheese 


1. Chop the pumpkin into 4-6 similar-sized chunks, remove pulp and seeds. Place in a cast iron skillet, season with olive oil, salt and pepper. Pop into a 420 degree oven for a half hour until the pumpkin is soft and golden.

Yeah. Just like that. 

2. While the pumpkin is cooking, start the onion, butter, and sugar in a pot. Keep the heat low and stir often in order to caramelize the onions, which takes at least 20 minutes. The trick is not to brown the onions but to cook them so slowly so that they soften rather than crisp.

3. When the onions are soft and just starting to brown, add the beer, vegetable stock and water. I would like to tell you that I used a rich, hearty German beer such as the chalkboard recipe recommends. But the truth is that I did not. I used two Coronas because that's what I found in my fridge, and I have zero complaints. 

Scrape the cooked pumpkin from the rinds and toss the chunks into the pot. Bring to a boil, then turn down the heat to medium low and simmer for 30 minutes. 

4. Use an immersion blender to smooth the soup. Revel in its gorgeous velvety texture. Add the cream and cheddar cheese and just heat through.

5. Serve with a dollop of sour cream and plenty more black pepper. 

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I liked this soup so much that I ate it for three meals in a row. Yep, dinner, breakfast, and lunch. And I really can't imagine a higher compliment for this tasty recipe and my new magnificent friend, the Winter Luxury pumpkin. 

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Read more about my visit to Gordon Skagit Farm here

Monday, November 4, 2019

Vermilion Legacy

"This land, this water, this air, this planet - this is our legacy to our young." -Paul Tsongas

My husband's mother's family ties go back to a sweet little town in Ohio called Vermilion.

Once upon a time, her relatives ran a general store out of this charming storefront. Even then, back in the day, it was painted this same lemon yellow and adorned with a similar striped awning. 

Back home, we own a little watercolor painting of this same store, painted with historical accuracy, in the same sunny colors. My mother-in-law treasured that gem for many years and I'm honored that we can carry it forward for her. 

So it was lovely that on our quick trip to Cleveland, along with my husband's sister , we stopped by the old place and paid her a proper visit. She's living life as a cafe now, and looking quite well cared for. Makes me so happy to know that she has been passed on through a series of careful stewards. I'm glad to see she is loved. 

Vermilion sits on the shore of Lake Erie, less than an hour west of Cleveland. With a string of beaches and deep marinas, the town enjoys an envious reputation as a resort center and the historical nickname, "Village of Lake Captains." Sure enough, just a stroll around the block landed us on the beach.

Even though Erie is the fourth-smallest of the five Great Lakes by surface area, she still offers a commanding view of endless sea and sky. Though they are fresh water lakes, the Great Lakes are shockingly huge. Standing at the shore of any of one the five Greats is a majestic experience and I never tire of marveling at the infinite blue.

So I stood on the grassy bluff above the beach and mused about other ancestors who sailed ore boats from Superior down here to Cleveland, and called Vermilion home. They may not be my blood relatives but I'm happy to know that the DNA of this seafaring adventurers lives on in my daughters' cells. 

Satisfied were we all with exploring our history on the streets of Vermilion, and as afternoon passed into evening, we turned and headed our car back to Columbus. We may not ply the waters of the deep in this generation, but we are adventurers in our own rights, and I am proud to continue the legacy of our family's bold spirit. .

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Road Trip 2019: read all about it.

Cleveland Rocks

"Life gives you plenty of time to do whatever you want to do if you stay in the present moment." 
-Deepak Chopra

During the week we spent with my second-born in Ohio, we took a side trip up to Cleveland. That's where my husband grew up, and where his beloved Indians play baseball. 

So we timed our trip to align with the team's home schedule, and bought tickets for a Saturday night game against the Philadelphia Phillies. 

Just one problem. Dogs are not normally invited to ball games. So someone in our party would be required to forfeit the game and stay home with Gracie. 

Guess who volunteered. 

Can't really complain though. Got some much-needed rest for my damaged shoulder, and enjoyed a lovely evening in. 

^ Glorious sunlit skies over the parking lots outside my hotel room near Great Northern Mall in North Olmsted, Ohio. Not too shabby. 

^ Spoilers: the Indians lost. The defeat was easier to bear from the comfort of my big fluffy bed. 

^ Even if I was required to share it with my red-headed companion. Notice how she's taking up more than half of the bed? Yep. That's my girl. 

Wasn't long before my family came bursting back in, carrying a load of snacks and sharing stories about the game. I might have been a little bit jealous of their adventures, but as my mind lingered back over the quiet hours Gracie and I spent alone together, I reminded myself that there's more than one way to have fun on a Saturday night in Cleveland. 

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Road Trip 2019: read all about it.

Sunday, November 3, 2019

Fox Trilogy

"I often have deer on my property and there's a fox and owls. You're not going to see that in the city." -Billy Corgan

"Ha." - Columbus, Ohio

Somewhere around three thousand miles into our road trip, the happy day finally arrived that we rolled into Columbus, Ohio, burst into the door of my second-born's apartment, and settled in for a week-long visit. 

Now there were a few days when she needed to work, and a brief jaunt over the weekend to Cleveland. More about that later.

But for three glorious mornings, we enjoyed marvelous mid-morning sleep-ins, and then headed out about town for breakfast and a bit of shopping. Early on, my daughter pointed out that her favorite coffee shop, Fox In the Snow, now has three locations. So why not visit a different location each day?

Why not, indeed. So here I present various and sundry scenes of our three mornings in Columbus.

^ The first Fox we visited was in New Albany, an idyllic planned community to the northeast of Columbus proper and just a hop, skip and a jump from my daughter's office. Colonial charm is the name of the game, with heaps of summer sunshine to spare. 

^ The interior features more predictable urban industrial charm, peppered with plants and rustic finishes. Eye candy all around. 

^ I do not drink coffee, which is a ruddy shame when it's served up like these lovelies. I settled on a ham and cheese baguette with a side of Mexican Coke, and considered that the perfect start to my day. 

^ Our errands on Day One took us here and there to various nurseries, so my daughter could track down a couple houseplants she was hoping to add to her collection. We got a bit sidetracked by this gorgeous wave of pumpkins, which were not on the to-do list but otherwise irresistible. 

^ Day Two saw us under drizzly skies in German Village, a Columbus neighborhood just south of downtown. Saturday morning saw the shop full of coffee daters and post-yoga snackers as well as our lot. 

^ Isn't that as pretty a berry bowl as you've ever seen? 

^ My family continued to experiment through the pastry menu but I stayed true to my savory roots and chowed down on the Fox's iconic egg sandwich. I devoured every crumb. 

^ Just a door or two down the street from Fox is another favorite Columbus destination: Stump. A plant lover's nirvana, every nook and cranny of this tastefully renovated home-turned-business is filled with carefully curated stands of hand-thrown pottery and plants galore. 

^ I struggled to capture the magic that is Stump. Each vignette blends into the next, which is more than the camera can take in, and the overall effect is straight intoxicating. We spent a ridiculous amount of time wandering back and forth, just soaking up the ambiance. 

^ Even the staff''s work area is adorable. The clusters of thirsty specimens, the black matte faucet, even the grey under-sink curtain scream with charm and style. 

^  Walking back to the car, we passed several blocks through a reinvigorated city neighborhood that sang with character and charisma. I would not be mad about living here. 

^ But who's this friendly face racing toward me down the sidewalk? My husband took my dog round the park while my daughters and I shopped for plants, and Gracie was breathless to see me again. 

^ For In The Snow, Day Three, got me grumpy from the get-go. Unquestionably my favorite of the three Foxes, I eagerly anticipated snapping a few choice shots of this exterior. Though the other two locations are new construction, albeit designed to look old, this third shop in Italian Village near the Short North is the real thing. Built, I believe, in an old mechanic's shop, the oversize windows and rattly old garage doors are to die for. But to my frustration, a young man was sitting on the bench out front, his laptop open, his Bluetooth device firmly planted in his ear as he paced back and forth, ranting in earnest to whoever was listening on the other end. There was no shooting around him, and apparently, there was no staring him down. Thank goodness I've visited this shop before and already took a round of gorgeous photos.  

^ Though they are quite simply by patisserie standards, I love the colors and textures of the pastries on display.

^ Oh, here's a good look at that ham and cheese baguette I ate on Day One. Each of the three shops has the same menu, which makes decisions all that much easier. 

^ Once again, my husband went for the blueberries and I got a pretty picture before he ate them. 

^ And here's my egg sandwich redux sitting with someone else's latte. My Mexican coke is sitting just out of frame. 

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After breakfast, we drove on a few blocks to the second Stump shop, and saturated our souls with more gem-like houseplants in hand-thrown pottery and styled to perfection in a refurbished old house. And so, with complete and utter satisfaction, we concluded our lovely trio of Fox In The Snow adventures.

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Road Trip 2019: read all about it.