Thursday, July 31, 2008

Photos Galore: Wisconsin Dells

You've already seen Wizard Quest. Here are the other two places we visited in the Wisconsin Dells:

Thanks again to Ammy for recommending the Tommy Bartlett Exploratory (formerly "Robot World." You'll never guess why). Getting to see an original MIR capsule was cool, but the whole place was a lot of fun--like a kitschy, 1970s, candy-colored mini-Exploratorium.

D's favorite part of the Duck Tour was getting to see the debris from the now-drained Lake Delton. We even made a postcard out of it (last photo in second album).


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Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Photos Galore: Land of 10^4 Lakes

These are from last week. Yes, I'm still catching up. I'll probably be done by, oh, December.

D and I had a brief discussion about which place in the Twin Cities areas we wanted to visit first, in case we ran out of time or other circumstances prevented us from going out as much as we wanted (as they did in DC). Her final criterion was "Which place would I feel most lame about not seeing, when people ask us about our trip?"

So we started with the Mall of America.

The next day, we drove over a hundred miles south to two unique museums. A lot of driving, but we're used to it by now, and it was totally worth it.

Last but not least, we spent a day at the Science Museum of Minnesota. It's huge. We mostly hung out in the Star Wars exhibit (mostly), but also played in their "Big Backyard" and stayed until 10:30pm--which was still an hour before the place closed. (The wedding reception upstairs was still in full swing when we left.)


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Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Postcards from the Sedge


Oh, I kid, I keeed! It's beautiful country out here in the Black Hills. We visited three places today:

Mount Rushmore, which is as impressive as you'd expect;

Custer State Park, where we saw a whole herd of bison up close; and

Crazy Horse Memorial, which has been under construction for sixty years (that's six-zero) and probably won't be finished in this century, IMHO.

Tomorrow: m*th*rf*ck*ng Deadwood!


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Who Steals a Magnet?

Seriously, who would steal a "PET IN ROOM" magnet off the doorjamb of someone else's hotel room? But that's what we found when we woke up this morning. The prime suspects are those meddling kids that inevitably prowl the halls of any Holiday Inn Express. I blame the parents.



Monday, July 28, 2008

Food & Cooking: Madison & Minneapolis

I was not happy with the food and cooking experience in Wisconsin, but it was balanced out by a great experience in Minnesota.

Things started badly in Madison when our freezer bag developed a rip in the lining. This led to a loss of insulation, which resulted in thawed-out mess upon arrival. My planned dinner of Tomato Florentine Soup with Tortellini was compromised by the warm-to-the-touch state of our previously frozen spinach.

After throwing away the perishables and rinsing off the non-perishables, I was dispirited and didn't want to make anything out of the pantry. I made CKL take me out to dinner instead. Then, after we made our menu and went grocery shopping, I got a migraine and was pretty much useless for cooking the rest of the trip.

We had exactly two home-cooked meals in the five days we spent in Madison: Fettucine with Pesto and Shrimps, and Tomato Tortellini Soup with Pesto (and the leftover shrimps. It's a sad day when shrimps are something that you just have to use up.)

The menu was repetitive and a little boring, but I just wasn't feeling energetic enough to make the Jambalaya I had originally planned to cook. Except for the milk, shrimps, fresh fettuccine and pesto, the food we purchased for Wisconsin came to Minnesota with us.

Minnesota was much better! I had a great time wandering around the produce section of Cub foods, and we were able to plan our meals around fresh vegetables. I'm always happiest when we get to eat fresh vegetables. They're more fun to cook and they taste better.

Our Minnesota menu: Seared Peppers & Onions with Chorizo, Stir Fry Broccolini & Mushrooms with Chicken, and the delayed Jambalaya.

Everyone needs a couple of signature dishes that they love to make and share with other people. Jambalaya is one of mine. It's fun to make, fun to eat, and I love to serve it to guests. Heck, I even made Jambalaya on my wedding* day.

This next bit is the Big Recipe Finale. I've decided not to do shopping lists anymore. The ingredient list tells you everything you need to know. So, on to the recipes!

Fettucine with Pesto and Shrimps: It's embarrassing to call this a recipe, since all I did was buy a few ingredients, cook them according to the package directions and mix them together. But hey, we go with what we have.

I also have a guilty secret: I usually dilute my pesto with a white sauce (since I always need more calcium in my diet). This time, I was even more guilty than usual; I cheated on the white sauce. Since we have such limited space, if I didn't want to buy flour or butter. For authenticity, I'll include my sad white sauce in the directions, but if you actually decide to make this, leave out the white sauce... unless you too need more calcium in your diet.
  • 2c milk & 1/2c potato flake/instant mashed potatoes (for totally cheated white sauce)
  • 1 package fresh fettuccine
  • 1 jar prepared pesto
  • 1/2lb raw shrimps
Microwave the milk until boiling or almost boiling (be very wary of boilover. Milk gets huge.) Stir in the potato flake. Microwave for 1-2 minutes until thickened and heated through. Set aside.

Salt and boil water for pasta.

Pour a little oil off the top of the pesto into a fry pan. Add shrimps but wait for the pasta water to boil before turning on the heat.

When the pasta water starts to boil, turn the heat to high under the shrimps. If the shrimps are big, cook them first, then add the fettuccine to the pasta water. If the shrimps are 26-30 per pound or smaller, they can cook at the same time as the pasta.

Shake or stir the shrimps until they turn pink. Remove from heat. Cook the fettuccine, if not already started.

Add a couple of spoonfuls of prepared pesto (and the white sauce, if using.) Stir together the sauce. Add some pasta water if needed to thin the mixture.

By this time, the fettuccine is usually done. Drain.

Combine the fettuccine and the sauce. Taste, and add salt, pepper and/or more pesto as needed.

Tomato Tortellini Soup with Pesto: This is another dead-easy meal. I usually make it with Spinach and call it Tomato Florentine, but you know what happened to my spinach.
  • 2c broth (whatever broth flavor you like. I used water and low-sodium chicken broth packets)
  • 14oz can diced or pureed tomatoes
  • 1c tortellini (whatever flavor you like, dry or fresh--but if you use fresh, you may want to use more tortellini. Fresh don't expand much when cooked. I used dried. Cheese, I think)
  • Prepared Pesto (again, whatever flavor you like. I used leftover basil pesto from the fettuccine)
Add broth and tomatoes to a soup pot. Bring to a boil.

Add tortellini and cook for time specified in package directions.

When the tortellini are done, stir in a spoonful or two of pesto. Taste, and add salt, pepper and/or more pesto as desired.

Seared Peppers & Onions with Chorizo: I guess you could call this tacos or fajitas or salad or tostadas or something. I never pick a specific name, since generally just put out the various components and let people make whatever they want with them. For example, I made myself a tostada first, then a salad. CKL pretty much just ate tacos. The next night, we had a salad with the leftovers.

As with so many of my other "recipes", the actual size/quantity/color/type of ingredient can be easily varied. The ingredient list is just what I used.
  • olive oil
  • red pepper flake
  • 1 large onion, sliced into roughly 3" strips
  • 1 large green pepper, sliced into roughly 3" strips
  • 2 pasilla peppers, sliced into roughly 3" strips
  • 2 cloves garlic, coarsely minced
  • 9oz chorizo, sliced into roughly 2" strips
  • 1-2 limes, cut into wedges
  • 1 bunch cilantro, chopped (if you don't like cilantro, use lettuce)
  • salsa
  • tortillas
  • shredded cheese
  • brown rice, cooked (or beans, if you prefer)
  • sour cream
Drizzle a little oil into a fry pan. Add 2-3 pinches of red pepper flake. Add onion.

Cook over high heat until the onion begins to look a bit translucent.

Add the peppers, garlic and chorizo. Cook, stirring frequently, until caramelized around the edges and done to your liking.

Remove from heat and squeeze lime wedges over the pan. Taste. Add salt, pepper, hot sauce as desired.

Serve with remaining ingredients.

Stir Fry Broccolini & Mushrooms with Chicken: I don't stir-fry very often. I'm always so concerned with making sure that the stir fry tastes like something in particular that I end up putting in too much sauce and everything gets all soggy and overcooked.

I don't actually have much by way of seasonings here on the road, so I didn't worry about making the stir fry taste like anything but its ingredients. Guess what? Shock of shocks, the stir fry tasted quite good. Two things I might have done differently, though: more garlic and some fresh ginger.
  • 3c prepared brown rice
  • 1 Tbs olive oil (if, unlike me, you have more than one kind of oil, use one with a higher smoke point, say canola or peanut)
  • 2-3 pinches red pepper flake
  • 12oz boneless chicken thigh, cut into 1" chunks
  • 1 large onion, cut into 1" chunks
  • 2 large cloves garlic, coarsely chopped (4 might be better)
  • 80z crimini mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 bunch broccolini, washed
  • 2 packets TJ's low sodium chicken broth concentrate
Cook brown rice, if not already on hand.

Add oil and red pepper flake to pan. Let infuse while preparing vegetables and meat.

Turn heat to high and add chicken and onion to pan. Cook until chicken is browned and cooked through.

Add all remaining vegetables. Stir fry another couple of minutes.

Drizzle broth concentrate over pan and mix thoroughly. Remove pan from heat. Taste. Add salt & pepper as desired.

Serve over rice.
Jambalaya: I love this dish, but if you've gotten this far in my long, looooooooooooooong post, you know that already. I always include tomatoes, onion, garlic, peppers and hot sauce. Everything else is subject to change, especially the meat. When I cook for guests, however, I always use chicken, spicy sausage, and shrimps.
  • 3 c brown rice, cooked
  • 1 tsp olive oil
  • 2-3 pinches red pepper flake
  • 60z boneless chicken thigh, cut in 1" chunks
  • 6oz chorizo, cut in 1" chunks
  • 1 large onion, cut in 1" chunks
  • 1 large bell pepper, cut in 1" chunks
  • 2 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
  • 14 oz can diced tomatoes (I usually use two cans but we were leaving the next day and I didn't want any leftovers)
  • 1 packet TJ's chicken broth concentrate and 1/2c water (or boil 1c of broth until it reduces by half)
  • Hot sauce**
Cook brown rice, if not already on hand.

Add oil and red pepper flake to pan. Let infuse while preparing vegetables and meat.

Turn heat to high and add onion and chicken to pan. Resist the temptation to stir until the edges of the onion start to brown. Stir once, and wait for the onions to brown a little more.

Add peppers and garlic. Reduce heat to medium.

Once the peppers have wilted a bit and the onions are translucent, add tomatoes, broth concentrate, water and about 1/2 tsp hot sauce.

Simmer until the chicken is thoroughly cooked. Taste. The sauce will probably need salt and spice. Add salt, pepper and hot sauce.

Simmer another minute. Taste and add salt, pepper and/or hot sauce.

Simmer, taste, season, and repeat until the Jambalaya is spicy but not painful.

Serve over rice.

* Yes, I really cooked for my own wedding. CKL and I wanted to feed our guests our favorite foods. So we put out the pre-dinner bread, hummus, veggies, and nuts that we serve at home, ordered a dish from each of our favorite restaurants, and rounded out the meal with a nice homemade salad and Jambalaya. I also made a few favorite beverages: Paradise tea, strawberry lemonade, Red Sangria and Tropical White Sangria. I had so much fun. It was a wonderful day from start to finish.

** Use whatever you like. I use Frank's Red Hot, mostly because we wanted a bottle of hot sauce that didn't need to be refrigerated and that had red pepper as the first ingredient. When I'm adding hot sauce to a dish, I'm looking to add heat and the flavor of chile peppers. Frank's fit the bill.

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Sunday, July 27, 2008

Together, This Is What We'll Do

In and around Rapid City, South Dakota:

View Larger Map

We haven't worked out which sights we're going to see first, but we've got tomorrow to decide all that. It's going to be a lot of driving, wherever we go.

BTW, if you want to hear the song that made D laugh out loud on the way here, skip to the end of Coverville 483. Quite amusing and appropriate, given our direction of travel.

We gained an hour by going from Central to Mountain Time, and the time change is also going to help us in a couple of weeks when we schlep from Denver all the way to Las Vegas. Not looking forward to that day.


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Humans are high maintenance.

Jasper and I have been pretty busy trying to keep the humans out of trouble. As I've mentioned before, they have some serious flaws. Two of those flaws caused some serious problems at the last mini-house: their inability to listen to anyone except other humans, and their almost complete lack of a sense of smell.

While I do like it when the humans are sick, I want them to be mildly sick. Ideally, they'll be just sick enough to stay home, to take long naps, and to spend a lot of time paying attention to me. Sicker than that, and things get downright inconvenient.

She got sicker than I like at the last mini-house. She's had this illness before. It's the one where she holds cold things to her head, makes noises while she sleeps, won't wake up to give me pets no matter how many times I tap her face, and staggers off to throw up hairballs. Human hairballs smell bad and sound quite uncomfortable.

Worst of all, she caused the whole thing herself! The humans like to rub smell sticks under their arms. Apparently, the old one ran out. She bought a new one with a different smell. It was full of the bad kind of fake flower smells.

Of course she couldn't smell it, but Jasper and I knew right away that this was a bad smell for her. I sent him in to watery eyes and sneezes at her, but she didn't pay any attention to us.

That's normal but frustrating. It was even more frustrating to see that she could tell something was wrong, but didn't know what it was. She kept wrinkling up her nose every time she moved her arms.

This is not the first time strong smells have made her sick. They don't get her right away, usually, so we had another chance when the humans got back that night. Jasper and I both made stinky faces and watery eyes at her before bed to tell her that she needed to go douse herself with water. Humans do that sometimes. Although I wouldn't recommend it for a more civilized creature, it does help to keep down the worst of the human smells.

She didn't listen to this request either. She just went to bed. So she woke up sick, and we had a bad day. Jasper and I took turns curling up with her and patting her face whenever she made too many noises while she was sleeping. Sometimes, it was so bad that we both had to give her snuggles at once.

She was mostly better the next day. But she didn't listen to our warnings then either, so she put on the smell stick. I could tell she was wondering why she felt so bad, but humans are just oblivious. I guess they'd rather suffer than listen to anybody else.

On the THIRD day, she finally figured it out. We left the very next day, so I didn't even get to enjoy sleeping under the big bed in that mini-house.

At least this mini-house also has a bed I can sleep under. I haven't been able to enjoy it yet, since she's been out of sorts until now. I'm glad she's better. I'm looking forward to spending the whole day and night under the bed tomorrow.

It's about time.

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Saturday, July 26, 2008


We visited three museums this week: Ed's Museum, the Spam Museum, and the Science Museum of Minnesota. Photos from all three excursions coming soon later. Each one was a unique experience--in a good way--though Ed's wins hands down for pure, inimitable nuttiness. Here's a teaser:

Tomorrow, we pack up and drive to the Badlands of South Dakota. We hope to not encounter any Maquis there.


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Thursday, July 24, 2008


I got to eat grass tonight! For the first time in weeks! I was so excited and happy I almost forgot to chew. I love grass!

Apparently the humans went to "Mall of America," a big building where they can buy all sorts of things they don't need. Besides my grass, they also came home with:
But of course the most important thing was the grass! I guess they got it from a place that normally juices it up for people to drink (humans are weird!), and the people working there were confused when they said they wanted the whole grass. Well, now they know! Maybe more cats will send their humans there and give them more business!

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Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Grammar Girl

We had a shorter drive than usual today, and arrived at the hotel around 5pm. Even after having to change rooms (due to a leaky ceiling and broken light fixture), we were unpacked and the cats were settled in by 6:30pm. That gave us plenty of time to make it into uptown Minneapolis for the Grammar Girl reading and book signing.

The reading itself was mostly Q&A, which is my favorite kind of author event. Not all authors are great public speakers, but they're all interesting people in some way, and interacting with an audience is usually the best way to draw them out. Many of the questions tonight gravitated toward etiquette--e.g., if and when to point out another person's errors. I guess grammar sticklers tend to like rules in general.

After the signing, D and I had a very nice dinner at Chiang Mai Thai (open until 1am every night! Why can't more restaurants be like that?). Here's how we plan to spend the rest of our time in the Twin Cities:

View Larger Map


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Monday, July 21, 2008

Wizard Quest

I went in expecting this to be cheesy, but it was actually a lot of fun. If you're ever in the Wisconsin Dells, check it out!


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Sunday, July 20, 2008

Cool House Rock

Quick post before bed... We visited the House on the Rock today, and weren't nearly finished when they closed at 6pm. My camera batteries died about an hour before then, because I'd taken so many pictures. (Note to self: recording videos draws a lot more power than taking still photos. BRING BACKUP BATTERIES.)

The House on the Rock is, as Roadside America says, "a claustrophobic shamble through darkened dens and hallways." There's an astounding amount of amazing stuff crammed in there. Some of my favorites:
  • vintage cruise ship menus, including one from 1861;
  • the three-story-tall whale-vs-octopus sculpture;
  • the mechanical music machines sprinkled throughout;
  • the huge carousel with no horses, only other animals;
  • and the gigantic, steampunkish machinery filling the Organ Room.
Photos coming soon, but there's absolutely no substitute for actually walking through the place. It reminded me of City Museum in a lot of ways. I'd love to go back there, too, and spend a lot more time than we did.

Tomorrow: the Wisconsin Dells. First priority is the Tommy Bartlett Exploratory (with the Mir space station module). If we have time and energy after that, we'll go check out Wizard Quest.



Friday, July 18, 2008

Food & Cooking: Cedar Point

Our room at the Holiday Inn Express near Cedar Point did not have a kitchen*, but it did have a bar sink, an itty-bitty counter, a microwave, and a tiny, no-freezer refrigerator. My two pots were not the least bit useful in this context. I used my 4-cup Pyrex measuring cup for all cooking and most mixing.

Needless to say, our meals in that room were not elaborate. On our travel day, we enjoyed a Southwest Corn and Rice Salad**, which a fancy way of saying I mixed a packet of rice with a bag of vegetables and added a few seasonings. On the only day where I actually spent more than 10 minutes throwing together something to eat, we had Cheater's Butternut Squash Risotto with Ham and Sugar Snap Peas. Yay for pre-cooked brown rice packets!

Cedar Point frowns upon outside food and drink within the park, so we planned on buying our meals there. Our shopping list was pretty minimal: water, cat food, the ingredients for the Risotto, and a few things needed for soup on our first night in Madison, WI. The recipe ingredients give you the list, so you don't need to see it here***.

On to the recipes!

Southwest Corn & Rice Salad: At five ingredients and a quick pass through the microwave, this is assembly-cooking approaching its easiest.
  • 1-lb bag Southwest/Fiesta Corn (the freezer aisle is full of corn mixed with various things. In this case, pepper & onions are what I wanted and what I got)
  • 2c cooked brown rice (I used a 10-oz packet. Close enough.)
  • 1 tsp lemon juice (I used a packet from the hotel, originally meant for tea)
  • 1 tsp olive oil (more or less; I'm pretty sure I used less)
  • 1 tsp hot sauce (I used a packet I picked up at one of the hotels and had floating around in my pantry box)
Thaw the frozen corn in the microwave.

When the corn is thawed and slightly warm, put the corn, rice, and all other ingredients into a bowl. Mix well.

Taste the salad. Add salt, pepper and additional hot sauce as desired.

Cheater's Butternut Squash Risotto with Ham and Sugar Snap Peas:
Slightly more involved than the corn salad, this still only has six ingredients and took less than half an hour to make. It's a cheater's risotto because I've never made a risotto in the microwave, and certainly never made one with brown rice. Two strikes against me there, so I just went for flavors of the risotto I wanted to make and let texture take care of itself.
  • 1 10-oz freezer package pureed butternut squash (canned pumpkin would be good too)
  • 2 pinches red pepper flake
  • 2 chicken broth packets (or 2 c chicken broth, cooked until reduced to 1/3 cup)
  • 2c cooked brown rice (Love those pre-cooked brown rice packets!)
  • 6 oz diced ham
  • 2c sugar snap peas, sliced diagonally into half-inch pieces (or whatever you like, really. I just thought diagonal slices looked pretty)
Add squash, pepper flake, and broth to a glass, microwave-safe bowl. Cook according to squash package directions (in my case, microwave four minutes, stir, microwave two minutes, stir). Remove from microwave.

Put the snap peas in a small bowl, add a splash of water, and microwave for 2-3 minutes, or whatever it takes to make them hot and bright green.

Add rice and ham to squash and broth. Mix well. Microwave in 2-minute increments, stirring thoroughly after each one, until most of the squash-broth liquid has absorbed into the rice. The mixture should be very hot****, with a somewhat creamy texture.

Add the steamed snap peas. Stir well. Taste. Add salt & pepper as desired.

* The room did, however, have a bonus window from the jetted tub/shower into the sleeping area. It was very strange to be taking a bath and to see the cats peering in at me through the window. Normally, they just stop in to take a drink of my bathwater. Mmmmm... human-flavored hot water....

** If nothing else, I've learned that no matter what you serve, it's a salad if you say so. I think my favorite definition comes from WordNet:
food mixtures either arranged on a plate or tossed and served with a moist dressing; usually consisting of or including greens
*** I'm pretty sure you didn't need to see the first shopping list either, but I set a precedent with it. I thought I should explain why I'm not following through this time.

**** Another handy use for our infrared thermometer. I heat everything I cook from prepared ingredients to the 165-degree recommended temperature for leftovers. Might as well be safe and kill off potential foodborne bacterial invaders.

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Forward to Wisconsin

We're now in Middleton, ten miles from downtown Madison:

View Larger Map

Sights to see here include the House on the Rock, a real place featured in Neil Gaiman's American Gods (which audio book we listened to earlier on the road trip), and the Tommy Bartlett Exploratory, where an actual Mir space station core module (one of three manufactured, identical to the one which went into orbit) is on display--thanks to Ammy for recommending the latter! We probably wouldn't have known about it otherwise.


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Monday, July 14, 2008

Food & Cooking, Part 3

And now for the delayed report on the Buffalo shopping trip. It's a bit belated; we're in Vermilion, OH now. But I do at least try to keep my promises. Be warned; this post is loooooooong.

As I mentioned previously, we prepare our first meal in a location out of our pantry, with whatever food items we brought with us to the new location. Our first night meal in Buffalo was a quick chicken chili.

The next day, we go shopping. By then, we have our itinerary for the location, so we know how many meals we'll need. In Buffalo, we needed three picnic lunches and two dinners. No breakfast food necessary; we got our breakfasts at the hotel.

Our picnic lunches are pretty routine. We pack your basic school lunch: sandwiches, fruit, veggies, cookies, crackers, water, juice boxes and soda.

For dinner, we split the total days and we each choose a meal for half of the available days. I get to pick the first night dinner at the next location, since I make it while CKL is setting up the electronics and settling in the cats.

In this case, we were each responsible for one dinner. CKL chose pasta. Since we had a pound of new potatoes left over from DC, I decided to make either a hash or some sort of vegetable stew, to be determined by the available produce.

Our necessary ingredient list looked like this:
  • Bread for sandwiches (we already had some curry naan, which was good for cheese sandwiches*, so we decided to get a couple of rolls from the bakery too)
  • Sliced cheese (for the sandwiches)
  • Fruit (whatever looked nice at the store)
  • Veggies (we had sugar snap peas on hand)
  • Cookies & crackers (we were hoping for a 6-8 pack of mixed cookies and crackers)
  • Bottled water
  • Juice boxes
  • Soda (tons on hand; CKL bought a case in DC because it was cheaper than a 12-pack and only slightly more expensive than a six-pack. Dunno why.)
  • Pasta (we had a 1/2-bag of penne on hand from a pasta dinner in DC)
  • Pasta sauce
  • Fresh vegetables for hash or a summer vegetable stew
  • Fresh veggies for pasta
  • Meat for pasta (optional)
  • Cheese for pasta (optional)
  • Frozen veggies in a steamer bag for the first dinner in Ohio
  • Organic wheat grass (for Jasper. We look for it at every store, usually fruitlessly.)
We chose Tops Friendly Market, since it was the first grocery store we found. They were indeed friendly. Every employee I saw greeted me, and our cashier went out of his way to find us a rewards card so we could save a few cents on our purchase.

Their produce, however, was very expensive and very ugly: squishy peppers, bruised zucchini, no eggplant, mildewy onions, etc. Even the fruit was bad. We ended up getting a couple of Washington apples (which I hope were from an early 2008 harvest, rather than leftovers from last winter). As expected, the cat grass search proved to be fruitless.

At this point, I gave up on the vegetable stew or hash, and decided to make some sort of potato salad. I went back to the produce aisle and found a lime that wasn't too battered. On my way out of the produce aisle, I got lucky and found some beautiful, if horrendously expensive ($7/lb) organic grape tomatoes.

From there, things went pretty well. We were able to find everything else on the list (except for the cookie-and-cracker combination, which we really didn't need anyway) and filled our veggie needs out of the freezer case. I decided that our potato salad would be a Warm Potato & Green Bean Salad with Tomatoes and Tuna.

Just in case you're interested in my less-than-inspired simple recipes, here they are.

Buffalo's Quick Chicken Chili: This was a very mild, tomatoey chili. I am not friendly with beans, so I used brown rice and corn instead.
  • olive oil (just enough to coat the pan)
  • 3-4 pinches red pepper flake
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 28-0z tomatoes (use whatever you like. I had a 14-oz can of puree and a 14-oz can of diced tomatoes)
  • 3c chicken broth (I used water + 3 broth packets)
  • 1 Tbs chili powder (Or more, but this was all I had left from the big pot o' chili I made in Arizona)
  • 1c instant brown rice
  • Cooked chicken chunks (whatever you want; I used a shelf-stable 7-oz bag of chopped chicken breast)
  • 2c corn kernels
  • Salt & Pepper
Add olive oil, pepper flake, onion and garlic to the pan. Cook over mild heat for a few minutes, or until the onion starts to look a little translucent. Add tomatoes, broth and chili powder and turn up the heat.

Cover the pot and bring it to a boil, stirring every few minutes to keep the tomatoes from burning to the bottom of the pan. I tend to forget to stir, so I set a timer for 3-4 minutes and stir every time it goes off.

When the mixture boils, add the rice, reduce the heat to medium (or whatever won't boil like crazy in your kitchen). Cook for five minutes.

Add the corn and chicken. Cook for five more minutes. Taste the chili. Add salt & pepper, as needed to make it not taste boring.

All told, the chili took 45 minutes to make, but I spent 25 of those minutes grumbling at a pot that just wouldn't boil. Once the chili finally boiled, it was ten minutes until we got to eat. I miss my gas stove.

We had a lot of leftovers (which I had to throw away after the debacle with the refrigerator. I had been planning on eating the leftovers for breakfast on a lazy day, so I was very sad.)

Warm Potato Salad with Tomatoes and Tuna: I wanted something like a pared-down version of a Salad Nicoise. But warm. This is what I ended up with. It's missing a lot of ingredients many people say are necessary for a Salad Nicoise (anchovies, olives, capers, lettuce) but I still liked it a lot. And it was easy!
  • 1 lb new potatoes**, quartered (or cut into chunks, if potatoes are larger than 2")
  • 1 lb green beans (I used frozen, as you know if you've waded through this post)
  • 1 large lime, juiced & measured
  • Olive oil
  • Salt & pepper
  • 1 pint grape tomatoes, halved
  • 1 6oz can tuna, drained (or less. I gave a third of the tuna to the cats.)
  • 2oz cheese, cut into 1/4" cubes (I had some leftover Iberico, so I cubed & used that)
Cover the potato chunks with salted water to about an inch higher than the potatoes. I usually just guesstimate how much salt water I need, add the potatoes and then pour off the excess. Bring to a boil and cook for 5 minutes.

Add the frozen green beans, cover the pot and cook for another 5 minutes (or longer, if your crappy electric burner is shocked so badly by the addition of the frozen green beans that it can't come back to a boil in 5 minutes.) Alternatively, you can cook the potatoes and green beans separately*** to ensure that each is cooked just the way you like it.

If you aren't committed to preparing your ingredients before you start cooking, take this opportunity to prepare the tomatoes, tuna and cheese.

Taste a potato and a green bean. If both are done to your liking, remove the pan from the heat and drain it. Set the pan aside to cool slightly while making the vinaigrette.

Put equal parts lime juice and olive oil in a small bowl and beat with a fork until mixed, glossy and slightly thickened. Add salt & pepper and taste. If it tastes good but a little strong, it's just right.

Pour the vinaigrette over the potatoes and green beans in the pan. Taste again. Add salt, pepper, olive oil or whatever you need to make it taste good.

Put some of the warm potato-green bean salad into serving bowls. Top with the tomato halves. Scatter cheese chunks across the salad, then top with tuna. Grind on some black pepper.

The leftover potato-green bean salad can be mixed with the remaining tomatoes (if any are left. We like tomatoes) and refrigerated for later**** use.

* Trader Joe's curry naan is great plain, but also delicious in a cheese sandwich. Another delicious, quick and non-messy picnic sandwich is cheese and dried fruit. We made Colby-Jack with Chili-spiced dried mango on sesame rolls. Chili-spice dried mango and peanut butter also makes a really good sandwich, if a little sticky. It's quite good with curry naan, too, but a little spicy.

** Don't use baking potatoes unless you want to be really, really careful. Red potatoes, golden potatoes and purple potatoes have less starch, so they don't get all fluffy when baked. This is also why they don't crumble away into nothing when boiled too vigorously. Of course, if you do end up with a potato mush, just add some chicken or veggie broth packets, a little more water and skip the vinaigrette. Stir in the cheese until melted, then mix in the tuna. Taste and add salt & pepper to taste. If you want, add a dash of cream. Tell everyone that you made them a lovely potato-green bean chowder. They'll never know the difference.

*** Of course, I would never cook my vegetables separately. It may preserve the flavor of each vegetable, but it's too much of a pain. I was utterly horrified the first time I came across a Chicken with Red Wine recipe that told me to cook each ingredient separately, keep them warm, and then combine them all just before serving. Dealing with a whole lot of different pots and pans and places to store my food-in-progress is way too complicated and messy. I want to eat and I want to eat soon. Besides, I only have one pot and one fry pan.

**** Just make sure your refrigerator is at a safe temperature. It almost broke my heart to throw away the leftover salad. I was all excited thinking about turning my leftovers into an omelette.

***** No, there isn't a recipe for the quick pasta we ate. Quick pasta is more of a formula: pasta + jar sauce + veggies + meat (optional) + cheese (optional). In this case, it went like this:
  • Put salted pasta water on to boil. And wait 45 minutes, which more or less negated the whole quick idea)
  • Add pasta to boiling water and wait for it to come back to a boil. In this case, it was another 10 minutes. Set timer for one minute less than the recommended cooking time.
  • Add sauce, frozen vegetables, and pre-cooked sausage to fry pain. Cook on fairly high heat (in this case, the highest setting), stirring every minute or so.
  • When veggies are tender, turn off heat (or turn to low if using a gas stove)
  • Taste pasta when the timer dings. Cook longer if not tender enough.
  • When pasta is done, turn off heat and drain pasta.
  • Place pasta pot back on hot burner, pour in sauce mixture.
  • Add pasta and blend with sauce.
  • Serve, sprinkled with cheese.

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Photos Galore: District of Columbia

You've already seen the monuments and the Capitol. Here are all the other sights we photographed during our two weeks in DC:

We also ventured outside the city to Mount Vernon:

And took a bonus trip to Baltimore, Maryland:

Huge, huge thanks to my friend Tony and his wife Eunju for feeding us food and tourism tips during our stay!


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Sunday, July 13, 2008

Why Ohio?

We're here for Cedar Point (green star on map below), "the roller coaster capital of the world" and recommended by our friend Michelle:

View Larger Map

This is also the first of three "bonus" stops on our way to Mount Rushmore. The other two are in Wisconsin and Minnesota. Nothing in this region was on either of our top ten lists when we started planning this road trip, but we've found some pretty cool stuff just because we had to stop near it on the way to somewhere else.


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Food & Cooking, Part 2

We postpone our originally scheduled shopping trip discussion for the following public service announcement:

When you get to a new place, always, Always, ALWAYS check the temperature in the refrigerator!

This is important because of bacteria. While we wouldn't exist without bacteria, it's important not to encourage unfamiliar invaders to mess with us. They mess with us best by growing in unwanted places. Say, our foods or our digestive tracts. Bacteria are very encouraged to grow between 40 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit.

The goal of a refrigerator is to slow down bacterial growth as much as possible. A food safe refrigerator should be at 40* degrees or below. A food safe freezer should be at 0** degrees or below.

If you already have a thermometer in your refrigerator, bring it on the trip. If not, grocery stores usually sell them pretty cheaply in the kitchenwares aisle. We bought one for about $3, but then remembered that CKL bought a nifty little infrared thermometer. It's a multi-tasker***! So we dumped the refrigerator thermometer and now use use the infrared instead.

Unfortunately, we forgot this very important food safety tip when we got to Buffalo. We didn't take the refrigerator's temperature. We cooked a meal and put leftovers into that untested refrigerator. The next day, we went shopping and put all our lovely new food into that same untested refrigerator. Then cooked and put some more tasty leftovers into the untested refrigerator.

We finally took the refrigerator's temperature two days later.

No food item in the refrigerator was under 50 degrees. Some were in the extra-scary 60s. All the perishables had to go. Just thinking about it still gives me the shivers. Thank goodness we hadn't actually eaten**** any of our leftovers!

Thank goodness, almost everything was in the freezer.

Mind you, at 27 to 33 degrees, the freezer was nowhere near food-safe freezing temperature. But at least it was plenty cold enough for refrigerated food and still safe to eat.

* At 40 degrees, bacterial growth is slowed enough to preserve food for a while. Note that bacteria aren't stopped, just slowed. So it's still a good idea not to encourage contamination, especially if you plan on eating that food in its current state.

** At 0 degrees, bacterial growth is stopped. Note that bacteria aren't killed, just stopped from growing.

***In addition to taking the refrigerator's temperature, we've used the infrared thermometer to check stuff out on hot days. On our trip to the Washington Monument, we checked the following:
  • Asphalt: 130s. No wonder feet get burned! Asphalt is a heat-storing monster
  • Skin: 75-98 degrees. Sweating turns out to be pretty good at cooling. Dry skin was in the sweltering 90s. Sweaty skin was in the balmy 70s. CKL's skin was cooler than mine.
  • Plants: low 80s. They were damp to the touch. I guess respiration is like sweating.
  • Granite walkway next to the plants: 100s. Nowhere near as hot as asphalt.
  • Washington Monument: 90s. We forgot to measure it in the sun. Otherwise, I would have expected something more like the walkway. Also, the Park Rangers were on the sun side of the monument. Had they seen us, they would have thought we were weird. If we were lucky. There is a whole lot of bag-and-person searching in our Nation's Capitol.
**** The cats, however, had been eating their refrigerated tuna treats. I wasn't so worried about them. The vet, my cat nutrition books, and teh interwebs all pretty much agree that as obligatory carnivores, cats are much more resistant to food-borne illnesses than people. Food just passes through their digestive systems too quickly.

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Saturday, July 12, 2008

I do not pick the mini-houses.

If I did pick the mini-houses, there would be a few changes. For one, all mini-houses would have beds a cat can comfortably sleep under.

This one has another of those boxes that fit under the bed and block almost all of the space. They always leave just enough for a cat to almost--but not quite--fit under comfortably. I like to sleep under the bed, so I do my best to alert my humans to the fact that I'm sleeping under the bed. I let my tail or one of my feet show. Or I make sure that I'm completely covered by a blanket. I even make sure to sleep in the same spot under the bed, once I find the best one.

Even so, the humans insist on stepping on me. We've been in several mini-houses with boxes instead of a proper space under the bed. I've been stepped on at each one. By now, you think the humans would have learned to look where they were walking. They apologize right after, but still...

They're stepping on me!

The first time I get stepped on at a new location, I can forgive it. But after that, it's just willful lack of concern for my well-being. And if that's not an insult, I don't know what is. It also occurs to me that even if I don't pick the mini-houses, the humans do.

I hope they're not insulting me on purpose, so I'm going to give them one last chance. I'll wait to see if they step on me again. If they do step on me before we leave this mini-house, I'm going to know it was an intentional insult.

A tip: don't offend a cat. We watch you while you sleep.

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Friday, July 11, 2008


I don't understand humans at all. They hardly sleep at all! They even set "alarms" to tell them when to stop sleeping! That's just silly.

I thought the humans had come to their senses in the last mini-house, when they spent several days lounging around in bed. That was great! I laid on top of them or between them and slept for hours and hours and hours and hours.

But now, they're back to their old crazy habits. They leave the mini-house for hours at a time, and many days they don't come back until after dark. And then they still don't go to sleep until after they've surfed teh internets for a while! It's as if sleep isn't one of the top three most important things in their lives! (The other two, in case you're wondering, are food and playing. Maybe playing is tied with snuggles. I can't decide.)

Humans are weird. I'm going to take a nap.

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Thursday, July 10, 2008

Overheard in Buffalo

On the drive up to Niagara Falls this morning (paraphrased):

D: Is that a fire up ahead?
CKL: Looks more like steam than smoke.
D: But it's gray.
CKL: No... that's the falls.

We were, in fact, seeing the huge plume of mist from Horseshoe Falls, which rose up to several hundred feet in the air while we watched it later--at one point, almost as high as the Skylon tower. Which is, incidentally, where we're headed tomorrow night for a fancy dinner and to watch the fireworks.

Our whereabouts for the next few days:

View Larger Map


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Food & Cooking, Part 1

CKL has been bugging me to post about cooking on the road. His biggest argument has been that people really enjoy my cooking when they come to our house. I always argue back that Team Snout is made up of people who are grateful for anything that someone cooks for them. It's not really an argument in favor of the quality of my particular cooking.

But what the heck... I'm going to post anyway. It's actually pretty fun to cook on the road. It's like a fairly easy puzzle.

Of course, it's only easy because I brought my own stuff. We spent a week at a Residence Inn before we set off on this road trip. I was quite unhappy with the food results produced by the provided cookware. Good tools are critical to decent food preparation.

These are the cooking supplies that I thought were indispensable:
  • 3.5-cup Bodum electric kettle
  • 3.5-quart All-Clad soup pot and lid
  • 10" Calphalon non-stick fry pan
  • 3 wooden spoons (two are more like spatulas)
  • My three favorite knives (one good 7" Wusthof Chef's knife, one utility knife, and one cheap-ass serrated knife that looks a little bit like a carving knife. Guess which one I use most often?*)
  • a dishwasher safe cutting board
  • 2-cup and 4-cup Pyrex measuring cups (Thus far, the 4-cup has been most useful as an iced tea pitcher)
  • utensils (measuring spoons, can opener, ladle, serving spoon)
There was some room left in the cookware crate, so I threw in some pasta bowls, 2 cereal bowls, 4 acrylic juice glasses, and some flatware. Except for the utility knife, measuring spoons, and can opener, all the cookware and dishes have turned out to be necessary at every location. And mine are still far, far better than the ones provided.

We also brought an 11"x15" plastic storage bin for critical pantry supplies, which we replenish as we use them. They are:
  • A bottle of really flavorful olive oil (We use B.R. Cohn--thanks Loren & Suzie! Our 6.7-oz bottle ran out last week, but we had found a replacement in a gourmet store in Charlotte.)
  • Disposable pepper and salt grinders
  • Red pepper flake (I just save all the packets that come with pizza)
  • Trader Joe's low-sodium broth concentrate (I love broth. We brought 3 boxes--36 packets--and just bought 2 more boxes in DC.)
  • Brown rice (pre-cooked packets or the "instant" kind)
  • Grits/Polenta (I'll use cornmeal if I have to, but haven't had to yet.)
  • Cous Cous
  • 14-oz can diced tomatoes (or puree. I miss my stick blender but I'd only use it to turn tomatoes into puree. As Alton would say, "No unitaskers in the kitchen!")
  • Pouch pasta sauce**
  • 7-oz packet of chunked chicken (if I can get it. If not, I grab a can of tuna.)
  • Tea bags (iced tea anyone?)
  • Instant oatmeal & dried fruit (our standard quick breakfast)
  • Pudding cups, applesauce cups, and microwave popcorn (snacks)
The idea is to always have something we can eat out of the pantry. This is especially important for dinner when we arrive tired, sweaty, and cranky at a new location. Usually, I make a quick soup or we have polenta with pasta*** sauce. The next day, we figure out how many meals we plan to eat in the room and go shopping.

Next time, I'll talk about our shopping trip for Buffalo. A preview: the produce was terrible.

* If you guessed the crappy, serrated, maybe a carving knife, you'd be absolutely correct. I love that knife, tiny rust-spots on the blade and all. Cost me $8 at a Wal-Mart in Illinois in 1995 and I've never been able to find another one like it. Just feels right in my hand. If it's dirty, I use the Wusthof.

** I very rarely bought pasta sauce at home. I could make vastly better pasta sauce in just a few minutes. At home, I had fresh herbs, a stockpile of dried herbs, fresh and frozen garlic, lots of kinds of olive oil, a huge stockpile of good canned tomatoes, and my stick blender. Here, we have to sacrifice flavor and economy for convenience.

*** Pasta would seem like a no-brainer for a portable pantry, especially if we have olive oil, red pepper flake and pasta sauce, but turns out that more than one hotel kitchen's crappy electric burner hasn't been able to boil enough water for pasta, or to maintain a boil long enough for pasta to actually cook. So we don't keep pasta on hand. That was a blow; pasta's always been my go-to for quick pantry cooking.

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Falling Water

People ask me which place has been my favorite place on this trip. Mostly, I just tell them that the most recent place is my favorite place. I'm a fairly shallow person. I guess just love the place I'm with

Besides, we've seen some AMAZING places on this trip. How could I choose between the Grand Canyon, a 100-million-year-old footprint, or a shuttle launch? They're such different experiences.

We saw Niagara Falls today, and now I have a new favorite place. CKL will undoubtedly post pictures, but like so many of our other experiences, pictures just can't do it justice. So let me put it like this: we watched water rush by all day long. And it was mesmerizing.

To be fair, we did enjoy the water from several different vantage points. I might have gotten bored if there weren't quite so many ways to watch the water. We took walks along rapids, crossed bridges over the river, walked next to the river where we saw whirlpools, viewed the Falls from all of the American overlooks, and even went on the boat and a boardwalk tour.

On the the Maid of the Mist, we were sprayed with plenty of mist. We saw the American Falls from the river, passed the Bridal Veil falls, and ended up between the two ends of Horseshoe Falls. The mist from Horseshoe Falls boils up so high that it obscures the Canadian skyline from miles away. At the base of the falls, we were right in the middle of it.

On the Cave of the Winds tour, we actually got onto wooden platforms and were sprayed with water from the base of the Bridal Veil falls. The roar of the water is so loud that CKL and I could only hear each other if we put our heads together and yelled.

Thank goodness they gave us disposable rain ponchos and sandals for this tour. We got a lot more than misty. There's a reason they call one of the platforms The Hurricane. CKL rolled up his jeans but still got soaked to the thighs. I figured that I was getting wet anyway, didn't bother to roll up my jeans, and only got wet to the knees. I'm not sure if there's a lesson in that.

Tomorrow, we plan to watch the Falls from Canada. I can't wait.

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Good News, Everyone!

Our COBRA premium is actually lower than the original estimate:

That's right, the revised premium is a whopping $13.57, or two percent, less than the original letter said. Whoop-dee-frickin-doo.

We're still looking into our other health insurance options. We've got until the first week of August to sort this out.


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Tuesday, July 8, 2008

This is bad news.

She is taking everything out of the drawers. The packing has begun. I guess they knew that we were getting comfortable here. We should never have let them catch us both in the window at the same time!

Okay. Now it's confirmed. She's putting away all their smelly bathroom liquids. We're definitely moving to a new mini-house. I need to go hide before they pack me up in something less comfortable than our car tent.

I just hope the next place is almost as good as this one. We had such a great window here.

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Monday, July 7, 2008

Last Day in DC

Because we've been so lazy here, we extended our stay by one day. So now we're getting ready for a late breakfast and some final sightseeing in the nation's capital. Tomorrow it's off to Niagara Falls and then westward ho! More DC photos coming soon.


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Sunday, July 6, 2008

Approaching Journey's End

Just saw today that the Star Trek attraction in Las Vegas is closing this September. I'm glad we'll be there in August for one last look.

Star Trek: The Experience, as it's called, has actually tracked my life in some strange ways: I first went there on its opening weekend in 1998, literally days after I had met my wife and fallen in love with her. In 2005, D and I spent half our honeymoon in Vegas and got assimilated by the Borg at least three times. (We recovered quickly.) And now, we're going to visit it one last time before it closes, during the final month of this road trip which marks the start of our new lives as professional writers.

My favorite part of the Experience has always been seeing how the actors switch roles throughout the day (one admission ticket is good for unlimited rides) and keep things interesting for themselves--making inside jokes, trying to crack each other up, varying their dialogue and actions just a little bit with each group that comes through. It reminds me a lot of our friend Acorn's annual Halloween haunted house, or the various community theater productions I've acted in.

I'm sure closing night on the Enterprise is going to be a blast.


P.S. Bonus points if you can identify the Star Trek episode referenced by the title of this post--without doing a web search!--and explain its relevance.


Thursday, July 3, 2008

A Capitol Second

Yesterday afternoon, staffers from Representative Anna Eshoo's (D-CA-14) office led us on a tour of the Capitol:

Anecdote: Anna Eshoo's office is in the same corridor as Ron Paul's, and his office door was open when we walked by. The receptionist had a big wooden sign on her desk, facing out, that said "PRAY."

You may have noticed many of my photos are a bit blurry. I've gotten in the habit of turning off our camera's flash, since most museums don't allow flash photography, and now I kind of like getting the natural colors of things instead of blasting them with artificial light. To make a bad analogy, it's like preferring letterboxed movies over pan-and-scan ("full frame")--I'd rather have information than detail. I know our goofy Sony DSC-P93A doesn't have the greatest color reproduction in the world, but it's more accurate than not. Plus there's that "I'm feeling lucky" button in Picasa.


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Wednesday, July 2, 2008

That's What I'm Talking About

Here's a link just in case you don't know what I'm talking about.


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