Travel Theme: Routine

This week at Where’s My Backpack?, Ailsa offers us a glimpse into routine for her photo challenge. As I need to re-routinize myself to blogging with the new year, this seems auspicious. 🙂

Ever forward.

Welcome to a goalie practice at the Herb Brooks Arena (home of the 1980 Miracle on Ice US Olympic hockey team upset-slash-victory, and I was so excited to walk in there I felt like a five-year-old on Christmas Eve). There were CAN/AM teams in the arena practicing, and we got to watch goalies get some top-notch coaching. Over. And over. And get shelled by their teammates. Over. And over. And then they’d stop and talk about what happened. It was fantastic.

OK, so, we're going to do this for the hundredth time. You ready?

OK, Bob, we’re going to do this for the hundredth time today. You ready?

Closer to home, check out these kids performing one of their dance routines at the Lewisburg Arts Festival. Come for the dancing, stay for the hand-crafted jewelry (not pictured, but trust me…you want some). 

We ain't never had an arts festival like this!

We ain’t never had an arts festival like this!

Boat maintenance is never done, and if you want to keep that boat up and running you have to tend to it as part of your daily grind. Just ask this fellow, sanding away at his boat in a Venetian canal.

All work and no play...is pretty much what happens when you have a boat.

All work and no play…is pretty much what happens when you have a boat.

Next, it’s Hilby the Skinny German Juggling Boy! Who is doing a juggling routine with his own hat that seems to surprise even him.

HEY! Where did that thing come from?

HEY! Where did that thing come from?

And finally. Ducks and swans in Reykjavik‘s Lake Tjörnin are so accustomed to people feeding them, it seems they’ve incorporated patiently waiting for bread into their daily routines.

Hey, kid. You gonna finish that?

Hey, kid. You gonna finish that?

Side note: No, you’re not imagining things. Icelandic whooper swans really are the size of a small child.

And I will leave you with an Icelandic folk song written in honor of the raven. Because I am a giver.

Enjoy the photo challenge!

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Travel Theme: Letters

This week at Where’s My Backpack?, Ailsa invites to look at letters.

So let’s look at letters.

I can’t read it, but it’s letters for someone. The tattered remains of an ancient scroll written in hieroglyphics. Seen at Boston’s beautiful Museum of Fine Arts.

Don’t ask me what it says, I don’t remember. And I can’t read it. But it looks super-cool, doesn’t it?

Chef Boyardee was, in fact, a real live person. Hector Boiardi emigrated to the US, became a chef, began marketing his sauce and–as one thing leads to another–eventually had so much demand he needed his own factory. Hector Boiardi built said factory in the fertile, tomato-crop-growing lands of Milton, PA, just a few short miles from my home. It has since been bought out by a larger food company (which shall remain nameless) but the iconic smokestack–and the surrounding tomato fields–remain.

He's real, people.

He’s real, people.

As seen in Skaneateles, NY. ’nuff said.

Ham, sweet ham. HOME! HOME!

Ham, sweet ham. HOME! HOME! I mean HOME!

If you ever wanted to read a collection of poetry by Nobel Prize-winning author Pablo Neruda–translated into Russian–here’s your chance. It’s even prettier when it’s written in Cyrillic.

A little light reading (and a kind of creepy doll) before bed, anyone?

A little light reading (and a kind of creepy doll) to send you off to dreamland, anyone?

And recently, I went on a nighttime river cruise on the Hiawatha, an event-and-rentable (party) boat on the mighty Susquehanna River. Here’s the recently-risen moon, shining on the tiara of letters that spell the boat’s name.

Nice night for a cruise.

Nice night for a cruise.

That’s it, for now, for letters. I hope you enjoyed them! Or even want to play along yourself… 🙂 Happy shutterbugging!

Travel Theme: Intense

This week at Where’s My Backpack?, Ailsa has issued a really challenging challenge. One might even call it…intensely challenging. *nyuk nyuk nyuk* The theme is “intense”. Hmmmmmmm….

Here goes!

Recently, George and I drove to Point Pleasant Beach during a visit with family, and hooooooo-weeeeee! The wind was crazy that day. My mother came with us; we were worried that the winds would pick her up and carry her away.

Down where the trade winds play...

Down where the trade winds play…

Next up: the intense physicality of an NHL game. Last year, George and I went to a New York Rangers game in Madison Square Garden. (Welcome to Rangerstown. Now get outta here.) A thousand years ago I was always going to hockey games as the ex- and I had season tickets, but when the marriage ended, so did the subscription. C’est la vie. Now, when I get a chance to go, it’s a real treat. Though you know, I’ve always thought that if I went to work and a colleague knocked me to the ground with a big stick while another colleague made off with my work implements? Screw you guys, I’m going home. I’m glad hockey players think differently.

Get the puck GET THAAAA PUUUUUUCCCCCCKKKKKKK!!!!!!

Get the puck get the puck GET THAAAA PUUUUUUCCCCCCKKKKKKK!!!!!!

I’ve spoken of Knoebels, our local gem of an amusement park, before. It’s always a thrill to go there and get flung about upside down and sideways.

OMGOMGOMGOMGOMG

OMGOMGOMGOMGOMG

Meanwhile in Venice, glassblowers use intense heat to make beautiful glassware. Bear in mind: this flaming red glass sculpture? Will cool and turn colorless, completely clear.

How'd you like a nice piece of molten glass?

How’s about a nice piece of molten glass?

For the last several years, the garden club in my little town has organized a summer garden tour, where select local homeowners with tour-worthy gardens graciously open their yards to the public for a day. I have world’s blackest thumb and can kill any plant you put in front of me; thankfully, I know lots of people who can make things grow at will. This was taken in my friend Steva’s amazing raised garden beds. Behold! The intense beauty of a perfect rose on a gorgeous summer day.

Welcome to Pleasantville.

Welcome to Pleasantville.

That’s it for now. I hope you enjoy the other participants in Ailsa’s photo challenge, or even decide to play along, yourself!

Here’s a little Bugs Bunny, singing about the trade winds, to enjoy on your way out.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Fruit

This week at Where’s My Backpack?, Ailsa has selected “fruit” as her travel theme. Allrighty then. I’m in.

Some interpretations of fruit may be a little bit loose. But what the hey, we have fun.

First up: my kitchen! I was making a lemon-caper vinaigrette to have with our dinner salad one night. As the Lord sayeth, verily, it was good.

Dee-lish!

Dee-lish!

Next up: on a chilly morning wandering the grounds of the Essex Resort in Vermont, I stumbled upon a planting of frosty ground cherries.

And then I ate one.

And then I ate one.

I like grapes. I like how they prepare them at the Ravines Wine Cellar at Keuka Lake (bonus: they do wine and chocolate pairing tastings…hell yes!). Imma leave this right here.

Super-yummy. I love a good tasting room.

Super-yummy. I love a good tasting room. Did I mention they do chocolate pairings? 🙂

Close to my home: I spotted this dwarf pomegranate blooming along the Buffalo Valley Rail Trail one fine late-summer day.

I really need to take another bike ride down the Rail Trail soon.

I really need to take another bike ride down the Rail Trail soon.

And finally. One night while visiting my mother, la momma asked me if I wanted anything fruity after dinner. Sure, I replied. What have you got?

WP_20150925_20_06_13_Pro-001

Health, darlings. Health.

Mmmm hmmm. Apple pie, strawberry ice cream. I’m not sure if she and I define “fruit” the same way. Nevertheless, it was very good indeed.

Enjoy the rest of the fruity offerings on Ailsa’s photo challenge! See you ’round the interwebs.

Central PA: Blue Moon on the Susquehanna

This past Friday night, July 31, we were lucky enough to have a confluence of many things fabulous on the mighty Susquehanna River. It was a gorgeous night–not too hot, gentle breeze, low(ish) humidity. It was a blue moon. And Lumpy Gravy, a friend’s band, was playing on the Hiawatha, a modified paddle boat that runs pleasure cruises along the Susquehanna. What a great way to spend a Friday, no?

Hawaiian shirt means extra fun.

Cap’n George says: Hawaiian shirt means extra fun. Ahoy!

The sun was setting, we could hear the band warming up down below (they play in the climate-controlled main room, in case of weather or issues).

The bright light is from the parking lot, but you can see the pink glow behind that of sunset in the west.

The bright light is from the parking lot, but you can see the pink glow behind that of sunset in the west.

But then we noticed something else happening in the east. George said, “Hey, what’s that glow over the top of that ridge? Is there…some kind of light source?”

It's some kind of something, all right.

It’s some kind of something, all right.

Yeah, we realized, a moment later, as the light source was climbing. Oh, yeah. Ohhhhh HELLS TO THE yeahhhhhhh. It’s the moon.

Hey, li'l fella. Don't be shy!

Hey, li’l friend. Don’t be shy!

And you know, as these things tend to do, the moon just kept right on coming up.

I am always surprised by how quickly sunrise and moonrise happen.

I am always surprised by how quickly sunrise and moonrise happen.

Here she is again, with her reflection snaking away in the wake of a passing boat.

Behold.

Behold.

Once more, can we please? From the back of the boat?

'Merica.

‘Merica.

Great, you’re beautiful, baby. Now how about a wider shot?

You mean like this?

You mean like this?

There’s a state park on the boat-landing side of the Hiawatha, and beyond that lies an industrial strip, home to factories that always have an abundance of lights burning. Thus, there is interesting light and shadow on the landing side that doesn’t necessarily mirror what the actual ambient light for the time of night should be.

The factories are beyond the trees, and I've got to admit, they make this interesting to look at on a night cruise.

The factories are beyond the trees, and I’ve got to admit, they make this interesting to look at on a night cruise.

And there we go, cruising right past some kind of utility tower.

Maybe it's beaming messages to aliens.

Maybe it’s beaming messages to aliens! 

Meanwhile, belowdecks, revelers twirled to the jammy sounds of Lumpy Gravy, celebrating 17 years of tie-dyed togetherness.

Rock it, Lumpy Gravy! 17 years and still going!

Rock it, Lumpy Gravy! 17 years and still going strong!

But you know, when you’re down below, you don’t get to see…

This.

Le sigh.

Le sigh.

Bonus: they have good beer available for sale. Open water. Beer. Boat. Music. Friends.

Nope, not a bad way to spend a Friday night. Rollin’ on the river? Not a bad way at all.

Bluebirds In My Back Yard

Bluebirds, indeed. Plus maybe another guest birdie or two.

Yesterday, I looked out my window into my back yard while I was on the phone with my mother, and I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. We usually have a lot of birds in the yard; cardinals seem to love it here, as do the usual assortment of blue jays and grackles and mourning doves. But yesterday…it was like someone was throwing a bird party and they all showed up.

(WHERE THE HELL DO I LIVE AND WHO AM I SPENDING MY TIME BIRD WATCHING??? God damn it, I’m from the suburban sprawl that is New Jersey. The only wildlife I spent time watching was the raccoons getting into the garbage. WHAT IS GOING ON HERE? And I digress.)

The red-tailed hawk that lives in our ‘hood was circling overhead. And my yard was filled with the chatter and flit of birds going about their very important bird business. A goldfinch or two joined the party, and I thought I saw the bright orange burst of an oriole fly by. It was like someone unleashed a box of flying crayons in my yard.

But the bluebirds. The Eastern bluebirds! Two mated pairs, in my yard. Hanging out on the telephone wires. Unfortunately, I didn’t catch a good photo of all four of them together, but you know…so what?

You look great in blue. Did I ever tell you that?

You look great in blue. Did I ever tell you that?

DIG MY PLUMAGE!

DIG MY PLUMAGE!

A juvenile song sparrow* stopped by to have a look around.

june 9 15 (15)-001

Hey, I know I’m not blue or anything, but I still deserve love.

And he kind of looks a little huffy. Well, hello, Mr. Crankypants.

*At least, I’m pretty sure that’s what this li’l fella is. If anyone knows differently, please do, tell.

june 9 15 (8)-002

WHAT.

Meanwhile, the bluebirds were busy checking out the new fence posts, built to keep in the sheep (SHEEP? OH MY GODDDDDDD WHERE THE HELL DO I LIVE?) our neighbors are getting.

june 9 15 (11)-001

Oh, yeah, it’s quite nice, innit? You’re getting sheep, you say? Right here?

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And now, for a moment of interpretive dance. I call this “The Stillness”. Thank you.

Meanwhile, a northern flicker attempted to be aloof and mysterious in the branches of the neighbor’s evergreen tree.

june 9 15 (16)-001

I said no photos. Damn paparazzi.

But at the end of the day, the bluebirds were the stars of the back yard show.

june 9 15 (19)-001

Derp.

june 9 15 (17)-001

You talkin’ ta me?

june 9 15 (14)-001

ALL SHALL LOVE ME AND DESPAIR.

Thanks for dropping by, birds! See you again soon!

Nosh: Super-Garlicky Mashed Potatoes (Sort-Of Skordalia)

Hi all! I know my food writing hasn’t been happening much. So much of my time has been taken up teaching Zumba and getting certified to teach Body Combat…and baking cookies…and blah blah blah…that I haven’t spent nearly as much time in the kitchen as I would have liked. Thank goodness for George. Well, thank goodness for him for many reasons; among those is the fact that he’s a great cook and has picked up my kitchen slack without complaint, keeping me fed and watered and healthy.

Today’s recipe is a take on skordalia, a classic Greek appetizer/dip/sauce made of garlic and potatoes. I can’t remember the first place I’d ever even heard of skordalia, though I suspect it was somewhere in Toronto’s Greektown. (Side note: if you go to Toronto, GO TO GREEKTOWN. Because yum! And fun. And why not? I digress.) What is this thing, I thought to myself, as I looked at the fragrant dish before me. This rich, super-garlicky, potato-tastic thing, that gives me so much joy to eat? Why have I not heard of it before? And why am I not eating more of it?

It’s that sort of moment that forces me to take a situation into my own hands. Now, I readily admit that this is in no way a traditional, dippable, sauce-able skordalia recipe, and I don’t want to infuriate the Greek community by trying to claim otherwise. Rather, I took the ingredients and now enjoy sort-of skordalia as beautiful, smooth, super-garlicky mashed potatoes, ones that are totally vegan.

Vegan? Mashed potatoes? That are rich and creamy and mooshy and delicious? Yes, way! You’ll need:

  • 2-ish pounds of your favorite mashing potato (I favor Yukon golds, but it’s your call)
  • 5 or 6 or 8 cloves of garlic. As much as you can stand, really. Peeled and smashed.
  • A good, flavorful extra-virgin olive oil. Amount is dependent on the texture you want
  • 1/2 tsp (ish) dried rosemary, or thyme, or your favorite herb
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Chopped parsley, or chives, for garnish
  • Note: traditionally, skordalia involves mixing in lemon juice too. I don’t care for it, but if you want to try it, go for it!

Wash and peel your potatoes, and chop them into 1-inch (or so) cubes. Smash and peel garlic. Put them all in a big pot and cover with water.

Notice the big clove of garlic, front and center.

Notice the big clove of garlic, front and center.

Make sure the pot you use is big enough to accommodate everything. Food needs adequate space to cook in. The starch from the potatoes will foam in the pot; if you don’t allow enough room for that then you’ll spend much of your time cleaning up foam overspill on your stove. Let the potatoes and garlic come to a boil and cook for 15 or 20 minutes, until the potatoes are fork tender. Before draining, reserve about a cup’s worth of the starchy, potato-y boiling water. Then drain, and put the potatoes and garlic back in the pot you boiled them in, and have at them with a masher.

Could these ingredients be any simpler?

Could these ingredients be any simpler?

As you begin mashing the potatoes and garlic (yes, all together), start incorporating the other ingredients. Add some salt and pepper and rosemary right away, so the hot potatoes can soak up all that good flavor. Then add in the starchy water and olive oil incrementally. Mash, and test for texture and taste. And mash, and add some more pepper and rosemary if necessary, and test again, until you’re happy with the flavor and have all the lumps out. You’ll be amazed by how successfully the water and oil come together to form a deceptively creamy potato mash.  When you’re ready, give the potatoes a whip.

Whip it good.

Whip it good.

Whip the potatoes until they’re pillowy. They were so soft and pliable I didn’t even need the electric blender, which remained in its box, unopened and forlorn.

Then spoon the potatoes out into a lovely serving bowl and top with a little additional olive oil and your garnish of choice. This dish is ridiculously versatile and goes with anything you’d normally eat with traditional mashed potatoes, whether it’s at a backyard summer party or at the holiday table.

I'm going to go and have some right now.

I’m going to go and have some right now.

Plus, they taste even better the next day.

Now, I know as well as anybody that it’s hard to compete with a buttery, creamy batch of mashed potatoes, and when I was in the throes of my picky-kid eating stage, traditional mashed potatoes were one of the few things I would eat without complaint. I still adore them. But this version, with loads of garlic flavor and zero dairy, is an incredibly satisfying alternative.

Give ’em a shot! Let me know what you think. Happy cooking!

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