Right after the first of the year, Lucas and I flew south. It was the first time either of us had taken a trip to warm weather in the winter and it happened just as the polar vortex was covering our little part of PA. I can’t say prefect timing enough.
The gulf coast of Florida is beautiful, and we enjoyed every minute of sun and temperatures that allowed for t-shirt and flip-flops. A few of our favorites: Ybor City in Tampa, 7venth Sun Brewery in Dunedin, Honeymoon Island (shells and dolphins!) just north of Clearwater, and of course, the highlight of our trip, swimming with manatees in Crystal River at the Three Sisters Springs.
Honeymoon Island Dolphins!
Three Sisters Springs Manatees
Face to face
Sea bird giving us the eye
It seems like fall is often the time when I blink and find that a month has gone by without blogging. I am going to blame (for the second year in a row) new jobs and new routines and my ability to get swept up in it all when we move to a new place. But, it is November, and the leaves are crackling under my feet and the air is finally crisp, and we even had a dusting of snow last week (I may be the only person in the Pittsburgh area excited about this besides Lucas), and I am happy to be back at my computer writing.
So here are a few of my favorite things from the last few months.
Warren Dunes State Park
This place is awesome! I have to say, I still love Lake Superior above everything else, but Lake Michigan is pretty great and the dunes in this part of the lakeshore are impressive and humbling and so much fun to run down (going up you really earn it). From the top of the dunes you can see out to the endless blue of Lake Michigan and back towards more rolling, sandy, tree-covered dunes.
The Mattress Factory
This is my favorite museum in Pittsburgh. It is a contemporary art museum tucked in the history district of Pittsburgh’s north side. It has permanent installation as well as new pieces. Always eye-opening and interesting.
Fall Hiking and Colors
Fall is my absolute favorite time to hike and camp. So we have been frequenting Racoon Creek State Park. I am always, always happy to be in the woods, especially as green gives way to bright pops of red and yellow and orange.
Last week we brewed our fifth batch of beer, a black IPA. We are loving the process and, of course, the results! It has been a fun new hobby for us that has easily transitioned from our backyard in central PA to our backyard in western PA. Now we just have to be patient as we wait for this new batch to ferment!
It seems like the end of November and the begining of December slipped right through my fingers: a blur of Thanksgiving and grading (so many freshman composition essays!) and rain and mini-weekend trips and suddenly it is Winter Break. The holiday season is upon us.
Yesterday, I finally ushered in the first day of winter break, and the end to my first semester teaching four classes of freshman English at a local university. I am SO ready for a break from grading, but I am glad I will have more freshman to keep me on my toes next semester. But for now, I am looking forward to spending time with family, baking (my list includes recreating Julia Child’s crossant, yes please), reading (for fun), dreaming up summer vaction plans (backpacking here we come), and finally tackling my non-school-related to-do list items.
But late fall (we are still snowless here), wasn’t all grading and gray. We packed in a few local adventures to satisfy our traveling taste buds!
Making our way to the monuments on a cool Novemeber day
Phipps Conservatory Winter Garden
Plus, Chihuly Glass!!!
Troegs Brewery…nothing like a pint of local beer
More from the kitchen soon…
We took way, way to many pictures (over 500) during our nine day trip so today I thought I would present the next leg of our journey in pictures.
Our Juneau, Alaska photo journal:
The M/V Columbia.
Wonderful visit to the Alaskan Brewing Company!
The view from Mt. Roberts (Juneau below).
Bald eagles at Auk Bay.
One of the many harbors, plus the mountain reflection. Makes me happy.
Whale Tail: Step 1
Whale Tail: Step 2
Whale Tail: Step 3
Beach walk on our drive “out the road.”
Mendenhall Glacier. Love. Love. Love.
View of the Mendenhall from the west glacier trail.
Lake feed by the glacier, near our campground. Great views in our own backyard.
Steaming to Sitka!
Last week a new digital food magazine debuted, and I was lucky enough to have an article published in it. My piece, “Good Bread,” appears on page 73. To view the free issue check out the Food Loves Beer website here.
Have a great Wednesday!
Last Friday, Lucas and I decided to recreate the fabulous Bear Tooth Theater Pub. As I mentioned in my Anchorage post, the Bear Tooth Theater Pub is a combination brewery, restaurant, and theater. What a great concept, eating dinner and drinking yummy beer while you watch a movie! So last week we gathered the essentials to turn our apartment into a private version of the theater pub: a throwback movie, The Truman Show, a growler of low-bush cranberry beer from a local Fairbanks brewery, Silver Gulch, and the ingredients to make homemade pizza.
The movie and the beer were awesome, but the pizza was probably my favorite part. Over the last several years I have gotten really into baking, particularly bread. I credit this interest to the two years I spent working for The Bread Bakers Guild of America, where I gained an appreciation for good bread. My bread certainly isn’t close to the quality I tasted when I worked there, but it has been a fun hobby that I am steadily getting better at. Since we arrived in North Pole, once a week I have been baking a pan loaf or two baguettes. And last week I branched out to homemade pizza dough.
The first step was finding a great recipe. Lately, I have been reading Heidi Swanson’s food blog, 101 Cookbooks, and this is where I found my new favorite thin crust pizza dough! The dough has simple ingredients: flour, salt, yeast, olive oil, and water. You can find the complete recipe on her blog here. Creating the dough is simple, but the key is time. The dough needs time to chill in the refrigerator over night and time to rise at room temperature before baking. With our little kitchen, we don’t have a pizza stone, but even on a baking sheet our two personalized pizzas came out really well. Lucas went for meat-madness with chicken and bacon. And I had a veggie pizza with broccoli, corn, red onion, and mushrooms. There is something really satisfying about eating pizza with homemade dough. Overall, it was a great date night that reminded us of our trips to Anchorage!
Last weekend we also visited the Georgeson Botanical Garden, part of the University of Alaska Fairbanks. I had been looking forward to seeing the super-sized veggies that they can grow in Alaska, but unfortunately, due to budget cuts, the vegetable trials were canceled this year so we only got to see really large cabbage. Most of the blooms were on the way out, since we are well into fall here, but the wildflowers were still beautiful as well as the dahlias. It was a sunny day, and we could see the mountains on the horizon as we ate lunch in the garden, so I was still a happy girl. Oh, and they have reindeer! Always fun to see.
Our final stop for the weekend was the Large Animal Research Station, also part of the University of Alaska Fairbanks. It was closed for the season, which we knew ahead of time, but you can still see the animals from the parking lot, and I was super excited to see my first muskox. A muskox is an arctic mammal only found in remote areas of the north: Alaska, Greenland, Canada, and Siberia. I had hoped to see one during our trip to the Arctic Circle, but it was still neat to see them at the research station. They are huge and look almost like a cartoon character with curled horns and shaggy hair. They certainly seem per-historic. Everything about Alaska continues to remind me about the past, what the world used to look and feel like.