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Amazing

July 18, 2014

…is what Portland is.  I have to remind myself that the weather isn’t always this nice, because man—this place is pretty great.  We had an awesome time exploring all that Portland has to offer today.

After showering up, we ate breakfast at the hotel and then headed out to the zoo, which was only about 15 minutes away by car:

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All of the usual suspects were there—lions, tigers, bears.  The weather today could not have been more perfect, so we took our time strolling through the various exhibits.

As usual, the hippos were the biggest hit.  I don’t know why, but Lila loves hippos. 

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Actually I guess I do know why—they’re pretty funny, right?

We headed back downtown for lunch at a bakery, and then went back to the hotel where Lila proceeded to nap for a solid three hours—I think yesterday’s day of travel caught up with her!  She woke up rested and ready to go, so we went out for another adventure.  Around 4:00, we drove to Forest Park, which our friend Whitney had recommended.  It’s pretty amazing—a HUGE park with hiking and biking trails, literally about 10 minutes away from downtown.  One minute, we were sitting in traffic, and fifteen minutes later we were on the trail:

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Lila has become quite the little independent hiker over the summer.  She insisted on walking on her own for much of the trail.  We stopped to throw rocks in a little splash pool, where the light was just gorgeous:

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Seriously—it felt like an enchanted forest. 

For the last bit of the hike, Lila asked to ride in the Ergo…and I was happy to have her on my back.  Smile 

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After such an active afternoon, we were ready for some serious dinner when we got back to the hotel.  We walked to Prasad, a vegetarian restaurant attached to a yoga studio that had good yelp reviews.  It did not disappoint—the food was beautiful, tasty and fresh.  Just what we wanted:

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Even Lila, though initially skeptical, dug into her brown rice, avocado, and bean bowl:

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…though I do think she was more excited about the ice cream we got after dinner.  Winking smile 

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Mmmm…cookies and cream from Ruby Jewel.  Amazing.

Quick, somebody tell me something bad about Portland—otherwise I might try to convince Ryan that we should move out here!

Have a good one!

Portlandia

July 17, 2014

Greetings from Portland! 

We’re spending next week out in Black Butte Ranch with Ryan’s family, and we decided to fly into Portland a few days early and spend some time here on a mini-family vacation before meeting up for the BIG family vacation.  We left yesterday bright and early—and I do mean EARLY.  Our flight left at 6am, so we were up and moving at 4:30.  Lila was pretty out of it, but she did great on our flights—now that she’s easily entertained by movies and the i-pad, flying is a whole (peaceful) experience—for the most part. Winking smile 

We got in around 11:30, picked up our rental car, and made it downtown to our hotel by about 1:00.  Ryan and Lila promptly went down for naps, but I was inexplicably full of energy—excited to be here I guess.  So I took a stroll around the Pearl district by myself, with Powell’s Books as my (obvious) destination.  I’m an English teacher—would I go anywhere else?

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By the time I got home, Ryan and Lila were up and ready to hit up the pool.  We spent about an hour in the indoor pool/hot tub—Lila loved the hot tub.  A girl after my own heart.  Smile 

After showering and getting dressed, we headed to the lobby for one of the perks of hotel living—free happy hour!  Wine, beer, and milk were enjoyed, respectively:

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For dinner, we got a special treat—Ethiopian food!  We love Ethiopian, but don’t have any options at home.  This was Lila’s first experience with it, and she actually did pretty well!  She loved the veggie sambusa that we started with, and did pretty well with the veggie platter.  Surprisingly, she wasn’t crazy about the injera (the big pancake you use to eat the food) , which I thought she would love. 

Photo: Toddler's first Ethiopian.

Unfortunately, because of the time change, Lila was up and at ‘em at 5:00 this morning.  Fortunately, that meant that she and Ryan were first in line for a Portland specialty–

Voodoo donuts!  They picked up a box of donuts while I hit the gym.  A big bite of a maple bacon donut was the perfect post-run treat. Winking smile 

We’re headed out to explore this morning—I think the zoo is on our list!  Have a great day!

On Ryan’s Plate: BBBQ (the extra “B” is for “Bodacious”

July 15, 2014

Say you’re driving down the road and you get a sudden hankering for some BBQ, as you often do. You come to a crossroads with three different BBQ restaurants. Now you’ve got a dilemma. How can you decide which one is best? Our friend Jon Sealy developed a helpful rule of thumb that can help you instantly determine a BBQ restaurant’s quality. It all has to do with the exterior décor (of course, you could use Yelp, but what fun is that?). If the place doesn’t have any pig pictures, statues, or iconography outside, it’s probably pretty bad. Take, as an example, the unnamed BBQ shack below, which is probably also a meth lab and local McCain election headquarters:

Now, if the place has some kind of swine symbols, such as Hog World’s dancing pigs seen below, it’s probably a safe bet:

Further, if the pig or pigs are wearing clothes, you’ve probably got a great BBQ joint on your hands:

Obviously, the very best BBQ places have a statue of a pig wearing overalls, a bandana, and a chef’s hat, plus sauce on his face, but any pig in clothes probably indicates a terrific meal. What I particularly like about a pig in clothes is the implication that he’s a cannibal– ready to feast on the sweet, juicy meat of his hog brethren. But maybe I’m reading too much into things.

I thought of Jon’s test this week as I was cooking up pulled pork for the first time. I’ve never cooked pulled pork, despite being a lifelong fan, from my days of eating Lloyd’s pulled pork sandwiches after school. (There’s no pig on the Lloyd’s container. There’s probably no pig inside a Lloyd’s container either.) It was high time for that to change.

As you’ve seen from Anna’s recent post, we’ve been on a bit of a slow cooker kick lately, so I decided to go that route. It turned out to be surprisingly painless (for me, anyway, if not for the pig who gave his shoulder for the meal).

First, I coated the meat with a rub made of pepper, garlic salt, brown sugar, and paprika (that’s the blurry container in the photo):

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After putting the pork in the slow cooker, I added a marinade of honey, liquid smoke, molasses, and a whole can of Brother Joseph’s Belgian Dubbel from Huntsville’s own Straight to Ale brewery, because everything tastes better with beer (exception: ice cream [wait, exception overruled]).

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Then the pork cooked for about 8 1/2 hours on low, at which point it could be pulled apart by hand (that’s where the name comes from! I never knew. Seriously). Add a little BBQ sauce, and you’ve got a terrific sandwich on your hands.

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As sides, we added a red cabbage coleslaw and some over-roasted okra. The result was a colorful plate that even Lila enjoyed:

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On the plus side, this meal is chock full of local goods – the pork, cabbage, and okra all came from Huntsville’s Greene Street Farmers Market – so I don’t want to get any guff from Barbara Kingsolver.

In the end, my first foray into pulled pork was a success. I wouldn’t rate it as a pig in clothes with sauce on his face, but I would rate it as a dancing naked pig. And a dancing naked pig is perfectly respectable.

Get Your Goat

July 14, 2014

Hello, friends!  Happy weekend—did you have a good one? 

Ours was fun.  We spent Friday night relaxing at home—Ryan actually made pulled pork in the slow cooker, which he wrote a blog post about.  It will be up later this week!

On Saturday, we went to a pump class at the gym (ouch) and then escaped the house to dinner and a movie with one of our friends.  We saw ‘Neighbors’—ummm, hilarious.  Hilarious, despite our relating to the Seth Rogen/Rose Byrne characters wayyyyyy too much.

Sunday truly was our fun day.  We headed to Elkmont, Alabama, which is about 45 minutes away.  First, we walked along the rails to trails path that starts right in the middle of town:

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After walking for about 45 minutes, we headed back to the car to go see…goats!

Elkmont is home to Humble Hearts Farm—a goat farm!  They’re always at our local farmers market, selling delicious cheeses and ice cream.  On Sunday, they had an ice cream social out at the farm—you got to play with the goats and tour the facilities.  It was HOT:

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…but still a lot of fun.  Lila was pretty wary of the big old billy goat (“I don’t like him! He has a beard!”), but she loved the smaller ones:

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Ryan has (strangely) always talked about wanting a goat.  Maybe some day—these guys were awfully sweet!

They also had a small farmers’ market set up.  We bought ice cream (of course) for the ride home, plus blueberries, peaches, and some cheese.

We got home, ate some quick lunch, and then crashed—all that hot sun really wore us out!

For dinner, more farmers’ market goods were on the menu—Ryan picked up some purple hull peas on Thursday, and we were excited to cook with them.  We cooked them, along with a bunch of torn kale (probably about 3 cups), some organic chicken sausage, and an onion, in chicken stock.  Brought it to a boil then simmered for about 30 minutes—delicious!

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I thought Lila would love the peas and cornbread muffins, but surprisingly, she went CRAZY for the kale!  She kept requesting “More kale! More kale!” 

Not sure what all is on the agenda for today.  Gym this morning, and then probably some travel prep—we leave for Portland on Wednesday! 

Have a great one!

Late to the Game

July 10, 2014

You know those recipes that circulate quickly?  The kind that it seems like EVERYONE and their mother is making, all of a sudden? 

Yeah, I usually make those like ten years after everyone else tries them. 

Enter: salsa chicken.

I actually remember the first time I had this dish—Ryan and I were but two young Purdue grad students:

(Ryan is clearly terrified of something in this picture.  I have no idea what.)

…and had gone over to our friends’ Jodi and Nathaniel’s house for dinner.  

Jodi served tacos with this chicken, and we all marveled at how good it was—all you had to do was put chicken and salsa into the slow cooker and boom! Done!  I vowed to make it for myself—as soon as I got a slow cooker.

Fast forward another year or two, and Ryan and I, newly married, received a slow cooker as a wedding present—score!

Fast forward another…errrr, five years.  Just a few nights ago I *finally* made the chicken—would you believe it is also the first time I’ve ever used our slow cooker?  Sigh.  Never let it be said that I can’t take my time with things…for better or for worse.

I’ve been meaning to use it for years—really.  I pin recipes for slow cookers all the time.  And then I just…never make them. 

But this week, I cooked in it TWICE.  Sure, both times I made the same dish—salsa chicken.  But that’s a start, right?  I made it on Tuesday night so that I could try it out for us, and then again on Wednesday for a friend who just had a baby.

It was just as tasty as I remembered—and just as easy as Jodi said it was, seven years ago.  Chicken breasts.  Salsa.  I added taco seasoning on the recommendation of pinteresters.   Five hours later, it was warm and shredded and ready to be enjoyed for dinner:

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And Lila approved. Winking smile 

And yes, the slow cooker is as great as everyone says it is.  Got any favorite things you like to cook in yours?

Pizza and Dancing

July 8, 2014

My friend (and fellow blogger) Ashley has been writing a lot on her blog lately about appreciating the summer while it’s here—thinking about the things you want to do during the months of June, July and August…and actually doing them.  I think I spent the month of June feeling a little down about the summer—even though we took our trip to Georgia, and will be heading out west to Oregon in a little over a week, this summer has just felt a little more quiet than the summers of the past few years.  It’s not that we’re not having a great summer, because we are, but I think in the back of my head I’m thinking, “Man, we should have gone to Paris!  We should have rented a house in Costa Rica!  We should have…”

– you get the idea.

I did enough of that in June.  I’m making it my goal for July and August to appreciate this summer for what it is, and making an effort to do things that will make the days seem a little longer, a little fuller, a little more fun.  Exploring an art festival in a nearby town might not be as exciting as, say, jetting off to Europe.  But really—how much fun would that be with a two year-old anyway?  Winking smile 

Anyway, we’ve been making more of an effort to do things that we’ve said we’re going to do—but have never actually gotten around to doing.  Hence, the bikes.  We also talk a lot about wanting to take advantage of more of what Huntsville has to offer.  We’re pretty good about this in general, but it seems like in the summer there is always something fun going on here—outdoor concerts, fairs, festivals, races—and I want to make even more of an effort to do as much as we can while we still have the advantage of summer’s long days and open schedule.

Last night, we hit up Huntsville’s Concerts in Big Spring Park—during the summer, they have a rotating schedule of outdoor concerts on every Monday night.  The bands are good, you can bring your own food (and wine!), and it’s totally free!

Last night, we stopped at a local pizza joint to pick up dinner:

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…and then enjoyed a couple of hours with friends, listening to a fun brass band. 

Ryan and Lila got in a sweet daddy-daughter dance:

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…but someone (Lila’s friend Dean) decided to cut in!

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Dean was cracking me up—pretty bold move for a young guy!  He must have really wanted to dance with Lila. Winking smile 

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Last night was a fun reminder of all our town has to offer—hopefully we’ll be taking full advantage for what’s left of this summer!

A Few Good Meals

July 7, 2014

After the brouhaha of the fourth (name that movie?), we settled in for a pretty laid-back weekend.  On Saturday afternoon, we did something we’ve been meaning to do since…ohhhh, December?

Photo: Ryan and Lila both got sweet new rides today. #andfunshinebeartoo

For Christmas, my parents “gave” Ryan a new bike—but it took us until July to actually pick one out and buy it.  Christmas in July!  We got a trailer for Lila too, which she is super-excited about (for now).  There are a lot of places we go on our side of town that are easily within riding distance—the grocery store, many of the parks, a few restaurants, etc.  My bike that I got back in Pennsylvania was still in pretty good shape, so we’re ready to roll now!

We’re looking forward to using a more green method of transportation when we can—we already rode our bikes to grocery store twice, and also took Lila to a nearby park, where she schooled me in a game of checkers:

Photo: Checkers at the nature preserve. #shescheating

Our meals were pretty basic over the weekend.  On Saturday night we had big salads topped with veggies, tofu, and goat cheese:

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…and then on Sunday night we had grilled chicken and sautéed zucchini, onions, and tomatoes (again topped with goat cheese).  This was a kind of light dinner…but just before dinner, Ryan and I polished off some fries at the pool that he ordered “for Lila,” so, you know…it all evens out.

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Nothing much else to report.  We have one more full week here—next Wednesday, we’re headed to the west coast for some quality time with Ryan’s family. 

Have a great one!

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