A Quick Look at Washington D.C.

Just got back in from my small trip this early  morning, like midnight time frame. It was a pleasant little trip, but boy is my family tired. One of my cousins got married in Virginia on Saturday and someone needed to be able to bring my 93-year-old grandfather down from his house in Massachusetts. So we did! It was quite a travel/driving/flying filled week back east, including visiting Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Maine, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, Washington D.C., and Virginia. Oy.

The wedding itself was a beautiful, outdoor, evening wedding at the bride’s father’s place on base at Fort Belvoir, Virginia. Since we were right outside of D.C., Smidget, Dad, my brother, and I all popped in to see some sights the morning/afternoon of the wedding. Here’s a quick peek for you of what we saw:

After our little sight-seeing trip we went back to the hotel and got ready for the wedding. We drove back to Massachusetts the next morning, so this is all we got to see of D.C., but it was worth the whole journey just to be there for my cousin and his new wife!

Congrats Rob and Sarah!

 

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The Doctor is in!

A few weekends ago I tagged along with Smidget to the graduation ceremony for the University up here that she teaches at, hoping to get a glimpse of her in her brand spankin new digs. After years of studying and writing paper after paper, Smidget has finally finished her PhD in Business Administration! So she’s Dr. Smidget, to you.

“Doctor.” “Doctor.” “Doctor.” “Doctor.” “Doctor.” “Doctor.”

Check out that awesome puffy hat! It really is all about the puffy hat.

The graduation took place at a local high school, after the usual ceremony facilities had an extremely damaging incident this winter. Warning to those new to high-snow areas: if the snow builds up to extremes on the roof, it will collapse. So, instead, the graduates got to walk at the beautiful new auditorium/theater at Bartlett High School.

Bartlett is on the north side of town, practically in a place called Eagle River (which is still technically part of the Municipality of Anchorage, I believe, but is also its own thing) and does not really have the best reputation among the high schools in town. But I personally feel a kinship with the school and it’s students for one simpleish reason: for the girl’s hockey teams in high school, there were not enough girls interested to support teams for each school and as such they had us paired up; my high school, South Anchorage, was paired with Bartlett! I got to play with a good friend, whom I had played on competitive teams with for years, just because she went to Bartlett. Good times.

Anyway, the school itself has had a bit of a facelift over the past few years and was a great place to take some pictures!

While I went to a nice, brand new high school, Bartlett is quite pretty and really seems to be cleaning up nice!

But the real excitement is about Smidget receiving her doctorate (well, technically she graduates in June, but the school has given her to OK to be called “Doctor”). Wait, Doctor who?

Congratulations Smidget! And thanks for letting me take pictures of you in your new garb, even though I know how much you hate getting your photo taken!

Blue Moon Cupcakes

A good friend and I went for a hike today, even though the trail is completely covered with snow and we had to balance along the part that had already been packed down by previous hikers. We, the city of Anchorage, did break out record for snowfall in one season this year. Did I mention that? We broke the record by just over an inch, which our local paper headlined as “In By An Inch”. Hehe, dirty. Anyway, back to the hike.

View during our hike - taken via cellphone

I have been friends with this lovely lady since high school and after a few years spending time working towards an art degree (she’s an amazing drawer, absolutely fantastic) she has decided her heart lies is in writing. So, naturally, us two writers struck up a conversation along the trail about our craft. She’s been big into writing fan fiction of some of her favorite stories while working on her own plot lines and characters for school work, but she mentioned having a hard time recently with coming up with her own ideas. I knew exactly what she meant: drawing blanks on what to write about is an issue I often have as well.

One of the great things about the writing classes I took in college was the prompts I walked away with to write about after each class. Now that I don’t even have a small writing group to work with (planning on changing that in the future…) and share prompts with, coming up with my own stories has proven difficult. Luckily I stumbled upon a great tool the other day. The group behind NaNoWriMo has another writing challenge called Script Frenzy, where you are challenged to write a 100 script in the month of April. I decided not to participate this year, as scripts are not my thing yet, but maybe in the future I will take up the challenge. What I did find great, though, was a small thing on the homepage called the Plot Machine. It creates, wacky, fun, and all together silly yet inspiring plots to get you going with writing.

I mentioned this wonderful machine to a few writing friends of mine, including the one I went on a hike with today, and am eager to try my hand at a few of the random plots I find. Up first: After suffering a heart attack, the entire cast of Riverdance goes on to try out for the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders team.

Let the writing begin!

To keep me going along the process I find it important to have a few things, including baked goods and good drinks. Ever since seeing Blue Moon Cupcakes on Pinterest, I knew I had to try my hand at them. They are delicious, velvety cupcakes with a hint of orange and wheat. The original recipe calls for a light meringue frosting, which I would love to try, but since my batch of cupcakes wouldn’t have been eaten up entirely in a few hours, I opted for a longer lasting orange cream cheese frosting. So get on up and make yourself a batch, they are worth it. And you’ll even get a little bit of leftover beer to enjoy while the cupcakes are baking!

Blue Moon Cupcakes

3/4 cup (a stick and 1/2) unsalted butter, softened
1 3/4 cup sugar
2 1/2 cup flour
2 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
3 eggs, room temperature
1 tsp. vanilla
2 drops red food coloring*
10 drops yellow food coloring*
1/2 tsp. orange zest
1 cup Blue Moon beer
1/4 cup milk

Directions:
Preheat oven to 375° F. Line 24 cupcake trays with liners. In a medium bowl, mix together flour, baking powder and salt.

In a stand mixer, beat butter on medium speed for 30 seconds. Add sugar a little bit at a time, beating well. Once it’s all added beat for 2 more minutes.

Add eggs, beating after each.

Add vanilla, food coloring and orange zest and beat.

Mix beer and milk in a measuring cup. Alternatively add beer / milk mixture and flour mixture to butter mixture in the large bowl, beating after each. End on the flour mixture.

Fill cupcake liners 2/3 full. Bake for 18 minutes until cupcakes are golden and a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.

Once cool, frost each cupcake with a generous amount of frosting. Just before serving, garnish each with a small orange slice.
Frosting:
8 oz. cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup whipping cream
2 tsp. orange zest
juice of 1 orange
5 cups powdered sugar (plus more, if needed)

Beat the cream cheese in mixer until fluffy. Add in whipping cream and continue to beat on medium speed until cream in mixed in fully and has gotten slightly fluffed.

Add in orange zest and juice, continuing to beat on medium speed.

Slow mixer speed and add in powdered sugar a cup at a time, making sure sugar is incorporated fully before adding next cup. If you want your frosting stiffer add more powdered sugar, if you want your frosting thinner add more whipped cream.

Frost on top of cooled cupcakes.

*Instead of using liquid food coloring drops, I used a bit of orange gel food coloring.

Recipe adapted from: Miss Make

Chocolate-Pistachio Biscotti: Take 2

Remember over a year ago when I made the disastrous chocolate-pistachio biscotti via Martha Stewart? Well, after a long time of looking up some recipes, getting pistachios prepped, leaving said pistachios in a plastic baggy on the kitchen counter for probably far too long, and actually deciding on a recipe to use, I finally got around to making a better version!

I had mentioned that I had wanted to find a better recipe and make the biscotti again, but who would have a good recipe? Why, Dorie of course! I grabbed the copy of Dorie Greenspan’s Baking: From My Home to Yours from the kitchen bookshelf and found her recipe for a chocolate-almond biscotti. By simply substituting the pistachios instead of almonds, I reached the wonderful taste I was looking for when I originally thought up mixing chocolate and pistachios.

These biscotti are a little soft in the middle still, so if you like your biscotti really crunchy I suggest baking them for a bit longer during the second baking. The chopped up pistachios spread evenly throughout the cookies and are much easier to deal with than the whole ones I tried with the Martha recipe. The little bits of chocolate bring a hing of moist, tasty treats as you much along. Even the pinch of espresso powder brings out more of the chocolate flavor and make the biscotti smell slightly coffee-esque. Nom.  Eat them alone or with a cup of coffee or tea, (Although I wouldn’t recommend the pomegranate green tea pictured. I used it because it’s tea I like, so I would drink it after the photo shoot.) and enjoy!

Chocolate-Pistachio Biscotti

2 cups AP flour
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 Tbsp. instant espresso powder
3/4 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
3/4 stick (6 Tbsp.) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1 cup chopped pistachios
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped, or 3/4 cup mini chocolate chips

sugar for dusting

Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment or a silicone mat.

Sift together the flour, cocoa, espresso powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.

Working with a stand mixer, preferably fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the butter and sugar together on medium speed until pale, about 2 minutes; the mixture may be crumbly. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, add the eggs and vanilla and beat for another 2 minutes; don’t worry if the mixture looks curdled. Reduce the mixer speed to low and mix in the dry ingredients in 3 additions, mixing only until a dough forms. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Mix in the chopped nuts and chocolate, then turn the dough out onto a work surface and knead in any dry ingredients that might have escaped mixing.

Divide the dough in half. Working with one half at a time, roll the dough into 12-inch-long logs. Flatten both logs with the palm of your hand, so that they are 1/2 to 1 inch high, about 2 inches across and sort of rectangular, then carefully lift the logs onto the baking sheet. Sprinkle each log with a little sugar.

Bake the logs for about 25 minutes, or until they are just slightly firm. The logs will spread and crack – and that’s just fine. Remove the baking sheet from the oven, put it on a cooling rack and cool the logs for about 20 minutes. (Leave the oven on.)

Working with one log at a time, using a long serrated knife, cut each log into slices between 1/2 to 3/4 inch thick. Lay the slices on their sides – you’ll have an army of biscotti – and bake the cookies again, this time for just 10 minutes.

Transfer the biscotti to a rack to cool.

Recipe adapted from: Dorie Greenspan and Baking: From My Home to Yours

Rosemary Focaccia

I have recently begun experimenting more with bread making. While back at school it was difficult for me to really do anything big in the kitchen, and making bread never seemed like an option. So, while I visited home during summer and winter holidays I looked up some simple, rustic bread recipes.

One of the first recipes I decided to try was, oddly enough, for Rosemary Focaccia. I had gotten the cookbook Sarabeth’s Bakery as a Christmas present and decided I wanted to try her recipe. I am so glad it was the first bread I ever truly tried. It is AMAZING.

The process may seem a little weird to anyone who has never made this type of bread before, the first time I made it the whole thing baffled me, but it really creates an incredible crusty, fluffy, flavorful bread. Plus it’s soaked in olive oil, which gives the loaf (if that’s what you can call it) a nice fruity and fresh feeling. It will also make the whole kitchen smell of freshly baking bread and rosemary, which are two of my favorite smells!

Rosemary Focaccia

1/4 cup warm water
3 1/2 tsp. active dry yeast
1 3/4 cups cold water
3 tsp. finely chopped fresh rosemary
4 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, as needed
1 3/4 tsp. fine sea salt
4 Tbsp. high-quality, fruity extra-virgin olive oil, divided, plus additional for the bowl
You will also need:
a spray bottle filled with water
two tall glasses
very hot water (enough to fill the two tall glasses)
a “kitchen-sized” plastic bag

Place the 1 3/4 cups cold water and rosemary into the bowl of a heavy-duty stand mixer. Dissolve the yeast in the warm water, let stand until frothy (about 5 minutes), then add to the water and rosemary in the stand mixer bowl.

Attach the bowl to the mixer and fit with the paddle attachment. With the mixer on low-speed, gradually add half the flour, then the salt. Add enough of the remaining flour to make a soft dough. Replace the paddle attachment with the dough hook. Knead on medium-low speed just until the dough is smooth and it cleans the bowl, about 3 minutes. Do not over-knead. Gather up the dough and shape it into a ball.

Coat the inside of a medium bowl generously with olive oil. Place the ball of dough in the bowl, and turn to coat with oil. Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap (or a towel). Let stand in a warm place until doubled in volume, about 1 hour.

Pour 2 Tablespoons of the oil in a half-sheet pan, and spread evenly with your fingers. Punch down the dough and transfer to the oiled pan. Using you hands, coax and stretch the dough to fill the pan. If the dough is too elastic, cover the dough in the pan with plastic wrap and let rest for 5 minutes, then try again.

Choose a warm place in the kitchen for proofing. Slip the pan into a tall “kitchen-sized” plastic bag and place two tall glasses of very hot water in the bag at opposite ends of the pan to keep the plastic from touching the dough. Tightly close the bag, trapping air in the bag to partially inflate it. Let stand in a warm place until the dough looks puffy, about 45 minutes.

Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 450˜° F. Fill a spray bottle with water. Remove the glasses from the bag, then the pan. Using your fingers, gently dimple the top of the dough. Drizzle the remaining 2 Tablespoons olive oil over the top of the dough. Using the palms of your hands, taking special care not to deflate the dough, very lightly spread the oil over the focaccia.

Place the focaccia in the oven. Aiming for the walls of the oven (and not the top of the focaccia), spray water into the oven. The water will create steam to help crisp the focaccia (and it will not harm your oven, it’s just water). Bake until the focaccia is golden brown, about 20 minutes. Cool in the pan for 20 minutes before serving. Cut into rectangles and serve warm or at room temperature.

Recipe adapted from Sarabeth Levine and Sarabeth’s Bakery

Iditarod 2012

I mentioned a few weeks ago that Dad and I had journeyed around town for Fur Rondy, including a stop at the Ceremonial Start of the great Iditarod race. Now, I am a bit behind on this, the race has been over for a little over two weeks, but it seems like the ideal opportunity to share the photos  I got of the race teams oh so long ago! A little bit of dog sleds to ring the the spring, that makes total sense. Doesn’t it?

Now, for a bit of background, the Iditarod race started back in 1925 with a, now famous, run to Nome, Alaska to deliver diphtheria serum. You might remember the story from the animated movie Balto, about the heroic dog who leg the pack on the trecherous trail. There’s also a statue of him in Central Park. (But really, the dog you SHOULD know about is Togo. Namesake for Girl Scout Camp Togowoods where I had one fond summer)

Since then, well, for the last 40 years. You do the math, I’m not too good at it. English major, what can I say. Anyway, the trail has become a great sporting event up here in Alaska for both mushers and dogs. This year the trail once again ran from Anchorage to Nome, a total of almost 1,000 miles! Well, ok, so it actually “officially” started in Willow, not Anchorage. But, part of the reason the race from Willow to Nome is not quite 1,000 miles is because of the tacked on “ceremonial” start in Anchorage which itself is 20+ miles long. Enough chatter, here’s a map I found via the Anchorage Daily News Website, which during race time was interactive.

As mentioned, Dad and I went to the ceremonial start in Anchorage, and while we weren’t in the thick of things Downtown, we had a great view of the teams rushing by as we cheered them on and I snapped photos. Including one of this guy:

2012 Iditarod First Place Winner Dallas Seavey!

 

Here are some other great shots I got of the mushers as they made their way towards Willow (eventually, the next day) to begin the race!

13th place, and fastest Rookie Musher, Brent Sass

Hank DeBruin, 49th place

Ed Stielstra, 25th place

Aaron Burmeister, 4th place! (also, "Look Ma, no hands!")

Colleen Robertia, 21st place Colleen was so photogenic and happy that day, I got a few great shots of her!

Colleen again

Justin Savidi, 45th place

Mitch Seavey, 7th place, and Dallas Seavey's dad, in fact there were three generations of Seavey's this year and the youngest won

 

It was snowing a bit that day, can you tell?

There were 67 racers and teams this year, out of which 53 finished and, unlike what has sadly happened in the past, no dogs died on the trail for the third year in a row! This is a big thing for mushers, the Idiatrod big-wigs, and the fans alike. These dogs are treated like little furry kings and, as you can tell from some of the photos, they love running and pulling the sleds. It is literally what they were made to do.

I know I left out a lot of information on the race in general, so please if you have any questions feel free to ask via comment or email!

Springtime

Yesterday was the official start of the season of spring, which means (at least according to recent TV commercials) it’s also the start of grilling season!

What? What do you mean our grill doesn’t look ready? What makes you say that? Is it the bit of snow that is still on that little tray? Or the grill scraper that is still partially buried? Oh. I see. It’s all the snow that is still piled up all over the deck and around the grill that makes it so we can’t even get to it, never mind use it. You know, you may have something there.

Ok, so moving on then, I bet that wonderful raspberry bush we have is looking wonderful and like it can’t wait to start sporting little red berries as the long, warm, sunny days arrive.

No?

Check out the snow build up on our neighbor’s little shed there too, pretty cool huh?

Alright, so while us Alaskans (at least my other foodie friends and I) cry a little every time the warm weather is mentioned in the lower 48 and every time we see something online, or on TV, or in the newspaper, or hear something on the radio about spring being here, that doesn’t mean we can’t begin our anticipation of warmer, brighter days ahead.

Although, we still want that record snow fall. Three more inches of snow, then spring. Like, spring instantaneously. Thanks.

Until then, just delve into these tasty Apricot-Oatmeal Cookies for a bit of a sunny and warm feeling.

Apricot-Oatmeal Cookies

8oz (2 sticks) butter
3/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla
1 1/2 cups AP flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
3 cups old-fashioned oats
1 1/2 cups diced dried apricots

Preheat oven to 350°F. Prepare two baking sheets with either parchment paper or silicone baking mats.
In medium bowl or stand mixer, cream butter and sugar together until fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, and vanilla to butter and sugars.
In another medium bowl, combine oats, flour, baking soda, and salt.
Mix dry ingredients into the wet until just combined.
Add in diced dried apricots, mix until apricots are dispersed through dough.
Measure out dough by tablespoons onto prepared baking sheets. Bake for 10-12 minutes, or until nicely browned on the bottom and edges.
Let cool on wire rack.

Makes about 4 doz smallish cookies.

Dig in and enjoy a hint of spring/summer!