A Bike … is just not a Bike

Bike-photoUndoubtedly, on any given day, one can walk into my garage and notice an array of bikes.  And most of the time, at least two of those bikes have just appeared and been left behind by some friendly visitor.

 At just about the time school started this year, we all noticed a bike, laying on its side, that had been left at the end of a driveway near our bus stop.  There it sat for many days, until one day someone moved it across the street and propped it up against the street sign.  I’m sure it was a well intentioned adult, trying to place the bike in a more prominent viewing position to remind whoever left it behind that it should be retrieved.

So this bike I passed daily driving in and out of my neighborhood.  The thought bubble in my head when I drove by it was – “I wish someone would claim that bike and get it out of here.”  One day I was driving home with my two teens, David and Eliza, and I articulated this thought, in somewhat of an exasperated tone.  David quickly said – “I like seeing it there.  It’s a symbol of our neighborhood.”

From that day forward, when I passed the bike, a little smile showed up on my face.  A bike, especially for youth, is a phenomenal symbol of freedom and independence.  And fortunately, we live in a fairly self contained, untrafficked neighborhood, ideal for bike riding.  When I think back to my childhood, many of my memories are of zipping around on my bike – with cards pinned to the spokes, stopping at a neighbor’s driveway to “fill up with gas,” or racing down the street with hands in the air.   And of course when I was older, it was my primary mode of transportation to visit my friends and get me into town.

 This week the bike is gone.  Who knows where it went – whether its owner finally decided to reclaim it, someone else decided to claim it, or someone just got tired of it and decided to dump it.  I guess we’ll never know.  But guess what?  I miss it.

Dining in the Dark….

klick1We know about Dancing in the Dark.  Well, what about dining?  I recently became aware of a most unusual way to dine  - totally in the dark.  If you eat at Pod Kridlemnoci in Prague, you’ll have to swap your sense of light for a sense of adventure.  Kridlemnoci translates to “Under the Wing of Night” and through this experience of dining in the dark, you are forced to let your other sources of smell, touch, taste and hearing take over.

After selecting your meal in the “world of light,” you are led to the “world of darkness” where all visual stimuli disappears, leaving you to focus solely on the taste of your food, and the voice of your dining partner.  There’s something about this type of experience that really intrigues me.  If it’s true that when one sense isn’t usable, the others are heightened, the gustatory pleasures of dining in the dark may be unparalleled.   Plus, think of all the great faces that you can make at your dining partner and you can even pick the food out of your teeth without a care (sorry I had to bring it down a notch).  Might even be the perfect type of venue for a blind date.

Apparently this idea originated through an organization in Zurich called Blindehuh (Blind Cow), which creates jobs for the blind and visually impaired. Today dark dining spots can be found in many metropolitan cities across the globe, including New York, Beijing, Montreal and Sydney.

This whole idea was presented at a marketing offsite I attended.  It was presented to enable us to think about breaking away from the structure that typically frames our life, and to think about how we react to it.  If you can break away from this structure, often your mind becomes awakened to different patterns of observation and thinking. Typically when you’re in the dark, you are in a passive frame of mind – and most likely trying to drift into sleep.   Can you imagine sitting in the dark for a couple hours, carrying on a conversation and enjoying a meal?  I imagine every element of the experience is heightened.

I for one am anxious to experience this.  I’d love to know what you think!

A Meal to Consider for Chilly Fall Days

02_PA_1D01_04_98132_s4x3_lgAs the days start and end with that chill in the air, it’s time to start thinking of some hearty meals.  I stumbled across a recipe this past week and gave it a go, and with the exception of my vegetarian daughter, all gave it a thumbs up.  It was easy, and I just happened to have all the ingredients in my fridge or cupboard.

Give it a try if you’re in the mood:

Texas Brisket

3 medium or 2 large onions

1 4.5 to 5.5 lb fresh beef brisket

1/4 cup apple cider vinegar

1/4 cup soy sauce

1/4 cup liquid smoke

1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce

1/4 cups steak sauce (like A1)

1/4 cup strong brewed black coffee

1.  Preheat oven to 325 degrees.  Slice onions and arrange in center of a roasting pan that will hold the brisket snugly.  Place brisket on top, fat side up.

2.  Whisk together the remaining ingredients; pour over brisket.  Cover pan with heavy aluminum foil, sealing it tightly.  Bake 3.5 hours or until tender.

3.  Remove from oven; transfer meat to a cutting board and cover with foil.

4.  Transfer onions to a blender with a ladle or two of liquid from the pan.  Blend until smooth; stir back into remaining liquid in pan.

5.  Slice brisket across the grain and serve with the gravy.

And add the mashed potatoes for the side.  Not a bad meal, especially in the middle of a busy week!

The Wasilly Chronicles

levi_johnston_vf_mI happened to catch Lawrence O’Donnell’s new MSNBC political commentary show Wednesday night, The Last Word, and was treated  to a rather amusing segment which places future mom-in-law Sarah Palin against future son-in-law Levi Johnston, who by the way is now running for Mayor of Wasilla.  Click here for clip.

I had actually heard an outtake of this interview with Levi driving to work Wednesday morning, but I missed who the interview was with.  All I heard was someone not being able to answer a few questions, and responding that he doesn’t watch too much TV or read papers.  Well one thing is for sure, the United States of America is truly the land of opportunity – and if you’re willing to put yourself out there (as Levi Johnston certainly has) who knows what will happen.  We’re probably looking at the future governor of Alaska.

So Tuesday night the interview aired.  Lawrence O’Donnell decided to use the very same questions (verbatim) that his fellow journalist Katie Couric had used in her famous interview of Sarah Palin two years ago. Wednesday night he aired a clip of these two interviews side by side, and there is currently a poll running to determine which of these Alaskans fared better.   It’s amusing to take another look at the Palin interview – so many words came out of her mouth in response to each question – but very few of them made any sense.  The most striking difference was hearing again how Palin reads all the papers (even though she couldn’t name one) and Levy admitting to reading the Wasilla Frontiersman occasionally, but never the New York Times. Despite Levy not sounding like the sharpest tack, his honesty in admitting that he didn’t know the answer or that the questions “were over his head” at least was refreshing.

So far, Levi is winning the poll of who handled these questions better … This must be interesting fodder at the Palin dinner table.

Lake Placid Part 2: Time to Talk Food

BH_SideMnt_weddingsWise Women Charlotte appropriately called me out on my former Lake Placid blog, as the very important category of where to eat was missing.  While we didn’t hit any primo romantic gourmet restaurant spots (not tolerable with a 5 and 7 year old along) we did have some nice meals.  The town is full of a range of eating options – many casual burger, pizza, Italian, steakhouse type venues.  The many groups of teen guys (including my son) who were in town for lacrosse were in heaven wandering the town on their own, deciding which burger haven to hit.

For those of you who may be visiting the area, here are some dining considerations for you:

Big Mountain Deli & Creperie: This is an excellent place to pick up some sandwiches for a hike or a picnic by the lake.  They have close to 50 gourmet sandwich combinations, and what puts this restaurant over the top is a great selection of breads.  In addition to the standard fare of wheat, hearth, or seeded rye, you can choose from Asiago Peppercorn, Caramelized Onion, Rosemary Garlic, or Basil Pesto.  I had a roasted vegetable, fresh mozzarella and olive tapenade sandwich on Rosemary Garlic bread, and it more than hit the spot.  In addition to the sandwiches, they do have a nice menu for dinner – many styles of crepes.  They have a small dine-in area, and while I did not get there, my friends did and recommended it.  Also for the late evening strollers along the main street, Big Mountain Deli & Creperie has an amazing list of dessert coffees to choose from.  Unfortunately I did not make it in, but I’ve never seen such a long list of unusual combinations for coffee.

The Boat House: This was where we had our nicest dinner (pictured above).  The Boat House is operated by the hotel where we stayed, the Crown Plaza, but sits on the opposite side of the lake.  You can walk from the hotel, drive, or take the hotel shuttle.  It sits right on Mirror Lake, and has a large deck that sits right on the lake for outdoor dining.  The setting was lovely, and we were able to watch the sun set over the lake as we dined.  My meal was delicious, and the food served around me also looked delicious.  I had diver sea scallops, prosciutto ham, sauteed artichokes, roasted tomato and kalamata olive served with jasmine rise.  Everyone left very satisfied.  The added bonus was that the four children left us there, walked into town to visit Ben and Jerry’s, while we stayed for coffee and a piece of indulgent flourless chocolate cake.

The Mirror Lake Inn and Spa:  If you’re traveling to Lake Placid as just a couple, this may be a place to consider for lodging.  It has a beautiful facility that sits right on the lake, and many appealing dining options.  One of their restaurants called The Cottage, has dining on a deck which extends over the lake (similar to The Boat House).  While we didn’t dine here, it was recommended and looked lovely.

Desperados:  If you have a craving for Southwestern/Mexican, this is the spot to hit.  We also did not make it here, but this was recommended by my friend who lives there.  It doesn’t sit in a prime location (but still very convenient to town), and its decor isn’t anything to rave about, but apparently their margaritas and food is excellent.

So hopefully that is enough to get you started on your journey.  To review Things to Do in Lake  Placid, click here to read the Destination Lake Placid blog.

Delicious QUICK Blueberry Desserts

blueberry-cobbler-fire-islandI’m currently in Maine, and when you’re in Maine you eat blueberries – about everyway that you can come up with.  One ‘ole favorite is simply stewing fresh blueberries on the stove with a little water and sugar, and serving this hot blueberry sauce over warm biscuits (using Bisquick makes it ultra easy).

My sister brought along the following recipe, just a simple cobbler recipe, but a delicious and oh so easy one, so I thought it was worth logging it into the WWCC archives.  The recipe calls for cooking in ramekins, but we doubled the recipe and baked it in a 9 by 12 inch casserole dish.  We tried it with blueberries, and also with frozen mixed berries (blue, black and raz) which was particularly yummy.  Here it is:

Berry Cobbler

2 pounds of frozen berries, thawed

1 cup sugar plus more for dusting

3 T instant tapioca

1 T lemon juice

1 (7.75 oz) packet butter biscuit mix (recommended:  Bisquick Complete)

3/4 cup cream soda, divided

Directions:  Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Spray 8 (4-inch) ramekins with butter flavored cooking spray (we just used regular canola spray) and set aside.  In a bowl combine thawed berries, tapioca, lemon juice, 1/4 cup of cream soda and sugar.  Transfer to ramekins. 

In a large bowl, combine biscuit mix and remaining cream soda.  Mix until well blended.  Sprinkle biscuit mix over berries.  Dust with sugar.  Bake for 30 to 40 minutes.  Serve warm with vanilla ice cream.

Source:  Sandra Lee

And while I’m on a blueberry kick, this is another favorite recipe of mine from the Saltwater Seasonings Cookbook, Good Food from Coastal Maine written by Sarah Leah Chase (of Silver Palate fame) and Jonathan Chase.

Wild Blueberry Pie:

Crust (although I must admit I typically always resort to the Pillsbury pie crust):

2 cups unbleached all purpose flour

8 T (1 stick) unsalted butter, chilled and cut into small pieces

1/2 cup Crisco shotening

1/4 tsp salt

1/3 cup water

Filling:

4.5 cups fresh wild blueberries

2/3 cup granulated sugar

2 T unbleached all purpose flour

1 T fresh lemon juice (optional)

1/2 to 1 tsp ground cinnamon

pinch of grated nutmeg

1 T unsalted butter

1. To make the crust, combine flour, butter, Crisco, and salt in a mixing bowl.  Using a pastry cutter, blend the shortnening into the flour until the mixture is the consistency of coarse meal.  Add all the ice water and continue to work into a soft dough.  Shape the dough into a flat disk, wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate at least 1 hour.  (Alternatively, make the dough in a food processor by the usual machine method).

2.  Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

3.  Divide the pastry dough in half and roll one half out on a floured surface to fit into a 9 inch pie pan.  Line the pan with dough, trimming the edges to fit.

4.  In a mixing bowl, toss the blueberries with the sugar and flour to coat evenly.  Stir in the lemon juice (if using), cinnamon and numeg.  Pile the filling into the pie shell.  Dot the top with the T of butter cut into small pieces.

5.  Roll out remaining half of the crust into an 11 inch circle.  Place over the top of the pie and crimp the edges to seal the pie and make a decorative crust.  Cut several slashes in the top of the pie with a sharp knife to seve as steam vents.

6.  Bake the pie until the crust is golden brown and the filling is bubbling, 40-45 minutes.  Note that this pie bakes at a relatively high temperature for a relatively short period of time.  Serve the pie either warm or at room temperature.  Be sure to top with a scoop of vanilla ice scream.

Ta Da!  Dessert (which ever one suits your fancy) is done in a flash, and you’ll have a most appreciative audience.

Destination Lake Placid

DSC_0634Lake Placid is a great college town…without a college.  We happened to make our way to this great place to attend a lacrosse tournament with our oldest son David.  It is a breathtakingly beautiful destination, and part of its beauty stems from the fact that it is a four season sports and recreation mecca.  In addition to the more traditional recreational activities of kayaking, sailing, swimming, water skiing, snow skiing and fishing this place offers, the amount of high end athlete training that is going on simultaneously is unbelievable.  The lacrosse tournament followed on the heels of a rugby tournament, which followed on the heels of the Horse Show; the Ironman triathlon had just finished up the week before (Lake Placid is host to this grueling Ironman event annually, one of sixteen world-wide races); girls in their ice skating outfits could be seen walking down Main Street and disappearing into the Olympic Center (famous for the US Olympic 1980 “Miracle On Ice” Hockey win over Russia).  We slipped in to the center to watch some pairs performing.  Ice hockey games were going on daily, and skiers were  at the training center, practicing their aerial free form moves, landing in a 750,000 gallon pool, while others practiced ski jumping.

Even though we did not have one of those perfect crystal clear days, we could still see the majestic outline of the Adirondack mountains surrounding us.  Water and mountains – there’s not much that is better than that.  The town is full of  cute  shops and great restaurants sitting on Mirror Lake (not Lake Placid).   Turns out that Lake Placid is mostly a residential lake, with very little public access.   Mirror Lake is a recreational lake about a mile across, allowing no motor boats.  This makes it an extremely safe and pleasant place to swim across, and has a rope with bouys going across the middle of the entire lake to guide swimmers.   You can look out at anytime and see a handful of swimmers making their way across.  It almost serves as one gigantic pool for the town.

We stayed at the Crown Plaza, which sits up on a hill overlooking the town of Lake Placid and Mirror Lake.  Given it’s quick access to town, its indoor pool, and beach on Mirror Lake, including complementary use of peddle boats and row boats, this hotel was a very easy and kid friendly place to stay.  It has a beautiful lobby which overlooks the lake and surrounding mountains. Each room also has a fridge/freezer combo and microwave, making it easy to at least have breakfast in the room in the morning – if you’d rather skip the $12.95 breakfast buffet (which by the way is very good, but not in the daily plan of a family of six!).

Given a fairly intense lacrosse schedule over three days, we were not able to exhaust the top ten list of things to do in Lake Placid, but we made significant progress.  Here are the things that I was able to conquer on that list over the course of three days (all of which I recommend), navigating amongst nine lacrosse games:

1.  A walk around Mirror Lake: Just as you see so many folks swimming across Mirror Lake, there are many walking around the lake on its 2.7 mile loop.

2.  A swim in Mirror Lake:  I’m a salt water gal, but there’s not much that is more refreshing than jumping into a fresh water lake.  The temperature was just right, and there were a number of swim docks to swim out to and jump from.

3.  A Bobsled ride: The four kids went on a bobsled ride down the winter track on a bobsled outfitted with wheels.  The kids had to be at least 48 inches, and Sam just squeaked by.  The bobsled is driven by a professional driver and brakeman, then the four kids were between the two professionals.  Forty-two mph, 48 seconds, and $250 later, the kids had a lot to talk about.  It was quite a thrill.

4.  Wet and Wild Wednesdays:  Every Wednesday during the summer, the national aerial ski jumpers (who are in Lake Placid for the summer training) put on a show where they come down a ramp and fly 50 feet into the air doing amazing flips, twists and turns, landing in a pool, skis, ski boots and all.  It was an amazing show.

5.  Standing at the top of the Ski Jump: If you get vertigo, this is not an activity for you.   A chair lift ride up the mountain, and then an elevator ride up to the top of the ski jump, you stand gazing at an amazing view.  You are allowed to stand at the top of the ski jump itself, which is insanely high and steep.  How anyone can first attempt to even try to jump is beyond my comprehension.

6.  A tour of Lake Placid:  This is where I lucked out BIG TIME!  During my 7AM solo walk around Mirror Lake, I coincidently ran into an old school friend who summers at Lake Placid, resulting in an invitation over to her house for the afternoon on the lake. A beautiful house, with a large beautiful dock and boat house, my family was in high heaven.  My kids were treated to water tubing on Lake Placid and then we took a tour around the lake – only 50% which is accessible by road.  Many beautiful boat houses and wooden Chris Craft boats journeyed up the lake, setting a quintessential summer scene.

7.  A visit to the Olympic Center and “Miracle on Ice”:  It’s inspiring to see the huge ice arena where the US Men’s Hockey team was victorious in the Winter Olympics.  We are all anxious to watch this movie again when we return home.

So there you have it.  A quick three days in Lake Placid – but a very fun and activity filled three days which gave us all a real taste for this town.  Hopefully lacrosse will bring us here again next summer, so I can complete the top ten list!

Update from the Backyard Chicken Farmer

DSC_0632It’s been a while since I’ve reported on my (oh I mean my son’s) pet chickens.  Life on the “farm” is quite good.  We get 6-8 eggs daily from our chickens, and they are far closer to having dogs as pets than I ever imagined.  We’ve relaxed our inhibitions regarding free ranging – and when we’re home, let them roam the yard – despite threats from a neighboring hawk.  They clamor to get out of their pen – and are so happy when they get to roam.  And my son only needs to walk into the backyard and let out a little whistle, and they all come running and follow the pied piper back into their coop.

They were roaming in the backyard a couple of weeks ago when we glanced out the kitchen window and saw a deer grazing in the middle of the pack, each and every chicken and lone deer totally minding their own business.  It was quite a funny site.

Another funny site would be a chicken wearing a diaper.  A friend recently forwarded to me a Wall Street journal article about the ongoing trend of chicken ownership, and the burgeoning side industry that it has created for chicken entrepreneurs.  And yes, diapers, are one of the new hot products for those folks who prefer to give their chickens free reign of their home.

The scary thing, as I mentioned to my friend, is that I actually know or have had conversations with three of the folks highlighted in the article.  But at least I do not have chickens in my house, and don’t have a need for chicken diapers.  My friend then did subtly remind me that I had six chickens (1 chicken and 5 roosters to be exact) living in my basement, for about 4.5 months, and then one chicken (who did not get along with the other chickens) who lived in my pack and play for a few days in my family room.  Thank God I did not know about the chicken diaper at the time, because who knows what that knowledge would have led to?!

Anything for a farm fresh egg, right?

What’s that Growing in my Garden?

DSC_0688I like to think I have a green thumb, although I really think I have more of a green mind…very grandiose visions of what I’d like my yard to look like, but no time or money to perfectly execute it. My thumb tends to be greenest at the start of the season when I’m gung ho and the temperatures aren’t hovering around the 100 degree mark.

My vegetable garden this year looks rather ho hum.  The tomatoes, in particular, aren’t terribly hardy looking.  So you can imagine my surprise and delight when we caught sight of a large obtrusion emanating from our compost bin.  Large green leaves, bright yellow flowers, vines extending for about 10 feet.  Wow, I’ve never grown anything that looked that good…and I had absolutely nothing to do with it.

Granted, this plant is perfect testament to the rich soil and nutrients residing in my compost bin, which includes a bit of chicken manure.  Nothing could be finer for a humble squash plant.

So my anticipation was growing.  What type of squash would we be enjoying later this summer?  Maybe spaghetti, maybe acorn?  Even pumpkin would be fun.  Well, I finally have my answer.  Gourds!  Anybody ever cook a gourd?  Well, my home grown gourds will be the centerpiece of my Thanksgiving table, as long as they don’t rot by then!

Flash What?

777px-union_square_new_york1From Guest Blogger Sonya:

Recently, a friend/co-worker told me about a challenge that he and his sister gave each other to grow and do things that have always been on their never-ending to-do lists, yet never seem to make the time for.  I’m sure this sounds familiar to many of us.  Life has a way of sucking up time in the most routine daily life matters.  I was intrigued by Brendan’s journey, particularly when he told me that this month his sister challenged him to put together a “flash mob.”  Flash mobs are events displayed in public places that appear to start and end in a totally random fashion yet are actually coordinated and organized.  You may recall seeing an event in Grand Central Station several years ago that made it’s way to YouTube.  Suddenly at a precise moment hundreds of people in Grand Central froze for a  minute and once the minute was over, resumed what they were doing and where they were headed.

This past week was Gay Pride week and to honor this, Brendan, who is also an accomplished dancer, organized his own flash mob in Union Square of NYC.  He choreographed a central dance for a group of friends and had several others randomly join in during the 5 minute event culminating in a large group effort.  Once the music ended, everyone moved through the square as if nothing had happened and people watching were left looking for more and wondering what had just happened.  Many people applauded the impromptu entertainment.   To orchestrate this event, Brendan provided many participants with training videos on line and rehearsals with his core group.  You can see his efforts in the link attached (Click here).

What out there is important to you that you are putting off until tomorrow?

The vital, successful people I have met all had one common characteristic. They had a plan.
Marilyn Van Derbur

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