Monday, October 29, 2012

Cooking everything in sight

Today in preparation for possible power outages i cooked and cooked and cooked so that fridge would be full of food that i could eat cold, just in case.
Mostly it was standbys like roasted sweet potatoes, chicken noodles and spicy ricey, but i did have a spaghetti squash that i bought last week and haven't cooked yet out of fear.
I love to try new things, but am sometimes hesitant; i'm sure many of you might recall that asparagus mocked me for a few months before i was able to conquer and consume it.
Everyone has always said that it is super easy to do spaghetti squash and i was delighted to find out that it is true. Slice it in half, scoop out the seeds and icky pulp; bake it face down in a 375 degree oven for 30-45 minutes depending on the size of your squash. The hardest part was holding onto the cooked squash to rake it with a fork; the flesh easily became pasta-like strands.
I wanted something that would taste okay cold if i don't have power tomorrow so i went with a simple butter, Parmesan, cracked pepper treatment and then topped it with sausage and caramelized onions.
It was really yummy.
There are no pictures however because no lie it looks kinda like yellow worms.
If you haven't believed the hype and have avoided trying this easy pasta substitute i am here to tell you it is all true. It's cheap, easy and tasty.
I promise.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Etsy Shop Update

Card sets have been added to my Etsy store here:

There are 43 cards in sets of 3 or 5 ranging from tradition Thank You cards to abstract painting notecards and pretty much everything in between.

Friday, October 26, 2012

tastes like autumn - cruchy, chewy, sticky autumn

I have never eaten a caramel apple before.
I've had apples with caramel, but never one of those gooey yummies on a stick.
I realized this in the grocery store when i saw a display of candy and caramel apples on sale for 89 cents each.
Less than a dollar for a new experience?  Yes, please.
It was a gorgeous fall day in Maryland so i sat in my favorite spot on the porch, breathed in the sunshine and tried my caramel apple.
The tart apple, sweet caramel and crunchy nuts were a fabulous combination, but man did it take forever to eat. Figuring out how/where to even take that first bite took a while. All three layers present their own masticating challenge so i felt like i chewed and chewed and chewed each bite forever, which is better for digestion but heck on the jaw.
I ate about half before i was ready for a break so i wrapped it up to finish after dinner.
Definitely a fan of the taste combo and i can see why the caramel apple is a fall fixture, but i think that i will stick to the sliced version that is more bite-sized and only messy instead of really, really messy.
Unless i'm at a fair. Or a festival. Or some other food-on-a-stick event.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Chillin' in Portland

Once my cat mission was completed i went home with Francie, Jake and Mari to their cool apartment in the quirky neighborhood of St John's. Much like my neighborhood it has a small town feel and you really don't need to leave for anything. In fact, i didn't leave St John's except to go out to dinner the first night to celebrate our arrival and Nancy's birthday.
St John's has it's own bridge separating it from the rest of Portland. I went to a local bookshop, the farmer's market, a Mexican place with fabulous burritos and giant pinatas, several antique stores, a seriously quirky thrift store, a vegan lunch place where i had pumpkin soup and a diner straight out of a movie.
But you'll have to take my word for it because i didn't take any pictures of any of it.
As in, not one.
In fact, the whole five days i visited with Francie i took exactly 4 pictures,
all while we were at the park with Mari.
Who can resist a little red-head in overalls?
After the previous week of new states and driving and cats i really just wanted to hang out and rest.
 It would cross my mind that a particular sight might make a cool blog post, but then the feeling would pass.
I spent a lot of time reading and writing Etsy descriptions and watching YouTube and catching up with friends and napping. Definitely napping. Mari was having a bad bout of teething so sometimes we'd nap together.
Sure, the baby snores
and there is much teething drool,
but chest naps are great.
It was a relaxing and wonderful visit.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The Cat Trip - Day 6 & 7

Day 6 had the roughest start since Maryland.
By this point all of the cats understood what was going on and what their day would be like so they'd be all lovey and friendly from the time we woke up until packing started. As soon as Nancy or I zipped our suitcases all four cats would disappear. I mean it was like magic; one second Shadow is rubbing against my legs and the next there is no sign of anything feline.
In our tiny room at the Outsiders Inn in Snowville, UT there was an unreasonable amount of furniture: dresser, king bed, full bed, nightstand and chair in a room about the size of my dining room. So yes, there were plenty of places for cats to hide and i had to not only move furniture, but disassemble it. Multiple times.
But eventually we got on the road and after only 4 miles were stopping for a NEW STATE!
Really, Idaho?
 That is the most boring state sign ever.
 It wasn't worth getting out of the Jeep to take the picture, but i was still happy to get my last new state of the trip.

For some reason it was really, really hazy all day.
 This was my view of Idaho:
Pretty much the entire day was like that:

 hills, haze, triple semis and batch of trees.
My other impression of Idaho is that it must be a dangerous place because these are a sampling of the road signs we saw in the first 50 miles: Game Crossing, Deer Migration, Occasional Blinding Dust, Severe Weather, Dust Storm Area: DO NOT STOP.
Yikes. Intense much, Idaho?
I am happy to report that we didn't encounter any dust storms.
 Boise looked like any other city from the highway though there was a huge lizard on the side of road at one point. Oddly, i can't find any mention of it anywhere on the internet to know the story behind it; weird. Maybe i dreamed it after all that haze...

Finally we reached our destination state!

Now I just had to drive up the east side of the state and then across the entire length as there is no highway that goes diagonally northwest to Portland.
I was kinda disappointed that at first Oregon didn't look like Oregon; that is, it still looked like Idaho instead of the Pacific Northwest. About 100 miles in we had to cross some big mountains and it really started to look "right" to me:
but once we got over the last downgrade it went back to looking like the last gazillion miles since Wyoming. (ilovewyoming)

We crossed the Snake River several times
and stopped in Boardman where I-84 hooks up with the Columbia River.

Day  6: Utah, Idaho and Colorado; 515 miles

The last day of the trip; we were within striking distance of making it to Portland when we got up Friday morning.
Having learned a hard lesson the day before i was able to trick cats into the bathroom and catch them while they were still all lovey before we started packing.
Nothing like figuring out the best way to do something the last time you have to do it.

For the rest of the drive the highway followed the Columbia River, which is the border between Oregon and Washington.

It was beautiful as we went in and out of gorges and canyons, though even more hazy than the day before.
There was a nice scenic stop with an overlook that out over the river. Nancy and I were both anxious to get to Portland, but i am glad that we decided to stop because it was a lovely place to reflect a little on the trip almost being over.

By the time we got to Hood River we knew that most of the haze was actually smoke from wildfires. We didn't see any actual fire, but there was enough smoke that we had to keep the windows closed.
It finally looked truly like "Oregon" to me,
 but it was sad that it was on fire.
 I did spot one of the firefighting helicopter and saw it dump a load of river water on the mountainside, but it happened too fast to get a picture.

In a couple of hours we reached Portland and it was just a matter of finding Nancy's new home and parking the Jeep for the last time.

Day 7: Oregon; 143 miles

Trip Totals
143 hours from door to door
14 states
7 NEW states for Niki
6 capitol cities
5 interstates
4 cats delivered cross country
3 working windows (did i not mention that the back window was held shut with bungees?)
2 exhausted women
1 cat relocated

ACHIEVEMENT UNLOCKED: drive the width of a continent

Sunday, October 21, 2012

finding my stride

It seems like i am finally falling into a routine of being self-employed, neither too slothful or too manic.
I've signed up for 2 more craft fairs next month, scheduled shop updates and continue to look for a physical space for the holiday season. But i am also getting enough sleep, enjoying my affair with the YouTube and getting out to see people a few times a week.
I debated about using this quote from one of my favorite book, Life of Pi by Yann Martel to describe how i feel right now. It could be read as if i am saying that i don't need help from other people -which is untrue and ridiculous on a number of levels- but i am really focused on the last line:
I should not count on outside help. Survival had to start with me. In my experience, a cast-away's worst mistake is to hope too much and do too little. Survival starts by paying attention to what is close at home and immediate. To look out with idle hope is tantamount to dreaming one's life away.

Cauliflower that doesn't totally suck

I am not a fan of cauliflower.
It's kinda gross.
Last week i went to a nutrition seminar by my former personal trainer Jamie (not to be confused with Jami with whom i eat things like kangaroo) on carbs in non-processed grains and vegetables (way more interesting than i just made it sound) and ate cauliflower that wasn't hideous.
In fact, i'd almost be tempted to say that it was good.
 I might even consider eating it on my own if i can get passed the smell of cooking cauliflower.
I don't have a picture of the mashed cauliflower since i didn't know the other people at the seminar and didn't want to just whip out my camera, but here is the recipe:
Cauliflower Puree
Makes 2 servings

1 cup cauliflower florets
2 small wedges of Laughing Cow cheese
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon Earths Balance butter

Add cauliflower to a pot of salted water and boil for 10 minutes or until really tender, drain and add back to sauce pot. Place over low heat to evaporate all of the water from the cauliflower (if you don't do this step the puree will be very watery).

Place cauliflower in food processor with remaining ingredients and blend until desired consistency.

*Great replacement for mashed potatoes so if you like your mashed potatoes chunky, pulse the cauliflower so that it doesn't become completely pureed.

Nutrition Facts/Serving:
Total Calories: 111.5 Carbohydrates: 6.5g Fat: 7g Protein: 4.5g Sodium: 293.5mg Sugar: 3.5g
This recipe originally appeared on Jamie's website B-More Fit 4 Life.
When she made it for the seminar she used herb and garlic Laugh Cow.
There are more recipes on her site so you should check it out.

Friday, October 19, 2012

The Cat Trip - Day 5 (ilovewyoming)

Day 5 started in Cheyenne, Wyoming very cloudy and overcast; there was still some sporadic rain at first, but it seemed like we had come through the worst. Chief navigator and meteorologist David then informed me via text after finding our hotel on Google maps streetview (which might have been creepy if it was someone besides him) that we were actually at the lead edge of a front headed the direction we were going, so we needed to get in front of it.
Getting on the road quickly is not really an option with 4 cats who are actively interested in not getting back into the crates, but luck was with us and we only had to move some of the furniture to get everybody packed and ready to go.
Let me say that a rainy, grey day in Wyoming is still prettier than a nice day in many other places (i'm looking at you Nebraska):
our first real bit of fall colors
I started with a quick pace (75mph speed limit is soooooo sweet) and was resolved to make it at least 50 miles before our first stop, but then we spotted this up ahead of us:

Is that Lincoln?

Why yes, yes it is Lincoln.
A giant Lincoln head watching the highway with concerned, slightly disapproving eyes.

I-80 is called the Lincoln Highway at this point and here at the highest point was Summit Rest Area,  Museum and Memorial. (ilovewyoming)

There was info about the geology and geography and biology and history and natives of Wyoming. It was a plethora of Wyoming information, had a glass wall overlook and a really well done museum/nature center to boot. They even had a bear:
well, a stuffed bear at least.

I am sad to report that this is the only bear i saw on the whole trip.

They also had some antelope specimens,
which i was very happy to see because i had no idea what american antelopes looked like.
 Every time i thought antelope, as in ...where the deer and the antelope play..., i'd get the mental image of a gazelle which i knew wasn't right. The pronghorn antelope is basically white-tailed deer sized, but with really distinctive horns.
Now i knew what to look for on the side of the road.
We spent quite a bit of time taking in the info and the stunning view, but the road called and we were on our way again.
Unfortunately, the rain had seriously caught up with us and there was an hour or so where i had to drive below speed for safety (boo hiss).
We stopped for gas at a no-name station the top of some mountain that was literally the only thing at that exit and the only choice for miles and miles. It had a strange little convenience store/repair garage attached and i was speechless and somewhat delighted to discover
 an antelope antler mobile in the back window by the soda case
You bet your bippy i bought that bad boy.
I later discovered that there were also antler cribbage boards, but i was already set on the antler mobile being my TCT souvenir.
It was even on sale.
Imagine that.

We did eventually get ahead of the rain and were able to get a good look at Wyoming:
...sigh... so lovely and awesome                     (ilovewyoming)
Look... buttes!

And cool strata.

And more roads to heaven.

Just when you think Wyoming can't surprise you any more, you crest a mountain and see an incredible valley with the highway running right through it laid out in front of you.
Oh Wyoming. I love you.
I-80 through Wyoming is great for the long drive.
There are rest stops every 40 miles or so and each one is filled with information about the state, but decorated completely differently. Some highlighted wildlife, another might be about Native Americans, another might be about cowboys. They were some of the nicest, most interesting rest stops i saw not only on this trip, but ever.
 I mean, they were so cool i took a picture of the stall walls in the ladies' room:
Have you ever seen real stone stall dividers?
Nope, me neither.
We crossed the Continental Divide while in Wyoming.
One thing that took me by surprise were the oil refineries. I don't think i knew that Wyoming was an oil producing state, but Sinclair had a bunch locations peppered by the highway. In fact we were discussing that it was the first state since Ohio where we hadn't seen windmills and that it might be because oil must be such a big industry when we spotted:

Oh Wyoming, is there nothing you can't do?

(ilove wyoming)

You know i have the worst animal-in-the-wild spotting luck ever, but Wyoming was even cool enough to offer up four antelopes for me and at Little America Nancy ran into a bison as well.
His name was Abernathy and he's studying to be a para-legal. but poses for tourist pictures in his spare time to help with tuition.

I was sad to see the end of Wyoming,
 but it was time for a NEW STATE!

Hello Utah.

Our route cut us through just a wee piece of the state as we picked up I-84/I-15 outside of Utah and turned north,
but we did see mountains,

cool red rocks that reminded me of Sedona, AZ,

high desert

and some full-on Autumn.

The only real downside of Utah was that towards the end of the day, in the mountains there were swarms of some sort of tiny insects which you wouldn't think would matter to us inside of our car, but they plastered the Jeep with their wee smooshed bodies
and made it harder and harder to see.
 No matter how much i washed the front window it wouldn't stay clear.
With the rain and the stops we were a bit behind pace, but were both getting pretty tired by sunset. There was a billboard advertising a hotel chain with 2 locations in 20 and 34 miles respectively so we agreed to stop at the latter.
I took this picture of the sun setting over the mountains as it was such a nice ending to a day of two nice states:

Wouldn't it be great if that was the end of the story?
I-15 split off from the road and we passed the exit with the first hotel.
Only 14 miles to go until we could stop.
 After the sun set it got really dark really quick in the Utah mountains.
10 miles...11...12...13...14... no sign of an exit.
It's pitch black, everybody is tired and the windshield is becoming more and more opaque.
Mayhaps i remembered the billboard wrong; i did pass it at dusk, going 80 with a buggy window.
No need to panic.
There is billboard shining in the darkness ahead. Yes! It advertises a hotel 100 miles away and makes reference to the Donner Party. No lie.
It was the last sign we saw.
Miles passed in darkness like midnight.
There would be an exit for a ranch (the signs actually said Ranch Road) every once in a while, but each had a blue sign on the bottom - NO SERVICES.
All i could imagine was that  the second hotel on the billboard i had seen must have been on I-15. It would have been nice if it had indicated that. It would also have been nice if there was some indication at the last exit with civilization that it was indeed the end of civilization.
At this point the mile markers were showing that we were getting closer and closer to the state line and i had no hope that southeast Idaho was going to be any more populous than Utah. I was preparing myself for the probability that i was going to have to make it another 70 miles and trying to decide if i should pull over and find a way to scrub the windows when there was an exit sign without the hated blue NO SERVICES tag.
Snowville, Utah is 4 miles from Idaho.
It has one motel with 8 rooms. The Outsiders Inn had a vacant room with an outside door that was pet friendly. Halleluia!
After getting the Jeep unpacked (around the side of a huge white panel van parked in front of our door, while ignoring our neighbor in his droopy boxers -and nothing else- rummaging through said van), Nancy settled comfortably (her sciatica was really flaring up and unbeknownst to us a UTI was brewing) and the cats released, watered, fed and litter boxed I went out to find some dinner.
Strangely there were two diners right across from each other near the motel.
I opted for Mollie's because it was a closer walk and there was no way i could safely drive the Jeep without cleaning the windows.
It was really nice.
I had a super good patty melt and  hung out with my server Kendra and the cook Jennie until it was time to close the place up tight.
Day 5: Wyoming and Utah, 522 miles

ps - in case you couldn't see through my subtlety, i really liked Wyoming.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The Cat Trip - Day 4

(note added 10/18/12 12:39am - just suddenly realized this was 3 weeks ago)

Two weeks ago i woke up in Nebraska.
Let me start by admitting that i have always had something against Nebraska.
I don't know why, but it was my least favorite state in the union.
Ever since i was a kid i'd say I'd rather go to Nebraska to indicate how awful something was.
In middle school marching band when we weren't practicing well our director would say we sounded like a band from Hooterville, Nebraska.
Soooooo, my hopes for Nebraska were kinda low. I mean, i hoped it was more interesting than i thought it would be, but i didn't really expect much.
Thank goodness for low expectations because Nebraska was boring.
I mean mind numbingly boring.
Don't get me wrong, i'm sure Nebraska is full of good people and i appreciate its agricultural contributions, but driving 14 gajillion miles along I-80 through Nebraska was brutal.
And there was no cell phone reception.
 Let me clarify: the cell provider was Fred's Windows, Door Sashes, Airline and Communications, LLC so if you had them as a provider you had reception. Since i was driving i didn't notice at first, but it did seem weird that i wasn't receiving any texts.
In fact, as we neared the edge of Nebraska i said to Nancy, Hey, Is that a cell tower? and my phone blew up with back logged messages. David -our official trip navigator- thought Nebraska had managed to bore me to death cause he hadn't heard anything for hours.
To Nebraska's credit there was one really cool thing along the highway, actually over the highway:
photo credit: Ken Dewey
That my friends is the Great Platt River Archway Monument in Kearny, NE.
Magnificent, huh?
 It appears literally out of nowhere like a mirage, but has almost no signage and there is no exit nearby so that you can get off and explore it.
Really Nebraska?
You have one cool thing on the entire length of I-80 and you make it inaccessible?
I take it back, there was one other interesting thing on the side of the highway:

Nancy took this picture of a giant howling coyote silhouette when i'd taken an exit to play musical cats.
A giant howling coyote silhouette.
Who'd have guessed that?
I didn't know that Nebraska considered itself part of the Southwest, but okay.

It is certainly more interesting than the one picture i took in Nebraska that day:

In fairness to Nebraska i will say that these signs continue throughout the drive on I-80 in other states, but you can understand my alarm in seeing it for the first time that Nebraska sometimes closed the highway. I mean, you don't close highways on the East Coast; at least not in the Mid-Atlantic. Yes, i realize it probably has to do with snow drifts and stuff i don't have to worry about in the Metroplex, but c'mon people, they close the highway. Scary.
My Nebraska journey can best be described by a quote from one of my favorite cartoon shows, Codename: Kids Next Door when at the end of a mission Numbah Five muses I should have seen it all along: Nebraska is the color of lima beans and tears.
Soon after cell phone reception indicated that we were near the end of Nebraska i noticed that clouds were gathering and commented that it looked like we were driving up into heaven.

I was right.

And what a state.
I'm sure Wyoming would be amazing anywhere, but in comparison to Nebraska it was the most interesting, beautiful place on the earth.

Here i am taking the new state picture and immediately afterwards i took these comparison shots standing in the same location and just turning around.

Look back and forth: Nebraska, Wyoming, Nebraska, Wyoming
There is that much of a difference even at the state line.
When we stopped at the Wyoming Welcome center i continued to be delighted by the interesting signage and the nature walk and even the little boots and cowboy hats on the man/woman figures on the restroom doors. Everything about Wyoming said We're awesome and we're so glad you are here to share in our awesomeness. I was glad for us, too.
This corner of the state is super close to Colorado
 so we dipped down for me to get a NEW STATE!

We could see the Rockies for the first time way off in the distance, but a storm was rolling in over us so we didn't linger.
We only went about 20 miles into Colorado and then turned around to get back on track and randomly saw another giant silhouette on the side of the highway.
This time at least it was an animal that actually made sense.
In fact, we passed a bison farm on the way out of Colorado.
I noticed 3 furry animals back away from the fence and said Look, bison! but then noticed they were kinda long and not dark brown and proclaimed Ostriches! cause that seemed more likely but as the word left my lips we were actually close enough for me to call out Camels!
Yes, random camels on the side of the highway.
 Oh Colorado; you were more interesting in 30 minutes than Nebraska was all day.
The skies really opened up at that point and we stopped a little early as there was a convenient Motel 6 with outside doors right off the highway in Cheyenne.
Day Three: Nebraska, Wyoming, Colorado, Wyoming; 494 miles