28 November 2014

Travel Guide: Denver's Art District on Santa Fe

Thanksgiving has passed, and shopping insanity has begun.  I implore you to shop locally wherever you are this year for Black Friday, and whenever you happen to be in Denver next, consider visiting the super-cool Art District on Santa Fe. It's a neighborhood with over 60 galleries, restaurants and shops located just a few blocks from downtown Denver, Colorado, and several of the gallery spaces also host casual, integrative performances like the ones we used to do with Telling Stories (R.I.P).

Location: Just East of I-25 and South of US-287, straddling 6th Avenue up and down Santa Fe Drive (hence the name). There's a great interactive map to help you get around.

Favorite galleries: Ugh, there are so many.  A good sampling might include Denver Photo Gallery, Kirkland Museum of Fine and Decorative Art, Consortium 861, VERTIGO, Kashi Kari Gallery, and Bhar Art Gallery, which has free poetry and tea every first Wednesday from 8-10pm.

Kirkland Museum of Fine and Decorative Arts is an Art Deco lover's dream.

Other cultural good stuff here: Colorado Ballet, Stories on Stage, Spark Theater, and the improbable Awaken: Gymnastics-Inspired Fitness, among others.

Drink and Food: Black Sky Brewery, El Noa Noa Mexican Restaurant, iSushi, mmm...COFFEE!, and Renegade Brewing. Yes to all of these.

Events to plan for: First Friday Art Walk, held every first Friday of the month; Preview Night, a more intimate gathering in the galleries held every third Friday of the month. And of course, check the calendar before you go for specific events.

25 November 2014

Two Thanksgiving Cocktails to Call Your Own

As the relatives approach and your grocery bill runneth over, it's probably time to sit back and enjoy your life a little while you still can.

Cucumber-Rosemary Gin and Tonic

Makes one drink

2 oz gin
5 oz tonic water
3 cucumber slices
1 sprig of rosemary
juice of 1 lime wedge

Place the cucumber slices at the bottom of the highball glass. Squeeze lime juice into glass and slightly muddle the cucumber. Add sprig of rosemary and fill highball glass with ice. Add gin, tonic, and stir gently. 

Cranberry-Sage Margarita

Makes one drink

1 wedge lime
course salt for glass rim
2 ounces Silver Tequila
2 Sage Leaves and 3-4 Fresh Cranberries
1 oz Cranberry Juice
½ oz Triple Sec
¼ oz (about 1 teaspoon) Agave Nectar

Wet the outside of the glass with a wedge of fresh lime. Then squeeze the juice into your cocktail shaker.

Roll the edge of the glass in salt. Set glass aside.

Muddle the sage leaves and fresh cranberries into the tequila in a cocktail muddler or glass. Pour the Cranberry Juice, Triple Sec, Agave and the muddled tequila mixture into a shaker. Shake all of the ingredients together vigorously.
Fill the salt-rimmed glass with ice and strain the margarita mixture into the glass. Garnish with fresh sage leaves and float a few fresh cranberries on top (you can freeze them so they keep your drink extra cold.)

18 November 2014

It's time for the obligatory Thanksgiving post!

Well, isn't it?  I rebelled last year and you all punished me for weeks afterwards with lousy numbers of hits, so here's what I'm thinking: let's take some of the classic flavors of this brilliant food-obsessed holiday and apply them to different bases.  What do you say?

Sage: We could all use a cocktail or two on Thanksgiving.  I never thought tequila was appropriate for any holiday other than Cinco de Mayo until I moved to Colorado, where it is almost as well-loved as beer. How about a Tumbleweed? Trust me, it works:

Makes 1 drink

1 oz. lemon juice
6 fresh sage leaves
2 oz. tequila
1 oz. honey syrup*

Place sage leaves in a cocktail shaker and muddle with a wooden spoon.  Add all remaining ingredients and shake vigorously until the outside of the shaker becomes too cold to hold.  Strain into old fashioned glasses over ice.

*Honey syrup: combine equal parts honey and hot water; whisk to incorporate.

Rosemary: I like pork. I like rosemary with pork.  I like apples with pork, too, but sometimes it gets too sweet for a main course.  The rosemary in this recipe cuts the cloying sweetness and lightens up a little bit of the fattiness of this cider-cream sauce (but don't worry, you'll still have to unbutton your pants after the big meal, if that's what you're going for):

Pork and Apples with Cider Cream Sauce

Serves 6

1 pounds pork tenderloin, cut into 12 (2-inch thick) slices
½ teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon canola oil

2 tablespoons butter
3 Granny Smith apples, unpeeled and thickly sliced
2 medium shallots, thinly sliced (about ½ cup)
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary
1 ½ teaspoons sugar
¼ teaspoon salt

½ cup apple cider
¼ cup low-sodium chicken broth
½ teaspoon finely chopped fresh rosemary
¼ cup heavy cream
½ teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper

To prepare pork, place medallions (slices) between sheets of plastic wrap.  Using a meat mallet or a heavy skillet, flatten each piece to an even thickness of about ¼ inch.  Remove plastic wrap and season both side of medallions with salt and pepper.

Heat a 12-inch sauté pan or skillet over high heat.  Add vegetable oil.  When oil starts to smoke, place half the meat into the pan and sauté on both sides until well browned and thoroughly cooked.  Transfer to a plate to keep warm.  Repeat the process with the remaining medallions.

To prepare apples, reheat pan over high heat.  Add butter.  When hot, add apples, shallots, rosemary, sugar, and salt.  Sauté until apples are golden brown and tender, about 8 minutes, shaking pan occasionally. Transfer apples to plate with meat.

To prepare sauce, add cider, broth, and rosemary to pan.  Cook, whisking to scrape any brown bits, over high heat, about 5 minutes.  Add heavy cream; reduce heat to medium and simmer until mixture thickens to sauce consistency, 5-10 minutes.  Add salt and pepper to taste.

Return apples and pork to the pan with the sauce.  Simmer approx. 7 minutes or until pork seems tender and infiltrated by sauce.

Cranberry: You have to have dessert, and I've already taken away the prospects of pumpkin pie (see below).  How about cornmeal, cranberry, and white chocolate instead?:

Cranberry-Cornmeal Shortbread

Makes about 12 bars

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 cup sifted confectioners' sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup sifted all-purpose flour
1 cup fine cornmeal
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup finely chopped dried cranberries
1/2 cup white chocolate chips

Heat oven to 325°F with a rack in center. Combine room temperature butter, confectioners’ sugar, vanilla, flour, cornmeal, and salt in large mixing bowl. Beat with wooden spoon until combined but not too creamy. Stir in dried cranberries and white chocolate chips.

Pat dough into an 8-inc square baking pan to shape the dough into a large square, then to turn it out onto a cutting board. Make parallel cuts to form long 1-inch wide strips, then cut each of those strips in half crosswise to produce sixteen to eighteen cookies approximately 1- by 4-inches. Transfer to a parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake until just beginning to turn golden on the bottoms, about 20 minutes. Place pan on cooling rack until cool enough to touch, about 20 minutes.

Pumpkin: I thought it would be nice to move pumpkin to the savory category this year, and I also thought it would work with wild rice.  So I searched to see if anyone else had already come up with any brilliant recipes before I tried to reinvent the wheel, and sure enough, Farm Girl Gourmet did it better than I ever could have.  She even got some peas in there: Farm Girl Gourmet's Roasted Pumpkin & Wild Rice Salad

Turkey: I am not a fan of turkey, as those of you loyal to this blog know.  I am also not a fan of Tofurkey, which is a much less controversial statement.  I'm not going to try to replicate either of these flavors because I think they're terrible. Instead, I would like to direct you to the rosemary-tinged pork recipe, above, or to the lovely mushroom and potato pie (isn't that another Thanksgiving Flavor?!), below:

Mushroom and Potato Pie

Serves 6-8

1 pre-made pie crust
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 lb. mixed mushrooms, sliced
1 large Russet potato, peeled and chopped into ½-inch pieces
1 small onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, smashed and minced
2 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon dried thyme
2 eggs
1 cup milk
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
3/4 cup grated sharp cheddar (or other) cheese

Prebake the crust: place in the oven and turn temperature to 425°F (no need to preheat); poke the crust around the edges with a fork and place in the oven for 10 minutes, or until it starts to look dry on the surface.
Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion and potato and cook, stirring often, until potatoes begin to soften, about 10 minutes. Add the mushrooms and cook another 10 minutes, or until liquid has evaporated. Remove from heat and stir in the garlic, salt, and thyme.

Whisk together the eggs, milk, and mustard. Season with black pepper if desired.

Sprinkle half the cheese in the bottom of the pie crust. Top with mushroom mixture, pour egg mustard over that, and sprinkle the top with the remaining cheese. Lower the oven temperature to 350°F and bake one hour, or until a knife inserted in the middle comes out clean.

14 November 2014

Inspirations, with links

I may not do the Facebook thing, where I post what I'm grateful for every day until everyone I know and love unfriends me, but I'm plenty grateful. As a writer, blogger, musician, and teacher, I am graced by the presence of many people every day who are kind, generous, thoughtful, hard-working, intelligent, talented, humble...anyway, I know a lot of super cool people. And they are all inspirations to me in one way or another (and often, in many ways!): the flutist who develops new techniques for playing and general wellness after suffering from debilitating injuries; the teacher who insists on creating a nurturing environment in his studio despite the harshness of the "real world" out there; the colleagues who so generously share their advice on getting gigs and taking care of finances; the students who work so damn hard every day and always believe me when I tell them what to do; and even the random fellow blogger who logs on and gives me the thumbs up for a recipe post or restaurant review now and again.

This weekend, I'm celebrating all my professional and social (Platonic) crushes and exploring the great life lessons I can cull from their work.

Heidi Swanson talks about maintaining her blog thoughtfully over the last 12 years on 101 cookbooks. I don't care if you never blog, this poetic essay about deliberately and devotedly practicing your craft should make us all want to be better people.  (It is also great advice for bloggers, BTW.)

When I am home working all day on multiple projects, my head can start to spin.  I'm glad I'm not the only one.  I've been trying to incorporate the Pomodoro Technique into my life, and it's really helping. It's also nice to get online and see how many other people are struggling with the same stupid thing as me--staying focused!

Bullet Proof Musician may sound like a highly specialized blog for music geeks, but with posts about dealing with sleep deprivation, public speaking skills, work-life balance, and performance anxiety, I think Dr. Noa Kageyama is being truly generous in sharing his research, experience, and practical advice with the world to help us all just calm the hell down and enjoy our work.

I've really been digging my new Thug Kitchen cookbook, and their blog is a great place to share and appreciate others' recipes, as well.  I will admit that the insistence on using as many swear words as possible per recipe gets a little tiresome (really guys, we already think you're cool as shit), but the mission to create super delish, easy recipes from vegan ingredients while schooling readers on issues like environmental waste and world hunger is truly awesome.

Serious Eats is such a great food blog.  I learn all kinds of things from it. And maybe this shouldn't go into the "inspirations" category, but I sure do appreciate their article about how to buy affordable Scotch that's worth drinking.  Because I still don't know what I'm doing in that aisle of the liquor store.

Also Scotch eggs.  I love Scotch eggs. 

11 November 2014

Road (and food) trip across Georgia

After a whirlwind 10 days through Georgia (with, impossibly, four stops in Milledgeville, home of "Here Comes Honey Boo-Boo"-?!?) and into South Carolina, I think I could go at least 48 hours without eating or feeling hungry!  But despite the bloat, I wouldn't have skipped any one of the amazing meals I ate on the road:

Strong coffee and a homemade giant cookie, to keep me awake until Athens at Blackbird Coffee, 114 W Hancock St, Milledgeville GA

A veggie and hummus sandwich on homemade marble rye and Louisiana voodoo chips tucked away in an industrial park at Southern Sweets Bakery, 186 Rio Circle, Decatur GA

Poached salmon with pesto and an appetizer of the tenderest escargot on the planet at Circa 1875 Gastro Pub, 48 Whitaker Street, Savannah GA

Penne pasta in red pepper and goat cheese sauce and fried green tomatoes drizzled with Vidalia onion-bacon buttermilk dressing at Last Resort Grill, 184 West Clayton St, Athens GA

Pulled and ground pork sliders and a delicious Moo-Hoo draft brewed locally at Trappeze, 269 North Hull St, Athens GA

Spicy peel-and-eat shrimp and mussels with fennel at Pearlz Oyster Bar, 936 Gervais St, Columbia SC

A pork chop the size of my torso and a mini shepherd's pie made with pulled pork at Manchester Arms Pub, 1705 Virginia Ave, Atlanta GA (College Park neighborhood)

The only delicious banh mi I have every eaten, made with ground pork and served with a side of fish sauce for dipping at Immaculate Consumption, 933 Main St, Columbia SC

True soul food served on the line: fried chicken, butter beans, collared greens, a biscuit, and of course, sweet tea that hurt my teeth at The Bears Den Dine In, 1191 Oglethorpe St, Macon GA

Virginia oysters served with a housemade cucumber dressing, light-as-air gnocchi with octopus and lobster, and fizzy vinho verde at Seven Lamps, 3400 Lenox Rd, Atlanta GA (Buckhead)

A giant tamale made with pork shoulder and served with green chile-mole sauce and inventive bourbon cocktails at Alma Cochina, 191 Peachtree St, Atlanta GA (downtown)

07 November 2014

Packing like you mean it (and tips for being your own travel agent)

I travel a moderate amount, both by car and by plane.  I do it enough that I keep standard packing lists at this point to avoid ending up in the middle of nowhere without clean underwear (although as you'll see, I am stingy about how much I pack).

Don't bring what you don't need.  Do the math with your particular airline and decide which is cheaper, checking a bag or stuffing everything into a carry-on (it varies widely these days).  Then, pile everything out on the bed by priority and fill your chosen bag until you can't fill no' mo. (FYI: After being raised on the flat folding method and resisting the conversion for years, I am now a roller.  I believe in it.  Try both and see what you like.)

  • Underwear: enough for four days. Wash in the sink using the hotel shampoo when necessary.
  • PJs: pack something lightweight in case the room is hot, throw in a thin sweatshirt or use a sweater in case it's cold.
  • Overcoat: use something that can do double-duty as a robe, extra layer in bed, or indoor layer if possible. If you need a dressy coat, wear it on the plane. 
  • Shoes: something comfortable enough for casual to moderate walking that will also be acceptable for professional dress + one "sporty" pair (running shoes or active sandals) for higher-level activity. Despite the tedium of security, consider wearing the biggest shoes you plan to bring, like boots. 
  • Toiletries: Think ahead and hoard hotel shampoos, conditioners, and lotions for any trips where you will NOT be staying at a hotel later. Pack them now if you are staying at an actual person's house so you're not mooching any more than necessary off of them. A contact lens case works great for small amounts of BB cream, foundation, face of eye cream. And use multitaskers whenever possible: Body Shop Coconut Oil Hair Shine is my hair cream, my body lotion, and my lip balm.
  • If you read, use the smallest device you can still stand to read from. tablet --> Kindle --> phone.
  • I always throw in one small notebook and a pen to scratch out ideas.  The randomness of sitting in an airport or on a plane for a long period of time allows the mind to wander to some pretty weird, wonderful places sometimes. 
  • Load up your phone with helpful travel apps (see below), addresses, and music.  This can be your portable office, music player, GPS, alarm clock, phone...don't bring extra stuff to perform any tasks your phone can do.
  • Food stuffs: I always throw in a spoon, some instant oatmeal packets, instant coffee, and a bag of nuts so that I don't let my hunger get the best of me when there's no decent food around. Tea bags and Emergen'C are pretty obvious on this list, too. 
  • Neti pot: if you ever use one, bring it.  Get one of those plastic ones from Rite-Aid that you can't easily break.  If you start feeling a little under-the-weather or are getting really dried out from your hotel room, this will stave off a full-blown cold.  I promise.

  • Ear plugs.  Do not leave without ear plugs.

It is luxurious to have a back seat to throw in some extra things, but it sucks to make ten trips to unload and load the car, especially if you are also fumbling with your hotel key to get into the side door each time.  Don't be a piggy, but I like to add:

  • Extra shoes, coat, sweaters; add one bag of bulky stuff you might like to wear. 
  • My very own pillow.  Ah, so luxurious to not wake up with a stiff neck. 
  • A bowl and a mug for my instant food stuffs, listed above
  • Fruit. Mmmmm, fiber. 
  • A screw-cap bottle of wine. Because. Shut up. 

Planning ahead with travel websites...

bing.com/travel: Helpful for hotel and plane tickets, this site's "price predictor" has never steered me wrong (when available), and you can sign up for alerts on prices, too. kayak.com will also give you alerts.

cheapoair.com, however, sometimes has cheaper deals, so once bing tells you to buy, look there, too.  And check the home websites for any airline you're considering.  You will sometimes get the best deal from them (or in the case of Southwest, the only deal).

hipmunk.com: if you're ever lucky enough to go someplace where train is also an option, hipmunk will analyze ways to get to your destination (well, only plane vs. train) by price, duration, departure or arrival time, and level of "agony" (things like multiple connections, pricey tickets, etc.). The agony part is funny to me.

travelocity.com: this seems to yield the most competitive results and the best overall prices for rental cars for me, hands down, every time.

Travel Apps I like:

Gas Buddy: helps you find the cheapest gas in your location.

Hotels.com: I use this one because I have an account with them.  You can make reservations on-the-fly when you see what town you've ended up in the for the night and each reservation counts towards a free night (plus, hotels.com often has lower prices than the ones posted on the vacancy sign outside the establishment in question).

FlightAware Flight Tracker: Track your flight, look up other flights in the vicinity to help airport personnel get you on the right flight when you've missed your connection, and get updates on flight status.

In two weeks: surviving the airport, just in time for Thanksgiving!

04 November 2014

Drink, Food, and Travel in Idaho Falls

I visited the Idaho Falls area last weekend for a gig.  It was kind of rural and much more temperate than I (ahem), so I didn't know if I would be able to participate in my favorite kind of tourism, but I was so pleasantly surprised.

Brownstone Brewing has beer, food, and coffee. Like my favorite beer place in Laramie, WY, I think beer and coffee are a logical partnership, don't you? The food is standard pub fare, and the beer range is pretty German influenced, along with a Nut Brown and a Czech Pilsner. The cappuccino's not bad, either. Kind of a sports bar vibe, but it wasn't too over-the-top.

Idaho Brewing has the ugliest website, that's for sure! They offer the typical, all-over-the-place spectrum of brewpub choices, including some fruity beers and a long list of seasonal choices. The Oatmeal Stout is a creamy meal in a glass.

Snow Eagle Brewing is a brewery and a Japanese restaurant! What?! Their Snow Eagle Pale Ale was perfect with sushi, which was deftly prepared. And I love that they have a link on their website to area attractions in Idaho Fallshttp://www.snoweaglebrewing.com/local-area-attractions.  Such civic pride!

Vino Rosso, while also boasting a rather amateurish looking website (graphic designers, I found your next market!), has a great wine selection, and the Devils on Horseback grilled cheese (brie, bleu cheese, and bacon-date jam) is pretty fantastic.

I was going to tell you about the local attractions, but since Snow Eagle has already done it for me, enjoy this link (also mentioned above). But in short, this place is gorgeous. Running along the beautiful Green Belt, which trails the Snake River, was an inspiring way to start the day. The Falls are created by a dam in the Snake River, and it's a pretty dramatic sight right in the downtown area!

I drove up from Jackson, which of course, is also an OK place to visit (and less temperate, by far).  Read my travel guide for Jackson here.