Monday, January 30, 2012

Trip Report: Colorado Springs

On May 13, 2010, NoVA Travelers dashed off to Colorado Springs for an active weekend of  outdoor activities. We flew into Denver and rented a car for the jaunt to Colorado Springs where we bunked down for the night.
In the daylight of morning, the city revealed its beauty. Pike’s Peak overshadows the entire city and provides a scenic backdrop for the everyday goings-on of its residents.

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Views of Pike’s Peak as seen from Colorado Springs

We treated ourselves to breakfast at Crepe Francaise downtown. Great little gem nestled among an otherwise run down avenue. Everyone had a little free time to explore on their own before we headed out as a group to Garden of the Gods for hiking. The land was donated to the public in 1909 by the family a local landowner and exhibits several unique geological structures. We took several pictures and tackled a few trails (such as the Siamese Twins) before the rain began to come down and forced an early exit from the park.

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Panoramic vista of Garden of the Gods

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Trail to the Siamese Twins
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Jenni stands between the famous Siamese Twins

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Garden of the Gods scenic loop road

Dinner that evening was at House of Saigon - small hole in the wall Vietnamese joint that came highly recommended from Tripadvisor.com. The place looked pretty dingy when we arrived and service was subpar but the food was phenomenal. I ordered the Pho and was not disappointed. If you drop into Colorado Springs I definitely recommend you carve out time for a meal at House of Saigon.
Saturday we spent the morning on Pike’s Peak mountain – climbing up it in a scenic railcar of the Pike's Peak Cog Railroad. Because of the wind and snow conditions the railroad had to stop short of the mountaintop station, falling back to an ‘almost there’ point instead. Regardless the ride was beautiful and Colorado has now become the state that first comes to mind when I think of where to find snow at the wrong time of the year (as we saw snow on our August trip to Denver last year as well). Disembarking from the return we officially graduated as the most recent class to ride the highest cog railroad in the world! (We’ve previously ridden the first cog railroad ever built in the world @Mount Washington in New Hampshire). 

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View of another snowy mountain top as we climb Pike’s Peak

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The snowplow train up above us clearing the tracks for us

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Spectacular view of nearby mountaintops breaking out above the clouds (which you can see behind them)

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Railroad car

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Houses in Manitou Springs are a bit..uh…original..in their decor

After a lunch at a pizza place in downtown Manitou Springs (the little tourist trap town where you pick up the railroad) we returned to Colorado Springs to tour the Olympic Training center. (By the way it was tasty thin crust pizza at a small Marilyn Monroe themed cafe and if you can track it down you should visit).
The center has several educational exhibits and includes a tour of the grounds. Here’s the kicker: they won’t take American Express in their gift shop as a marketing matter of principle. What? That’s crazy! Here I was, arms loaded up ready to buy gifts and they turned me and my AMEX away.  The sales clerk lowered her voice and said she could slyly and quietly take mastercard but never could she sneak past an AMEX card. Whatever crazy lady, whatever. This especially irritated me b/c I ran into the same deliberate marketing monopoly ploy at the Kentucky Derby and since I don’t have a visa card I’m out of luck. Conclusion: Visa corp is evil. If you want their sponsorship you must play by their rules and cut out AMEX from your organization as if it were a dirty cancer.

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Images from the Training Center

We enjoyed dinner that evening at The Warehouse Restaurant (again in downtown Colorado Springs). Just like it sounds, it’s housed in a previously industrial space. They’ve got some excellent game meat entrees on their menu which always draws my attention and our group had fun sharing our meals and sampling from each other’s plates.
Our final day in the area (Sunday) was spent at the Royal Gorge.  A couple of hours outside of Colorado Springs, the property boasts the tallest suspension bridge in America, the steepest funicular, and the longest cable car ride. Fantastic. We walked over the bridge (the views are amazing) and toured the animal zoo on the other side (we saw a man riding a longhorn cow!) before returning on the cable car. Then we went down the funicular to the riverside and watched a train and white water rafters cross by as the scenic helicopter tours progressed overhead. All in all a fun day.

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Entranceway

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View of the cable car crossing the gorge
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Man on a longhorn..you don’t see this everyday
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Suspension bridge over the gorge with the mountains beyond

We were treated to a home cooked dinner at the home of my husband’s brother and family (they live in Colorado Springs and we were happy to have the afternoon to spend some time with them) before we had to leave for the airport. Their house is nestled on one of the many hillsides and the wild deer walk right into their yard in broad daylight and lie down. No fear of people whatsoever. I’m an animal lover so that was a special treat for me to count at least seven in various stages of grazing, sleeping, and walking round the neighborhood. There were also bunnies everywhere.

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Backyard bunny

We’d love to take the group back to Colorado Spring during the peak of summer to visit Seven Falls and other scenic outdoor hiking areas. You can keep an eye on our group calendar to see when the next Colorado Springs trip is scheduled.

Announcement: Technical Difficulties

Because I had to migrate the google user account associated with my blog, all pictures uploaded under the old user account were erased from google servers during the migration. To correct the corrupted entries, I have to repost (a quick one button sort of job) all my posts to the server. While I am republishing them with the original date so that they stay in sequence on the server and on the blog view, it *may* force a copy of each repost to be sent to the subscribers - I’m really not sure. So this is a public service announcement within which I advise that copious amounts of picture laden emails may be en route to your mailbox if you are a blog subscriber and within which I beg for your patience and understanding (feel free to delete instantly without reading, unless you’d like a good reread or missed an entry the first go-around).

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Do These Kind of Things Happen to Other People Too?

 

Here is your entertaining story for the weekend. Hubby and I LOVE Village Inn pies, having been introduced to them while living in Las Cruces. My craving for the caramel pecan silk supreme pie has escalated after returning from a visit to NM (where I saw VI as we passed by but did not have time to stop).  According to google there is a Village Inn in Annapolis (76 miles away). VI pie is ALWAYS worth it, so this morning I convinced husband and friends to piled into a car and make the trip just for pie.

Turns out the VI we drove to is a seedy bedbug infested hotel in no way affiliated with the famous pie making Village Inn.

Reality: there are no Village Inn restaurants within 150 miles of us, according to the villageinn.com website.

We laughed. We laughed a lot. And inside I cried just a little bit, feeling sorry about being deprived pie after working myself into an excited anticipatory frenzy over it.

Oh I'd do anything for a slice of caramel pecan silk supreme pie.....

Thursday, January 5, 2012

My Tamale Recipe

 

This is an adaptation of a Bobby Flay recipe that I integrated with the recipe from the side of my masa mix bag. Makes perfect, moist, delicious tamales every time. Foulproof! Recipe doubles easily to make 32 tamales. Make extra and freeze the leftovers- you’ll be glad you did.

Recipe:

2 cups instant masa

2 cups chicken broth

1 t baking powder

½ t salt

2/3 cup Crisco

2 T butter

1 medium onion

1 cup corn kernels

1.5 t sugar

Salt and pepper

36 corn husks

5 or 6 Hatch green chiles, finely diced

1/2 bag shredded Mexican cheese

2 chicken breasts, cooked and shredded or finely chopped

Clean and soak the corn husks in hot water for at least an hour before you begin the tamales.

Puree the corn, onion, and broth together in blender. Transfer to mixing bowl and cut in butter and shortening. Using your fingers mix in the masa, sugar, and salt and pepper to taste. Mix until there are no more visible lumps of shortening and dough comes together- DO NOT OVERMIX.

Remove the corn husks from water, 2 at a time to wrap tamales. Overlap the widest part of the husks and put a spoonful of tamale mix on the husks. Put about a teaspoon of chicken+chile+cheese total (1/3 teaspoon each) on top and then put a little more tamale mix on top to cover. Wrap/twist husks around filling as if you were gift wrapping a Pringles can and then use thin strips torn from a spare husk to tie little knots around the ends of the wrapped tamales. Should look like this:

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Stack tamales in a steamer basket over boiling water and steam until tamales are cooked through- usually 2+ hours. You will need to add more water to the pot periodically. Make sure the pot doesn’t boil dry and burn your house down!

Monday, January 2, 2012

Best Chicken and Dumplings Ever

 

Jonathan and I made chicken and dumplings tonight. As I grew up in New York, we make the dumplings in the northern U.S. style (round and biscuit-y) in contrast with southern U.S. style (flat and noodle-y). It was undoubtedly the best rendition of the dish we’ve ever constructed. 

We started with an epicurious.com recipe as our guideline but modified it significantly. Our perfected version is below. A great winter comfort dish…

Chicken and Dumplings

For the soup/stew

  • 2 T olive oil
  • 1 T butter
  • 2 pounds chicken, cut into pieces
  • 1/4 cup flour, seasoned with salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 medium yellow onion, peeled and cut into large chunks
  • 3 carrots, peeled and cut into large chunks
  • 2 stalks celery, cut into large chunks
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 T poultry seasoning 
  • 1/4 teaspoon turmeric
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 4 cups low-sodium chicken broth
  • Fresh parsley

For the dumplings
  • 2 cups flour
  • 3 teaspoons baking powder
  • 4 T Crisco
  • 1 t sage
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 cup buttermilk

1. In a wide, heavy pot with a tight-fitting lid, heat the olive oil.

2. Dredge the chicken pieces in the seasoned flour, then brown them in the oil over medium heat, about 2 minutes a side. Remove and set aside.

3. Add the onion to the pot and cook for 2 minutes.

4. Add the carrots, celery, bay leaf, poultry seasoning, turmeric, salt, and pepper and cook for 8 minutes more. Use the white wine to deglaze the pan each time the vegetables start to stick. Add the garlic, butter, and flour and cook for 1-2 more minutes.

5. Stir in the broth. When the pot begins to simmer, turn down the heat to medium, and TASTE the soup/stew. Make a note of the strength of the flavor.

6. Return the chicken to the pot, cover, and simmer for 15 minutes. Add water as needed (1-3 cups) to keep the amount of liquid and flavor the strength it was before you added the chicken back to the pot –this prevents the soup/stew from getting too salty in concentration.

7. Meanwhile, in a large bowl, mix together the dry ingredients. Cut in the shortening until crumbly, stir in the buttermilk taking care not to over mix. Allow to stand 5-10 minutes.

8. Drop dough by rounded tablespoons into the simmering chicken. Bring back to a soft simmer, cook 10 minutes with the cover off, 10 minutes with the cover on.

10. To serve, scoop the dumplings into bowls, then cover with stew. Garnish with fresh parsley if desired.