Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Seattle II

When in Seattle, Julie got a job at an environmental consulting firm, and I worked for the University of Washington Medical Center. I split time between the University Medical Center:

And Harborview Medical Center, which is run by the University:

The job was a job, but Julie and I definitely enjoyed our time exploring Seattle. Summers were awesome: 70-75 degrees every day and sunny. The winters were a bit dreary, with rain and in the 40s-50s pretty much every day, but it was nice to be in a big city, with actual stuff to do.

We definitely would take more advantage of things like the Pike Place market. The market itself is pretty amazing. On TV you always see the fish chuckers, but the actual market is multiple levels of shops and restaurants, with all sorts of weird things to find.

Monday, March 30, 2009


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After we got back from the honeymoon, Julie and I pretty much packed up our junk and moved out to Seattle. We didn't have jobs, but it sounded like a good idea. We packed up a U-Haul, attached our old Honda to the back and set off from Wausau, with a stop in Winona.

It took awhile, and it was scary going up the mountains, but we made it. We had a small apartment lined up in Kirkland, which is one of the eastern suburbs of Seattle. We were on the 3rd floor, and I think our rent was more than we pay for our home mortgage now.

It had a small kitchen, dining room, and living room, a deck, bathroom and two bedrooms. This was before Julie started to cook a bunch, so the small kitchen wasn't a big deal, and coming straight from student housing, the rest of the apartment felt way too big. We didn't use the deck much, since the people who lived below us smoked constantly and it came right up into our apartment.

We lived right next to a strip mall with a Rite-Aid and an Albertson's, and a sweet Chinese restaurant, so grocery shopping and eating out was super easy. We really didn't keep much stuff around in the apartment. When we needed something, we would just walk over to Albertson's, usually a few times a week.

This was all pre-cats (Nut came later), so it was peaceful and relaxing :)

Sunday, March 29, 2009


Okay. So I know it seems like I've taken a break from baking and such, but I can assure you that isn't the case. While I have stacks and stacks of new recipes, lately I have been going back and making quite a few recipes that I know and trust and love.
Here's what I've made been doing with my time:

French (Guppy) Bread

Chunky Peanut Butter Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies

Bittman's Bread

Andes Mint Cookies

Ginger Chewies

Chocolate Peanut Butter Fudge Crunch

Peanut Butter Sandwich Cookies

As you can tell, I have not spent the last few weeks simply sitting on my duff doing diddly squat. I've simply been making some of the classics!

Thursday, March 26, 2009

So Close!

I was putzing around the front yard just now, and came across some daffodils poking their leaves out into the sunshine. What a welcome and happy surprise to let us know that spring is fast approaching! This little sprout gives me hope of the crocus and tulip and lily blooms that will soon begin to show their bright and cheery heads as well!
It's almost April!

Wednesday, March 25, 2009


This is the craziest thing I have seen this week:

Honeymoon II

The honeymoon was our first experience with "sophisticated" food. Up to that point, we had relied pretty much on typical Wisconsin cuisine, and the occasional (or not so occasional) Little Caesar's $5 Hot 'n Ready pizza, during college. This was all before Julie really got into baking, or went to culinary school, but we pigged out on the honeymoon :)

If you have never been on a cruise, it is an entirely different universe. There is food available all the time. As I like to say: This is one reason why other countries hate us. Buffets and restaurants are always going, and even if you want something at 3 in the morning, you can call up room service and get something for free!

The desserts are constant. It's like every person on a cruise turns into a 4 year old. It's not enough to have 1 (or 2 or 4) desserts after dinner and a couple with lunch, they also have to have midnight dessert buffets so that everyone can get their fill. Yes, that's a giant dragon carved out of ice, and a horse made out of cheese, in the middle of the ocean.

You wouldn't want to go to bed without being hopelessly hopped up on sugar. Starting with donuts and Cocoa Krispies for breakfast, it is possible on a cruise ship to eat only absolutely horrible things all day long. It's wonderful.

What's even more impressive is that, during culinary school, Julie ended up making stuff that looked like this:

Of course this all wasn't enough, so I swung by Cinnabon on the way home. The Miami airport Cinnabon was the best one I have ever had. Sorry Jenn, the one in O'Hare just doesn't cut it.

Monday, March 23, 2009


I was talking with Julie a couple of days ago that when we don't have much going on on the blog, I would post some pictures about past trips we have taken, pre-blog, so I decided to scan in some photos from our honeymoon. Hard to believe that we got married before digital cameras were popular. To everyone who's older than us: That's right, I went there :)

Julie and I got married April 6th, 2002. She can scan in some wedding pictures and post about that some other time, if she wants. We left right from the reception and drove down to Chicago to catch our 6 AM flight to Miami, so we could catch a week-long cruise. The taxi ride from the airport to the port was by far the scariest taxi ride I have ever experienced. The dude was all over the road, speeding, and taking weird shortcuts through back alleys, but we made it pretty much unscathed. Our cruise was going to take us from Miami to Puerto Rico, to St. Croix, and then to St. Thomas before we made our way back home.

Our first stop was in Puerto Rico. We were supposed to do a night-time kayak tour through the bioluminescent algae that stay on top of the water. Should have been very cool. The only problem was the wind speeds were too high and the waves too big, so the excursion was cancelled :( We ended up just walking around the port town a bit and swung by Walgreens so Julie could buy some shampoo.

The next stop was in the US Virgin Islands: St. Croix. We booked a shore excursion at a "private island" where we got to lounge around on the beach and enjoy the weather. It was much more fun than I am making it look in this picture. This was probably right after Julie accidentally knocked over our fruity drinks I got us. Enjoy the swimsuit, since I left it at the snuba place mentioned below. Julie still brings that up on a regular basis.

After St. Croix we stopped in St. Thomas, which was our favorite stop of the trip. The island was extremely nice, and the shore excursion was the best one: snuba. At this point, I had been scuba diving with Dad, Trav, and Luke in the Cayman Islands, but Julie had never been diving with a regulator. It was fun, and after a brief training session we got to enjoy our snuba.

The snuba place was attached to a "zoo", and an underwater observatory where you could take stairs down into the water and look at all the fish from windows underwater. Pretty cool. Below is a picture of Julie pointing out where we were on the island, as well as investigating one of the lizards that was running loose. This is not something she would probably ever do again.

All in all it was an excellent vacation, one of the best we have ever had. This is when we discovered how much we like cruising and got to start acting all grown up and married and stuff.

Salted Chocolate and Vanilla Bean Shortbread Cookies

What would our world look like without salt? More specifically, what would the culinary world taste like without wonderful coarse sea salt? Definitely more dull. Duller? More duller? Any way you say it, salt adds so much pep to our palates! I had just recently purchased some coarse Pacific Sea Salt from Penzey's Spices in Appleton and thought these Salted Chocolate and Vanilla Bean cookies were crying out to be made with it. I love how the sea salt crystals seem to catapult this cookie into the "sophisticated" and "unique" realm while also being simple and sweet. I added a couple teaspoons of water to the dough as it was mixing to allow it to come together a little easier, but otherwise stuck to the recipe (using a vanilla bean, rather than extract). This would be a great recipe to double and put the unbaked rolls into the freezer, taking one out to slice and bake when the need arises.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Pint-Sized Train Travel

Last night we went over to our friends Daryl & Lori's house for an evening of games and silliness. Along with two other couples, we first played Ticket to Ride, which is a lot of fun and can certainly get competitive! Each couple was a team and had to get their color trains to connect destinations across the game board of the United States. There was plenty of groaning when one couple would claim a route that another couple needed desperately to get to a certain city, but also plenty of laughing and good-natured ribbing.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Butter Taste Test

If you have read this blog for any length of time, you already are aware of what a huge food nerd I am. I love trying out new ingredients, looking for higher quality, better tasting products to use while baking and cooking. One main ingredient that I use almost all the time is butter. I've devoted way too much of my time to reading about and researching butter and the different qualities regions around the world impart into their butter. Again and again I have read that European butter is where it's at. Being from Wisconsin, dairy is not taken lightly, and a bit of state pride rose against this notion that somehow cows in far off places are better than the good ol' bovines I come across around these parts. But, also being from central Wisconsin, I don't have access to even TRY these aforementioned foreign butters to see how they stack up. So while in Houston, in the beautiful, bright, well-stocked Central Market's dairy section, I stood in awe, feeling a bit giddy, of all the varieties of butter. I had to try them. All of them. Now. It was difficult, but I was able to limit myself to purchasing three different kinds to take home. (A near crisis was averted, when TSA threatened to confiscate my beloved butter because if it melted, it would have turned into a LIQUID measuring more than 3 ounces. COME ON!) Tonight I warmed a loaf of french bread, and we sat down to put these three new butters to the test. From left to right, there is a butter from France, England, and Ireland. I had high expectations for these three, as I had read great things about all of them. First we tried the butter from France (which really, I just bought it because it came in a little wooden crate - how adorable!), and we both could tell a difference right away. It was smooth and creamy, not unlike our good Wisconsin butter, but the taste - it felt almost bright and clear and completely fresh on the palate. It didn't taste processed or mundane. It was downright lovely. Next we tried the English butter. Also good, but we both felt it tasted almost identical to any butter we could have gotten here. Finaly, the Irish butter. This was also exceptional. The taste again was fresh and bright, though not quite to the extent of the French butter. So in the end, the French won our little test. While each of the butters had an identical ingredient list (cream and salt), the difference came down to where those cows lived. Definitely a fun, and educational, dinner!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Sun, Sandwiches & Sweets

The temperature is in the seventies and the sunshine is pouring down. Wonderful. Emily and I spent some time out by their apartment complex's pool (though not in it, mind you!). We soaked up some sun and enjoyed continued time to share and spend together.

Today we drove into downtown Houston and visited the most fantastic grocery store with terrific produce, freshly baked bread, hundreds of types of fresh coffee beans, and butter from around the world. It was lovely.

Also at the market was a deli with made-to-order sandwiches, at which we order Emily and Katie's all time favorite sandwich. This is a hot sandwich with fresh turkey, tomato-basil pesto, chipotle mayonnaise, carmelized onions, and cheese (I choose fresh mozzarella) on a gorgeous freshly made ciabatta panini bread. We also found a new type of apple neither of us had heard of - "Jazz" apples from New Zealand, that we also thought was a necessary addition to our lunch. Sandwich = Amazing. Apple was pretty dang good too.

After a couple other stops, we finished our afternoon at a wonderful little shop called "Crave Cupcakes." As you might guess, all they make and sell are the most beautiful cupcakes. We choose several different kinds to try, including Red Velvet, Cinnamon, Chocolate Mint, and Chocolate Peanut Butter. Crazy delicious.
While seemingly mundane, this was a really terrific day that we enjoyed thoroughly. Stevens Point could definitely benefit from these new places! :)

Sunday, March 15, 2009


Surprise!  I'm in Houston!  I flew down here for a few days to surprise my friend Emily with a visit over her spring break from teaching.  I came in late Friday night, when her roommate Katie and Emily's mom JoAnn picked me up at the airport.  Emily was completely surprised and blown away, which we had definitely hoped for!  On Saturday, the big plan was to attend the Houston Rodeo which is going on right now, for which Katie had won tickets for at work.  I was obviously excited, as what better quintessential Texas activity would have been better than the Rodeo!
This was really a fun experience, that often left me gasping, cringing, and then cheering.  Katie was mostly eating.  :) 

Here is Steer Wrestling.  This is when the cowboy JUMPS OFF HIS HORSE AND ONTO THE STEER and wrestles it to the ground as fast as possible.  This seemed liked lunacy.

Then there is, of course, Bull Riding. 
 This also seemed like lunacy.  I'll be honest - I'm pretty sure most of these events came about by a bunch of guys standing around, drinking beer, and daring one another to do complete stupid things.  And now it's a sport.

One fun event was the chuck wagon races.  This was kind of like the entertainment in the middle of a Brewers baseball game where the crowd picks which Sausage they want to win the race around the bases.  Nothing really comes from it, just lots of silliness and cheering.  I cannot explain how fast these little wagons were going.  It seemed like one of them was going to tip over for sure going around the barrels!

One of the funniest events was labeled "Mutton Bustin'," which is when 4-6 year-olds ride sheep for as long as they can. Seriously - I think this would be considered child abuse in any other state.  But this was also the event that the crowd definitely cheers for the participants the loudest, and the kids obviously love it.  This picture is of the winner, that by far gripped the sheep the longest.  Most fell off within a second or two - but this little guy stuck on there like glue!

And of course, what Rodeo wouldn't be complete without fireworks!  Inside!

I am definitely having a blast, and look forward to a few more days staying with Katie and Em.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Yellow Cupcakes with Sweet Chocolate Glaze

These cupcakes were a cinch to throw together and the icing is sweet sweet sweet! I made a double batch of this recipe from PW and came out with 32 cupcakes (2 smaller events to bake for today - a church meeting and our small group meeting). I doubled the recipe for the frosting/glaze, and I ended up having quite a bit extra - I probably could have stuck with the ingredient amounts for a single batch. Yellow cake with chocolate frosting is one of my favorite combinations (and by favorite, I mean it is a type of cake with frosting on it). This frosting was a little "runnier" than I expected, but still very easy to pull together with minimal ingredients. I'm considering trying it with white chocolate as well - that would have been cute to drizzle over the dark chocolate icing.