Wedding: Elizabeth Stocum & Scott Cheney-Peters

•November 28, 2011 • Leave a Comment

The day after Abby and Evan’s wedding, Emily and I scooted across Ohio and Pennsylvania to make it to the special Sunday wedding of Elizabeth and Scott.  The weather was beautiful with nary a cloud in the sky.  Additionally, the temperature was perfect for the outdoor setting.  We settled into our seats, chatted with friends and then watched a beaming couple exchange their wedding vows.

Before the reception, we mingled with the other guests for a cocktail hour.  The wedding was just outside Philly so one of the appetizers was a mini-cheesesteak.  I may have had 2 or 3, but who’s counting?  While this was a good touch, one of the best touches was the collection of great people they had around them.  The bridesmaids literally sang and danced for them, but the best-men and maids-of-honor also talked very lovingly and admiringly of Elizabeth and Scott.

We danced the last of the wonderful weekend away before slipping out to the back patio to take in the full moon (as it was the night we got engaged!).  We thought we were alone, but discovered the newlyweds at the other end of the patio also catching some fresh air, looking up at the moon, and enjoying their first evening as husband and wife.  Hopefully, each full moon will remind them of this special day. We wish Elizabeth and Scott the best.

Congratulations!

 

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Home Cookin’: Fiery Ice Cream

•November 25, 2011 • 1 Comment

By Emily:

A couple weeks ago, I made a delicious dinner of butternut squash soup, basil-garlic bread, cinnamon ice cream, and caramel sauce. YUM. I found the ice cream recipe on allrecipes.com. Last year, when Rob and I were walking around DC, we came across a sidewalk sale (DC’s version of a garage sale) where someone was selling an ice cream maker for $5. YES!!! I — ahem — might have run across the length of the house to pick up the ice cream maker. Yeah…no one else seemed to be nearly as excited/desperate. Rob might have walked down the street to a different house until I finished rejoicing over my purchase. I’m so weird. BUT! Rob actually ate 9/10 of this ice cream. Therefore, I think I can call my slow-motion run across the Columbia Heights neighborhood justified.

For the ice cream:

Bring 1.5 cups of half-and-half and 1 cup of sugar to a simmer in a saucepan on medium-low, stirring frequently, until it is simmering (the type of boil with the itty bitty bubbles). Beat 2 eggs in a small bowl.  Temper the eggs by slowly adding a bit of the sugar mixture to the beaten eggs, so as to not end up with scrambled egg ice cream (gross).  After the egg mixture is warm, pour it into the saucepan with the remainder of the sugar mixture and add another cup of heavy cream.  After everything is warm, add 2 teaspoons of good-quality ground cinnamon and 1 teaspoon of good-quality vanilla.  This whole process will probably take about 30 minutes.

Pour the whole mixture into a bowl and put it in the freezer to cool.  After about 45 minutes, pour everything into a ($5?) ice cream maker and let it churn away.  Once the ice cream churns for 35-40 minutes, transfer it to a freezer-friendly bowl, cover it, and hide it from your husband store it in the freezer.

For the caramel sauce:

Before Rob and I discovered the cinnamon pear balsamic vinegar from Olio Tasting Room (more details later), I thought a caramel sauce would go nicely with the cinnamon ice cream.  I still highly recommend this combination of caramel and ice cream, but the balsamic vinegar will also make its way onto some of the ice creaam.

While the ice cream is churning away in your ice cream machine, bring 1 cup of sugar to a boil in a large pot (I used a 3 quart-heavy bottomed pot), until it is completely liquefied, stirring frequently. Add 6 tablespoons of butter and stir like crazy. Once everything is mixed together — with nary a lump in sight — add in a 1/2 cup of heavy cream and 2 teaspoons of vanilla. This has the very pleasing effect of boiling up (hence the need for a large pot). Stir the dickens out of the mixture until it reaches “caramel color.” It doesn’t sound scientific, but I bet it’s a crayola crayon color. Transfer the entire mixture to a microwave-friendly bowl.

Once you’re ready to enjoy the ice cream, warm up the caramel sauce for about a minute. The cinnamon ice cream with the warm caramel sauce is a delicious fall dessert. I also plan on making it for my family at Christmas time, with apple pie, and some of that delicious cinnamon-pear balsamic vinegar that Rob and I bought for his birthday.

Ice cream Ingredients:
1.5 cups half-and-half
1 cup heavy cream
2 eggs
1 cup sugar
2 teaspoons good cinnamon
1 teaspoon good vanilla

Caramel Ingredients:
1 cup granulated sugar
6 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 teaspoons good vanilla

Colombia: Colonial Exploration in Cartagena

•November 23, 2011 • 1 Comment

After a long day traveling from Washington, we finally arrived in Cartagena.   As we flew in, we saw the modern high-rises shining above the city. On our way to Anna and Scott’s apartment, we drove past those same buildings and found Anna and Scott outside waiting for us. It was great to see them and relax after being on the go for so long.

The next day, Anna treated us to a nice breakfast with some local fruits.  It was Saturday, so both Scott and Anna were able to show us around their new city.  The first place they took us to was the heart of the city – the old colonial section developed by the Spaniards centuries ago.  Upon entering, we were greeted with the “Portal de los Dulces.”  Yummy.  We knew we were in for a treat with Cartagena.  After nibbling on a couple pieces of candy, we all made our way to the Plaza de San Pedro Claver, dominated by the cathedral of the same name.  It is a great plaza with statues and turns into an outdoor restaurant in the evening.

We explored the cathedral and learned more about how San Pedro Claver worked to improve the lives of slaves who were forcibly brought to the Americas.  At the end of the tour, we made our way to the front of the cathedral and saw his skeleton resting behind the altar.  It was actually somewhat creepy. Later that night, we returned to the plaza and witnessed a number of wedding parties emerge from the cathedral.  As they did, it made us wonder what it would be like to say your wedding bows with a skeleton behind a priest.

After the Cathedral, we made our way through the narrow and lively streets, eventually making it to the gold museum. The museum presented the history about indigenous people learning techniques for gold jewelry and how they would share and trade it with other tribes.  The location of the museum was very appropriate because there are many gold mines in Colombia. Cartagena served as a primary port for Colonial Spain in shipping treasure from the Americas to Europe.  Gold is still mined in Colombia today.

We continued to meander in and out of shops, enjoying some ice cream, and talking about different things.  All in all, it was a relaxing day exploring the old port.  As daylight gave way to moonrise, we made our way to the Café del Mar on the colonial walls to watch the sunset.  It was here that we were introduced to the michelada; a beer mixed with lemon juice and the rim of the glass rimmed in salt like a margarita.  It was delicious, and we enjoyed the refreshing beverage as the sun drifted below the cannon and eventually below the sea.  After nightfall, Scott and Anna took us to dinner in one of the plazas.  Thank you for the great introduction to Cartagena!

The sweets market

San Pedro Claver’s bedroom

San Pedro Claver’s remains

Adventures in Turkey: Ankara, Ánkyra, Ancyra, and Angora

•November 21, 2011 • Leave a Comment

This year we keep running into snow. Last month, mother nature decided that after Paola and Cliff’s wedding in tropical Medellin, Colombia, we needed to reminded about winter here in DC. When we left for Turkey, we did not have snow on the mind. Unfortunately, when we arrived in Ankara to visit Christiaan and Dara, a historical snowfall was also in town creating many beautiful scenes around the city and one very cold wife.

Our first challenge was to get from the bus station to Christiaan’s place. Over the phone he relayed his address. We entered the cab and knew we were in for an adventure when the taxi driver didn’t understand the address we gave him. Ultimately, the driver flagged down two other cabs to figure out where to go. We zipped across the city and to the area where Christiaan’s apartment was supposed to be. The cab took us all the way to the doorway of an apartment building before realizing we were at the wrong tower. We felt bad for the driver because we couldn’t explain anything (not that knowing the language would have helped) and he was unfamiliar with this part of the city (when you’re in a city of 4 million).

Finally, we arrived just in time to enter Christiaan’s apartment and see him off to work. It was our turn to explore for the day until he had some free time. After freshening up, we stepped back into the snow and tried our luck at the local buses (a planned trip this time). Fortunately, the line next to his house went directly downtown. Unfortunately, we got off too early and still walked a long ways. It was an interesting walk, as we saw all of the shops and took in the different vibe (wider streets and slightly taller buildings than Istanbul). Our ultimate goal was the Citadel, a hilltop with a walled town overlooking the rest of the city. Along the way we meandered through a street market as the snow lightly drifted to the ground. At the Citadel, there was a market outside, but the inside wasn’t all that interesting, as it was a twist of alleyways like other parts of the city.

A little ways down the hillside was the Museum of Anatolian Civilizations (Anadolu Medeniyetleri Müzesi) that traced the history back millennia. We lost ourselves here for a couple hours looking at carvings from 5,000 years ago. This is definitely a great museum for archeologists to visit. We actually ran into Christiaan’s brother Humberto there. He had just returned to Ankara after a holiday with his girlfriend and, by chance, was also in the museum (Christiaan didn’t even know he was in the city). With Humberto, we walked down to the hill and past an archeological site he was helping to excavate as part of his studies. Then he took us over to a plateau full of Roman ruins. Finally, we ducked into a coffee shop where he introduced Emily to Salup – a warm milky drink with cinnamon flavor. Actually, we almost purchased this drink on the streets of Istanbul, except the English label that the street vendors gave to it was “special hot drink.” For some reason, that marketing ploy didn’t work on Emily.

After warming up, we headed back to Christiaan’s apartment without Humberto to finally catch up with Christiaan. Unfortunately, Dara had to be out of town for work. We were sorry our visit coincided with that visit, but it sounded like a great opportunity. Christiaan introduced us to a local Turkish restaurant he had frequented us in the past. The menu was fixed, and we tried many vegetables and meats that were served tapas style. We even drank some Roki (A Turkish liquor with an anise flavor). Before we left, other patrons were singing with the musicians. It was a wonderful evening.

The next morning, we woke to even more snow. Christiaan still needed to work, so Emily and I hibernated took it easy before heading to the neighborhood near his office. Because of the ferocity of the flakes, Emily retreated to a coffee-shop and enjoyed a mug of special hot drink salup in a warm enclave. I decided to continue walking around and enjoying the city streets before we met up with Christiaan. He took us over to Anıtkabir, a large mausoleum and history museum for Ataturk and the foundation of modern Turkey. This is definitely the place to go to learn about modern Turkey. There is so much interesting information here, especially about the reforms Ataturk put in place in Turkey. While we were there, a foreign leader from Central Asia was visiting, enabling us to see the armed forces standing guard in the snow. It was quite a sight. Emily was worried their feet were cold.

Due to the snow, we decided to call it an early day and have dinner at home. This turned out to be an excellent call, as many of Christiaan’s co-workers ended up stuck at the office or had to walk home. We spent a lovely evening hanging out, enjoying a home-cooked meal, sipping wine, and catching up while the snow kept falling. It was a great couple of days spent in the warm company of friends.

 

Southern Comfort: Asheville Festivities

•November 17, 2011 • Leave a Comment

By Emily:

Our drive around the Southeast ended in Asheville, where my family was gathering to celebrate my grandmother’s 90th birthday (not actually until November 17th (today!), but it was hard work finding a weekend where everyone could get together). My dad and two of his sisters, June and Susan, organized and arranged everything for the entire weekend. They really pulled off a wonderful celebration!

Rob and I pulled into the b&b around lunchtime on Saturday. My parents and sister, Jennifer, were about to head out to a local pottery shop and an arts festival.  We hopped in and joined them.  After perusing the pottery shop and the arts festival, hopping between booths to avoid the downpour, and raiding supporting the bake sale, we headed back to the inn.  Happily, other family members were just arriving.  Those of us who weren’t napping or recovering from travels sat out on the back porch admiring the flowers, chatting, and watching about a dozen hummingbirds zip around. These were the boldest hummingbirds I’ve ever seen.

That evening, we went out to dinner and celebrated Jennifer’s birthday. The restaurant was a bit noisy, but the food was very delicious. We all stayed up and talked for a bit, but sleepiness overcame most of us pretty quickly.

On Sunday, we started the day with a delicious breakfast at the inn. Rob scoped out a great location in the back garden for our group photo. After breakfast and before church, he quickly wrangled us into place organized us and proclaimed he had taken a satisfactory photo. We then headed over to Grammy’s church for services, where the preacher was kind enough to stop and talk with us all for a while.

After church, Susan and Jennifer went to the market to pick up items for the picnic. I kept them company, but they fortunately made most of the decisions – I’m used to feeding Rob-sized people not Grammy and Susan-sized people! We all got organized and headed over to an outdoor pavilion to enjoy our picnic- and birthday-celebration lunch.

One fun feature of the picnic was our matching shirts. June, Susan, and my dad had decided that it would be fun to have a t-shirt to commemorate the weekend. They had discussed wording such as the “Margaret Conger Appreciation Society” but decided that Grammy wouldn’t wear that shirt again. Instead, they decided on “The Snickerdoodle Appreciation Society.” It was a great decision — Grammy laughed with joy over these shirts!

For those of you who don’t know, a snickerdoodle is a cookie. It’s like a sugar cookie but is rolled in cinnamon sugar. Grammy makes the best snickerdoodles. Being part of the Snickerdoodle Appreciation Society was a way to pay homage to Grammy, her sweetness, and her baking. Donning our shirts, we merrily headed out to a state park for our picnic lunch…complete with four batches of cookies made by Grammy and snickerdoodles, of course.

After the picnic, we headed back to rest/talk/play scrabble. That evening, we were going out to a ’50s themed restaurant for the big birthday dinner – and a surprise for Grammy!  When we got to the restaurant, we found that we were in our own private room, making conversations very comfortable and easy. Dinner was, of course, delicious, though the conversation and company made it even better.

After dinner and before birthday cake, my aunt pulled out the gift. Earlier in the day, Rob and my dad had printed out the group photo and set it into a frame that June had purchased. When Grammy opened the present and saw the photo, she was speechless! The look of shock and confusion on her face was priceless. The photo had, of course, turned out beautifully. Grammy didn’t realize that photos could be printed out so quickly.  We couldn’t have wished for any better reaction.

Additionally, we also all went around the table and said a special message to Grammy. I, of course, cried through everything I said, although my cousin Tim’s speech really finished me off.  I went from a state of Great Falls to Niagara Falls.  After cake and goodnights, our weekend came to a close.

Thanks to June, Dad and Susan for organizing the spectacular celebration! I can’t imagine a more perfect weekend. Happy birthday, Grammy!

Southern Comfort: Mammoth Cave’s Labyrinths

•November 15, 2011 • 1 Comment

By Emily:

We went spelunking! We didn’t actually go on our own, but after leaving Nashville (more late), we decided to drive north to Kentucky to visit Mammoth Caves.

Mammoth Caves (Official Site) is the longest series of caves in the world, stretching for over 360 miles. Wow! We only walked through about six of those miles. The first tour we did was the longest tour the park now offers. It is a 4.5 hour, 4.5 mile hike that provides a good background to the caves and allows the walker to learn more about the history of how the caves were discovered and how they were originally explored.  We really enjoyed this tour, walking through some cavernous rooms and some spaces where Rob had to bend in half to make it through. Some of the areas looked like they had a lazy river slowly meandering through the space, and others look like a narrow column of water shoved its way through.

We learned a great deal about the early exploration of the caves on this first tour. Back in the 1800s, slaves led most the spelunking adventures. In a world when blacks were treated as less than human when they were above ground, slaves who acted as tour guides were treated with respect and admiration. Our tour guide was the great, great, great-grandson (?) of one of the most famous slave guides. That history made this magical location even more special, as the guide’s voice reflected reverence for what his ancestor went through.

After a couple of hours above ground, Rob and I headed back under to go on another tour. On this tour, all the lights inside the caves were turned off, and we were given lanterns to carry like the original tours. There were only about 20 people on this tour, making the experience much more intimate. We had another knowledgeable guide. This tour was only about 1.5 miles long, but it went through some neat spaces that we hadn’t seen on the earlier tour. This guide explained to us that the slaves, though they weren’t paid for their labor, were allowed to keep any tips they earned while leading tours. Thus, a few practices came about. One really interesting practice was called candle writing. The slaves would take the dark-sooty candles and write people’s names and the year on the ceiling of the cave. The guide told us that some slaves actually learned their abc’s this way and pointed out how the slaves’ penmanship candlemanship improved over time. We found some of the writing to be quite beautiful.

We really enjoyed our first tour, but we loved the intimacy of the second tour and thought that the caves seemed even more mystical with the limited lighting lanterns can provide and with only handful of voices and footsteps echoing around us.

 

Southern Comfort: Cades Cove with a dose of Mellow Mushroom

•November 13, 2011 • Leave a Comment

After a wonderful first day traveling down to the Smoky Mountains, we visited one of its jewels – Cades Cove.  Emily was so excited to go she woke us up an hour and a half before dawn to make sure we entered right at sunrise.  While I groggily made my way out of bed, she was bouncing up and down on the couch.  Her excitement was rewarded by the sun slowly revealing a foggy landscape dotted with grazing deer (Photos below).

As we mentioned earlier, we were really happy we stayed in Townsend because it was quiet.  An added bonus was that it was located right next to Cades Cove, allowing us to queue up and enter the park as it opened.  While waiting in line, we walked down to the grazing horses that didn’t seem bothered by cold morning.  A little further into the park, we came upon a herd of deer grazing.  We also witnessed two small bucks practicing sparring skills with their antlers.  After witnessing their aggression, we agreed we do not want to go head-to-head with an angry buck.

Further along the loop, the road continued to wind through foggy fields and old-growth forests.  At one point we almost came across a bear, but he somehow slipped into the forest.  After this near encounter, we circled back on one of the access roads.  This road was slightly below field level, allowing the spider webs to glitter with dew in the rising sun. On our second pass of the loop, we veered off to the trailhead for Abrams Falls.

Abrams Falls is a small waterfall hidden a couple miles back in the woods.  While it was only 9 am, the day was already warm and we set off with a lot of water.  Along the way, we took a break to dip our feet in the river.  All of the sudden, I was shocked by Emily screaming.  In reality, she was shrieking with joy due to the presence of a couple of river otters playing in the moving water.  They are cute and shy little critters so we were lucky to even catch a glimpse of them.  Once we arrived at the falls, we relaxed for a little while before heading back.  At that point, we decided it was too hot to spend too much time outside – it was above 90 with 90% humidity.

We decided to head over to Pigeon Forge to take in some of the ‘sights.’  Basically, this town is a strip amusement park.  It’s rather kitschy, being basically a six-lane highway lined with restaurants, go-cart tracks, gift shops, Dolly Parton, and other amusements.  We decided to play mini-golf.  The course was on a hillside and we actually rode an incline up to the first hole.  After dinner Emily took me to a Southern institution – Mellow Mushroom.  She had been raving about their pretzels and pizza for years. Being a person who eats a lot of pizza a pizza connoisseur, I was happy to try it myself.

Here are some highlights of Cades Cove and afterwards, but there are more photos on SmugMug.

Grazing horses