Friday Five: Top Ten Books

Every Friday I’ll indulge my order-crazed brain in a list of randomness. Welcome to my Friday Fives.

First up: I owe my readers (all five of you) an apology. I’ve been on a non-intentional blogging break due to a lot of factors I could list, but let’s keep it simple: I’m busy. I’m tired. I’m *at times* lazy and, most nights, just want to go to bed. <—- Reality.

The saddest part of this new Fall-time routine is that I’ve not only had little time to blog, but I’ve also had little time to READ. Now that my lunch breaks are spent either working (blah) or walking (yay), it is taking me MUCH longer to get through my reading list. In fact, I might hit a new low for my next Shelf Life installment. It’s sad. I hate it. I need 5 more hours in the day to do everything I want to do. <—- Reality.

I was invited to join a book club recently and, get this, I turned it down. Can you believe it? These are my FRIENDS! Friends + Books + Snacks = Best thing ever, right? But I can’t stretch myself any thinner than I already do and I wasn’t on board with all of the books they chose for upcoming meetings. (Umnothanks.) Life is way too short to read books you’re not that into. <—- Reality.

I promise this post isn’t just sob stories and realities.

Lately I’ve been feeling nostalgic when remembering books from my childhood. I blame it on watching the made-for-TV version of Flowers in the Attic. (Horrible, by the way.) It was a total hide-from-your-parents classic from the 80s that I secretly nabbed from my sister, I’m sure. It got me thinking about other books from my past. I suddenly wanted to check in on Beezus and Ramona, Nancy Drew, Ralph and his motorcycle, and that Indian in the cupboard. I know I’m crazy, but I loved these stories and their details are only getting fuzzier.

For all you Facebookers, have you seen the new trend of sharing your top ten most influential books? Many of my friends have been spelling out their faves and I absolutely love seeing what stories my peeps savor. It says a lot about them, you know? I don’t join in on mass Facebook posts—I’m ironically not a fan of over-sharing on social media platforms, despite having a tell-all blog—but I feel the need to make my own list.

This is a big deal.

I’ve forever avoided compiling a list of my favorite books. I mean, I have a running list in my head, but to put in on paper (much less, the interwebs) makes it MUCH more official and permanent. How can I possibly just pick ten? Don’t make me pick a #1 when they are all so different and I love them for so many different reasons! My anxiety level went through the roof when I started making this list, especially when, 30 minutes in, I still had over 15 and needed to start cutting books I cherish. I seriously caught my breath drawing a line through The Thornbirds.

So, after much internal deliberation and cringe-faced thought, here are the Top Ten Most Influential Books of my life. ….in no particular order, because I think that would make my head explode.

10. Roald Dahl’s Matilda

This whimsical story about a quiet girl who thrives when reading spoke directly to my heart. No, it captured my heart. I WAS Matilda. It was the first book that made me realize I, too, wanted to live surrounded by books and the people that love them. Roald Dahl’s hilarious characters helped a little, too. I think it’s pure genius and I can’t wait to introduce all of my Littles to it down the line.

9. Daniel Keyes’ Flowers for Algernon

Within its pages about a boy and his mouse, I found myself for the first time sobbing for fictional characters. Totally, completely crushed by people that never existed, events that never happened. It was perplexing! I wish I could remember my age at the time, but I do remember feeling like it was such a heavy, grown-up book. Even though I haven’t read it since, it has always had a place on my bookshelf as a reminder of its emotional power and the first time I lost myself to a book. (Side note: I just found out the author died this past summer at the age of 86.)

8. Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea

The book that launched my love affair with Hemingway! Don’t mistake his short-sentenced, clipped-description prose as simple. There’s power in those words that defies the need of flowery adjectives and run-on sentences. He quickly draws you into his own mind, one vivid and without excess. I love reading Hemingway and this old man and his marlin started it all. I especially adore the worn copy from my sophomore English class whose margins are littered with notes and excitement. It may not be his favorite storyline of mine, but I have to give credit where it’s due.

7. Augusten Burroughs’ Running with Scissors / Molly Wizenberg’s A Homemade Life

There’s no way for me to choose between my two favorite autobiographies. (Cheater! Cheater!) Both of these books instilled in me a deep longing to record my own story, whether by book or by blog. Their ability to recall beloved and painful memories with tenderness (and, at times, snark) is bar none. You will laugh, you will cry, you will wonder how any of us turn out okay. Some of the most powerful writing I’ve ever encountered.

6. Jeffrey Eugenides’ Middlesex

When I was in college I took a Modern Literature class where we read total jewels every single week: short stories by David Foster Wallace way before he tragically took his life, Brokeback Mountain before Heath and Jake brought it to the big screen, and imaginative, twisted versions of modern-day fairy tales before “Once Upon a Time” ever aired. But, this book was my absolute favorite. Sweeping generations of a Greek family, its narrator is such a strong, compelling, dynamic character. What’s interesting is that I’ve seen Facebook book lists of people that were in the class with me and this made every single one of our lists. It’s somewhat of a dark horse, but it’s absolutely stunning.

5. Marcus Zusak’s The Book Thief

We’re getting into the Top Five now. I know I said they were in no particular order, but these five would (probably) be my definitive favorites. See how sure I am? When my friends tell me to read one of their favorite books, I listen. This is one of Bobbie’s favorites and she lent me her copy while I was visiting once. I had never heard anything about it, but I trust her explicitly, especially when it comes to books. I remember sitting on the plane and reaching one of the most heartbreaking scenes in the book and the tears just starting falling. Hard. I looked down to wipe them away and noticed the page was wilted from Bobbie’s own tears. It still gives me chills to think of that. The recent movie version does it justice, but—come’on—you know the book is *always* better. It’s worth the read, even if you know the ending.

4. Khaled Hosseini’s A Thousand Splendid Suns

Most people know Hosseini’s name from The Kite Runner, probably his most famous novel to date. But, it’s this story about two afghan woman that, to me, is positively breathtaking. I really love everything he writes, and most of his novels span generations (which I LOVE in a story), but when I finished this I could not get the characters out of my head. I thought about them and what they might be doing. That’s the best recommendation I can give for this work – it stays with you long after you finish that last page.

3. J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter Series

Oh, Harry. You get all seven books in one. I know some of my bestest friends (*cough* sean!) can’t wrap their heads around my infatuation with this “children’s series,” but not only is it truly amazing story-telling, but it completely revolutionized children’s reading habits. It was a phenomenon whose reach went round the globe, sparking imaginations in every country and culture. I will forever adore these books, how they quickly enticed my family and friends into a shared, endearing love of all things magic, and inspired a new generation of voracious readers and dreamers. Well done, J.K.

2. John Steinbeck’s East of Eden

I first came into contact with Steinbeck’s East of Eden in my sister’s freshman dorm room. Her friend (who would later key my sister’s car after an argument — the things you remember!) had a copy on the floor and when I picked it up she told me it was her favorite book of all time. It looked huge to me—daunting in scope—but I at least remembered her recommendation when I encountered it again a few years later. And what do you know? Crazy Amy was right! It’s beautiful and poignant and epic and heartbreaking and wonderful. I especially love the dedication, written to Steinbeck’s friend and editor Pascal “Pat” Covici:

Dear Pat,

You came upon me carving some kind of little figure out of wood and you said, “Why don’t you make something for me?” I asked you what you wanted, and you said, “A box.”

“What for?”

“To put things in.”

“What kind of things?”

“Whatever you have,” you said.

Well, here’s your box. Nearly everything I have is in it, and it is not full. Pain and excitement are in it, and feeling good or bad and evil thoughts and good thoughts – the pleasure of design and some despair and the indescribable joy of creation. And on top of these are all the gratitude and love I have for you.

And still the box is not full.

JOHN

1. Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude

Steinbeck = Hard to beat. But some, maybe most days, GGM reigns supreme. Gabriel (who also died earlier this year) wrote in the most beautiful literary style I’ve probably ever read. They have a name for it: Magic Realism. Remember Hemingway’s perfect direct sentences? GGM’s ooze off the page in descriptions that never end. And that’s okay because you don’t want them to. This work of staggering genius chronicles seven generations of one family (again, my favorite kind of story to read) and is loosely based on his grandparent’s house where he was raised. This is the only book on my list that I’ve read multiple times. Most others I read once and was forever changed. This I could read every year and still find new things to love about it. Just thinking about it makes me want to pick up my copy and start anew. Is there a better book than that? It’s like an old friend you can visit again and again and again. And that’s why it’s my Number One…at least for today.

What are your favorites?

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Friday Five: Lessons Learned

Every Friday I’ll indulge my order-crazed brain in a list of randomness. Welcome to my Friday Fives.

This is my last Friday Five as a 32-year-old. Monday marks my Jesus Birthday. We’re tight like that.

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Many people call your Jesus Year a time for rebirth. A crossroads of sorts. I’m ready for it.

As for my actual birthday, it should be a good one–made extra special by the surprise visit of BFF Bobbie! We’re getting good at this surprise thing. We’re busy getting into all-things trouble (mostly food related), so here’s my quick take on turning another year older, my hopes for a wiser year. These are my crossroads:

5. Balance

Work is great. I love to do it (mostly) and I enjoy my side jobs, but let’s look for balance in the big 3-3. Let’s play as hard as we work. Let’s have lazy Saturdays and an extra piece of cake.

4. Cut the Crap

It’s amazing how much “stuff” you collect in your life, both tangible and emotional baggage. I’m ready to let a bit of that go as I near my mid-30s. Mid-30s! Mabye I don’t need that shirt from high school that’s SO SOFT. Maybe I can delete the photos of people no longer in my life, for better or for worse. It’s time for a little house cleaning.

3. Great Expectations

One of the most difficult lessons I’ve learned is that you can’t make everyone happy. Man, as a middle child, you know I’ve tried. I know there are expectations of me, ones I fail constantly, I’m sure. I can’t beat myself up about not being the perfect person for everyone in my life. I need to live MY life and hope people can understand and support me for it. As a somewhat-people-pleaser, this is hard for me, but oh, the freedom in it. It’s bliss. I won’t make apologies for my life, and I won’t ask you to make them for yours. #handshake

2. Dog Days

My dog will turn 10 in January. She is my life, wrapped up in a cuddly fur-covered face. I want to spend every single moment I can with her before she gets any older, before things start to fail, before the tennis ball is left in the corner. The day she leaves me will be, I know, one of the very worst days of my life. So, yes, I’m going to teach her to lick my nose to get treats and I’m going to take two allergy pills a day just so she can sleep in our bed. And I will continue to take about 20 pictures of her a day on my phone. It’s all worth it.

1. Keep the Dream Alive

As a middle child, I’ve always been a big dreamer. I spend a lot of time in my head (don’t we all), and I’m ready to make more of my dreams a reality. Read more, write more, design more, eat more, bake more….moremoremoremoremoremore. All in balance, of course. (See #5).

Next up: a post on the two USU football games (I’m currently culling through hundreds of photos), a recap of Bobbie’s visit and my birthday cake of choice. Let’s do this.

(Oh, and a few of you have asked what happened to my last Friday Five about my Temple visit. It’s staying hidden for now.)

 

# coffee and doughnuts ice cream

Guys, I’m the worst. Some of you may remember an instagram photo of doughnuts in a blender.

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Its caption promised magic and many were curious. And then like the tease that I am, I didn’t come through on that promise. Truth is, there were other more time-sensitive posts I needed to write and I just forgot. I even had the photos ready, all I had to do was write the post. So here we are, three weeks later (per Instagram).

Are you ready for that magic? … Wellalrightthen.

Does this look like the perfect breakfast to you?

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Like peanut butter and chocolate or Wendy’s Frosty and fries, coffee and doughnuts were made to marry. Each amazing on their own, but waaaaaaay better when they’re together. Cue the Jack Johnson.

Too bad I don’t drink coffee.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the flavor, but I hate the liquid, I hate the smell, I hate the jolt of caffeine, I hate the breath.*

Hate is a strong word, but “dislike” is a little too passive for this case.

*For the record, my thoughts do not extend to pumpkin or peppermint or mocha frappuccinos. Come to mama! (And I pass no judgement on those that love the stuff! Drink up!)*

When we lived in Miami you could get Coffee and Doughnuts custard at Shake Shack. It was a special that only popped up here are there, which required me to check their weekly flavors like a hawk. It was incredible. Breakfast for dessert is the new Breakfast for dinner! Breakfast for President!

So when my friend Chilali brought me these adorable ice cream containers she found on a trip to Vegas, I knew I wanted to recreate that magic as a thank-you.

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Here’s where that magic happens:

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: : : waving my wand : : :

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Ta-Da! Have you ever seen anything so beautiful? I swear, it tasted as velvety as it looks.

Funny story: The original recipe I used as a base called for “very strong coffee or espresso.” I was going to get the coffee from Starbucks while I was out (since I didn’t have any at home), so in my “go big-go home” mindset I decided early on that I’d go with espresso. A freakin’ half-cup of espresso. When I pulled into the drive-thru and asked for a tall espresso there was a pause and then the barista asked me to pull around. Did I not use the correct lingo? What could be confusing about this? When I got to the window two employees were looking at me. “You wanted a tall espresso?” Mmmhmmm, I need at least half a cup. “Uh, I don’t think you should drink that much espresso, miss. It’s too strong.” Holy hell — that poor boy thought I was an addict and he was staging his own intervention. We had a good laugh. I said the word ice cream and he calmed down, whipped out his smart phone and figured out how many espresso SHOTS I needed for half a cup. (4, but I got 6 — play it safe.) Who knew you ordered espresso by the shot? Answer: Everyone but me.

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It was all fun and games until I tried some of the ice cream that night and my heart was racing afterwards. That boy was on to something.

But the heart palpitations and Starbucks-judgement were well worth it. This was pure decadence. …in a word….magic.

It’s supposed to be 33-degrees here tomorrow night, so do yourself a favor and hang on to summer for me by whipping up a little ice cream for your weekend. I won’t make you wait a second longer!

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Coffee and Doughnuts Ice Cream

Source: A Family Feast

4 egg yolks, at room temperature
1 cup whole milk
3 cups heavy cream
¾ cup sugar
½ cup brewed espresso or double-strength coffee, cooled (see story above, proceed with caution)
4 plain cake donuts

In a medium bowl, whisk the egg yolks. Set aside.

In a saucepan, heat milk, heavy cream and sugar, stirring occasionally until the sugar is dissolved and the mixture is hot. (Do not bring mixture to a simmer or boil.) Remove from the heat.

Take about a cup of the hot mixture and very slowly drizzle into the bowl with the egg yolks while whisking constantly.

Once your egg mixture is smooth, slowly pour the egg mixture back into the saucepan through a fine mesh strainer to combine with the rest of the warm mixture.

Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens a bit and coats the back of a spoon. (This will take less than 5 minutes as well, and again, do not bring the mixture to a simmer or boil, or it will curdle.)

Remove the pan from the heat and pour the mixture through a fine mesh strainer into a bowl. Add the cooled espresso or coffee and stir to mix.

Place the donuts into a blender. Then pour a few cups of the custard mixture over the donuts. (Warm liquids expand in the blender, so keep your liquid line around the halfway mark, not a drop more.) Puree until completely mixed.

Pour the mixture back into the bowl (no strainer needed!), and cover with a large piece of plastic wrap, pushing the plastic down to touch the top of the custard. Refrigerate overnight.

Churn in an ice cream maker according to manufacturer’s instructions. (Mine took only 20 minutes rather than the normal 25-30, so keep an eye on it.) After churning, freeze again for 4-6 hours before digging in.

# park city, part 3

You’ve made it! The final installment from our Labor Day adventures. And I think this post has the best part of the trip!

Other than the Park City Mountain Resort that we visited on Day Two, the only place we really wanted to see was the Olympic Park.

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Though Salt Lake City was the official location of the Olympics That Romney Built, many of the events took place in Park City. It’s now mostly used as a training facility, but they have an awesome (free!) museum and activities you can do across its grounds, including a real ride on the bobsled track. If that didn’t come with a $75/person price tag for the less-than-a-minute ride, we probably would have tried it. $150 can buy you a lot at the outlet mall, mind you.

What we WERE willing to shell out the cash for was its Extreme Zipline.

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You basically ride a chair lift (there’s that dreaded word again) up past the Olympic nordic ski jump and ride the zipline down to the base of the jump…on an already tall mountain. They boast it’s one of the steepest ziplines in the world. So, as soon as we got there we grabbed our tickets and headed up before reason and fear could set in.

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This is the last picture of us before we climbed on the lift. I might have muttered “just in case” after I took it. You know…just in case.

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Here are the ski jumps. If you see the platform at the very top, that’s where we were headed. As soon as we got on the lift, some other brave souls flew down the line screaming. Holy *&$# — that was going to be us.

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Unfortunately, those damn chair lifts are so slow you have an E-T-E-R-N-I-T-Y to dwell on the fact that this probably isn’t the wisest thing you’ve ever done. You know, suspend in a seat and fly down a mountain and all.

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The higher and higher you go, the lighter and lighter your head gets. I don’t know if this is due to the altitude or adrenaline, but it wasn’t a great feeling.

This is still mid-ride! You are so unbelievably high.

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In case you ever wondered what’s under all that snow on the ski jumps, now you know.

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When you get to the top there’s a bathroom. I’m not even kidding. It’s the smartest place I’ve even seen a series of stalls because as soon as you get off that chair lift and realize what you’re about to do you’re either about to throw up or have a case of the Nervous Stomach. Better to deal with it there than when you’re flying down. (I imagine.)

Then, you walk to the platform.

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That guy in the blue was there with his parents (!), wife, and two daughters. Well, please, if 70-year-olds could do this, I’d be fine right? Right before their blue doors opened they made some joke about their wills and then I felt queasy all over again.

This sign of stats didn’t help either.

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As the line moved closer, you began to see the drastic drop you were about to encounter.

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I kid you not, just looking at the pictures again sends my heart racing. And since you didn’t see the beauty that is the gopro head-mount, here you go.

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Now there was nothing else to do but do it. A few pointers I should mention before you watch the video:

1. The most terrifying seconds of my life were hanging in that seat, staring at the blue door, waiting for it to open. You are suspended above the platform with your knees against the wall like it’s a freakin’ horse race. (I watch Joe get ready so you have a better idea of what happens.)

2. At the beginning of the video, I step on the platform to get in the seat and you briefly get a glance of how high I am. Just don’t miss it. You should feel your stomach turn.

3. You really need to turn down the speakers. There’s no profanity, again–small miracles, people, but there’s loud screaming.

4. Joe loses his hat on the ride. Fear not, it was from Columbia so afterwards we hit up the outlets across the street and found him a $10 replacement. Better that than the gopro.

5. Enjoy.

Are you still with me? I think you can pinpoint exactly where in the ride I went from “ohmygod!” to “oh my GOD!.” It’s subtle, but it’s there. And, yes, I definitely waved to the people we met on that platform. When you think you might die, the bonds you forge in those last minutes are somewhat precious. (And I think they were jealous they had forgotten their own gopro.)

Afterwards, when the feeling in our legs was back, we walked back up to visit the museum and got to watch some of ski jump training, which takes place in a huge pool. You can even take a few lessons and try it yourself, which looked pretty fun.

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Here are some of the pros we watched:

This is a better view, but it’s sideways. Sorry. #itssundaynightandimtired

The Olympic Museum is really well done. You immediately walk in to a long hallway that chronicles the evolution of ski style.

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I especially connected to this lavender number. It reminded me of my own ski style in the 80s. You remember, I’m sure.

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I also fell hard and fast for this one, speaking of the 80s.

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It ends with the uniforms our US Olympians wore in Sochi, along with a few medals won.

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Overhead are weird animals that you encounter face-to-face on the second level. They were used in the Opening Ceremony.

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Wouldn’t be much of an Olympic Museum without the actual torch, amIright?

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And it wouldn’t be a vacation with me if I wasn’t forcing my husband to take pictures like this. Thanks, baby.

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They also had a cool way of explaining why Utah Snow is so great.

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We also got to see how the medals were made…

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…and feel exactly how heavy a curling stone is. Spoiler Alert: heavy. (Have I ever shared my hatred for that sport? It’s a blog post of its own.)

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One last photo op. There were all different kinds of winter sport vehicles in the lobby you could climb into. (Again, thanks, Joe.)

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By then it was hat-replacing time, so we ran back over to the outlets. While we were there, my leg kept feeling SUPER itchy through my jeans. As soon as we got back in the car, I pulled up my pant leg and my entire calf was swollen and bright red with darker red splotches.

I should mention that all summer I’ve been fighting a yet-to-be-identified rash (a point I’ve managed to keep blog-free until now), so this new rash was actually over the old rash. It’s complicated.

To keep it simple: it required a trip to urgent care and the acquiring of three huge tubes of steroid cream and orders to stay indoors. Thus ended our Park City outdoor adventures. That afternoon we had planned to go around the actual city (and its famous main street) for some pictures, but that was okay. It gives us something new to do when we go back again. Thankfully, we came prepared with DVDs and magazines, and the forced downtime allowed us to do a lot of this:

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It was a wonderful long weekend and I’m glad my rash held off until we had done everything we really wanted to do. Family vacations are the best.

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And while we were pretty sad to pack it up and head back north, this girl seemed the saddest.

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As for the rash…I’m contemplating writing a post about it since I just found out what it is…but for now know that things are good and the steroids worked their magic.

Friday Five: Pump up the Pumpkin

Every Friday I’ll indulge my order-crazed brain in a list of randomness. Welcome to my Friday Fives.

*Part 3 of our Park City adventure, aka: The Final Frontier, is coming!*

Last week at this time I was eating cheesecake for dinner. Cheesecake, people! Tonight we’re having salads. *shaking head* What a harsh reality we live in.

Speaking of reality, how is it already September? I’m not ready to pack up my sandals and tank-tops for another nine months. I’m not ready for football tomorrow. I’m not ready for most of what’s coming my way as winter inches closer.

*Most*  …there is one thing.

With September’s ambush also comes the season for Fall baking. And when it comes to Fall baking, I’m Cinderella out way past curfew. It’s Pumpkin City up in heeeeeah. See, mom? Lots of good things happen after midnight. Disney told us so.

(I know, I know…it’s not technically “Fall” yet, but we all know I’m the worst when it comes to patience.)

So far this season I’ve already had pumpkin pancakes, pumpkin doughnuts, pumpkin muffins and a much-anticipated Pumpkin Spice Frappuccino that led to a new nickname for several days.

“Marej”????? Starbucks strikes again.

I recently started following a bunch of pumpkin-specific boards on Pinterest, which has led to my own bursting with new possibilities.

So, until someone comes up with new names for the beloved “Pumpkin Dump Cake” and “Better than Sex Pumpkin Cake,” here are my current top five contenders…coming to a kitchen and blog near you, I hope.

5. Pumpkin Doughnut Muffins

I have my favorite recipe for doughnut muffins and I have a favorite recipe for pumpkin muffins. Close the books, right? Well, what would happen if they got friendly? A little bow chicka bow wow? Oh, no big deal, just possibly the best muffin ever. (We’ll call it the Better than Sex Pumpkin Dump Doughnut Muffin! Or not.)

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Photo and recipe credit: Damn Delicious

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Photo and recipe credit: Ezra Pound Cake

4. Pumpkin Cookies

These cookies from last NYE were a huge hit, especially with Joe, but I’m open to any and all cookies. You know this. Here are some that have me drooling:

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Photo and recipe credit: Cooking Classy

Cookies

Photo and recipe credit: Bake at 350

3. Pumpkin Pizza

Pumpkin isn’t just paired with sugar, ya’ll. Just check out this pizza. We’ve got the most incredible Indian food restaurant here in town—shocker, I know. A bigger shock is that it’s located in a gas station. That’s never stopped me before and I have a feeling we could make some killer pumpkin pizza using their homemade naan. (Minus that chicken sausage, of course.)

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Photo and recipe credit: Climbing Grier Mountain

2. Pumpkin Pasta Sauce

Another savory item for the win! Joe and I make a pumpkin mac-n-cheese that’s packed with fall flavors, but sometimes the cheese and apples start to overpower the pumpkin. Not that that’s a bad thing any other day, but I want a rich cream sauce that screams GOURD. What better place to look than some fettuccini alfredo action?

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Photo and recipe credit: How Sweet Eats

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Photo and recipe credit: Tracey’s Culinary Adventures

1. Pumpkin Scones

If you look at my pumpkin board, it is teeming with scone recipes. Who knows which is best, but I’m pretty sure I’ve pinned them all. I’m still trying to perfect high-altitude scones. This might be the best time to try my hand again. (Anything that’s a Starbucks rip-off is at the top of the list. Those things are laced with crack.)

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Photo and recipe credit: Cooking Classy (again!)

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Photo and recipe credit: Chelsea’s Messy Apron

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Photo and recipe credit: A Kitchen Addiction

So much nom, you guys. So. much. nom.  Thanks to all you awesome food bloggers for sharing your pumpkin treats and letting me share them here. For a full look at my love affair with pumpkin, check out my Pinterest board. Now go get your Cinderella on.

# park city, part 2

Park City is probably the most famous resort area of Utah. It’s where winter Olympians live and train, it’s where Hollywood celebrities converge to debut their new projects, it’s where people bring their families to hit the slopes. So, as you can imagine, there’s lots to do there…even when there isn’t a perfect blanket of snow around you.

Our first stop was another ski resort which offered many different family activities on its grounds. We opted to try the Alpine Coaster and Alpine Slide.

Cue the GoPro.

Do you know what a GoPro is? It’s a tiny camera/videocamera you can attach to almost anything to capture the previously uncapturable. Like the surfers who attach it to their board, or the off-road bikes you’re suddenly on, and don’t forget the skiers. A lot of drum corps use them now, attached to one of its members, so you can feel like you’re marching the show with them. Pretty awesome footage. And even though the info page for each activity already has its own GoPro footage, wouldn’t you rather watch mine??

We got one last year as a joint Christmas gift and besides dreaming of a Bella Cam, I’ve been itching to use it for something like this, which required us to get a head mount.

Even though we set up the mount the night before, I was still nervous about wearing it…and…more importantly, losing it. I tugged and tightened throughout the entire wait line, so much so that I pulled one of the straps from his holster mere seconds before boarding my car. *nice* I didn’t break it, but it caused me to tighten the daylight out of the main strap. A point we’ll revisit in just a moment.

The line was getting so backed up because people were being too wimpy on the ride, not going as fast as they could, and delaying the start time of everyone behind them. So we had very strict instructions to go full speed, let ‘er fly, and, subsequently, make me feel like I could die.

Here’s the video of the ride, which has a substantial build-up as we climbed to the top. The ride itself starts at 6:30 (but enjoy the scenic views from the start). And, with all of my gopro videos, now’s the time for the sound disclaimer. Turn down your speakers to avoid my screams scaring your neighbors.

#amazing.  It’s a small miracle there wasn’t any profanity on that video.  We read one review by a guy who rode the coaster during the winter and he said he couldn’t feel his hands halfway through. I can’t even imagine what this would be like surrounded by snow.

What you didn’t see was me clinging to the gopro for dear life, despite their “don’t take your hands off the levers” warning. I was going so. fast. In fact the camera kept slipping down my face despite cutting off my circulation. Here’s Joe’s view of my face when I finally got off the ride:

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After waiting in line for so long, we hurried over to the Slide, which required you to ride the chair lift to the top of the mountain. It had just started sprinkling and we knew that they shut down the track if it started to rain due to the brakes not being able to work when it’s wet. No need to convince me further. We had to hurry.

This is about the point where I realized I don’t like chair lifts. How can anyone ride them without that security bar being down? I don’t think I’m afraid of heights, but something about being able to fall that far, that easily leaves me a little extremely unsettled.

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At least the changing trees kept my mind from wandering too far. Hard to believe fall is already hitting the area, thanks to that crazy altitude and cooler temps.

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Check out those ski runs.

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And then it started to rain.

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Get me off!

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When we got to the top, we were asked to pull our cart to the tracks. They were heavy, but we were trying to hurry to beat the rain. Well, Joe was hurrying and I was taking pictures.

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Look at those Aspens!

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We each chose the fast track, but right before I hit record on my camera, she warned us that 8-9 people a day fly off the track, so we should be careful. Also if it starts to rain we immediately need to stop and walk down the mountain carrying our cart. Needless to say, I was a little freaked by both statements, so Joe takes off immediately and I play this one safe. It’s still a good watch, though. *Turn down speakers*

Again, #amazing. Do I not know what else to say after finishing rides?

We left the mountain on a pure adrenaline high and headed back for lunch at the hotel, a little resting, and some Bella walking. Then we spent a leisurely afternoon with about a million other people at the city’s outlet mall. Labor Day Weekend = deals = people, people, people.

Did you know that Tanger Outlet Stores love AAA members? If you’re card-carrying, hit up the Guest Services station and you’ll receive a page of 20% off coupons (for one item each at participating stores) and a free coupon book that would normally cost others $5 from a vending machine. Not bad.

We’ve actually been here before, mostly to hit up the Columbia store for winter wares, but this time we walked the entire complex and took advantage of some crazy holiday weekend sales.

Some of our favorite spoils: fleece-lined winter pants from Columbia for Joe (he was always jealous of mine), cute dresses from Loft, Columbia sunglasses for Joe, a pair of skinny jeans for $14, and an $80 quilted Banana Republic purse for….$20!! Again….#amazing. No other word is needed.

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That night was our big splurge meal of the trip. Sean and Wallis had raved about High West Distillery earlier in the summer. Everyone else knew how awesome it is, too. Our initial wait time was an hour and a half, but lucky we were seated in about 30 minutes — roughly the time it took Joe to find a parking space!

The atmosphere was very dark and rustic chic, so I don’t have many pictures from the meal, but I have to share what we had.

For cocktails, Joe had their signature shandy and I had their Mountain Rose, which was a martini made with rose water — absolutely delicious. We shared an appetizer of crispy homemade pretzel with a whiskey cheese sauce — unreal. Joe went with pulled pork for dinner and I had their three-bean bourbon chili with crispy quinoa croutons. It was incredible, but all I could think of was how even more amazing it would be if it were snowing outside. Warm ya right up! For dessert, Joe had their homemade s’more (duh!) and I went with their famous “Grillswith:” a grilled cinnamon krispy kreme doughnut topped with rye whiskey vanilla ice cream and drizzled with caramel sauce. Honey, hush.

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That’s all she wrote. …for Part 2 at least. Next up: Joe and I carry the Olympic torch, zip line down a mountain and make a trip to Urgent Care. Oh, the suspense!

# park city, part 1

Welcome to the first installment (of, I’m guessing, three) that will chronicle the wonderfulness that was our trip to Park City. Did you guess right?

Ironically, Park City wasn’t our first pick. We were originally going to head north to Jackson, Wyoming–to the mouth of Yellowstone. But in the end, Park City was a better fit for a shorter amount of time (Friday afternoon to Monday afternoon) and a shorter drive. (Can you believe Park City is less than two hours from our house?!) Both had what we were looking for: pet-friendly resort-ish hotels, but with much different price tags. I know we’ll make it to Jackson someday, but we had such an awesome time exploring a different area of our state.

We knew before we picked a destination that we wanted to take Bella. As she gets older, it breaks my heart to leave her boarded and I spend most of my time away picturing her in a metal crate. I just don’t want to do it if I don’t have to. She’s a great road traveler, so why not pay the extra money and everyone’s happier? She was clearly excited from the get-go.

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We found a great last-minute travel deal online for the Hyatt Escala Resort.

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We couldn’t have picked a more perfect place for us. It’s located in the ski area of Park City (not the downtown area), so it’s quieter and so gorgeous. This was the view from our balcony. #swoon

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The resort, like everything in Park City, is designed in the most rustic way possible. Even the Starbucks and Domino’s look like lodges. But this was the real deal.

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This is looking back at our portion of the complex. For as big as it is, it seemed so cozy and quaint. There is even a chair lift that leaves right from the back door to the top of the mountain. (Obviously shut down now without that powdery snow.)

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More rusticness. I loved the fire pit, which was a popular hang-out spot every night.

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Within two minutes of arriving, Bella had already made herself very welcome in our room.

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The room was spacious and lovely. We didn’t get a suite or anything like that, but this room was still much larger than most places I’ve ever stayed.

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Oh, that patio. We spent a lot of time out there. Bella would watch the people below and we’d stare at the mountains above. Each balcony had its own private heater and gorgeous views. And if Bella wasn’t out there, she was inside keeping watch with the door open.

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I should fill you in on how Joe and I travel. We pack so much food you’d think it was the end of the world. BUT — it’s our way to not only make our favorite dishes/snacks/desserts, but it’s also a great way to save money. We eat at least two of the three meals in the hotel every day and splurge on whatever meal we choose to have out on the town. It works well for us and having Bella there forces us to spend more time relaxing and taking breaks to avoid a frantic getaway. You know, since the whole reason we’re there is to escape our frantic everyday lives. Win-win.

The first night we found a cute little place on Yelp that was just featured on Triple-D: Sammy’s Bistro.

You know what I had for dinner? Nachos and Cheesecake. No shame — it was incredible. (Joe was a little more sensible and had a special club sandwich and bread pudding.) This is what vacation is all about to me…Joe, Bella, no technology and cheese.

Next up: Day one of being adventurous, or aka “How I almost died with a gopro camera strapped to my head.”

Until then…