Friday Five: Texas Thoughts

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

I have spent the last week worrying about weather, driving to beat ice storms, dealing with snow and watching the nightly news’ car accident count rise to over 300 (just today). And I haven’t spent one bit of it in Utah. Texas is fitting all of winter in the week that I decided to visit.

It’s been a week of hugs, games, farm animals and late-night work sessions and even though I’m ready to see Joe and Bella, here are the things I’ve loved about being here:

5. The Animals

One look to the sidebar on the right will tell you how much I loved being with the horses and llamas on the icy farm. I adored my close encounters with Lucy the horse and the llamas who managed to keep their spitting to themselves. It was peaceful to walk out in the brisk air and adventure into the pastures with them close behind.

4. The Games

I’ve lost about 100 games of everything from Skipbo to Mexican Train to Chicken Foot to Pegs and Jokers. Turns out winning isn’t everything, but it usually helps. These moments have been some of the most special of the entire week. I wish every night ended with a few rounds of games before bed.

3. The Food

Both of my parents credit my Mimi as their kitchen expert–the one who taught them how it was done. Being in the kitchen with her, watching her craft, was amazing. On another food note, tomorrow brings promises of Tex Mex. I’m literally jittery in anticipation.

2. The Familiarity

As chaotic as a last-minute trip and bad weather can be, there’s nothing as soothing as going back to your roots. I’ve always thought of myself as a city girl, but I can think of few places as relaxing and comforting as this farm. (This is an older pic from its non-ice-and-snow days.)

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1. The People

Texans are nicer than just about anyone you’ll ever meet, but these guys top even that. My heart is so full of their kindness and love. It’s overwhelming at times to have such wonderful people in your life. I don’t know what I did to deserve them, but I’m so thankful to call them mine. More soon on all of our snowy adventures.

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# homemade gnocchi in tomato broth

My perfect Valentine’s Day meal would be something rich and luxurious, comforting yet special, and, of course, homemade. This year’s meal choice definitely hit the nail on the head. If there was ever a time to use “#nailedit” without sarcasm, this is it.

Joe and I absolutely love gnocchi. It’s by far our favorite pasta and I’ve been wanting to try my hand at making it for quite some time. Only problem…I don’t own, or want to own, a potato ricer. We have a long history of small kitchens, so having a kitchen tool that only does one thing…or, even worse, would only really be used for one dish…is one of my no-nos. I just can’t justify the expense or the precious space.

Leave it to Deb of Smitten Kitchen to blow my mind with the tip that you can make gnocchi using a hand grater instead and it’s just as good.

<insert all of the !!!!!!!!!!s here>

She was right.

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It was easy. It was delicious. And it was so perfect for Valentine’s Day. I mean, what’s more romantic than a bowl full of soft, pillowy pasta swimming in a rich broth?

Answer: Nothing

Since Joe was helping me, I’ve got tonnnns of step-by-step photos. Four hands > Two. Especially when two are covered in flour for most of the experiment. Let’s get to it!

There are a lot of sauces that pair well with gnocchi, but since we had a killer-rich dessert and the gnocchi is already pretty filling we opted for a tomato-based broth instead of a pesto or butter sauce.

The best part is that you can make the broth a day in advance and reheat right before serving. Total timesaver when your mind can only focus on making your first batch of gnocchi as perfect as possible. There was no time to babysit a sauce too.

You start by sweating out the vegetables. We didn’t have any celery, so I doubled the carrots. I wanted their sweetness.

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The broth gets its richness from wine. Normally for a tomato sauce I’d use red wine, but this recipe calls for white. Who am I to argue?

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You simmer it for days (not really, just 45 minutes) before straining the vegetables to leave you the most fragrant broth.

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Let it cool and pack it up for the fridge until the next day.

Gnocchi can be made with lots of different types of potato: Russet, Yukon, Red, Sweet….whatever you want. The key is to balance each’s water content with the minimum amount of flour needed to make the dough. Deb called for Russets, so that’s what we used. Once cooked in the oven and slightly cooled, we set up our faux-ricer station: a box grater over a large bowl.

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The potatoes were still pretty hot, so I worked fast and used smaller sections I could lay flat against the grater. The potatoes will crumble slightly, but you can keep picking up sections and passing them through the largest holes.

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You’re left with a bowl of perfect “riced” potatoes. Light and fluffy and ready for flour, salt and an egg. Seriously, it’s that simple.

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Once you add everything together, it’s time to knead and develop that lovely gluten. haha

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It’s official. I want Joe in the kitchen with me all day, every day. How awesome are his photos? I’d be jealous of his mad skills if I wasn’t so in love with him.

Next up: Slice dough into sections, start rolling out your snakes and cutting the pasta into 1/2-inch pieces.

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The recipe calls for 1-inch pieces, which we did, but they puff up so much in the water, so I’d make them much smaller next time to keep ’em dainty.

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You can easily stop here and drop these babies in their salty bath (or freeze them in a single layer for later use), or you can make them more official and give them grooves (namely for sauce-holding purposes). We watched a few videos online to master the skill before trying. It’s not hard at all, though.

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Flour the fork, press it down, roll it off. Repeat.

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Joe got in on the action too.

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The key to gnocchi, I’m convinced, is flour. Have it handy to keep that dough moving. It’s a sticky situation otherwise.

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Once you’ve prepped and grooved them all, they are ready to be cooked and added to the reheated broth.

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Quite a sight.

Top it with parmesan shavings and maybe some chopped basil, and you’re all set.

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You can pair just about any vegetable as a side, but we went for roasted asparagus….my favorite vegetable to roast.

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We were going to top with hollandaise, but my brain was in gnocchi-mode and I botched it. So, we went with a butter-herb drizzle and it was perfect.

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Seriously, between this and the cake, it was the most perfect Valentine’s meal I’ve ever made. (#humblebrag) And, thanks to Joe, I have a million (amazing) photos to prove it.

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Homemade Gnocchi in Tomato Broth

Source: Smitten Kitchen / Smitten Kitchen Cookbook

Tomato broth

2 Tbs. olive oil
1 medium carrot, chopped
1 medium stalk celery, chopped
1 small yellow onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
1/2 c. white wine
28-oz can whole or chopped tomatoes with juices
Small handful fresh basil leaves, plus more for garnish
2 cups vegetable stock
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Gnocchi (Adapted from About.com)

2 lbs. Russet potatoes
1 1/2 c. flour
1 tsp. salt
1 large egg, lightly beaten

Make tomato broth:
Heat the oil in a heavy pot over medium-high heat. One it’s hot, add the carrot, celery, and onion, and cook together for 5 minutes, reducing the heat to medium if they begin to brown. Add the garlic, and cook for one minute more. Pour in the wine, and use it to scrape up any browned bits stuck to the bottom of the pan, then cook the wine unti it is reduced by half, for several minutes. Stir in the tomatoes, mashing them a bit if they’re whole, and the basil and stock, and simmer until the tomato broth thickens slightly, for about 45 minutes. Strain out the vegetables in a fine-mesh colander, and season the broth with salt and pepper to taste. Set aside until needed.(Or let cool completely and store, covered, in fridge until the next day.)

Make gnocchi:
Preheat your oven to 400°F. Prick the potatoes all over with a fork, and bake them on a baking sheet for 45 minutes to one hour, or until they are fork-tender. For best results, turn the potatoes over halfway through the baking time. Let the potatoes cool slightly.

Peel the potatoes, and then grate them over the large holes of a box grater into a large bowl. Add the lightly beaten egg and the salt to the potatoes and mix well with a wooden spoon.

Add the flour to the potatoes a little at a time, using only as much as you need so that the dough will not stick to your hands. When the flour has been incorporated, bring the dough together with your fingertips.

Dump the dough and any remaining floury bits onto a slightly floured surface. Knead the dough as you would bread dough. Press down and away with the heel of your hand, fold the dough over, make a quarter turn, and repeat the process. Knead for about three or four minutes.

Form the dough into a ball and then divide it into 6 smaller balls. On a lightly floured surface, roll out one of the six pieces using your fingertips into a long rope about 3/4 inch thick. Cut the dough into 1/2-inch pieces.

You can cook the gnocchi as it is now, but traditional gnocchi has ridges. To create the ridges, press each piece of dough against the tines of a fork. With your finger, gently roll the pressed dough back off the fork. Dip the fork in flour before you press the dough against it.

Place the gnocchi in a single layer on a lightly floured or parchment-lined dish. If you’d like to freeze them for later use, do so on this tray and once they are frozen, drop them into a freezer bag. This ensures that you won’t have one enormous gnocchi mass when you are ready to cook them.

To cook the gnocchi, place them into a pot of boiling and well-salted water. After a few minutes the gnocchi will float to the top. Continue to cook for one minute then remove and set aside.

Assemble dish:
Meanwhile, reheat broth to a simmer. Add drained gnocchi then reheat through. Serve gnocchi and broth together, garnished with a few slivers of basil leaves and/or parmesan shavings.

Friday Five: Oscar Race 2015

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

I’m beginning to think I need a “movie” category to this here blog. I clearly like to talk about them as much as food and books.

Who’s excited for Sunday’s Oscars? I’m really not that thrilled to watch NPH host, but I can’t wait to see who wins the races of the year: Best Picture and Best Actor.

Last like year, Joe and I haven’t seen all of the contenders, but we like to cast our vote anyway. Let’s do it!

5. Best Supporting Actress

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Joe’s vote: Emma Stone
Marci’s vote: Patricia Arquette

Sorry, Joe, you’re just wrong on this. Patricia has won every award for this role leading into Sunday, so I’m not anticipating the voters to change their tune now. She pulled from her own life experiences to play a broken, but hopeful mom in Boyhood, a role that’s won over just about everyone it seems.

4. Best Supporting Actor

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Joe’s vote: J.K. Simmons
Marci’s vote: J.K. Simmons

As two music-school graduates, Whiplash might hit too close to home. I think we’ve both had maniacal teachers at some point, but damn if it doesn’t make for golden Oscar fodder!

3. Best Actress

Julianne-Moore-in-Still-Alice

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Joe’s vote: Julianne Moore
Marci’s vote: Julianne Moore

Another category we agree on! She’s waaaay past due on receiving this award and always gives the most heartfelt award speeches. Can’t wait to see her in this role.

2. Best Actor

Keaton

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Some might say that the Best Picture category is the tightest race this year, but I think it’s this. Let’s face it, statistically and realistically, Eddie should have this in the bag. Done and Done. But Keaton is right on his heels and Joe thinks (and I’m afraid) that voters will want to recognize Keaton’s comeback-kid for what it means symbolically to his movie, instead of the performance of a lifetime that came from Eddie. Either way, both will feel legitimately robbed if they lose. And who can blame them?

1. Best Picture

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Joe’s vote: Birdman
Marci’s vote: Boyhood

Remember last year when 12 Years and Gravity were neck and neck? One won Best Director and the other won Best Picture. Voters felt less guilt over honoring both (in some fashion) and could rest easy that their favorites were declared public winners. I think the same thing will happen here between Birdman and Boyhood (though I wish Grand Budapest Hotel would take it). Both are groundbreaking in their technique and contain incredible performances by its cast. Joe thinks Birdman will take top prize, leaving Linklater with the Director’s gold. I think it’ll be the other way around. A house divided.

Who do you want to win on Sunday?

# boston cream pie

This is a Valentine’s Day post, but I’m going to take it back a few weeks to the NFL playoffs. Romantic, I know.

Before I knew I’d be spending Super Bowl Sunday on a plane, Joe and I started planning for our gameday treat tradition during the playoffs. While the Seahawks were duking it out with the Packers, Garlic Fries were head-to-head with Beer Cheese Soup. When the Patriots were killing Indianapolis in Deflategate, Boston Cream Pie was earning its title over Fried Pork Sandwiches. Clearly I was elated for that outcome. It was our own Food Feud!

And then my trip overlapped the big event and our showdown of Garlic Fries and Boston Cream Pie never became a reality.

But that dessert lingered in both of our minds and with Valentine’s Day around the corner, and with the Patriots win and all, we thought we’d better just go ahead and make it. It’s my version of taking one for the (winning) team.

My mom made me a Boston Cream Pie…which, for the record, is a cake…for my 15th birthday. Somewhere in Oklahoma I have a photo of me holding the cake plate in my hands with a big smile on my face, shadowed by flickering candles, and my now-brother-in-law smiling over my shoulder.

I remember thinking…”wow, this looks like a lot more work than our normal birthday cakes!” I loved the oozing chocolate and creamy filling. I can vividly remember how content I felt and how delicious it was.

It would be the last time I would eat a slice…until now.

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File this under “worth the wait.”

When planning to make the cake I looked no further than Joanne Chang, my Boston-based baking guru, who is responsible for Joe’s favorite cake. When I saw that her recipe, while gorgeous, was three pages long and called for a pan I didn’t own, I then looked to the next best thing: the boys of Baked. (They’ve also never let me down when it comes to cakes.)

Their version looked strikingly similar, but bakes up in regular pans I already had on hand. So I paired their cake with Joanne’s pastry cream and ganache and figured it was the best of all the worlds.

Boston Cream Pie consists of a bouncy sponge cake–a lighter, m-word crumb that pairs beautifully with the dense, rich pastry cream filling and chocolate topping.

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Is it weird that I want to keep typing “creme” instead of “cream?” That’s how fancy this cake makes me feel.

Boston Creme Pie. 

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Once those layers cool completely you have two options: You can slice each layer in half, creating a towering four-layer cake (which I would recommend doubling the cream filling for), or you can leave them whole. Since the original recipe called for 8-inch cake pans and I used 9-inch, I decided to leave them whole. So many options…all of them delicious.

Now that I know how easy pastry cream is to make, I feel like I’ve reached a danger zone. I could easily have eaten the entire chilled bowl. It was like the most glorious of vanilla puddings.

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Honey, hush!

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You want that ooze factor. This cake is anything but ooze-free.

Time to prep for what will send it over the edge.

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Oh, hello, semisweet chocolate. Always nice to see you.

You know what’s better than baking a cake for your Valentine? Having your Valentine in the kitchen to help you.

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Magical, isn’t it?

You don’t want to pour the ganache over the entire cake. Pour directly in the center very slowly and then use a butter knife to gently coax it to the edges. Gravity (and the weight of that luxurious chocolate and cream) will do the rest.

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Good lord.

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I put it in the fridge for a hot cold minute to let the chocolate set while we ate dinner. You want it to be firm, but don’t leave it in too long uncovered or the sponge cake will start to dry out. (Eventually you’ll want to store all leftovers in an airtight container in the fridge…that is, if you don’t consume it all in one sitting like I wanted to do.)

I can officially say that 18 years after that original bite, this cake is just as wonderful as I remember.

Perfect for Super Bowl wins. Perfect for birthdays. Perfect for Valentine’s Day. Perfect for anyone you love.

Go forth and get your creme on! (I’ll be back later this weekend with the rest of our Valentine’s Day meal.)

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Boston Cream Pie

Source: Milk Sponge Cake by Baked Explorations, Pastry Cream and Ganache by Flour, Too

Cake:
1 3/4 c. cake flour
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
3/4 tsp. kosher salt
6 Tbs. unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
3/4 c. whole milk
4 large eggs, at room temperature
1 1/4 c. sugar
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla

Pastry Cream (double if making four-layer version):
1 1/4 c. milk
1/2 c. sugar
1/4 c. cake flour
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
4 egg yolks
1 tsp. vanilla

Ganache:
4 oz. semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, chopped finely
1/2 c. heavy cream

Pastry Cream (make a day in advance of cake):

In a medium saucepan, heat the milk over medium-high heat until small bubbles form along the sides of the pan. While the milk is heating, stir together the sugar, flour and salt in a small bowl. In a larger bowl, whisk the egg yolks until blended, then slowly whisk in the flour mixture. It will be thick and pasty.

Remove the milk from the heat and slowly add to the egg-mixture using a half-cup measuring scoop, whisking constantly. When all of the milk is incorporated, return the contents to the saucepan and heat over medium heat. Whisk continuously and vigorously for about 3 minutes, or until it thickens and comes to a boil. (Once it thickens, stop whisking every few seconds to see if it has come to a boil. As soon as you see bubbles, whisk for 10 seconds and then immediately remove the pan from the heat.)

Pour, push and scrape the mixture through a fine-mesh sieve into a heatproof bowl. Stir in the vanilla and then place plastic wrap against its entire surface. Refrigerate overnight.

Cake:

Preheat the oven to 325-degrees. Butter two 8- or 9-inch cake pans, line bottoms with parchment paper, and butter the parchment. Dust the pans with flour and set aside.

In a large bowl, sift the cake flour, baking powder, and salt together. Set aside.

In a small saucepan over low heat, stir together the butter and milk until the butter is just melted. Do not overheat. Remove the pan from the heat and set aside.

Set aside. Set aside. Set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the eggs, sugar and vanilla on medium speed until the mixture is pale and has tripled in volume, about 5 minutes.

Remove the bowl from the mixer and sprinkle a third of the flour mixture over the egg mixture. Gently fold the two together, using a rubber spatula. Add the rest of the flour mixture and fold again.

Add the warm milk mixture (if it cooled, reheat slightly) to the batter and gently fold until just incorporated.

Divide the batter between the prepared pans and smooth the tops. Bake for 20-25 minutes, rotating the pans halfway through the baking time, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Transfer the cake to a wire rack and let cool for 20 minutes. Turn the cakes out onto the rack and let cool completely. Remove the parchment.

Once cool, place on cake plate or stand and spread pastry creme between layers. (If slicing layers, it’s easier to cut when the layers are slightly frozen.)

Ganache:

Place the chocolate in a large measuring glass (I used a 4-cup glass). In a small saucepan, heat the cream over high heat until small bubbles form along the sides of the pan. Pour the hot cream over the chocolate and let sit for 30 seconds. Slowly whisk the chocolate and cream together until mixture is completely smooth.

Let ganache cool to room temperature. When ready to use, pour slowly on center of top cake layer and use a butter knife to gently coax it to the edges, covering the entire top and letting it drip down sides.

Friday Five: Favorite Film Couples

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

With Valentine’s Day tomorrow, love is in the air. And with the Oscars around the corner, so are movies.

Tomorrow Joe and I will celebrate the day our way with a special homemade meal and movie night. In thinking of my favorite films, the ones that touch me the most, I realized that so few of them are romantic. I guess I’m not naturally drawn to the lovey-dovey stories and their happily-ever-afters.

There are a few exceptions. A handful of on-screen couples whose love tips me over the emotional-wreck scale and leave me longing for more. In honor of Valentine’s Day and the impending Oscars, here’s who I watch to get my sap on:

5. Nickie & Terry

Affair to Remember

Oh, Cary and Deb. You are the real deal. The first of my favorite couples to fall in love on a transatlantic liner, but, as you’ll see, not the last. This is classic, melt-my-heart cinema right here. (And inspired a slew of other adaptations that were just as good, like this gem.)

4. Noah & Allie

Título: El Diario De Noa

I don’t fancy myself a Nicholas Sparks fan, but holy moly is this story beautiful. The book is wonderful–seriously–and the movie does it justice, especially with such impeccable casting in Hey-Girl Ryan and Rachel, who, at the time, was his real-life Allie. Swoon for days.

3. Tony & Maria

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When not snapping or singing along to this film, I’m crying. In fact, this is my choice for tomorrow’s movie night. I’ll never get enough of the music, the dancing, the acting and Tony and Maria’s rebel attraction. When “One Hand, One Heart” starts playing, I’ll be that pool of mush on the floor. Don’t be alarmed. It happens every time.

2. Jack & Rose

Titanic

Boom. You knew it was coming. I’ve already written about how this film broke my fragile, 15-year-old heart. Well, it’ll never stop. Jack and Rose’s story is so lovely, despite its tragic demise. Joe has never watched this with me. I think he fears my own waterworks would drown us both. (Too soon?)

1. Harry & Sally

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My college roommate and I had this movie completely memorized. We watched it almost every week together and when she started dating her future husband, she changed her Nokia phone ringer to Auld Lang Syne in honor of its fateful scene (spoiler alert). I’m a big Nora Ephron fan, but this one takes the cake in my book when it comes to love stories. Best couple, best story, best chemistry, best love. Ever.

Here’s to a love-filled, sappy Valentine’s Day!

# southern Utah

After spending a week in Miami, I was in no hurry to give up the sun and palm trees and food options. I was in a hurry to see my husband, though. All of these factors led to me following him to St. George–the southern-most city in Utah–for his conference last week.

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Southern Utah is really absolutely nothing…NOTHING…like northern Utah. In Logan it’s wintry and crisp. In St. George it’s sweltering and d-r-y dry. Logan is all grays and blues. St. George is all reds and oranges. For just six hours between them, it’s a world of difference.

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We’ve been meaning to explore this area since we got here, but haven’t had the time to dedicate to both national parks and the Grand Canyon. None of those things happened this time since we were both working, but it at least gave us a taste.

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In fact, the only free time we had was late Saturday afternoon after his conference ended. We made a quick drive to Pioneer Park to climb the red rocks and enjoy its killer overlook of the city.

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Being an Oklahoma girl, I’m quite familiar with red dirt and rocks. But this is something else entirely.

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Did I mention it was hot? In February? Like over 80 degrees. Joe wears all black and I wear all the colors. #balancedmarriage

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We found a cool cave with a split in the rock ceiling.

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I, of course, made Joe pose like his head was bursting with power.

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Overall a pretty rockin’ place. ….see what I did there?

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We left the next morning and I was so sad to see the exit before ours was the one you’d take to Zion and/or the Grand Canyon. #soclose  Oh well, we’ll be back.

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Since we drove down at night, we totally missed the landscape changing from mountains to rock formations. At one point they overlapped for a while. It was pretty fascinating.

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We particularly liked this natural-occurring amphitheater-like opening.

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Bella, our resident road warrior, of course joined us. She was not so impressed by southern Utah’s dusty, dirt-filled landscape. Poor thing needed a bath as soon as we walked through the door.

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She also had a relapse of her earlier sickness, causing us to take multiple trips to the vet earlier this week. Good news is that, after three long months, they *think* they’ve confirmed the bacterial infection and have medicated her appropriately. In other news, I almost fainted when I googled said bacteria strain and read that it can cause digestive problems every two weeks for years at a time in canines. God help us all. Good thing she’s the most adorable thing ever.

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On to the next adventure!!

# miami trip, part 2

Yesterday’s Part 1 detailed traveling, eating and reconnecting, but Part 2 is all about music and the beach!

Our homebase, the New World Center, hasn’t changed much since I left in 2011.

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I still love that dreamy façade that projects Miami Beach’s sky du jour. This late afternoon display was particularly gorgeous.

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The SoundScape park was also its same lovely self, though definitely sporting much fuller foliage.

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The end of the work-week brought a weekend of concerts that featured THREE world premieres. To prepare for the craziness, Michael, Siggi and I made one last Starbucks run on Friday. Even though I don’t drink coffee, these runs were an essential part of our bonding when I lived here. We’d walk over to vent or to collaborate on projects. We went a couple of times together while I was back, but spent most of it catching up.

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These salted caramel caramel pops cure any afternoon sluggishness. ….I speak from experience.

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I needed it too, since Friday turns into a pretty long day when you work 8 hours and then stay for a concert!

Walking into the concert was the first time I’d been back in the Performance Hall since September 2011 with my Dad. I had managed to avoid the rehearsals all week so I could be surprised at the actual event.

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I sat with other staff in the back, but any seat in that house is pretty incredible.

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MTT, who injured his shoulder, came out first to announce his being “benched” by doctors.

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The first half featured a commission by New World, the San Francisco Symphony and music publisher Boosey & Hawkes, and then welcomed Grammy-award-winner Bruce Hornsby to the stage for the world premiere of newly-orchestrated songs from his musical, SCKBSTD (which stands for Sick Bastard).

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He was so entertaining. I couldn’t get one of his songs out of my head for days after this.

The second half featured the highly-anticipated El Sol Caliente (The Hot Sun), which was a music/video collaboration honoring Miami Beach in its centennial year.

The piece started with swelling music in the orchestra in sync with the ocean tide on  the screens.

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Perhaps the most moving part of the piece was when it showcased footage after the 1926 hurricane that almost ruined Miami Beach. The images and video of people rebuilding together brought more than one teary eye to the place.

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As someone who enjoys creating photo slideshows set to music, I loved this fascinating piece.

The next day was my last full day in Miami and I found myself with a few free hours to myself that morning, so SPF’d up and hit the road.

I walked past the building again and enjoyed the calm before that night’s impending Wallcast storm.

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This area would be a zoo in a matter of hours!

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I couldn’t believe how much the bougainvillea had grown in the park’s pergolas! They were mere babes when I left!

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Now they almost meet in the middle, creating a shady canopy.

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The beach was, well, the beach. I’m not the beachiest of people, but I figured I needed to soak up the vitamin D while I had the chance, even if it was a little windy.

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Not very many people out, which was nice.

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First things, first…

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There are few things better than toe squishing in wet sand.

Speaking of toes, I had to take an obligatory toes-in-the-sand pic for friend Ica. It’s kinda her signature when she’s on vacation.

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I spent most of the morning reading about this year’s best movies, so I had some quality time with Michael Keaton. We had the same idea here.

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On my way back to get cleaned up for the concert, I decided to swing my sand-covered self through our old haunt on Lincoln Road…The Lincoln Theatre. …which is now a thriving H&M!

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So. weird.

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My old office window is now over a Swatch store.

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And they have a placard at the front of the store explaining the site’s history and what it looked like “back in the day.”

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I was seriously covered in sand and sunscreen, so I didn’t stay long, but I did walk through to see what they did with the main stage and seating area.

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That big ad screen in the back is the original stage. The overhang above me is the old balcony. Kinda cool to see it repurposed so well.

I worked that night’s concert outside for the Wallcast. For any not familiar with this, it’s when the live concert inside is broadcast live outside on the exterior of the New World Center for anyone to enjoy in the park with a picnic or with friends. It’s hugely popular and fun. The City of Miami Beach also uses it every week for free movies in their SoundScape series.

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Michelle and I rocked the sign-up table.

Check out the crowd! (Shot from the building’s rooftop garden.)

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Here’s what the actual experience looks like from the park.

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We had the A-team working the Wallcast Concert Club table.

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It was windy, so there was some hair-holding involved in these pics!

Afterward, a bunch of us went out for my last night. These friends are seriously the best.

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(Not pictured, but definitely there in laughs and smiles: Julisa, Michelle and Rayna.)

Julisa, amazing friend and best chauffeur ever, picked me up at 7:30 the next morning for one last Big Pink stop and walk to the beach.

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It was stunning out there.

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She took me down to the new South Pointe Park pier. South Pointe Park was where Joe and I got engaged, so it made me feel all the feelings.

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This girl. She’s my hilarious bestie.

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One more round on the Hollywood Breakfast of my dreams and it was off to the second worst airport in America! (That title goes to Atlanta, but I’m sure you all already knew that.)

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My first glimpse of home:

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My, the difference 10 hours makes.

Even though these pics provide a pretty clear picture of how my week went, I can’t really describe how full my heart felt. Miami will always be a special place for me and Joe, and I always wanted to stay in touch with all of my old friends and colleagues, but nothing can beat being back in the fold with them and getting to reconnect after so many years. They are truly my peoples and I absolutely love them.

Hopefully I’ll be back in another few months and we can do it all again.