Monday, August 15, 2011

This post sucks.

For my birthday, I got a new toy: the VacMaster VP112.

Still have no idea what this thing is? That's okay. My family and friends are confused, too.

The short version is that this 50lb contraption will let me vacuum-seal liquids and things with liquid components.

I received it on Friday and gave it an inaugural over the weekend. The first thing we made was compressed watermelon tequila bites.

First we cut up watermelon and put it in bags, along with some homemade tequila syrup.

The, we used the
Fruit Fucker 5000Vacmaster VP112 to compress the heck out of the watermelon and syrup.
Compressed Watermelon Tequila Bites

1/2 of a small seedless watermelon, peeled and cut into bite-sized cubes
1/2 c. sugar
1/2 c. water
1/2 c. tequila
1/4 c. lime juice

Divide watermelon cubes among two food-grade plastic bags and set aside.

Combine the sugar and water in a small saucepan and heat until the sugar is completely dissolved. Remove from the heat and set saucepan in an ice bath to rapidly chill. Once the syrup is cool, stir in tequila and lime juice.

Divide the tequila syrup between the two watermelon bags. Compress each bag on HIGH. Refrigerate at least an hour, but 2 days seems to be the magic number.

I totally winged this recipe, and it turned out really well.  The watermelon takes on a sort of meaty quality when compressed, and the tequila infusion packed quite a punch. These would make excellent party snacks, but be careful - it's easy to get boozy without realizing what's going on.

You'll have some watermelon-infused tequila left over in each bag, and with that we made a couple of martinis, adding in a bit of triple sec and vodka, plus a compressed watermelon cube (or two).

Absolutely delicious.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Rocky Mountain Higher - part two.

We woke up early on Tuesday morning and after a so-so breakfast at the hotel restaurant (where we had - what else? - Denver omeletts) we headed to Garden of the Gods. The rocks are enormous.

After walking around for a while, we bid farewell to Colorado Springs and started our drive to Vail.

The normal route to Vail takes you along an interstate north to Denver, then west to Vail. We didn't want to take the interstate, so we headed west from Colorado Springs along 24 highway, then north to Vail. We were so glad we went this route. First off, you get lots more mountain scenery. Then, there's this big stretch of flat, high mountain plains where horses run and real cowboys drive around in old trucks. It was beautiful. Along this route we drove through the real South Park, Colorado, which commemorates its fame with one of those stand-up things where you can stick your face through a hole and pretend you're Cartman (we didn't do this). We also drove through what quickly became our favorite place in Colorado - Breckenridge.

Breckenridge is beautiful, full of lots of shops and restaurants. There's a mountain stream running right through town, and lots of flowers.

We were hungry by this time, so we got a snack at a cupcake shop. High-altitude pastries taste better. It must be the combination of sugar and the view.

One of the coolest things in Breckenridge - of the trip - is a free gondola that takes you to the top of the mountain. Just hop on and go!

On the ride up, we saw two huge moose eating lunch right below us! It was the coolest thing - I've never seen a real moose before!

When you get to the top of the mountain, there's lots to do in the summer - mini golf, an alpine slide and other activities. We spent a few minutes looking around and then headed back down the mountain. We said goodbye to Breckenridge (but swore we'd be back someday) and continued on to our destination, Vail Village.

What can I say about Vail? It's beautiful. That doesn't do it justice, nor do the pictures I took. The place is really, really, REALLY beautiful. Weirdly perfect. Almost uncomfortably so. It's like being in a European town if that town were run by Disney, and required proof of extreme wealth to enter. It's like the Renaissance Festival, but instead of hay and dirt, there's cobblestones and flowers, and instead of princess hats and swords, there's furs and jewels and wine stores. Many of the hotels don't have air conditioning, so most everyone sleeps with their windows open. There were goldendoodles and art everywhere. Souvenir shot glasses were $10 and sparkled as if they had just been Windexed.

Dinner in Vail was an event - we had reservations at Kelly Liken Restaurant. Kelly Liken was in the final four of Top Chef season 7, and cooks what she calls Colorado cuisine. We had a five-course tasting menu that included bone marrow, sweet breads, potato-crusted trout, elk fillet and watermelon soup among our samplings. Everything was incredibly delicious. When we arrived back at our hotel (The Lodge at Vail), our beds were turned down and there was Rocher on the pillows.

The next morning, we walked around Vail some more to take in the beauty before heading out towards Denver.

On the way to Denver, we decided to be adventurous and to drive up "the highest paved road in North America" - Mount Evans. The road up to the summit of Mount Evans makes the road up Pikes Peak seem like a four-lane superhighway. This was one scary drive, and I must commend Frank for not driving off the side of the mountain. Good work, Frank! The scary drive paid off in spades, though. We even saw some mountain goats along the way.

We took lunch up to the top, and on the way the pressure changes almost made my chips explode,

Once you get to the top of Mount Evans, you're not really at the top. You have to climb up a rocky path for about 20 minutes before you're really at the top. That was fun.

On the way back down, we stopped at Summit Lake.

After descending Mount Evans, we headed to Denver and checked into the Omni Interlocken Resort.

We had a pina colada from the pool bar, and swam a bit before turning in for the night.

The next day, we went to the Denver Zoo and saw some animals.

Around lunchtime, we went to the 16th Street Mall and walked a bit before catching one of the free buses back to a yarn store (where I got my souvenir - baby alpaca yarn from a Colorado ranch), then to lunch at a restaurant called Rioja. Lunch was outstanding - I had a beet and goat cheese salad and some pasta for lunch, and Frank had a compressed watermelon and tomato salad and gnocchi. For dessert we shared a lemon tart. Delicious!

That evening, we headed to Red Rocks Amphitheater to see My Morning Jacket. On the way we stopped for dinner in Golden, Colorado.

I had a southwest trout dish and Frank had fish tacos. The food was okay, but the atmosphere was better. The servers wore bolos, and everything moved at a relaxed pace.

The Red Rocks venue was gorgeous. We had to park about 1/4 mile from the amphitheater entrance, which was all downhill going in and uphill going out. When we got to the amphitheater, we had to go up about 200 stairs, with a crowd rushing behind.

It was an aerobic workout - good thing we are in shape!

The evening was perfect - great temperatures, great lighting - you can see Denver just over and behind the stage, and there was a nice little lightening storm going on over the city for much of the evening, while bright stars shone over our heads.

I wish I could say the concert was perfect. The opener, Amos Lee, was terrific. But most of the people around us talked through the whole concert, which was distracting. But the bigger issue is that we learned we're not jam band fans. I like My Morning Jacket's music, and they are very, very talented musicians, but I don't need 20-minute versions of every song. Part of the problem is that I'm only familiar with the most recent 2 of their 4 albums, and they played lots of stuff from the older albums. We ended up leaving about an hour and a half into the show, having heard about 6 songs. Six long, long songs, of which we were familiar with two. So, the show was a bust, but the venue was a hit.

The next morning we grabbed breakfast at Starbucks and headed towards home. Our trip was just wonderful and we can't wait to visit Colorado again, summer or winter.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Rocky Mountain High - part one.

We're back from Colorado and can't wait to return again!

Our trip started in the usual way that a trip from Kansas City to Colorado usually begins: with a drive across Kansas. Luckily, the sunflowers were in bloom, so the scenery wasn't as boring as it could have been.

Upon arriving in Colorado Springs, we checked into our hotel - a Raddison. The chain prides itself on having Sleep Number beds in all the rooms. I'm sure Sleep Number technology is terrific if 1.) you're the only person in the bed, or 2.) you have two controls so each person can set their own Sleep Number. As it was for us, however, we had two full-sized beds and full beds only have one control. Two people can't sleep comfortably in a full-sized Sleep Number bed. End of story.

Anxious to explore, we left the hotel and visited the Manitou Cliff Dwellings. While it was a nice change of pace from the long drive, it wasn't worth the admission price, especially since these "authentic Anazazi cliff dwellings" are actually reproductions made from a collapsed portion of a real cliff dwelling several hundred miles away.

We followed that with dinner at a Vietnamese restaurant, the Lemongrass Bistro. It was really good. Vietnamese is such a good "road food" - it's always variations on the same dishes, and I love those dishes. After dinner, Frank bought some new sunglasses so he would look stylin' on the trip. You'll see plenty of them in the pictures that follow.

Our first full day in Colorado found us getting up early to drive to Canon City to catch the Royal Gorge Railway for a morning train ride through Royal Gorge.

This was a blast. We bought the cheapest Coach class tickets and spent much of the ride on the outside platform car, which was really the best place to see everything. We had a perfect day - not too hot, very clear, a slight breeze - and thought this was totally worth the money.

After the train ride, we had planned to go to Royal Gorge park, but decided that it was probably more of a kid-type place, and since we'd already seen the gorge, we drove back to Colorado Springs...

... and headed up Pikes Peak!

Frank drove the whole, scary way. I'd read horror stories about altitude sickness, so we went prepared with lots and lots of water. Any time we started to feel even a little off, we drank some water. It worked perfectly - no problems with the altitude whatsoever. The view from the top of Pikes Peak, and from the many scenic stops along the way, is spectacular.

We even saw a few yellow-bellied marmots towards the summit, which are super cute.

PROTIP: Drive the whole way up first, without stopping, then stop as much as you want on the way back down. It's easier on your car, and not nearly as scary a drive on the downward trek.

The next day we got up early again and headed to the Cave of the Winds. We have lots of caves in Missouri and while this one wasn't one of the most incredible we've seen, it's still worth a visit if you like caves. After the cave, we went to lunch at Adam's Mountain Cafe in Manitou Springs, Colorado. All I can say is yum-ee! The food was terrific - I had some Senegalese peanut soup and a chicken sandwich and Frank had Moroccan fish tacos - and the price was even better. The portion sizes are HUGE. The only negative is that the place smells a little... weird. We heard it's because of this special orange tea they brew, but whatever the reason, it was definitely off-putting.

After lunch we headed up Pike's Peak again - this time via the Pikes Peak Cog Railway.

The round trip takes a little over three hours, with about 40 minutes at the top....

... where Frank got a donut.

Along the way, we saw a herd of bighorn sheep - so cool!

On the drive back to the hotel, it rained a little. When it stopped, we were treated to a full-on Colorado Springs double rainbow.

What does it mean?

And so concludes our first days in Colorado. More to come!