How it Started

When I was 12, I found a blank ledger book. It was a treasure beyond treasure to me. I debated and debated about what to do with it - it had to be something special. Finally I decided to make a list of things I wanted to do and places I wanted to see in my life and then cross them off when I had accomplished them. At first they were simple things, but soon I was adding dramatic things, impossible things, but things still worth dreaming about. Oddly enough, putting them on the list somehow made them attainable. I have kept the book and updated the list my entire life. Here is the story behind some of the entries - successes and failures, embarrassing and proud moments, laughter and tears - the ridiculous to the sublime!

Monday, July 11, 2011

Make Baked Alaska - DID-IT

Pin It Baked Alaska is a simple dessert compared to some of the flaming ones we talked about in an earlier blog posting.  It consists of a layer of cake (I used a brownie), and a layer of ice cream, all covered with meringue, then browned under a broiler or with a torch so it resembles the mountains of Alaska - I guess.

My first attempt was a yummy failure!  I mixed the ice cream with Grande Marnier for a little extra kick, then put it into the mold and into the freezer, the next day when I went to unmold my frozen concoction, I realized that alcohol doesn't freeze!!!  I had a soft mushy scoop of incredibly good ice cream which I served over the brownie with whipped cream and my guests were none the wiser that their dessert was a failure!!

For my second attempt, I left out the alcohol.  I cut a round brownie with a biscuit cutter, and placed it on a dessert plate.  Earlier, I had softened the ice cream and pressed it into a half-round mold and returned it to the freezer.  When my guests were ready for dessert,  I removed the ice cream from the mold and placed it on top of the brownie.  I had a nice bowl of egg white meringue all ready to go, and spread it over the ice cream/brownie stack sealing the edges to the ovenproof plate and making fun peaks on the top of the mound of meringue.  Then I popped it under the broiler for a short minute until the meringue was dry and the peaks were nicely browned and getting dark on the tips.  The ice cream was barely starting to melt at that point, which is just right!  I've seen people use a propane torch to brown the meringue, but I'm much too chicken to try it!

Serve it quickly so the combination of hot meringue and cold ice cream is still there.  It's fun to make and really fast and easy, but so impressive!!!  You can make one big one, or individual servings.  The only problem with the individual servings is that the smaller volume tends to melt faster than a single, large one.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Visit the Highest Point in the City - DID-IT

 At first I just meant the highest point in Seattle, but it turns out, I've visited the highest point in lots of cities.  I love visiting a city at street level - window shopping, smelling (and eating) the food, listening to the voices whether I understand the language or not, checking out the fashions and just feeling the pulse of the place.  But when I get tired of the jostling immediacy of the street, I like to find the highest place and just watch the city from the quiet serenity of its loftiest peak.

Pin It In Seattle, the 75th floor of the Columbia Town offers a dizzying view.  When the Blue Angels precision flying team is in town practicing for their annual show, the 75th floor puts you at eye-level with the pilots. The women's restroom in the Columbia Tower is famous for having the most incredible view from the throne of any bathroom in the world.  Each private stall has an uncurtained, ceiling-to-floor window offering a unique view while seated.  Those with a fear of heights or bashful kidneys should skip this one!

In Paris the Eiffel Tower offers the quintessential birds-eye view of the city, but the view from the tower in Notre Dame is pretty impressive as well.  I prefer Notre Dame because you get to share the view with the gargoyles!  Neither is actually the highest point - Sacre Coeur is officially the highest altitude, but I don't think the view is a good as it is from the other two.  So while I strive to find the highest point in a city, it only counts if that point affords an amazing view.

In Provence, we went up the tower in the medieval Cathedral de le Baux and looked over the entire South of France... okay, not all of it, but you can see a long way. They have a trebuchet (catapult) that used to fire cannonballs at invaders from the top of the hill.

The rooftop of Sant'Angelo Church in Rome looks down on the mighty St. Peters Basilica and the Vatican.The high view helps you orient yourself in a new city giving you a better idea of how it is laid out than trying to figure it out at street level.

Neuschwanstein Castle in Bavaria, also known as Mad King Ludwig's castle, has a fabulous view over the Bavarian Alps and down onto his parents castle below him - Picture on the left is from Neuschwanstein.  Picture on the left is from Hohenschwangau - the folk's place.  The mountains are higher than the castles, but I can't climb them, so the view from the tower will have to do! 

In Brazil, you have a couple options vying for highest point - the hill where the Corcovado (the giant statue of Christ) stands, or the top of Sugarloaf.  Both are impressive. It was raining on Corcovado (left), so the picture is kinda drab.

The tower in Warwickshire Castle in England, although relative to some of the other locations, isn't all that high, it is the highest point in the village.  You can see sufficiently far enough to spot an invading horde of Norman conquerors headed your way. I included it because I just love the look of the castle battlements and crenelations along their peak.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Visit Sitka Alaska Raptor Center - DID IT

Sitka, Alaska, is a tiny town on Baranof Island in the area known as Southeast Alaska.  It has one stoplight and four stop signs scattered along its 14 miles of road, that's probably counting the main road, all of the side streets, the driveways, and maybe the airport runway! It's small.  The local newspaper prints the cruise ship schedule so locals can avoid town during the crush of visitors swarming the streets. Here you can see a cruise ship trying to sneak into town!

If you follow the one and only road out of town, you end up at the Raptor Center.  A  rehab facility for injured birds of prey.  Their most impressive patients are the eagles, of course, but they have an amazing array of owls and hawks as well. The birds there for rehab are generally kept a distance from visitors so they don't acclimate to humans, but a few residents will never fly again and are permanent goodwill ambassadors to the adoring public.  This is by far the most popular tour for the cruise ship passengers.

If you venture to the end of the road, you'll find the Totem Park, a tiny National Park filled with incredible, native-carved totem poles. It's such a unique setting to wander through the dense forest, turn a corner and be face to face with a huge totem nestled among the towering trees.  In the visitor's center you can watch local natives carving masks and other native crafts.

There's bear.  There is a bear alert system in town.  When the alarms ring, kids outdoors dash for the nearest house - any house, then they call home to tell their parents where they are, and they are safely harbored inside the house until the bear wanders back into the woods.  I mentioned it's a small town, right?  And there's fish - really, really big fish.  The boys went out for a couple hours and reeled these in.

While Sitka is a fun 3-hour stop on your cruise, it's so much more interesting if you hang around awhile.  I spent a lot of time on layovers there when I flew for Alaska Airlines and my cousin lived there for about 15 years.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Have a Compost Bin - DID IT

A compost bin is a weird thing to have on your personal wish list, but there you go.  I don't know what I was thinking when I put it there, but I'm happy to report that today I have a very productive compost/worm bin. I really have fun playing in it.  It's amazing to me that you can put all the yucky stuff from your sink strainer and lawn mower bag into a black bin and the next season you are mixing this fabulous rich soil into your garden.

From this...
My first experience with compost was when I was a kid.  Every fall my Uncle Louis would dump a mountain of hay/straw/manure from his barns at the corner of the 1-acre garden plot my dad kept on our farm.  We didn't have any animals on our farm by then, just a hay field.  My dad would let it "cook" for the winter, then spread it over the garden - it worked magic, our garden was a jungle! this.

One year my brother, sister and I decided to play "King of the Mountain" on the 7-foot high, steaming pile of barn scrapings.  I was the oldest so I could generally hold the top spot by pushing my younger siblings until they tumbled down the mountain, although sometimes they ganged up on me and I went rolling down the hill.  We didn't mind, though, because it was soft and really warm (as decomposing manure and hay can be).

I survived!
We were having a great time until my mom spotted us and had one of those typical "mom when they find their kids playing in horse manure" moments.  Let's just say she wasn't happy.  We were ordered to strip out of our slightly soiled clothing on the porch, where we and our clothes got a hose-down before we were all dunked in the bathtub - not the clothes, just the kids went into the tub. 

I don't know why there isn't a steaming pile of manure and straw on every playground in the country, they are so much fun, and you can't get hurt! I was bummed that we weren't allowed to play on the manure pile after that incident - seemed like such a waste.  To this day, I still love the smell of cow and horse manure mixed with decomposing hay - yup, you read that right!

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Go Snorkeling - DID IT


 Snorkeling is not for the claustrophobic and I'm a bit claustrophobic.  Nothing puts me over the edge faster than the thought of being underwater and breathing.  Just thinking about it gives me the "willies."  It's true, just now a big shiver went up my back.  So planning snorkeling trips in Hawaii, later in the Caribbean, back again to Hawaii, again in Mexico kind of creeps me out thinking about it, even though I love doing it.

Before my first trip I donned gear and tried it in a pool.  I couldn't do it.  I tried just walking around out of the water breathing through the tube and other than hyperventilating until I was dizzy, I was fine.  Put my face in the water and I was lost - choking, gasping, panicking.

So I wasn't terribly hopeful that it was going to work out when I actually got to the big, wide ocean where I couldn't touch and there was nothing to grab onto... it gave me more than a few nightmares.  I waded in waist deep, put my face in, gulped frantic breaths of air, panicked - but I kept trying and then, out of nowhere a huge "flock" of fish swirled around me, then swam slowly away and I followed them.  They were so beautiful and serene and I couldn't stop watching them... three hours later I was getting hungry!

Once I started fish-watching, I never thought about how scared I was, never thought about breathing through the tube, nothing!  It was just an incredible world under there.

I've snorkeled St. Martin island, Maui several times, Mexico several times and every time I get nervous thinking about it, but once I'm in that quiet, amazing world following tangs, angels, parrot fish, puffers, sea turtles, I'm completely relaxed.  You should try it some time.

Friday, June 3, 2011

See an Opera - DID-IT

Listening to an opera recording or watching it on TV never held much interest to me, but I'd heard that seeing it in person in one of the world's great opera houses is a completely different effect.  Whoever said that was right! 

We visited Prague, Czech Republic at Christmas time and wanted to see a performance at the National Theater.  The opera Aida was playing - okay, opera it is!

We sat in a box seat with a terrific view of the audience... oh, and the stage as well. Everyone was outfitted in furs, hats, and elegant dresses, and the curtains hadn't even opened yet! 

The National Theater is incredible - gold gilding, crystal chandeliers, velvet upholstery and curtains, and champagne served in Bohemian Crystal stemware during intermission. It was beautifully decorated for Christmas when we were there.

It was funny to sit in a Czech theater, listening to an Italian opera about Egyptian Royalty with readerboard subtitles in English, German and Czech. The plot was complicated - there was drama, love, betrayal, deception, death.... wait, isn't that the plot of almost every opera?

It was fun, but it didn't make me a lifetime opera fanatic.  If it came up, I'd probably go to another one, but it's not something I'm seeking out with any regularity.  I still have "See Wagner's Ring series," on my list, but that means sitting through 14.5 hours of opera - Norse style! I'll get to it, sooner or later.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Visit Tillicum Indian Village - DID IT

Tillicum Village on Blake Island in the middle of Puget Sound isn't a real Indian Village, it's more of a reenactment of an Indian Village. Tillicum isn't a tribe, apparently it means "Welcome" in one of the tribal languages in the area. It is, however, a very popular destination that employs a number of Native Americans and does a thriving business on the Native-owned island.

To get there, you hop aboard an Argosy Cruise boat in Seattle at Pier 55. The boat cruises the waterfront with your native guide for a short tour, then heads across Elliott Bay.

When you arrive on the forested island, there is a fire burning to show you the way, plus a welcome song-and-drum serenade on the beach where you are served a steaming cup of clam nectar. You pick the tiny rock clams from the nectar, slurp them from their shells, then toss the shells onto the path where they are crushed underfoot forming a crunchy trail to the longhouse.

In the lodge you can watch your salmon cooking over the alder wood fire. Eventually the doors to the dining room open and after following a circuitous route through the gift shop, of course, you are treated to a fabulous buffet of bread, salads, seasonal roasted vegies - including fire-roasted corn, and the salmon you watched cooking earlier. Dessert is a fruit cobbler made with local berries. In keeping with native tribal customs, you eat in a longhouse-shaped building sharing your table with other guests, but that's where any similarity to an actual Native feast ends. Tables are set with linen cloths and very nice dinnerware, stemmed wine glasses and candles.

There is a professional caliber stage show that is more "Disney" than "Indian", but it's enjoyable for what it is. And, again, it employs a number of Native kids who seem to be enjoying their job. When the show is over, you will have a brief opportunity to wander around the island before your boat whisks you back to civilization as the sun sets.
While some locals might view the whole thing as a bit touristy, it's a Must-Do for visitors to Seattle and a great way to entertain out-of-town guests. Plus it's nice to have a classy, Native American revenue-producing venue that does not involve slot machines and blackjack tables! Tillicum Village is a much more organic experience. I'm not advertising it, but you can check out their website if you are interested in seeing it yourself -

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Drink Limoncello - DID IT

Limoncello is an intense lemon liqueur made famous on the fabulous Amalfi Coast where the millions of lemon trees supply a sufficient amount zest (the outer skin of the lemon) to keep the vats full. To ensure there is enough, they grow really fat lemons with lost of peel.  Oddly enough, the fruit inside that giant lemon is about the same size an any normal lemon, it's just the rind that's big. There are dozen of different kinds of lemons and each Limoncello connoisseur has their favorite.  Don't worry, the fruit doesn't go to waste, it is used to make the most amazing gelato and Italian ices - a sort of slushy/slurpy/snowcone.

This orchard is in the heart of downtown Sorrento, a beautiful Italian resort town on the Amalfi Coast just across the Bay from Naples.  The 300-yr-old lemon-orange-mandarin orchard is open to the public and you can wander through the 10-acre garden enveloped in the amazing fragrance.

There is nothing quite like sipping tiny samples of the best Limoncello in the world right in the orchard where it grew.  Although they are all referred to as Limoncello, there are lots of flavors; Lemon, Lime, Orange, Mandarin, Anise, Hazelnut, Licorice, Basil and more.  I love Basil in cooking, but the thought of it as a liqueur didn't really appeal to me, until I tried a tiny sip and it is WONDERFUL!  I think my favorite is the orange/lemon mix. 

Local recipes are closely guarded family secrets, but the basics are this:  Peel only the zest of the lemon, none of the white pith or your liqueur will be bitter (I use a potato peeler). Soak those peels in a potent, flavorless alcohol such as 100 proof vodka or Everclear.  Let it soak for a few weeks, strain out the peels, then stir in a simple sugar syrup, cork it and let it sit for a few more weeks. 
Then put it in the freezer until it's slushy.  Put your liqueur glasses in the freezer as well - everything has to be cold to be at its best. I've made several batches already and I'm not sure what happened, but they're gone!  Time to start another batch.