Vacation Shopping Report

August 24, 2010

This is part three of my three part series about our trip to Seattle, Alaska, and Vancouver.  As you all know, shopping is a key component of travel for me. I’m not interested in outlet malls, Caribbean jewelry prices (there were tons of these shops in Alaska), tacky souvenirs (except a select few!), or clothes. Nope. I’m looking for “authentic” types of items that I can bring home, which will keep the trip alive for me, and I think Martha does this also. I also have several collections that I try to add to on each trip – bookmarks, sheep, teacups, baskets, and cheap little magnets.

The shopping on this trip was not fantastic, but it wasn’t horrible. Sitka was a good town for shopping. Seattle wasn’t great. Vancouver was good to me – the Granville Market and Gastown were good spots.


I did well on the basket front. The one on the left is from Alaska and is made of smoked grass (and it smells smoky too). The white thing in the middle is carved bone with glass. It has glass beads on the sides. The one on the right is from Vancouver and is made of kelp. It has a barnacle attached to it.  I’m wild about both of these finds! These are exactly the kind of things I hope to find on our trips.


I did not expect to find a sheep on this trip – they aren’t exactly your typical Pacific NW or Alaskan animal! This sheepie is from Vancouver and what makes it incredibly special is that its face is made from a crossword puzzle (and I love doing crosswords), so it combines two things I love. It’s totally unique and fits well into my “flock.”


Another thing I love to bring home from trips is food that I can experiment with at a later date, which will remind me of the trip. On the right is a barley bannock mix, something settlers used to make in British Columbia. On the right is birch syrup, which is supposed to be similar to maple, but is more savory. It came with a few recipes, so I’ll be trying that out.  I’ll also have a freezer full of salmon, from Mr. MarthaAndMe’s and Dude Martha’s fishing trip.

the vase

I have too many vases, but that doesn’t stop me from hauling more home. I found this one in the museum store for the Museum of Northwest Art in La Conner Washington. There are little gold dots on it which you can’t see very well here.  I love the design on this and it’s very different from other glass pieces I own, so it will be an interesting addition to my collection. It’s also purple which is a departure for me, but a fun one, so I know I will enjoy owning this.


This item is from Made in Washington, the very first shop I went into on our trip, at Pike Place Market. This is made from local, reclaimed glass and shells discarded by the fishing industry. The glass also has some ash from Mt. St. Helens in it (which erupted when I was a kid). The inside of the globe contains sand and the aforementioned shells. I love, love, love this piece. And this proves one my cardinal rules of shopping – when you see something you like, buy it. Don’t dink around thinking you will see it elsewhere for less or something similar that is better. I never saw anything like this anywhere else. Teen Martha almost got burned by ignoring this rule – she did not buy a jade bracelet she saw in Alaska and then we hunted all over Vancouver looking for it – and finally found one!

Birch box

This birch box is from a Russian store in Sitka, Alaska, which used to be the Russian settlement capital. It’s made of Siberian birch. Not exactly Alaskan, but I liked it so I bought it.

The bear

Drumroll, please. This is my most expensive and most exciting purchase. Jade is the state gemstone of Alaska. On our ship, they had these jade bears and I loved them. But I didn’t buy them, thinking I would find something more authentic or cheaper on shore (this again proves my shopping rule mentioned above!). I looked everywhere and never saw one with the pink salmon in its mouth AND all the ones I saw on shore were twice as much. So I ended up buying this onboard the ship and it is a special memento of the trip for me.


Something else I’ve been buying on trips are watercolor prints of the area. The top one is from Seattle and has a cruise ship in it. The bottom one is from Sitka and shows a glacier in the distance. I have a stack of these now from different places and need to get serious about framing them and hanging them somewhere.

Leaves and Pen

Next up is a tacky penwith gold flakes in it I bought to remember our gold panning trip. The leaves are made from real leaves and will join the rest of my leaf collection on my fall tree that stands on my mantel.  They aren’t quite as bright as they appear in this photo!


Lately, I’ve been buying local soaps on our trips that have a scent that reminds me of the area. I like to use bars of soap in the shower and it’s like taking a little vacation when I use one reminiscent of a trip. The tube is devil’s claw lip balm which I haven’t tried yet.

In a Jam

I have a problem. Wherever we go, I end up hauling home jams and jellies. I can’t help myself. I bought these from two little Mennonite girls who were selling them on the sidewalk in Sitka. They had on their dresses, braids and bare feet and talked to me about picking the berries and helping make the jams. How could I not buy them? They have 10 children in their family. The flavors include fireweed and salmonberry, which I can’t wait to try.


I have a huge collection of bookmarks. They are an inexpensive and light weight item to bring home, so I tend to buy too many. The top one has a polar bear on it. The long one is leather and the bottom one is copper. I make groupings of my bookmarks and frame them and hang them on the walls of my office.  I’ll be combining these with the ones from last summer’s trip and hanging them soon hopefully.

This photo shows the Alaskan sourdough starter I bought, as well as my tacky magnets. I try to buy one in each city or region we visit and they go on the front of my file cabinet and make me happy when I see them. The ship ornament is our ship and is for Dude Martha’s vehicle Christmas ornament collection.

I also bought this cookbook, Fishes and Dishes, in Sitka and have not read it yet.

The final purchase has not arrived yet and it a metal sculpture that hangs on a wall and has pine trees, mountains and glaciers. It’s being shipped home and hasn’t arrived yet. I got that in La Conner Washington also.

The kids bought a few things. They each got sweatshirts. Dude Martha got a walrus tooth and a card with the different minerals from Alaska. He also bought an inukshuk and a wallet make from recycled tires.

Martha Mondays: Apricot Chicken

August 23, 2010

Sorry this post is late going up – WordPress was acting weird and I couldn’t get any photos to load. Tonight I made Apricot Chicken chosen by At Least Twice a Week. This is super simple and perfect for one of those “not chicken AGAIN” dinners. You just mix up the ingredients and baste the chicken pieces with it. I used boneless breasts, but this would be really good on a quartered chicken with skin, as the recipe says to make it! Note that I left one breast plain for Dude Martha.

Food on the Trip

August 22, 2010

This is part two of a three part series about our trip to Seattle, Alaska, and Vancouver.

The Chowder House

Things started off in Seattle at Pike Place Market where we had four different types of chowder at Pike Place Chowder. All were excellent. We were also going to order a king crab roll (like a lobster roll), but I noticed people were throwing them away practically uneaten, then a woman walked past us on her way out and said not to order it. We also had crumpets at The Crumpet Shop. I was a bit disappointed there since their jam/jelly selection seemed limited to raspberry, and though  the line was not very long, the service was interminable. The crumpets were ok but not better than the ones I’ve bought frozen and heated up in the toaster oven.

We had dinner at Alki Crab and Fish Co, across the Sound. They were out of Dungeness crab, so we ended up with fish and chips, which were ok, but really greasy. We had shrimp, oysters, cod, and scallops.

On our second day in Seattle we had lunch at Ivar’s Fish House on the

Dungeness crab

waterfront. That was a great meal. Mr. MarthaAndMe had Dungeness crab. I had some wonderful coho salmon. That night we had dinner at the Icon Grill. Several people recommended this to me and it was a big bust. The decor was amazing. The waiter was annoying. The place was empty and the exterior was under construction. Mr. MarthaAndMe had the meatloaf which is wrapped in bacon and served with a molasses sauce. It is a house special. It was overpoweringly molasses-y and the bacon was practically raw. I had the parmesan lemon sole which sounded light and wonderful, but was deep fried (and the menu did not indicate that!). After the fried food at Alki beach the night before, I could not stomach anything deep fried. We sampled the “ultimate” mac and cheese which was supposed to be wonderful but was just too heavy and rich to eat. Dude Martha had “psghetti and meatballs” which he did not care for. Mr. MarthaAndMe got the hot fudge sundae which was huge enough to feed the entire table. I got the funeral cake which was inedible since it was loaded with rum (and the menu made no mention of rum). I do not recommend them at all!

Desserts at tea

The next 7 days our meals were almost exclusively on the cruise ship (MS Oosterdam). We quickly learned the buffet did not suit us. One person would have to hold down the table. The other three would wander, gathering food. Then the table holder would get up. We never actually sat with all four of us eating. We were often getting up for seconds or to try something new because we didn’t care for our food. They had Chinese, Italian, pizza, salads, ice cream (which was freezer burned), some desserts, and some classic entrees. There was also a huge hunk of beef being hacked I wanted no part in.

Once we were finally able to get reservations in the dining room, we ate there

Halibut on the ship

and the food was better, but it was not great. In fact, there was only one really fantastic thing there all week – a cold pear and apple soup with ginger ale in it. I loved it.

We went to three different teas on board- Dutch, Indonesian and cupcake. They served the same sandwiches at each. They had Indonesian tea types available at the Indonesian one. Other than that there wasn’t much difference.

Teen Martha and I went to a cooking class led by the captain, Arjen van der Loo. He made Dutch pancakes, which are like crepes. It was a little funny because they passed out the recipe which is included in the Holland America cookbook and then he told us to cross half of it out because that’s not how he makes it. He showed how he makes them plain and serves them just with sugar or puts bacon in them. He also serves with fruit. Apparently he likes to make this while at home. We enjoyed the session, which was also a Q and A with the captain, and got to sample a bite of the pancake at the end. It was ok – not sweet enough.

Dude Martha at Chef's Night

We went to a special night in the dining room where the menu was designed by the head chef for the cruise line. There were fewer choices, but more courses that night and the dining room staff ran around and acted silly to some music before serving. There were also paper chef hats on the table. Again, the food wasn’t amazing at all. The baked Alaska was barely baked at all- the Martha recipe I made was much better!

Dessert buffet

Dessert Buffet

On one of the last nights on the ship they had a dessert extravaganza buffet set up around the pool at 10:30 at night. It was beautiful with ice carvings and intricate desserts, but none of it tasted good at all. It was all whipped cream and dry cake. Even the chocolate fondues were watery.

While in Juneau, we went to a “salmon bake” which to me meant it would be like a clam bake – maybe a hole or pit dug or at least a whole salmon cooked all together over a pit. Something authentic, I was hoping. Wrong! It was just a bad buffet set up in a pavilion by a creek. They grilled some salmon fillets there and admittedly that was some of the best salmon I’ve had with a very sweet barbecue sauce. The night was slightly ruined when a sharp nail on the picnic table tore a gigantic hole in

Salmon "bake"

Teen Martha’s Guess jeans, ruining them. The management promised to compensate us and took our information but never followed up (we will be contacting them!).

Teen Martha and I had lunch in Sitka at a little spot called Two Gals. I had a nice halibut sandwich and she had fish and chips. It was all excellent – not just a fast food thing. On the streets in Sitka they were selling reindeer hot dogs and elkburgers. I would have liked to taste them, but didn’t want to shell out just for a bite!

We also ate dinner ashore in Victoria where we found a French bistro. The food was pretty good. Mr. MarthaAndMe had a burger made with chorizo and I had fettucine with smoked chicken, peas, and prosciutto. Teen Martha ordered Chicken Provence, however, the waitress, who did not write down our orders, brought her something else. By the time her meal finally came, we were done and everyone was tired and ready to get back to the ship.

We were forced to eat lunch at Arby’s en route to Vancouver. ‘Nuff said. For dinner in

Dinner at Sanafir on the leather bed

Vancouver the first night, we had an amazing time at Sanafir. We loved it! They serve “Silk Road Trios”. You order chicken or beef or lamb or seafood and you get a set of three dishes – one Mediterranean, one Indian, and one Asian. We adored everything we had (and I usually do not like Indian food, but this wasn’t too hot for me). Upstairs, they have some tables with cushions on the floor, but they also have leather beds surrounded by drapes. We were there early Food at Sanafirand they were empty, so our little family ate on one of the beds. They’re clearly meant for romantic encounters, or parties of hip 20 somethings, but we enjoyed it. The kids thought it was really fun. Mr. MarthaAndMe thought it was incredibly uncomfortable!

Our next day in Vancouver we wolfed down bad sandwiches for lunch while at the Capilano Suspension Bridge. Dinner was at Coast, owned by the same group as Sanafir. That was also fantastic. Mr. MarthaAndMe and Teen Martha shared a sushi “tile” they loved. Mr. MarthaAndMe had a smoked

Sushi Tile at Coast

fish chowder. Dude Martha had clam chowder and fried calamari. I had king crab to start (served cold with 3 sauces – it was great!) and then a main dish of grilled sablefish with beurre blanc which was a bit disappointing. The waiter raved about it and said it is as good as butterfish. I didn’t think it was that good – more like halibut. But overall, the food was excellent. For dessert we shared a sampler and a plate of dessert lollipops that were little bites of dessert.

Dessert Lollipops


Another interesting item we had in Vancouver were these weird dessert crepes at an Asian mall. There was some confusion because the signs were a little unclear about “custard” – whether they meant soft ice cream or a pudding, but we all had different flavors. They make the crepes in front of you and roll them to be like an ice cream cone (in the display case in the photo they show them partially unrolled so you can see what is in them). They were delicious.

We had a rather sad lunch the next day while at Burnaby Village, then had dinner in a cute town called La Conner, Washington (which our GPS refused to acknowledge existed), at La Conner Prime Rib and Seafood. A saleswoman in a shop recommended it so we tried it. It was gorgeous – right on the water and the food was fantastic. I had fettucine with prawns, scallops, crab and bay shrimp in a garlic cream sauce. It was fantastic. Teen Martha had an artichoke spinach dip. Dude Martha had fish and chips. Mr. MarthaAndMe had clams (which he had been craving all trip) and a nice salad. I loved this town – it had fantastic shops and was so cute. I have to thank the saleswoman who recommended this restaurant – I never would have gone in it.

So, the food on the ship was not great in any way, but at the restaurant (not the buffet line) it wasn’t by any means bad, it just wasn’t great. Their breakfasts were pretty good – we had omelets, pancakes, French toast, etc and it was all good. We had room service breakfast twice and it was served hot but they forgot some items both times. We were also not happy to learn that although the buffet is open until midnight, they only have pizza and ice cream available after 7 pm. We had to order room service one night after getting back from our excursions since the buffet had nothing, but room service took an hour and a half!

I was tired of salmon by the time the trip was over. I also had a lot of halibut. Alaska has a lot of berries, so that is one “cuisine” of the area, but there didn’t seem to be much more, other than crab. I am sure if we had spent more time on the ground we would have discovered more food and some local gems. One local food I found I did not care for is cole slaw – they put raisins in it!

We had little bits and bites throughout the trip – we bought some wild blueberries at Pike Place Market that were the best I’ve ever had. We had ice cream in several different places and you generally can’t go wrong with ice cream. We bought fruit in Vancouver because we were fruit deprived (onboard they apparently only had melon available).

They say you gain one pound per day on a cruise, but I don’t think we did just because the food was not as good as we had hoped. It was wonderful not to cook for 12 days though! I’m looking forward to getting back in the kitchen. My Everyday Food and Living issues are here and I can’t wait to dive in!

Alaska Trip

August 20, 2010

Today is the first in a series about our recent family vacation to Seattle, Alaska and Vancouver.

fish market at Pike Place

We started off with a day and a half in Seattle. We stayed at the Hyatt Place, a new hotel which was comfortable and modern. The best feature was the free shuttle that would take us anywhere within a mile. The first day we headed to Pike Place Market. This started out as a farmer’s market and has evolved into much more. There are the famous fishmongers who are known for throwing their fish. There are lots of stalls and shops selling souvenirs, jewelry, crafts, and candy.  It was fun to walk around, but it was a really big place that was hard to navigate.  We went to Ye Olde Curiosity Shoppe, a shop I had read was as much museum as shop but I was disappointed since it was mainly a tacky souvenir shop and not worth the effort.  We rode a water taxi to Alki Beach in West Seattle and it was fun to be out on the water.

Bainbridge Island

The second day we took a ferry to Bainbridge Island, a 30 min trip across the Sound. The island was beautiful with lots of trees and a shoreline that felt much like main. The town was small but had a few interesting shops. We also walked along a trail by the waterfront and saw the wild blackberries growing everywhere.

Later that day we went to the Hiram Chittenden Fish Ladder where we saw salmon swimming upstream to spawn. They have underground windows so you can come eye to eye with the salmon. It was a long taxi ride to get there though. We headed to the Capitol Hill section of town where there are dance

Dance steps on Capitol Hill

steps set in the concrete  – numbered brass foot plates, so you can actually do the dance on the sidewalk.  I loved that. Then we went to the Museum of the Mysteries. It was a bit weird and not what we expected. It was essentially one room. They had 2 casts of Big Foot footsteps, a strange display about Bruce Lee’s life in Seattle, and photos of the World Fair. They did have a game we could play to test our psychic ability which was fun. Mostly it was just strange. We expected more Big Foot and UFO stuff. We also went to the Experience Music Project and Sci Fi Museum where I had a celebrity sighting – Jane Adams who plays Tanya on HBO’s Hung.

MS OosterdamWe boarded our cruise ship, the Holland America Line MS Oosterdam (as the captain called her “our beautiful Oosterdam”) on Sunday. This was our first cruise and we weren’t sure what to expect. The accommodations were better than I expected – having 2 adjoining rooms helped. We enjoyed the shows and activities on the ship. We became familiar with some of the crew and enjoyed spotting them. The first full day was a day at sea. The second full day took us into Glacier Bay Alaska, where we saw 4 glaciars, one of them quite close up. We saw and heard it claving and were awed with the National GlacierPark Ranger on board said this was the wildest place we would eve visit). The glaciaers are magnificent and humbling. Some of the ice truly is a deep blue. The ocean water up there is a strange turquoise – much like what you see in the Caribbean. We saw whales and porpoises along the way and that night as we were leaving, we passed some bears eating a whale carcass that had washed ashore. The captain actually turned the boat around and went past it a second time so everyone could see it.

It got dark around 9:30 at night and the sun was up by 5 so the days were long which was quite strange.

DogsleddingThe next day we went to our first port, Juneau. It was going to be a big day. Mr. MarthaAndMe and Dude Martha were off to a summer dogsled camp. Teen Martha and I were supposed to be heading by helicopter to a dog sled camp on a glacier. Our helicopter was canceled due to fog. Fortunately, I found a guy in a kiosk on the street who was able to squeeze the two of us in on a different summer dogsled camp, so we all got to see the dogs. These are called huskies, but they are actually mutts. We got a chance to pet (and hug and kiss) our team before being pulled in what looked like a golf cart by the team. Then we learned about the history of the Iditarod and dogsledding before we got to hold and pet the puppies. Teen Martha and I were in heaven. Mr. MarthaAndMe and Dude Martha enjoyed their similar experience. I was upset that we did not get the chance to actually stand on and touch a glacier, something I was looking forward to very much.

Later in the day we all went gold panning. What an experience! Our guide took Gold panningus to a creek and showed us how to shovel up some sediment and pan it in a metal pan. It was hard to do and took longer than expected, but we all did find some gold flakes! After that we went to a salmon bake which I’ll discuss in my food post. At the salmon bake they had two real huskies and these were amazing dogs. First of all, they are huge, with giant paws. They are puffy and furry, but the fur is coarse. They are extremely intelligent and gentle and we could not get enough of them.

Juneau was an unattractive town for the most part with a street full of tacky touristy shops. It didn’t help that it was cool, rainy and foggy. I wasn’t fond of the city in general.

The next day was Sitka and what a day it was. The sun was shining! Sitka is a gorgeous island surrounded by beautiful water and many, many more islands, as well as a silent volcano. Dude Martha and Mr. MarthaAndMe went for a half day of salmon fishing. They had a terrific fishing guide and each caught a fish. Dude Martha’s was a 23 lb king salmon! Mr. MarthaAndMe got a smaller coho salmon. The salmon was frozen and will be arriving here next week. We Dude Martha's big catchshould have a lot of salmon to enjoy! Whilst the salmon were practically jumping into the boat, Teen Martha and I shopped and saw the sights. Sitka was the Russian capital when the area was owned by Russia, so there is a Russian Orthodox church there which we visited. We also saw some totem poles at a national park and enjoyed the harbor and quaint village. While at the National Park we visited a stream that had so many salmon it that you could walk across it.

That afternoon we all got aboard a boat together for a nature cruise. We saw humpback and gray whales quite closely, as well as a group of sea otters, bald eagles, a bald eagle nest, seals, jellyfish, and jumping fish. Our captain took us to the mouth of Lake Rideau, which is only 6 feet above sea level and empties into the ocean through a small mouth where fish were jumping like crazy. The sun was shining, the water was a brilliant blue, the air smelled fresh, and green mountains around perfectly framed the day. It was a day we will always remember.

Totem BightThe next port was Ketchikan, and after the stunning scenery of the north, it felt like a letdown.  We were only in port for half the day so we got off the ship early and did some shopping first thing (This town had lots of shops and we had almost no time for them). Then we saw a lumberjack show which was really fun. They had sawing contests, tree climbing contests, and yes, even stood and spun on logs. After that we took a very boring trip out to Totem Bight, a park with totem poles. As I told Mr. MarthaAndMe, we could have done that park in 15 minutes, but our bus driver/guide was slow and the rest of the group could not move. It was interminable, although we learned about totem poles and got to go inside a replica of a Tlingit longhouse. Instead of taking us back to town as she was supposed to, the guide instead drove us all through town, pointing out obscure things. We bailed at the first stop and ran to see the part of town I was most interested in – Dolly’s House. Prostitution used to Dolly's Housebe legal until the 50s in Ketchikan and there is a row of houses up on stilts where the ladies of the evening lived and worked. Dolly’s House was open for a quick tour so we did that and saw the Married Man’s Way – a path behind the houses married men used to be discrete.  Another interesting part of Ketchikan was the stair streets – legal streets that are just huge, tall, wooden staircases. The people who live on those streets have to go up the stairs to get to their houses.

The next day was a long day at sea and then an evening in Victoria, B.C. It’s a pretty little town, but there wasn’t much to do there after 6 pm. We shopped, went to a night market and had dinner. It’s very British there and we had a shuttle driver with a Scottish accent that I enjoyed. Most people visit Butchart Gardens, but we didn’t really care about seeing that.

The next day we landed in Seattle where we got a rental car and drove to Vancouver. Vancouver comes up on you in an unexpected way. You’re in the middle of nowhere then suddenly you see hundreds of skyscrapers.  We stayed at the Cascadia Hotel and Suites, which is a great place if you have young kids since the rooms all have kitchens. We picked it because the price was right. Our first stop was Granville Public Market. Like the market in Seattle this started as a farmer’s market but evolved into an artist’s colony. The shopping there was quite good, but it was a very hot day, so we were feeling the heat.

After that we took a drive and saw Stanley Park, which is a gorgeous, huge, waterfront park with beaches, totem poles, fields, picnic areas, a water park and more. Next we drove over to Kitsilano Beach which had nothing in the way of shopping, but had a nice waterfront park and the biggest in ground pool I’ve ever seen in my life.

That night we went to the Chinatown night market which was not as big as I hoped but was still fun. There were vendors selling all sorts of Asian foods and lots of knock-off merchandise. Driving back from there to our hotel we apparently went through skid row where the street was jam packed with homeless people. There are also a lot of people moving around Vancouver in motorized wheelchairs, something you rarely see at home.

Capilano Suspension Bridge

The next day we went to the Capilano Suspension Bridge. This is a swaying (but completely safe) suspension bridge over a river or creek that is WAAAAY down. It was a little scary to cross, but fun. On the other side is a tree top adventure – you climb stairs to a walkway that is up among the tree tops. There were also some ponds to visit. That was a fun experience.

We drove out to Richmond, a heavily Asian suburb and visited an Asian mall. We also saw the famous Steam Clock in Gastown – a clock powered by steam which whistles the same tune a grandfather clock plays on the hour. That was fun to see and there was some good shopping in that neighborhood.

On our last day, we intended to take the sky tram up to Grouse Mountain where they have wolves and grizzlies in a refuge. However, when we arrived Wolves at Grouse Mountainwe learned the wolves now live at the bottom of the mountain so we watched them. They were beautiful and sad. These wolves were bred in captivity for use in movies and could not be reintroduced to the wild. There are 3 wolves and the gray one is the alpha wolf. We watched them being fed their breakfast – pieces of cow, hide and all. After seeing the wolves, we opted not to pay over $100 to go to the top of the mountain! We would have liked to see the grizzlies, but it just was too much.

Next we intended to make a quick stop at the Capilano salmon hatchery, but we got a little mixed up by their terrible map and ended up hiking through the woods, over a dam and downhill, then climbing back uphill. We saw salmon and “small fry” but it was not worth it.  We stopped at Lonsdale Quay and did a little shopping (there wasn’t much there). Then we went to the Burnaby Village Museum. We’re suckers for “living history” museums like Williamsburg and the best one we’ve ever seen – Upper Canada Village. I had high hopes for this one since it was set in the 1920s, one of my favorite eras. Apparently the roaring 20s were not big in southwest Canada because there wasn’t much happening. We got to see a printing press, bachelor’s home, blacksmith (who lectured Teen Martha about how girls make good blacksmiths), bank, and the kids rode on a carousel. In general we weren’t impressed though.

After that we took a slow ride down to Seattle and stopped in La Conner, Washington where there was some excellent shopping and a lovely water view. We spent that night in the Seattle airport Doubletree Hotel, which was the best place we stayed the entire time. For a $5 upgrade we got two rooms. It had a pool and wifi and was spacious, attractive and comfortable. And you get free warm cookies when you check in. The price there was the lowest we paid all trip.

So that’s the summary of the big trip. Alsaka knocked me off my feet. I just wish we had been able to see more of it and spend more time on the ground there. Cruising is nice because you can unpack for a week, not worry about where you will eat, and wake up each morning in a new place, but you lose the experience of really seeing and living in the place which I always really enjoy. If I went back to Alaska, I would go further north, stay longer, and go by land (although many places are accessible only by ferry, so driving complicates things).

Martha Mondays: 8/23

August 19, 2010

The Martha Mondays project for Monday Aug 23 is Apricot Chicken, chosen by Karen at At Least Twice a Week. I’m looking forward to getting back in the swing with the weekly projects and hope you are too!

I’m back!

August 19, 2010

Hello dear readers. I’ve just returned from an Alaskan cruise and a few days in Seattle and Vancouver. We had a great trip and I plan to tell you all about it in the coming days. I took lots of pics and will be sharing details about where we went, what we did, what I bought (always important), and what we ate. It’s good to be home, even though I am faced with mounds of work, mail, email and voicemail to dig through. Thanks to all of you who kept reading and commenting in my absence. I cooked like a lunatic before we left in order to have enough posts to get you through, but I also want to say thanks to my wonderful guest bloggers who filled in for me the last few days.

Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Pecans

August 18, 2010

Please welcome my guest blogger today, Steph Auteri:

Growing up, my mom pleaded with me to help her out in the kitchen. Being the little snot that I was, I huffily announced to her that just because I was a girl, it didn’t mean that I had to learn how to cook. (Of course, if baked goods were involved, I happily lent a hand if it meant I got to lick the bowl.) Naturally, all of this bravado eventually came back to bite me in the butt.

At the age of 25, I left home and purchased a condo with my fiancé. Suddenly, I was eager to be the happy homemaker. I inherited my grandmother’s frilly aprons, filled our new kitchen with appliances and doo-dads, and started working my way through a large cookbook I had purchased at my local Whole Foods. The recipes were long, complicated, and involved. Each meal took me — on average — three hours and, by the end, my back would be aching. The finished dishes? They left a lot to be desired.

One night, while driving home with my husband, we started arguing. At this point, I can’t even remember what we were arguing about — the disproportion in who was contributing what to the household? — but the climax came when Michael shouted at me, “Nothing you make is even good!”

I lost it. My foot hit the gas pedal, and then I swerved over to the shoulder of the highway and ordered him to get out.

I didn’t cook for a year after that.

Then, two years ago, my mother lent me her copy of Real Simple magazine. The recipes were quick and simple and — the results? — delicious! Suddenly, I was able to experience the pleasures in prep work. I enjoyed sitting at the kitchen table, my iPod on shuffle, chopping up onions or grating pecorino cheese. I loved peeling and pressing garlic, because of the way it made the tips of my fingers smell delicious for days. Sometimes, I even enlisted Michael to help with sauteeing or chopping. It was nice to toil away over those pots and pans together in our stuffy little kitchen, sipping wine and catching up.

It was the photo that led me to try Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Pecans. I had never even had a Brussels sprout before. It was one of those food items that I had avoided due to reputation alone, like liver, or lima beans, or prunes. And I think my mother had avoided them for the very same reason. But the first time I made them, I was hooked. They were slightly bitter, but there was just something about them (the high quantities of garlic and salt? 😉 that made them special. My husband was less enamored, but he enjoys things like Red Bull and Slim Jims, so that was to be expected. No matter. That meant more for me!

Nowadays, I like to whip them up as a special snack, to be enjoyed alone and in secret, like chocolate chip cookies or the occasional, illicit canister of frosting. I love how the smell of them fills the kitchen, and seeps into the living room, eventually making its way to the bedroom. After taking them out of the oven, I coax them into a serving bowl, grabbing the few that stick to the bottom of the pan and popping them into my mouth, where they almost melt.

When people taste them, they always say: I never knew I could like Brussels sprouts! They get excited to snag their first helping (and then a few more). It makes me feel good. Once upon a time, I was the person who couldn’t even make anything good. Now I’m pretty hot stuff.

Steph Auteri is not a cook, but she does love the smells and tastes of cooking, and she definitely loves licking the bowl. She couldn’t really quit her day job, though. What does she do for the bucks? Steph is a writer, editor, and career coach.

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