Mush! Mush!

Day 3 in Fairbanks dawned with great anticipation. The ONE thing everyone seemed the most excited about was on the day’s agenda….dog mushing.

Between our excitement and our jet-lagged, time zoned-zombie loss of time telling, we wound up at Just Short of Magic a full 45 minutes early. Turned out to be a-okay, because it gave the boys lots of time to bond with the dogs. While the boys were off, exploring the cold and connecting with the sled dogs, Judy and I were ensconced in Eleanor’s yurt. Warm and cozy with a fire and hot chocolate, we explored the hearty selection of coats, boots and hats. When it was time to suit up and roll out, they made sure we were all properly clothed…no mean feat considering we were Floridians in Alaska.

Inside the yurt!

Inside the yurt!

Let’s take a moment to remember that my parents were supposed to join us on this trip. My  mother was so excited for this particular portion, she was known to watch Snow Buddies solo. The most bittersweet moment of this trip, was that Mom didn’t get to go. An unfortunate broken leg three weeks before the trip put Mom firmly on the sidelines. And by sidelines, I mean Florida. So, it was with mixed feelings that I watched my boys gleefully sled off into the distance, all the while wishing Mom was here to witness. At least we managed a snapshot of the sheer beauty surrounding us:

Gorgeous snowscape

Gorgeous snowscape

Before too long, it was my turn. Jon and the boys raced back and quite suddenly, Judy and I were up. We piled on to the sled and, yip yip! we were off. I”m not going to lie, sitting in the sled is a bit bumpy and not the best. But, when we stopped and I got the chance to drive….oh what exhilaration ensued! And yes. I almost fell off. But it just wouldn’t be real excitement without a fall or near fall on my part. It’s my thing, falling that is!

At any rate, here’s the compilation video of the boys riding, and then driving the sled. The dogs are howling in anticipation….they just want to run!

At the end of the day, Garrett wanted nothing more than to come home with Blue, one of Eleanor’s incredibly loving sled dogs. It’s a moment where I wish I could have said yes, but it wasn’t very hard to say no. Blue wasn’t made for house life in Florida, he was made to run in the snowy banks of Alaska.

At any rate, here we are having a total ball!

Jon and the Boys all ready to go sledding!

Jon and the boys all ready to go sledding!

It just doesn't get more fun than this....

It just doesn’t get more fun than this….


Ice Festival

This gallery contains 25 photos.

The kindness of strangers can sometimes simply make your day. One of the best things about staying in a bed and breakfast is that you have other guests at breakfast. We lingered over breakfast with a couple of the other guests, there were two students and a professor lodging here. As residents of Fairbanks, they […]

Why is there no row 33 on this flight?

There party was happening at the back of the plane.

It was us. We had the entire back row to ourselves. Our flight crew was a fiesty, rowdy bunch and they had the right crowd in the back to fully enjoy them.

Now, the boys and I have traveled by plane together in the past, but we’d never before embarked on such a long journey. I’d had a reasonable level of confidence that the trip wouldn’t be problematic, but kids are unpredictable and I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. Turned out to be fabulous. To be quite honest, I think the trip was easier with them along than if they hadn’t been there. They were fun, cooperative and kept boredom from leaking into our 16 hour journey.

Every new hotel room or space we travel to, Gavin always manages to find some cabinet, drawer or closet to hide. He loves to close himself up into tiny spaces and surprise people by popping out at unanticipated times. This trip, he conspired with our flight attendant, Jordan:

Carry on luggage anyone?

Carry on luggage anyone?

The landscape out our window became increasingly rugged and snowy, but as we approached Anchorage the Captain announced there would be moderate to severe turbulence on landing. Right before descending though, the view was a blanket of white cotton as far as the eye could see. The clouds made a perfect line of fluffy white against a baby blue sky.

The calm before the storm!

The calm before the storm!

As we started our descent, the boys shot me a look that read, “Should we be afraid?” I looked back at them and said, “It’s like a roller coaster! Weee!” We put our arms up and swayed back and forth as if on an amusement park ride. The toddlers in the row ahead picked up on our fun. The rest of the plane might have been terrified, but our little party in the back were totally living it up. Not that you can tell from this shot after we landed:

Landed safely!

Landed safely!

We arrived into Fairbanks well past midnight Eastern time. The boys, fueled from a curious concoction of sheer adrenaline and exhaustion, couldn’t resist the banks of snow piled along the sides of the airport parking lot. Quite comically, they were totally shocked at the stinging cold suddenly needling their ungloved hands.

These white blanked vistas are something entirely new to them. This is a landscape totally foreign and even the smallest details thrilled them. They were excited over everything from snow drifts piled atop unshoveled cars to the icicles dangling from the eaves of the bed and breakfast.

Our home away from home, the Alaska Heritage House is an interesting historical building, built in 1916. Upon arrival, the boys instantly dispersed to explore all the nooks and crannies. The innkeeper, Van started to tell us all about the history, but I was far too tired at the moment to digest anything of value. That will be a task for another day this trip.

It took the boys a very, very long time to settle down. This “Best Day Ever” was just too full of adventure to be allowed to end. Despite the exhaustion and lateness of the hour, they still needed to go outside and throw themselves into some snow and ice.

Now about that row 33, no one was able to tell us why our flight didn’t have a row 33. Do any of you know?

Alaska! Ready or not, here we come!

The bags are packed by the front door, while children still slumber in their beds. We’re up early, the keen edge of anticipation providing an early shock of adrenaline. You see, today we hop on a plane (or 3) and trek up to an icey, snowy adventure in Fairbanks, Alaska. Aurora borealis viewing, dog mushing school, and the World Championship Ice Festival are all on our agenda.

Mom and Dad were supposed to join us, but Mom’s unfortunate broken leg means they’ve had to cancel. So, it’s just Jon and I, the boys and Jon’s mom now. Still a fun group, but bittersweet at losing two. My mom and sister have requested daily posts to keep the abreast of all our adventures. Daily posts they shall receive!

Today is going to be a long one. We don’t land in Alaska until close to 9pm (past midnight our time!). Tablets, Kindles, DSs are all charged. We’re prepared and ready to go! See y’all on the flip side, our Alaskan Adventure beckons.

Ready to Go!

Roasted Eggplant and Garlic Soup

So here’s the thing about eggplant. I don’t really like it. I never have. But my mother seems to think the sun sets and rises on eggplant. As a result, I keep attempting to like eggplant and I keep failing miserably. There’s just something about the bland, jelly-like texture surrounded by chewy skin. And, at times, it’s bitter. I’ve never been a fan of anything prepared a la Parmigiana – which seems to be the main eggplant preparation commonly available. Double yuck.

Then there was that fateful day my mother decided to prepared Eggplant Enchiladas. Please understand, my mother is an excellent, quasi-gourmet cook. The magical things that have come out of her amazing kitchen never cease to delight the palette. This dish was not one of them. She spent an entire afternoon working on these horrid little things. I will never forget her proudly serving them to us, with a flourish she presented her new dish….and it fell on quite the deaf audience. We still tease her regularly about them. She liked them, but none of the rest of us did.

Here were are, some 15 to 20 years later, and I still challenge myself to find a way to like eggplant. It seems a way to connect to and bond with my mother. Not that I need it, we see each other almost daily and have plenty of other things between us. But, those eggplants have remained elusive and they arrive at my doorstep somewhat regularly due to our weekly veggie bag.

This time, though – I opted to make a roasted eggplant, vegetable and garlic soup and it turned out AMAZING! Finally! An eggplant dish I can welcome with open arms. This was based on the particular vegetables I had on hand and I’m quite certain the ratios of vegetables can be changed and substitutions easily made. This is my new, “throw everything in the pot” go to dish.

Ingredient List:

3 eggplants

2 tomatoes

1 red onion

1 red bell pepper

1 head of garlic

Extra virgin olive oil

Fresh thyme

Chicken stock

Goat cheese

First, roast the vegetables. Preheat the oven to 400 Fahrenheit. Halve the eggplants, quarter the tomatoes, red onion and red pepper. Arrange on a baking sheet, drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with kosher salt and pepper. Feel free to season with your herbs of choice as well. The garlic requires a bit more prep work. Remove most of the outer skins and trim the tops of each clove, drizzle with olive oil and salt, wrap in aluminum foil, place on baking sheets. I used Simply Recipes to show me how to roast garlic. Bake for 35 – 45 minutes until all vegetables are tender.

Vegetables roasted, fresh from the oven!

Vegetables roasted, fresh from the oven!

Place thyme and vegetable broth in a big pot on the stove. I’d start with 6 cups, but you may need more depending on how many vegetables you have. Scoop the eggplant out of the skin, scoop the garlic cloves out of their skins and place all of the vegetables in the pot. Feel free to season with the herbs of your choice, but I recommend avoiding fresh fennel. This soup turned out so wonderfully, I decided to make a second batch and threw in some fresh fennel I had on hand. Big mistake. It was terrible. Trust me, don’t do this. Bring to a boil and then simmer, 45 – 60 minutes until all is tender.

Simmer me!

Simmer me!

Remove the thyme sprigs. Puree either by using an immersion blender or, in batches in a blender or food processor. Return to pan, warm through. At this point, I added a sploosh of dry red wine, because I am inherently incapable of not adding whatever wine I’m drinking to whatever food I’m cooking. I’ve seen others add cream or milk to these types of soups at this stage. I found mine was creamy and rich enough and didn’t add any. But if you like your soup a wee bit heavier, go for it.

Serve with goat cheese crumbles. This step is very important. Don’t skip it. 🙂

Roasted Eggplant & Garlic Soup

Wine Glass Snobbery

Ever since that mind-blowing day when I went to a wine seminar put on by Riedel, I’ve been a wine glass snob.

I’ll never forget that moment when I first tasted a pinot noir in the proper drinking vessel. I’ve never been a pinot noir fan, finding it lackluster and tasteless. And then, there we were….on a cruise ship and in the midst of our second (or fourth or fifth) glass of wine…when I tasted it. A pinot noir in a pinot noir shaped glass.

“AHA!” I exclaimed. My taste buds gloried in the new-found deliciousness of this varietal. The Sommelier and servers sniggered across from me. I’ll admit, the seminar conflicted with lunch and I was well on my way to Drunk Stephanie. My eyes were glittering with joy and I was, shall we say, quite happy. But NONE of this distracts from the eureka moment I experienced.

Ever since then, I’ve been a tad specific about how my wine is served to me. Yes, I’m likely to travel with my own wine glasses and I’m completely comfortable with flirting my way into real wine glasses from a hotel bar when I haven’t brought my own along.

Which brings me to my stemless rant. Stemless wine glasses are for boats. Riedel made them publicly popular when they designed them for stocking on yachts and such. Easier to store and clean, but still providing distinguished palettes with the correctly shaped glass for their wine. BUT without the stem, your hand warms the wine. I’ve been thoroughly irritated by the increasing trendy movement of using them everywhere else.

The thing is, not having traveled by yacht, I hadn’t yet experienced a stemless wine glass.

And then I went on a mud run at a winery. You may remember, I blogged about it earlier. And they gave me a stemless wine glass. So, when we brought a bottle of their Dry Blueberry Wine home with us, I found it only fitting to drink it in their glass.

I. Love. This. Glass.


It fits so perfectly in my hand. It just feels right. The curve caresses the inner flesh of my fingers and palms. While a bit small for a vigorous swirl, there’s still enough space to mindlessly move my hand in circles.

And now I get it. Why wine peoples the world over are sacrificing a stem. There’s just something special about the way this feels. I was wrong, they were right. Consider me a convert.

Cucumber Chips & Lettuce Soup

Cucumber Chips? Lettuce Soup?

None of these dishes would have been found in my home before I joined an organic veggie co-op. For $25 each week I receive a large bag of organic vegetables. The co-op works to buy fruits and vegetables that are seasonal and locally grown. What this means is that I can wind up with 8 cucumbers sitting in my fridge one week and another week be presented with a vegetable I’ve never laid eyes on before.

it’s challenged me to be a more creative and flexible with my meal planning. Some truly delicious creations have arisen from having far too much of one type of food at any given time.

Let’s begin with cucumbers. You see, I like cucumbers – but I don’t love them. This summer has seemingly been the Year of the Cucumber here in sunny Florida. First I made Sweet Chili Cucumber Pickles for our Memorial Day party. But that hardly made a dent in them. And let’s face it, one can only eat so many pickles before your tummy turns from all that vinegar. And so the search began, what else could I do with them? A brilliant moment with our dehydrator brought us Cucumber Chips: simply lay on your dehydrator, sprinkle with your seasoning of choice and dry overnight. Viola!


Let me tell you these suckers pop down like potato chips. They’re fantastic and preserved. I don’t have to eat them all before they rot!

Then came the romaine lettuce. I had so much lettuce I knew I’d never finish it all in salad and sandwiches. A combination of several lettuce soup recipes online led to this amazing creation. Delicious, delicate and a tasty 90 calorie bowl. The nuts and bolts of this recipe comes down to sautéed onion and garlic, followed by 8 or 10 cups of romaine lettuce, some fresh parsley, chicken stock, evaporated milk and a good strong dose of coriander. It froze well and is even better leftover.


Eating locally grown, seasonal fruits and vegetables has totally revolutionized the way I cook and eat. It’s unpredictable what we’ll find in our veggie bag from week to week, but my culinary skills are growing by leaps and bounds. Wonder what will be on my plate this week?