Christmas Baking 2015

Hello all-

Some years I do very little baking at the holidays, and sometimes I do a fair amount. It just kind of depends on how I’m feeling that year, or what I see that looks cute and I want to try (in addition to standard, family favorites).
This year, as you can see below, I was a bit out of control! 🙂
I found all kinds of cute cupcake decorations and other clever, cute recipes that I just had to try this year!

 

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all!
Carol

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Spring Training and Sister Time

Wow- I’m waaay behind on blog posts for Sugar Sand! I have been focused this past year on getting the word out about a cookbook I recently co-wrote, but I am back now to, hopefully, a more even balance of main employment, cookbooks, and photography. I’m going to try anyway!

Last month, my sisters and I all met back up (after a hiatus last year) in Phoenix for our long weekend of fun, sister time, and Seattle Mariners Spring Training. We stay at the Pointe Hilton Tapatio Cliffs Resort (I love to say “tapatio”) which has great landscaping and colorful architecture on the grounds, and also has a variety of great pools to get in as much sun as possible! And these white Seattle legs needed it that’s for sure! In addition, the resort is located right next to the North Phoenix Mountain Preserve, so we can go on our morning hikes before we hit the sun and baseball. The beautiful hiking trails and the proximity of them to the resort make it one of my most favorite parts of the vacation. Within a few minutes you feel like you’re really out in the middle of nowhere and able to really relax and enjoy the beauty that is Arizona.

Here are some photos taken of the hotel grounds, on our hikes, and at the baseball games and practices. I’m already looking forward to the next trip!

 

 

Our Recent Visit to Iceland

My apologies for the long post this time. They normally aren’t this bad, but I had a lot to share from our recent trip to Iceland!

 

Even as far back as the Fall of 2013, I began wondering “WHAT would be a cool thing to do for my 40th birthday?” (which wasn’t until that next March). Nothing really came to mind until I came across a deal on Living Social entitled “Reykjavik Nights: A 4-day, 3-night stay in Iceland.”

“That’s IT” I thought! How cool would Iceland be?! A quick whipping out of a credit card, a few clicks of the mouse later, and next thing you knew it; we were headed to Iceland. And we would be going just a week before my birthday. Perfect timing!

Andy and I were International travel newbies for sure. I had been to the Bahamas, but being a Floridian, that barely counts, so, needless to say, we were a little nervous when the travel day actually got here. We landed at Keyflavik International Airport on a Thursday morning and got on a couple of different buses, taking us to downtown Reykjavik and onto our hotel. After we checked in and dropped off our bags (the room wasn’t ready yet. It was, after all, only 9:00 in the morning and the people were still in their rooms!), we headed to the City Centre and did some sightseeing. The city sits right on the water, so it’s quite stunning. I also noticed a lot of murals and artistic drawings and graffiti (as you’ll see in the photo gallery). One thing I had heard about Iceland is that often times, and experienced it firsthand as we were sightseeing, is that Iceland can have all 4 seasons of the weather in one day. Man, that was definitely true! One minute the weather was quite pleasant and I could take some pictures, and then it was a full on, wind blowing sideways blizzard! After we did some more sightseeing and got some lunch, we headed back to the hotel; completely exhausted.

While we didn’t get to see the Northern Lights due to cloudiness (the only bummer of the trip), we did go on two very interesting tours over the next couple of days. One was the Reykjavik City tour and the other was called the “Golden Circle” tour.

The city tour was a nice way to learn about the history of Reykjavik and just to see the downtown and other nearby sites. We saw the President’s house, the “Pearl” (the highest point in the city- where the warm water from underground is pumped to, for distribution throughout the area), and the house where the 1986 Reagan/Gorbachev summit was held. It was a really nice tour.

The “Golden Circle” tour was billed as a “must see”, wonderful thing to do on your first visit to Iceland and wonderful it was. The tour consisted of seeing the following sites: Thingvellir National Park, the Geysir geothermal area, and the Gullfoss (“Golden Falls”) waterfall.

Thingvellir is where the American and Eurasian tectonic plates are pulling apart at a rate of a few centimeters/year. That spot is the only place in the world where this separation happens above sea level. Having a minor degree in geology, Andy thought this was particularly cool (as did I). And I believe the tour guide had said that some of the HBO show “Game of Thrones” was filmed there as well. Thingvellir is also important historically, because it is where the parliament would meet during the long summer days. Their parliament is the oldest in the world; dating back to 930 AD.

The Gullfoss waterfall was socked in with fog when we first got there, but as I mentioned earlier, the weather changes very quickly there, and soon the fog lifted! The Geysir geothermal area was also quite lovely, and very similar to another favorite of mine: Yellowstone National Park.

One thing that I found so interesting, is that Icelanders pay almost nothing for heat. There is so much warm water from the geothermal activity below the surface of the whole island, that they just pump it into all buildings and houses (the Pearl mentioned above). Paying nothing for heat?! That’s just crazy to me! And it’s a great heating system. Many time we would have to open the window in our room it was so warm (a not uncommon thing to do there).

I have to say though, that my favorite part of the trip (and, unfortunately, what we spent the least amount of time at due to the schedule), was the Blue Lagoon. The Blue Lagoon is a geothermal spa located in a lava field in Grindavik, west of Reykjavik. Listed by National Geographic as one of the 25 “wonders of the world”, it was truly spectacular. The water was a beautiful turquoise and it was so warm and re-energizing. It felt so amazing; like nothing I’ve ever experienced before. What was funny was that my hair felt so weird afterwards! Like pure straw! The mineral-rich water completely stripped everything out of my hair. It was so cool, and when we do go back there, Blue Lagoon is getting its own day for sure.

While relatively short, we packed a lot into those days, and were happy because we had a great time (and we felt it would be mostly a “reconnaissance” trip to kind of check things out and “get our toes wet” so to speak!). Iceland is a beautiful place, and one that we would definitely go back to. I have to see my Northern Lights after all and need my spa day at the Blue Lagoon! We felt so good to have had a successful first international trip, and we look forward to many more.

H2A: Percy’s & Co.

1st H2A blog of the year!

My first H2A takes us to Percy’s & Co in Ballard. It is on Ballard Ave, and is in the building that was once the Old Town Alehouse; next door to Hattie’s Hat (whose signature “chicken fried chicken” is absolutely TO. DIE. FOR. But I digress…).

Percy’s has been recently listed by Seattle magazine as one of the best new bars in the city. So of course I had to try it! Boasting an “apothecary” type atmosphere, in terms of both the decor and the cocktails, it definitely delivered. The place still has the lovely hardwood floors from Old Town, and has both tall, bar-type tables for big groups, as well as some pale green hued half-moon booths. The color and the booths themselves were a nice touch to the decor. The feeling of the herbaceous/apothecary theme is evident: from the lovely booth color, to the ferns hanging in the ceiling, to the herbs seen in a chemistry-type flask/distillery at the bar.

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For dinner, we shared the potted pork rillettes and the pork dip sandwich; both of which were good. The real stars of the show though (and hence why they’re one of the best new bars in the city), were the cocktails. We both started with a Sankey Sour; a bourbon-based cocktail with aperol, fresh orange juice, egg whites, angostura bitters and sour mix. It was beautifully presented and dee-lic-ious!

Sankey Sour

Sankey Sour

We were then ready for round 2, but were a little hesitant to get one of the cocktails containing a stronger herb (they have cilantro infused gin, and star anise infused bourbon, among others), but we wanted to see what they had to offer, and it IS an apothecary bar, so we tried a “Sweetest Taboo” (cue Sade…). The cocktail consisted of lemon thyme infused bourbon, vanilla bean liqueur, aperol, relaxation tea, and fresh lemon. I have to say, it was quite good. Not overpowering, but had a lovely, refreshing taste to it.

I had only one irritation with Percy’s. And, unfortunately, it’s a problem found in many bars and restaurants nowadays. It apparently seems to be a common theme that they all insist on playing music loudly.  Granted, we were initially sitting near a speaker, but we ended up moving because we couldn’t even hear each other talk. Even when we moved, I had to scoot closer to her to be able to hear her clearly. It was quite distracting and made it difficult to even carry on a conversation. We had asked them to turn it down a little, but after initially turning it down some, someone else decided to turn it back up. It was so distracting, we ended up going ahead and getting the check; when, if it had not been so distracting, we would have stayed and enjoyed another cocktail or two. It’s a shame, because the place is quite nice, has tasty cocktails, and has a great overall feel to it. I know I sound like a crotchety old lady, but I just felt I needed to share so you’re aware.

Note to bars and restaurants: if it’s happy hour and not later in the evening when things get a little more loud and crazy, please keep the music down. It’s supposed to be setting mood as background. Let people enjoy each other’s company and your delicious food and spirits.

Onward and upward to H2A #2!

New Year. New Adventures.

Happy New Year everyone!

Wow- I just realized (by looking at the date of my last post) just how out if pocket I have been, in terms of Sugar Sand blog posts. Sorry about that!

As with the start of every new year, I look back on the past year, and think about what’s to come in the next. This year with be full of great things. Exciting new travel, a published cookbook, and more photography opportunities. I am so excited and look forward to sharing the year with you!

In the past, I have posted about a restaurant or bar I’ve been to, but this year, I wanted to distinguish those blog posts from others by giving them a clever, catchy title. The result? H2A! H2A stands for “Happy Hour Adventure” and combines the food/cocktail aspect with my nerdy science background. There are two H’s in “Happy Hour Adventure”; much like the two Hydrogen atoms in water (H2O). And, as a bonus, it’s kind of fun to say! Pretty sweet don’t you think?! Keep your eyes peeled for the 1st installment of H2A: coming soon!

I am looking forward to a great 2014; with love, optimism, excitement and success. I leave you with this wonderful quote I saw at the beginning of the year, from the country singer, Brad Paisley. In regards to the New Year, he said: “Tomorrow, is the first blank page of a 365 page book. Write a good one.”

I intend to!

much love-
C

Sisters Weekend 2013

Ahh.. Another spring.. And another sisters long weekend to Phoenix for some sun, fun, and Seattle Mariners Spring Training!

We stay at our favorite place: the Point Hilton Tapatio Cliffs Resort. Oh it’s so lovely there!  The resort is nestled into the side of a mountain (yes, they DO have mountains in Arizona! They’re no Rockies, but there’s elevation just the same!). The grounds are located next to the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Posse, where they train their horses, and the Phoenix Mountain Preserve. Being this close to both of these makes for nice morning walks.

The grounds themselves are just lovely. The architecture, the color of the buildings, and general layout of the resort makes for a great place to shoot! Year after year, I never get tired of taking pictures there.

But while we spent a good amount of time lounging around at one of the pools and sipping on umbrella-laced froofy drinks, we also enjoyed some Seattle Mariners spring training baseball in Peoria. That’s always fun to relax and watch some baseball in the warm, dry weather (a little bit unlike Seattle; thank goodness!).

Below are some photos from the trip (click on a picture to enlarge and scroll through):

Point Hilton Tapatio Cliffs Resort:

Plants & Cactus:

Seattle Mariners Baseball!

The Beautiful Phoenix Landscape:


Until next time Phoenix!

Great Restaurants during “Dine Around Seattle”

The month of March in Seattle is a great one. It’s my birthday month, the weather is changing for the better, the days are getting longer, and it’s every foodie’s favorite annual event: “Dine Around Seattle”. With Dine Around Seattle, many local restaurants offer special dinner menus: 3 courses for $30. It’s a great way to try restaurants that you’ve always mean to try. The two restaurants I tried this past week were Olivar and Monsoon.

Olivar, Spanish for olive grove, is owned by Chef Philippe Thomelin. Chef Philippe grew up in France, and spent many years in Spain, where he became even more passionate about the Mediterranean-style cuisine. He has been in Seattle for over 10 years, and has been a wonderful culinary addition to the Seattle “foodie” community. The restaurant is in the old Loveless building, which is a Seattle icon. Loveless is a beautiful, Tudor-style building, built in 1930. It was originally a place for artists to live and work, and is currently the home to some apartments, and Olivar. One of the neatest things about the decor in Olivar is the large mural on the wall that dates back to the mid 1930s (done by the muralist Vladimir Shkurkin). It is just beautiful and I love that it’s still there.

Surprisingly, we ended up not going with the special menu and just got some stuff that looked especially tasty! We both started out with a lovely glass of Brut and a mixed green salad with Valdeon cheese, and candied walnuts. Mmmm mmm!

Susan had the Sunchoke soup that was de-lic-ious and I had the sautéed potato gnocchi with hedgehog mushrooms, caramelized onion, migas & Manchego. I had the chocolate creme brulee and a glass of Maderia for dessert. I was so full of great food!

Olivar is a wonderful restaurant with a very unique ambiance. Love it!

I also went to Monsoon on Capital Hill. I have meant to go there for years and finally made it this past week! Monsoon has been in Seattle since 1999 and, according to the website, “Monsoon marries traditional Vietnamese cuisine with Pacific Northwest innovation.”

I went with several of my friends, and we went with the special DAS menu. I had the pork ribs with hoisin & five spice sauce, the wild prawns with lemongrass, spicy yellow curry, and roasted peanuts, and for dessert, the banana cake with coconut sauce. I also tried some Karen’s first course: grilled squid stuffed with duck and basil and Jeri’s Bo La Lot (grilled beef wrapped in grape leaves). Holy BUCKETS! The food was amazing! So good and I’m glad I finally went. Looking forward to more jaunts to Monsoon in the future.