Traveling, Cooking, Reading, and Trains

Today’s quarantine project is to import photos from my camera SD card and from Apple photos into Lightroom Mobile on my iPad. Then edit selected photos, save them to a drive then include them in a blog post.

Importing into Lightroom is so much easier now that we have iPadOS. Editing them is okay, but I’m having a difficult time exporting the pics. I try to export to a cloud service (e.g. Google Drive) but they either show up with little red “-“ in them or an error isn’t displayed but nothing is in the folder when I browse using the Files or Google Drive App. Then magically I eventually end up with multiple versions of the image files in the location I exported them to.

Also, after editing in Lightroom I think it is better to use the “Export As…” dialog since it gives more control over the output such as naming and quality.

So my attempt today is to export them to an attached SSD drive. Let’s see how that works. I’m hoping since the export is to a local drive it will be fast and easy.

Anyway, I’ve been walking a lot since the New Year started and since the gym is shut down, walking is the only exexcise I get. I see some beautiful and interesting things as I range around a 3-mile radius from home. I’ve walked in pouring rain, drizzle (a lot here in Spring), and brilliant sunshine.

This gorgeous view of our local volcano – Mt. Hood – made the walk up the steep Weir Road worthwhile.

My Hood seen from the top of Weir Road

Here is a view of Mt. St. Helen and Mt Adams (I think) from the top of Weir Road in Beaverton.

Mt. St. Helen and Mt Adams (I think) from the top of Weir Road.

One of my routes takes me up and down part of the Power Line Trail. The clouds can be dramatic. The Power Line Trail runs about 6 miles from Scholls Ferry Road at the south end all the way north up to the Sunset Highway

Dramatic clouds from the Power Line trail

Even on the cool showery March days the trees know Spring is coming.

Sunset maple tree getting ready for a new season

After walking up to the top of Weir Road, or when on the Power Line Trail I usually turn back east toward home on Nora Road. Nora is a prime example of the screwed up street naming in this part of town. I think it must be due to various small roads with unique names later being joined as the Beaverton and Washington County grew. From the top of the hill on Nora you can head east and without taking any turns you end up on Beard then Brockman and after a slight bend to the left Greenway.

Walking down Nora you get a vivid sense of time: some of the houses are old and small interspersed with newer large upscale neighborhoods. Here is one of the old houses

Old small house on Nora Road

What struck me about this home was the little seated statue on the porch. Racist much?

Racist much?

I”m glad to say that is the exception to the rule.
There are other, fun, garden decorations like this rooster.

Garden rooster

On a nice day in mid March Carla and I strolled along a portion of the Fanno Creek Trail. The 7.3 mile trail parallels Fanno Creek (what a coincidence!) from downtown Tigard through Beaverton and up to Southwest Portland. We walked from Hall Blvd, and a bit past the Scholls and Allen intersection.

This tree is stooped but may still be alive.

Stooped tree along the Fanno Creek Trail

Corona virus or not, spring is in the air.

Along Fanno Creek Trail in Beaverton, Oregon

Along the trail we saw a number of colorful chalk drawings on the path. This, I think, shows peoples’ spirits as we plod along the public health crisis.

Encouraging words along Fanno Creek Trail during the COVID-19 pandemic

Fingers crossed, I got the images exported to my SSD drive and imported into WordPress. It will be interesting to see how it looks online.

Stay healthy!

March 30, 2019

We’ve been self-isolated because of COVID-19 for a couple of weeks now and are doing pretty well: Carla and I are together – it’s tough for people who live alone; we are using Google Hangouts and Facetime to keep up with friends and family, and we get out every day to walk – I’m going 5 or more miles most days. Our co-mother-in-law in South Africa is in a much tougher quarantine. She can only leave the house and yard for an hour or two each day for shopping.

But it gets old. As I was out walking this morning, brownies just jumped in my head – well, the idea of brownies – no one was pelting brownies at my noggin. I came home and Carla and I found a Brownies recipe online at allrecipes.com and were delighted to discover we had all the necessary ingredients.

Ingredients for Brownies!

It’s a photo project so of course I put things in place

Brownie ingredients mis en place

Meanwhile, Carla pulled together the ingredients for the frosting.

Frosting ingredients

I put things next to the stove in the order they would be used.

Brownie ingredients ready for assembly

After melting ½ cup of butter I removed the pan from the heat and mixed in the sugar. Once that was incorporated, I whisked in one egg at a time. I was a bit trepidatious – many years ago we tried to make treats to mail to the boys in college and when we added the eggs they just scrambled instead of mixing in. We hadn’t learned about tempering – adding eggs, or whatever, to a small bit of the hot stuff so they wouldn’t cook. Watching the video, they didn’t worry about that in this recipe; nevertheless, I tempered the first egg. Then in went the vanilla extract. After that was all mixed together I added the cocoa powder, flour, baking powder, and salt.

I poured it into a prepared square pan – slightly bigger than the one in the recipe. I think it was too big, the brownies were pretty thin. While they baked Carla made the frosting – it was very thick.

Frosting for Brownies

The recipe calls for a bake time of 25-20 minutes. I pulled them at 20 because of the larger pan and our oven cooks pretty hot.

A pan full of brownies.

Carla frosted them.

Brownies ready to eat

A note about the photo above, the frosting didn’t look that nice in real life; it was very thick and impossible to spread easily. I’ve been spending time the past few weeks refreshing my Lightroom and Photoshop skills. I have an old Wacom tablet that I pulled from the far corner of my desk to use in Photoshop to do some content-aware fill on the frosting blank spots. Here is the original

Frosted brownies – pre-Photoshop

As the videos I’ve watched over the past weeks promised, using the Intuos Pro table made the selection soooo easy.

We didn’t wait until dessert – we had a mid afternoon treat.

Brownies – Yum!

I’ve lost a few pounds since the New Year; in addition to the exercise, cutting out sugar, sweets, and desserts was an important part of that change. I need to be careful about putting those pounds back on- but brownies on a rainy, quarantine Sunday afternoon are sometimes called for.

These aren’t the best brownies I’ve ever eaten, but then short of putting anchovies in them any brownie is a good brownie. Next time we’ll cook them in a slightly smaller square pan and maybe find a better frosting. But hey, these are simple and very good.

As I mentioned above, I used Photoshop on a couple of the photos above. If you are a Lightroom and/or Photoshop user, I highly recommend, Matt Kloskowski’s training. I’m doing a refresh on his Lightroom course and hope to start his Photoshop course this week. During the quarantine he has produced a series of free “Stuck Inside” videos. His post on the Wacom tablet is what prompted me to pull my tablet out to try again. He’s also been posting a lot of free tutorials including a series on “How to Get the Most from Adobe”. If you are a current Lightroom/Photoshop user who feels you need some help, or if you are thinking about subscribing to the Adobe Creative Cloud but are skittish about the complexity, give these resources a try. Of course, he has plenty of great full length courses available – and are currently 50% off. I’m not an affiliate; I don’t get anything if you subscribe, I just really like his technique and training skills.

Another thing I’ve spent the last week doing is switching from a mouse – which I’ve used forever – to a trackpad. There is definitely a learning curve; I’ve tried off and on in the past, but with all this time available I’ve committed to give a full try. Using a trackpad – and the trackpad feature on the Wacom Tablet – gives a lot more options for navigating on my Mac. One week in and I look longingly at the mouse in my desk drawer less and less.

So that’s what we are up to!

Date: March 20, 2020

With COVID-19 upon us our only outings are walks and over the past 20 years we’ve walked everywhere in the neighborhood. Portland has not issued a Shelter-In-Place order – yet; so we figured we could follow our friends recommendation and head over to the University of Portland up on the bluff on the east bank of the Willamette River.

We saw a few students and other walkers but it was very easy to keep our distance from everyone we saw. The cherry trees were in full blossom. I’ll let the pictures tell their story.

Cherry trees at the University of Portland
Cherry Blossom at the University of Portland
Cherry Blossom at the University of Portland

We walked along the fence line looking over the river and got a few other plants blooming.

Random blossoming plant at the University of Portland

There was also a tulip tree; it was just starting to lose its luster.

Tulip tree blossoms at the University of Portland
Tulip tree blossoms at the University of Portland

There is a shipyard below the bluff and we saw this great portable dry dock. If you look closely notice that there is a small warship inside the pontoon dry dock.

Portable dry dock on the Willamette River in Portland

You can see all but the ship in my University of Portland Flowering Trees Flickr Album. They are also in my Foliage and Landscape Flickr album.

I hope you are self-quarantining and taking care of yourself. I wish you all good health

March 17, 2020

This fear of catching COVID-19 has really slowed our lives down; what better escape than to cook. We shopped online for our weekly groceries for the first time; unfortunately, New Seasons didn’t have any corned beef left. In real life, if they didn’t have corned beef I would have not bought all the carrots and cabbage. But if/then logic that isn’t something you can do in online shopping. So Carla braved the crowds at Safeway to pick one up.

I made this dish two years ago when I used Mike Vrobel’s Dad Cooks Dinner recipe. I had big success this weekend with Amanda Biddle’s Striped Spatula recipe for Bolognese sauce, so I used her recipe. Now, pressure cooker corned beef and cabbage is pretty straightforward: cook the beef first in plenty of water and some aromatics. Take out the meat when done and add the cabbage, carrots, and potatoes. So, in this respect Mike and Amanda’s recipes are very similar. However, I did employ two of Dad Cooks Dinner strategies. First, I cut the 4 pound brisket into quarters to hasten the cooking. Second, I didn’t use a rack to keep the meat above the liquid. Coming from Safeway instead of New Seasons I figured it was going to be very salty and wanted to submerge the brisket to help remove some of that salt.

This is a real simple dish; here are all the ingredients minus the unphotogenic corned beef and water.

Most of the ingredients for corned beef and cabbage

I put the onion slices, celery chunks, and slightly smashed garlic cloves in the bottom of the Instant Pot. Then added water, put the brisket in and poured the beer over the top. It cooked for 60 minutes with a quick pressure release. Amanda’s recipe called for 85 minutes with a 20 minute natural pressure release. Cutting the brisket ala Mike Vrobel saved 45 minutes!

When the brisket was almost done, I spent about 3 minutes prepping the other vegetables.

Corned beef and cabbage vegetables.

After 60 minutes I checked the corned beef for tenderness – it was perfect – and removed to to a cutting board where I tented it with foil while the vegetables cooked.

Corned beef for the corned beef and cabbage.

I strained the liquid removing the chunks of onion, celery and garlic. Then returned 1½ cups of liquid to the cooker and tossed potatoes and carrots on the bottom and stacked the cabbage wedges on top. I only used ½ of that huge cabbage – we’ll be having coleslaw later this week.

Vegetables for corned beef and cabbage

After 4 minutes at high pressure the vegetables were done. It takes a while for the quick pressure release to let all that pressure out. While that was going on I removed the fat on top and sliced the brisket across the grain. Then laid it all out on a platter.

Corned beef and cabbage ready to serve.

Dinner was served – I took one too many slices of corned beef – but I sure enough ate it instead of putting it back. We served it with some horseradish aioli. Aioli – the word to allow mayonnaise to be sold at twice the normal price.

This was very good, but that Safeway brisket was salty but good. The version I made two years ago with the New Seasons corned beef was much better.

Rating: ★★★★. Actually 3½ stars if I could do halves. Perfectly fine for dinner and I’d even serve it to friends.

It’s too late for y’all to cook for this year’s St. Patrick’s Day dinner, but you don’t have to wait; it’s good no matter the date. And it is so, so easy. Give it a try.

Cook date: March 15, 2020

Back in November 2018 I made an Italian Meat Sauce recipe. It rated 3 stars but I thought I could find a way to move it up a star. Finally this past January I tried again with the adjustments I thought would improve it. No go, it was much too fatty.

Carla and I thought it would be fun to explore pressure cooker Bolognese recipes. I’ve narrowed it down to 3 candidates and today I started with the first recipe. This recipe is from The Striped Spatula website written by Amanda Biddle. I’ve never cooked any of her recipes before but this one looked promising. Although it’s almost Spring it snowed the day before and was plenty chilly this morning. Pasta was just what we needed.

We had invited friends over, but with the Corona virus scare we disinvited everyone a couple of days ahead of time. I’m at the intersection of 2 different risk groups so have determined to be especially careful for a few weeks. But we did drop off pints of Handel’s ice cream which would have been our dessert.

The first thing that drew me to this recipe. First, Amanda’s insistence on using San Marzano crushed tomatoes in pureé. My regular market had San Marzano style tomato sauces but not the real deal. I found some at Whole Foods and picked up two cans. One for now and one for later. It doesn’t say it’s in pureé, but, spoiler alert, it worked out fine.

A few weeks ago, Linda sent me a link about San Marzano tomatoes. Seems there is a whole debate on the subject, and if the tomatoes are crushed – as they are here – they don’t qualify. Whatever, the sauce was great.

San Marzano tomatoes – A necessity for Bolognese
Bolognese sauce – 1st group of ingredients (Plus pasta)

Of course we dice onion, carrots, and celery to form our mirepoix base. There is way more onion that the other ingredients; the carrots and celery are sitting on top of some onions.

Mirepoix for Bolognese sauce

The second thing that pulled me to this recipe was the use of pancetta – in addition to lean ground beef and ground sausage. If your market has pancetta, it’s likely in the butcher case. You’ll need to dice it before cooking

Pork, ground beef and pancetta for Sauce Bolognese

You’re not really cooking Italian food unless you have garlic and wine.

Garlic for sauce Bolognese
Oregon pinot noir – the best wine on the planet

Almost the full set of ingredients are in place.

Sauce Bolognese mise en place

The first step is to sauté the mirepoix. Next we add the meat, breaking up the ground meats into small pieces. Then we add the tomato paste and garlic for a minute or two followed by deglazing the pan with some wine. Toss in the tomatoes, a bit of water and Italian parsley and pressure cook on high for 20 minutes. Here it is before pressure cooking.

Sauce Bolognese ready to be cooked under pressure

Quick release the pressure as soon as the time is up, then simmer for a few minutes to thicken Unlike stove top, we don’t lose much moisture cooking in the Instant Pot. I had my pasta water simmering and cranked the heat to cook the pasta while the sauce thickened. I don’t normally use spaghetti noodles – just because. The staging picture above include Tórchiette which we like. But we had a half a pound of open Penne; because it was just the two of us we used that instead.

While the sauce cooks, we stage the final couple of ingredients: whipping cream and nutmeg. We were also supposed to toss in a bit more flat leaf Italian parsley but I had a small issue with the second batch -we won’t go into it.

After draining the pasta I returned it to the pot and added about ½ cup of the sauce to it. Then spooned some into pasta bowls and poured more sauce on top.

Pasta Bolognese – Almost ready to eat.

It’s not complete without plenty of salty, nutty parmesan reggiano cheese on top.
Dinner is served.

Dinner is served – Pasta Bolognese
Pasta Bolognese and wine.

We may not make it to the remaining two contenders. Stay tuned. I don’t have a link to my copy of the recipe because I made no adjustments to it. If it looks good, go to Amanda Biddle’s page and cook it up!

Rating: ★★★★ 4 out of 5 stars. A great dish for company (though it will be a few weeks before the Corona virus self-quarantine is over. By then it will be barbecue season.

A note on the pictures. This is the first time I used the full lighting set up with my Sony A6600 and the Sony 18-135 lens. I use 2 off-camera speedlights: one with a reflector umbrella and one with a softbox. It took me some time to get the setting close to right; the settings are much different from my Sony A7R3. But I was happy with the results.

Dates: February 28 ==> March 1, 2020

It’s nice to have Linda as a sister-in-law; mainly because she is nice, fun, and always looking for adventures. As an additional benefit, she has friends all around the country. We started our fall trip to the south with her friends near Washington DC. This past weekend we were invited to visit her friends her friends who has a place Hood Canal, Washington. When we got there Friday evening we enjoyed appetizers and wine while we gazed out at the beautiful view from their house overlooking the water.

It was rainy in the evening and not very photogenic, but I set up my camera on a tripod for nicer views in the morning. Sure enough, it was sunny on Saturday morning and the Olympic Mountains were displaying their awesome beauty.

Olympic Mountain Range see across Hood Canal

We are getting ready for a big adventure in late summer – hopefully the Corona virus won’t be a thing then – and need to get into hiking shape. I’ve been extending my walks around home – ranging up to 5 miles with 14% inclines and elevation gains of 300-500 feet, depending on the route. But we wanted to get off the sidewalks and onto a trail, so we walked a few hundred yards from the house down to Twanoh State Park. The park has – for me – a steep grade but it rather short – just a couple of miles. It also gave Carla and I a chance to try our new hiking poles.

The incredible greenery and foliage in western Washington and Oregon makes it difficult to get large panoramic pictures on mountainsides. But I did get a chance to grab a picture of the creek at the bottom of the hill.

River through Twanoh State Park. Hood Canal, Washington

But there is plenty of moss and green things to enjoy on the trail.

Tree Moss at Twanoh State Park, Washington

On our trip to the south last fall we saw plenty of Spanish moss – especially in Charleston, South Carolina. It was actually named that by the English as a derogatory term for the Spanish explorers who – the English claimed – had scraggly beards. Both countries were trying to expand their claims on the new world so there was no love lost between the two groups.

After our hike we grabbed sandwiches from the QVC deli in Belfair before we all got together with our long-time friends who have a place on Hood Canal. We walked along the trails of the Thelan Wetlands. The tide was out but was still scenic. About five or so years ago, the state of Washington breached a dike which allowed creation of farmland at the north end of Hood Canal. It’s been interesting over the past few years to see the fresh water farm land turn into an estuary. The Union River is slowly cutting new channels – or more likely reclaiming channels that had once been filled in to allow cattle to more easily graze.

One of many bird hotels in the Thelan Wetlands. Hood Canal, Washington

Spring is trying to claim its territory

Hint of Spring in Thelan Wetlands. Hood Canal, Washington

It started to turn blustery; but before turning back to our cars, I caught a picture of the dramatic sky.

Dramatic clouds looking south down Hood Canal from Thelan Wetlands. Washington

We all headed back to Linda’s friends house where we snacked on more hors d’oeuvres.

Before dinner treats

Before long it was time to start dinner; master of the house started up the grills to cook some salmon filets and asparagus. I was in charge of roasting potatoes and Carla made the salad. It was a delicious dinner and fun with all of us – old friends and new – getting to know one another.

On Sunday morning the light looked promising so I set up the tripod again for a few pictures. After coming inside, everyone yelled “Howard! There’s a spotlight on the Olympics! I was amazed at their beauty.,

Olympic Mountains seen across Hood Canal.
Olympic Mountains seen across Hood Canal.

I’ve grabbed pictures of these mountains before but these were the best I can remember; I think it was a combination of the viewpoint and the light. Last May we were over at Lake Quinault in the Olympic Rain Forest, on the other side of these mountains.

After a great breakfast of pancakes and eggs we headed back to the wetlands for another walk before heading home. I saw another birdhouse – this one is both beautiful and functional.

Bird house on Hood Canal

It was March first and some of the plants were eager to show their stuff.

Hint of Spring in Thelan Wetlands. Hood Canal, Washington

At one end of the Thelan Wetlands there is a Salmon center used as a local meeting place. Next to that is a small learning farm with some animals. I caught a picture of a small goat.

Billy Goat Gruff at a learning farm near the Salmon Center. Belfair, Washington

After we got back to the house Carla and I did some cleaning then jumped in the car for the 3 hour drive home – the kids were coming over for dinner.

We had a great time with Linda’s friends and hope we get invited back!

Olive, Again

Author: Elizabeth Strout
Copyright: 2019
Type: Fiction
Finished: December 10, 2019

Rating: ★★★★

Image from Amazon

As she did with her character Lucy Barton in Anything Is Possible, Elizabeth Strout returns to one of her characters through a series of short stories. Olive Kitteridge is present to one degree or another in the various stories. Sometimes she is the central character; in others, she is barely mentioned. The first story, Arrested, Jack Kennison drives to another town an hour away to shop  just so he won’t bump into Olive whom he barely knows.. 

Reading this first story I knew I was in for some great Elizabeth Strout storytelling. In superlative short story telling, we follow Jack through a day’s interactions and learn about his relationships and his past and feel compassion for him. He shows up again throughout the book. Even though he wanted to skip seeing Olive at the local store, he later appreciates her approach to life:

People either didn’t know how they felt about something or they chose never to say how they really felt about something. And this is why he missed Olive Kitteridge. [p 8]

Loneliness is the predominant theme of the book. Olive slowly begins to understand that relationships are the way to fight the terror of loneliness. She looks back on her relationship with her son, Christopher, and her dead husband Henry. In her new relationship,

Olive would put her leg over both of his, she would put her head on his chest, and during the night they would shift, but always there were holding each other, and [he] thought of their large old bodies, shipwrecked, thrown up upon the shore – and how they held on for dear life! [p 148]

Olive grows so much in this book and that gained knowledge can have a sharp edge.

Loneliness, Oh, the loneliness! It blistered Olive. She had not known such a feeling her entire life; this is what she though as she moved about the house. It may have been the terror finally wearing off and giving way for this gaping bright universe of loneliness that she faced, but it bewildered her to feel this. [p 260]

We also get to revisit some of Strout’s other characters: the Burgess boys as well as Isabelle from the novels with their names. 

Elizabeth Strout is one of my favorite authors and this book does not disappoint. But don’t pick this up to read until you have read Olive Kitteridge.

January 19-20, 2020

No trip to Arizona is complete without a trip up to the northern part of the state to watch some trains running on the BNSF Transcon. A good bit of this post is a railfan nerd fest post.

Most of my photos along the BNSF transcontinental route are in Flagstaff and Winslow – so of course after brunch of chilaquiles at Martanne’s in Flagstaff we headed over to the depot. Carla shopped for a t-shirt for our railfan grandson while I waited for a train.

Eastbound BNSF container train passing by the Flagstaff depot.

The picture above shows the problem shooting trains in my two usual sites: deep shadows. The best available viewing spots are on the north side of the tracks. This is an especially tough vantage point in winter; at worst I’m shooting almost directly into the sun and at best I’m getting lots of shadows on the subject. This can be remedied in Flagstaff by hanging on the other side of the tracks, but in Winslow there is no access to the south side of the tracks where the sun is at your back.

So before we left I researched places where I could get a view of trains from the south side. I found the very helpful Arizona and New Mexico Rails Places to Railfan. If I was out on my own I would have stopped at most of the spots; Carla is a good sport but I didn’t want her to have to sit in the car while I waited for trains. So, I picked a grade crossing just east of Flagstaff off I-40 Exit 207 ON Cosnino Road.

Cosnino Road on Google Maps
Cosnino Road grade crossing east of Flagstaff. (Image from Google Maps)

This is a great spot to railfan; there is a wide open area allowing us to get nice shots while being back from the tracks. It didn’t take long before an eastbound autorack glided through the west half of the S curve and into view.

Autoracks heading east outside of Flagstaff, Arizona

After this train passed, I heard the sound of a westbound laboring up the hill. It rumbled up for a few minutes before it came into view exiting the eastern half of the S curve. What a treat: a BNSF freight with two Norfolk Southern GE locomotives in the lead. While it isn’t unusual to have NS locos on BNSF trains, it is rare to have them in the lead.

Norfolk Southern locomotives leading the charge of a BNSF heading uphill toward Flagstaff, Arizona

Trains were running pretty regularly. It was a cold clear day and the San Francisco Peaks made a beautiful backdrop for the eastbound trains.

San Francisco Peaks looming over eastbound container train.
East of Flagstaff on Cosnino Road – I40

Another view of the same train as it got closer to my position.

Another view of the container train dropping down the grade toward Winslow, Arizona

As I said, the trains are pretty constant along the Transcon. I grabbed the first picture at 2:30 and the last at 2:47 – Three trains in 17 minutes. Railfan heaven.

I got back in the car and we headed to Winslow for our stay at La Posada hotel. The next day we prepared to drive outside of Holbrook to hike a bit in the Petrified Forest and Painted Desert. But first we stopped at a rest stop on the west side of Holbrook – another spot listed on the web site linked at the top of the post. The bad news was that I was again on the north side shooting into the low winter sun. The good news was a beautiful wide open vista. I get intoxicated driving this stretch of road: the world stretches out in all directions.

Eastbound container BNSF slowing its roll for its stop in Winslow.

Container trains are the norm on the Transcon. About 15 minutes later another one appeared on the horizon.

Another westbound container train near Holbrook, Arizona

I was heading back to the car so we could get to the national parks but there was an eastbound coming so I hustled back to my vantage point.

Eastbound BNSF picking up speed leaving Winslow about 20 miles to the west.

The Cosnino Road grade crossing will be in my future railfanning adventures. Even though the reason for our Arizona trip was sad – my Uncle Jake’s memorial service – there were good times too. The memorial service was beautiful and moving; I saw my younger sister for the first time in ages; we had beautiful walks along the Verde River in Cottonwood as well as the Petrified Forest and Painted Desert; we visited La Posada hotel; we took in the Musical Instrument Museum; and I got pictures from new spots on the Transcon.

Good times.

January 21, 2020

When we awoke on Tuesday morning in Winslow we were greeted by Portland winter weather: cold, cloudy, and rainy. Sporadic snow was in the forecast for Flagstaff so after breakfast we headed out to try to get up and over the mountain down to Phoenix during the warm part of the day. It rained pretty steadily the first half hour but was moderately clear as we made are way up to Flagstaff. We could see big dark clouds on the west side of the city, probably blocked by the mountain.

Heading down I-17 into Phoenix was a bit hairier with many more clouds and as much rain as we wanted. As we descended we drove three separate fog banks that limited visibility to maybe 100-200 yards for a mile at a time. Even when we were at the base of the mountain and in northern Phoenix it was still cool and rainy. We stopped at an In ‘n Out for lunch. Yum.

We’ve been trying to get the Musical Instrument Museum on the north end of Phoenix for a while now. One of our yoga group friends, Jim, is a retired music teacher. He and Terry have been raving for years about the displays. Others in the group have been in Phoenix and also came back with glowing reports. Let’s go.

The first thing we noticed is that there is no Senior discount as there usually is in museums. Looking around it was clear why: we were in the land of the olds. Over 80% of the visitors were older or school age so there is no need to coax us in.

The organization of the museum is great. You are fitted with a set of headphones as you go in, but you don’t have to fiddle with entering some code when you get to a display. Instead, when you stand in front of a display a sensor automatically starts a narrative of what you are looking at. Most of the displays are accompanied by video.

Not to be hyperbolic, but excluding the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the special exhibit on Congo Masks and Music is one of the best museum exhibits I’ve seen. I took a bunch of pictures of the masks and related costumes but they lose their impact in the static displays.

Congo Chihongo (Left) and Ngulu masks
Congo Chihongo Mask
Congo Minganji masks

Almost every mask has a video with the music and dancing associated. I’ve tried to find some on the internet to share but have only found a few – none of the ones in the displays. Some of the samples I share here are not even from Congo, but from other west or central Africa countries.

From YouTube (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YHYk0nnXsak)
Not from Congo I think. Dancing starts at 0:21
YouTube (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jZ572yLH9sc).
Leggings more like the Congo displays we say.
Dancing starts in earnest at 0:45
YouTube (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B13nDtokcM0)
Definitely from Congo.

Most of the videos linked above are more modern; the private videos in the exhibit are in black and white and probably from the mid 20th century.

Our next stop was the upper floor where we explored music from around the world. Since one of our daughters-in-law is from South Africa we made sure to stop there. The video on how them make these guitars out of discarded materials is amazing.

South African musical instruments

Both of our sons played trombone in high school and our younger son was a touring professional for a few years before settling down into teaching. So of course we took pictures of every trombone-like instrument we saw. The Sackbutt is the ancestor of the modern trombone.

Sackbutt – Early trombone

Sackbutt is loosely translated as “to pull out the end”.

Though we were tired after hours of standing, we went down to the first floor exhibits which are organized around instruments. There is a large display of Martin guitars including a video of the repair to Elvis Presley’s 1975 D28. The linked video here is both a good example of the MIM displays and the painstaking restoration work done AT MIM.

We watched videos of guitarists such as Stevie Ray Vaughn, big bands, pianists, and more. We kept saying to each other, “I’m tired, let’s go to the hotel” but as we walked through the museum we’d be pulled into another fascinating exhibit.

The Musical Instrument Museum in just off exit 31 on the 101 highway at the north end of Phoenix. You can see their web presence at mim.org. Go there.

After dinner and a good night’s sleep we prepared to head to the airport for our flight home. Our flight was in the afternoon so we had time to squeeze in a walk. Just north of our hotel, there is a large open area with a sidewalk along the southern border. We strolled for about an hour.

Phoenix Desert Ridge area

After that we packed up and drove back to the airport, stopping for our last In ‘n Out burgers for a while.

You may be thinking to yourself that I’ve had 5 posts from Arizona with no trains. Not to worry; my next post will have as many trains as you can take – maybe more.

February 2, 2020

We interrupt the posts on our Arizona trip for this important bulletin.

For more years than I can keep track – going back to at least 2013 (first blog post I can find) – we’ve hosted a Super Bowl party with a small group of close friends. Since our youngest son moved back from Chicago we’ve been doing more family stuff, so we had family over for the game this year instead. It was tough breaking with tradition but great for the family to be together.

Herb normally makes the wings in a crock pot and they are so tasty. I wanted to try something different so I had a competition with myself by grilling wings from 2 different recipes.

I knew the grandkids – ages 5 and 3 – wouldn’t like the spicy wings, so I followed a recipe I found for Grill Master Chicken Wings on Allrecipes.com. It couldn’t be much simpler: marinate wings in a mixture of even parts soy sauce and Italian-style salad dressing.

Wings ready for the marinade

I prepared the second batch using Meathead’s Crisply Grilled Buffalo Wings recipe on Amazingribs.com. I dry brined the wings with some kosher salt, ground pepper, and baking soda.

While the wings were resting, I whipped up some sauces for the Buffalo wings – again from that AmazingRibs recipe linked above. First was the blue cheese dressing.

Ingredients for blue cheese dressing

Measure, weigh, crumble and whisk.

Blue cheese dressing for Buffalo wings

That was going to be way more dressing than we needed. And much thinner than I expected. I added a bit more cream cheese to help it set. Honestly, next time I’ll probably buy some store bought dressing.

The Buffalo sauce is pretty easy as well, butter, hot sauce, and minced garlic.

Buffalo sauce ingredients

Franks RedHot is good stuff, but not real spicy – which is fine with me. I melted the butter in a small pan, sautéd the minced garlic for about 30 seconds then whisked in the hot sauce. The biggest challenge for the sauce is keeping it from separating. If you make this, realize you’ll want to whisk just before coating the ribs after cooking.

I started the grill at 325° set up for two zone grilling. The two sets of wings are ready for the grill.

Dry brined and marinated wings side by side.

I started the wings on an upper grate with an aluminum foil shield over the direct flame. It wasn’t hot enough. After 10 minutes I removed the foil shield and bumped the temp to 375°. I know from researching the web that some people cook them at 400° with good results. Once the wings were cooked through I crisped them up on the lower rack over the direct side of the grill. I made about 3 passes flipping the wings to make sure they didn’t burn.

Wings on the grill

Then they were done. I tossed the dry brined wings in the buffalo sauce and put them on a platter.

Wings ready to eat. Buffalo wings on the left; marinated on the right

I didn’t even time to stage the picture or get the platter to the serving area. We gobbled them all up. The 3 year old passed, but the 5 year old – my Associate Pit Master – gobbled up 4 of the marinated wings. Like I said, the Buffalo sauce wasn’t too hot at all but the 5 year old didn’t want to risk it.

They were both very good with the Buffalo wings winning out with one more star: 4 stars to 3. I’ll definitely make these again.

If you read my blog with any regularity you know I make chili each year. You may be tired of looking at the pictures, but I’m not tired of posting them 🙂

This might be the first time I got ALL the ingredients together for the set up pics.

Chili ingredients

The supermarket had a sale on Wagyu sirloin steak for the same price as the regular. Yes please.

Chili ingredients mis en place

The next course is served

A bowl of red

On my next post I’ll be back on our Arizona trip.