Summer Trip to Oregon, Part 2: Bend

After a couple fun-filled days in Portland, we headed out early to make the drive to Bend.  About 3.5 hours from Portland, there are several ways you can go to reach the central Oregon valley, but we decided to try the adventurous route and go over Mt. Hood. The views on this route are stunning (at least, so long as you’re in the mountains) but you might not want to try it come winter.

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About 30 minutes out from Bend, right off highway 26, we pulled off towards a bright red barn known as the Maragas Winery.  And it was a truly fantastic stop!  Seven tastings cost $10, or you could purchase by the glass or bottle and enjoy it at any of the tables located outside with excellent views of the vineyard itself.

maragasPhoto courtesy Maragas Winery.  (Click “continue reading” to see more) Continue reading “Summer Trip to Oregon, Part 2: Bend”

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Summer Trip to Oregon, Part 1: Portland

Thursday started the “weddingpalooza” part of our summer: three out of town weddings in three weeks’ time.  There must be something in the air!  Up first was a wedding in Bend, Oregon, and seeing as how neither myself nor the hubs had ever really spent time in Oregon, we decided to come out a few days early and check out Portland as well.

photo 1We arrived in Portland on Thursday around dinner time, and proceeded to check into our hotel, The Nines, a Starwood Luxury Collection hotel in the heart of downtown.  The hotel itself is modern elegance personified – chandeliers everywhere, antique-looking damask patterns in bold colors, and sleek fixtures around every corner.

It’s also PRICEY.  The walk up rate for a standard room can be well over $500 a night, and if you were trying to stay here on Starwood points, it would take you 16,000 points per night (worth $336, if you value them according to The Points Guy).  However, this is a good lesson in why it’s worth it to spend the time to check multiple rates: I was able to use my company’s corporate rate to get our stay at $179 a night–nearly 50% off.  Putting this another way, we got to stay in a 5-star luxury hotel within walking distance of everywhere we wanted to go for about the same price as staying at the Hyatt Place by the Airport (an optimistic 3-star). (Click “continue reading” to see more!) Continue reading “Summer Trip to Oregon, Part 1: Portland”

Delicious Crock Pot Recipe that will Last You All Week

I live in Texas, y’all, which means that the art of slow cooking meat isn’t so much a hobby, but more like a religion. And if you’re a member of the church of delicious, fall-off-the-bone, melt-in-your-mouth protein, then the recipe I’m about to share with you is akin to the Hallelujah Chorus: a complete showstopper that’s sure to make you BELIEVE.

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Made in a crock pot with just 20 minutes of prep, followed by 6-8 hours of cooking time while you’re at work, watching kids, or running Pork enchiladas with green chili sauceerrands, the base meat can then be used in multiple meals over the week.

For example, my slow-cooked pork became a take on Hawaiian plate lunch, sweet & salty pizza, pork enchiladas with verde sauce, and pulled pork macaroni and cheese. Here’s how to feed your family all week on one recipe:

Ingredients: (click “Continue Reading” to see more!)

Continue reading “Delicious Crock Pot Recipe that will Last You All Week”

Backyard Beekeeping 101: Our First Honey Harvest

Honey in mason jars

This weekend, for the first time ever, we harvested honey from our backyard beehive.  I found it incredibly exciting – and I was shocked at just how much honey our little hive had produced – we ended up with just under THREE GALLONS (!!!) of honey (which I canned in half-pint glass jars, for gifts).

photo 3 (5)So how did we get the honey out?  Well, it was a learning experience for us too!  First, Carl (in his very sexy beekeeping garb) smoked the bees, and started inspecting the honey supers.  We were looking for capped honey, which is light yellow and wax-covered.  What we wanted to avoid were any frames that might hold brood (slightly raised, capped dark tan or brown colored comb) or uncapped honey (no wax cap on top).

From our two honey supers (each of which has 8 frames) we were able to identify 6 frames that were ready to be harvested.  The rest, we left for the bees to help sustain them in times of low pollen. Next, we cut the comb from the frames over our extractor box – essentially, a small tub with a sieved bottom, a nylon filtering membrane, and then a larger tub with a spiggot at the bottom.

photo 1 (14)After cutting the comb, the honey slowly drained through our extractor until we were able to jar it.  The comb we squeezed to release as much honey as possible, and are now storing in tupperware until I can use it to make soaps and candles (more on that in an upcoming post!)

We *may* get one more small harvest before winter, otherwise, this’ll be it until about March. But considering how low maintenance the bees are, I’m calling it a huge win.  And bonus – once I’ve made the soap, Christmas presents for the family are officially DONE.

Have questions about harvesting your honey or backyard beekeeping?  Ask away in the comments!

Backyard Beekeeping 101: Making Your Own Brood Boxes

As I mentioned in a previous post, Carl and I are enjoying our first season as backyard beekeepers. This weekend, an inspection of the hive showed us that our bees have been quite busy!  In just a few short months, our bees had nearly completely filled their existing brood boxes.

Carl builds a Langstroth beehive brood box
Cutting the notches for the joints

So, Carl got to work building a new brood box.  Of course, you can buy pre-fab brood boxes from bee supply stores – the empty, unassembled boxes + shipping costs will run you about $35-$40.  But since Carl had some scrap pine lying around and will use just about any excuse to play with his table saw, he decided to make his own.

To do so, you’ll need a dado blade set – essentially, a circular blade that is roughly 1/2″ thick – in order to make most of the cuts. First, you’ll want to cut your boards down to the appropriate size, using a table saw.  Next, if you’ll be making a Langstroth hive (where the joints fit together like a jigsaw puzzle), you’ll need to make a jig to use with your dado blade set and a clamp in order to get the spacing right.

Next, cut the hand holds and frame rests, before eventually cutting your joints.  Finally, affix your sides together, securing with finishing nails and a bit of wood glue (and use an L-square to keep it straight!) The goal is to get a completely air-tight seal so that your bees can spend as little time as possible sealing up holes and instead keep on producing honey. (Click “Continue Reading” to see more!) Continue reading “Backyard Beekeeping 101: Making Your Own Brood Boxes”

A Newbie’s Attempt at Extreme Couponing

photo 2 (12)For the past few weeks, instead of immediately trashing the weekly circulars that get shoved in our mailbox, I’ve actually taken the time to cut out relevant coupons, and print a few others out from Coupons.com.  Slowly but surely, with the help of blogs like Living Rich with Coupons, I’ve managed to get a decent little collection of coupons going.

Last week was my first attempt doing my weekly grocery shopping with coupons, and I’ve found that it takes you a little longer in the store – in addition to getting what you need to buy from your weekly list, you stroll the non-perishable aisles to do a quick check as to whether you have a coupon match to anything that’s on sale.  (Note: there are actually numerous sites that do this for you, but I’ve found I rarely have the coupons they list in their matches…I probably need to start getting a Sunday paper…)

On my first trip, I managed to save $15, which sounds like a lot, but the majority of that was from a $10 off a 70-count bottle of Claritin, which we had been running low on anyways.  The only real “win” was a bottle of salad dressing (the kind we normally use) that would have normally cost $3.50, I managed to snag for $0.50.  Exciting, but it seemed like kinda small potatoes.

Today, however, as my coupon horde has continued to grow… (click “Continue Reading” to see more!)  Continue reading “A Newbie’s Attempt at Extreme Couponing”

Easy Weeknight Dinner: Baked Parmesan Chicken and Rosemary Potatoes

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Today, Carl got to enjoy that age-old annoyance of jury duty at the Municipal Court.  Expecting that he might need a comfort food pick-me-up after the hours hearing people trying to get out of their speeding tickets, I figured I’d make him one of his favorite meals, parmesan chicken and potatoes.

This recipe is incredibly easy to make, and can easily be altered (for example, adding crushed pecans instead of parmesan to the bread crumbs, or using crushed Doritos instead of the bread crumb mixture) to create a number of similar recipes. But for the basics, all you need are a few fridge and pantry staples.

Ingredients:

2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts

2 tbsp mayonnaise (click “Continue Reading” to see more!) Continue reading “Easy Weeknight Dinner: Baked Parmesan Chicken and Rosemary Potatoes”

Backyard Beekeeping: An Introduction

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Back in May, I became the proud co-parent of a few hundred or so bees.  (By now, we probably have a few thousand.)

Bees.  Yes, beeeeeesss.

And since then, we’ve had a lot of people ask exactly how to get started in this whole thing, so I thought I’d share what I know. Keep in mind though – we’re still learning as well!

First of all, before you do anything else – find a local mentor.  Yes, there are tons of videos on YouTube, and those will be helpful.  But there’s nothing that can substitute for having someone you can call up when your bees start doing something new or you’re not sure how to use a piece of equipment.

Carl also went to Beekeeping 101 class at Round Rock Honey, which offers classes around Texas, California, and in Madison, Wisconsin; there are other similar schools around the country. You can also find local beekeeping groups in many areas that have frequent meetups and online discussion forums. (Click “continue reading” to see more!) Continue reading “Backyard Beekeeping: An Introduction”

San Francisco Trip, Part Two: The Eats!

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The majority of my San Francisco trip was sadly spent working, but I managed to find some time to enjoy two great dinners while in the city.

The smoked meats counter at Porcellino
The smoked meats counter at Porcellino

On Monday, I visited Porcellino, Chef Chris Kosentino’s new counter-service restaurant in Noe Valley.  Chris’s former restaurant at the same location, Incanto, had the noted distinction of serving the best dish I’ve ever had – calf brains with porcini mushrooms and bone marrow jus.

So I was a bit surprised to find that Porcellino, far from celebrating offal in the same way that Incanto did, was just a fairly run of the mill Italian restaurant.

I tried the heirloom tomato panzanella and the rigatoni with pork ragu and seared duck egg. Both were tasty and flavorful, and at any other restaurant, I would have been very pleased.  But given my past love of Incanto, I have to say I was a bit let down.

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Tapas and Charcuterie at Amelie SF

The next evening, my colleagues took me to Amelie, which describes itself as a “French tapas wine bar”  After trying their “JT flight” which featured a fantastic white – the 2011 Maison Nicolas Perrin Syrah/Viognier – we feasted on their excellent charcuterie plate, burrata with toast, and heirloom tomato and watermelon salad. We finished the night with some private room karaoke at Yamasho, which held no culinary delights, but plenty of bad 90s pop karaoke.

All in all, a delicious trip and a good chance to see some friends and colleagues from the Left coast.

San Francisco Trip, Part 1 : Virgin America and Le Meridien

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The view from my balcony at Le Meridien

This week, a work trip has brought me to San Francisco, the glorious city of streetcars, fog and sourdough bowls.

While I’ve visited the city numerous times, some for work, and some for play, this was only my second time making the flight on Virgin America and my first time to stay in the Le Meridien on Battery, and both were rather fabulous.

Of the three main domestic “economy” carriers – Southwest, JetBlue, and Virgin America – I believe Virgin is by far the best current experience, especially if you can upgrade to their Main Cabin Select product.  (Though, I think Southwest has a better loyalty program.)  In Main Cabin Select, you get more legroom, free on-demand movies and tv, plus free on-demand drinks, including alcohol.  But even in economy, they have fleet-wide wifi and power outlets at every seat,  plus paid on-demand entertainment system.

And right now, if you have status with any competing airline, they’ll status-match you for free, giving you access to complimentary upgrades to Main Cabin Select when available.  Pretty sweet.  (Click “Continue Reading” to see more!)

Continue reading “San Francisco Trip, Part 1 : Virgin America and Le Meridien”