Friday Dessert Inspiration

I know it’s late in the day, but I have a suggestion for your weekend:

Ice cream sandwich, Propane Kitchen

Miniature homemade chocolate chip cookies, sandwiched together with Straus vanilla bean ice cream, covered with bittersweet chocolate.

Ice cream sandwich, Propane Kitchen

Just smash a few spoonfuls of ice cream between two of your favorite cookies. Freeze for ten minutes while you melt some chocolate chips. Quickly dip your cookie sandwich in chocolate and pop it back in the freezer.

My oh my aren’t weekends divine?

Ice cream sandwich, Propane KitchenI think I am a Sweet Genius. (Has anyone else seen that show? I am so enthralled/weirded out.)

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New Orleans, LA

Window shop for chandeliers and antique suits of armor on the way to Sylvain on Royal for silky chicken liver pate and a crispy fried chicken sandwich, all washed down with a glass of rosé. Let a magician wave you in for his performance, suspend skepticism, let yourself be impressed when he cuts into a kiwi fruit to reveal a $20 bill. Hear an old man beat out the blues. Walked and walk and walk some more. Have a daiquiri in a plastic cup, because it seems like the thing to do. Café du Monde for powdered sugar deep-fried dough & chicory café au lait. Keep the energy up!

New Orleans, Jackson Square

New Orleans, daquari, French Market

New Orleans, Jazz, Drummer, Soul

New Orleans, Cafe du Monde, beignets

Nightfall. All the doors are open spilling sound to collide in the neon street the tunes of a hundred musicians amplified by booze, frozen rum rainbows in a plastic cup held by a sorority girl in a mini skirt who can’t walk in her platform shoes. Come on in! Come inside say the hucksters with their signs and flyers they want you to just come on in, hey girly, come on now, two-for-ones and just a dollar will get you through the door for tonight’s special is right on stage. You don’t need a sign post to know you’re on Bourbon Street because the balconies are dancing and someone’s still throwing beads into an entertainer’s upturned hat and the swamp smell is sticking to the edges of the gutters. Then turn the corner and all is quiet.

New Orleans, Bourbon Street

Follow a different kind of crowd tumbling down Frenchman Street. This is where we like to be. Grab a seat at The Three Muses bar to nibble crawfish beignets and sip an Old Fashioned while the band swings. At set break, the brass blare of a trombone calls from outside where a 12-piece band covers Billie Jean and the cars are honking ‘cause people are dancing right in the street. I’m enchanted. Here the notes jitterbug out onto the sidewalk with the flip of a skirt and a backward glance to lure us inside The Spotted Cat Club where a small stage is crammed with talent and soul. Everyone’s feet are tap tap tapping and even the doorman is grinning under his mustache. Hey!

New Orleans, Frenchman Street, Jazz

New Orleans, Spotted Cat, Jazz

Then it’s time to sneak past the ghosts in the high walled cemetery, feeling the music still in our tired feet, to slip through safe gates back to our Minnie to sleep.

New Orleans, Cemetery

New Orleans, Cemetery

Montezuma, Costa Rica, Part II

This is not a blog worthy picture*. It’s blurry and grainy and a bit out of focus. But! Do you see that aqua streak in the water? That wave is glowing.

Let me say that again. The waves. Are glowing. Lit from within by a bloom of noctilucales, a kind of  bioluminescent dinoflagellates, bright as if each wave was threaded with LED lights. (This photo from Wikipedia is a much better example.) Montezuma really pulled out all the stops for us.

Even without the glowing waves, we would’ve been impressed with the food. The most outstanding was Playa de los Artistas, which nearly warrants a trip to Montezuma all on its own. Sitting directly on the beach at a table made from driftwood, we had wahoo tuna sashimi so fresh, so perfectly dressed in a light vinaigrette, so divine I have dreams about it.  Then came seafood lasagna in delicate pasta that somehow managed to be both rich and light and pork tenderloin so tender it didn’t even require a knife to cut. And that was just on our first visit. The menu changes daily to make the most of the day’s catch.

Playa de los Artistas, Montezuma, Costa Rica

At Puggo’s, half an eggplant was baked until it was nearly creamy on the inside, then topped with bubbly parmesan, served with a garlicky tomato salad. Fresh focaccia hot from their brick oven was the perfect accompaniment. We also tried “Cuban Cigars”, savory beef rolled in crispy phyllo dough, paired with lentils and hummus. Soda Naranjo, already mentioned last week, had excellent Tico food, from Casados (literally means things that are “married” on the plate – imagine beans, rice, chicken/fish/pork and salads) to Rice with Seafood and Rice with Chicken.

roasted eggplant, Puggo's, Montezuma, Costa Rica

We stayed at the Mariposario, a bright, modern B&B run by two welcoming brothers from Portland, OR. The breakfasts were the best of our entire trip, with French toast, omelets, or home fries greeting us each morning on the jungle-view veranda. Pineapple, watermelon and papaya, some of which are grown on site, tasted so much juicier than what we get here in the States they almost seemed like entirely different fruits.

The Mariposario’s on-site butterfly garden offers an up-close look at the famed Blue Morpho butterflies along with a dozen other species.  Plus, it’s a quick walk from the B&B to the top of the Montezuma waterfalls.

* There’s one more reason this blurry photo is so special…that beach is where we got engaged! Patrick popped the big question at sunset, and we celebrated with a memorable dinner at Playa de los Artistas. We’ve made a pact that we’ll visit again for our 5th wedding anniversary.

Classic Toffee

I don’t know about you, but the holidays just aren’t the holidays unless until I’m messing around with pounds of butter and sugar. Cooking a batch of this rich toffee makes me feel like one of Santa’s jolly elves.

Classic Toffee

1 C butter

1 C sugar

¼ C water

1 C chocolate chips

½ C chopped pecans

Sea Salt

In a heavy-bottomed saucepan, combine butter, sugar and water. Cook over medium-low heat and stir stir stir until it reaches hard-crack stage (300°). This will take about 15 minutes.

Pour toffee onto an ungreased cookie sheet. Let set for a minute. Sprinkle chocolate chips over the warm toffee. Allow the chips to soften, then use an offset spatula (or the back of a large spoon) to spread the chocolate into an even layer. Sprinkle nuts over the chocolate. Add a dusting of sea salt.

Allow the toffee to cool completely. Break into pieces. Store in a hard-to-open container on a high shelf so you can’t mindlessly eat it all in a single sitting. Or, package and give away immediately. Don’t even bother trying some toffee with your morning coffee; I already tested that and it’s a terrible combination.

toffee recipe

Toffee Recipe

toffee recipe

Toffee recipe

Kaleidoscopes

We woke surrounded by clouds. From the campground at the summit, the sides of Mingus Mountain dropped steeply down to the wide Verde Valley. The evening before, we’d watched gathering storm clouds turn pink over the distant red rocks of Sedona; now the edge of our campsite was a swirl of grey. The wind blew coldly. Rain gave way to the ratatatat of hail, drumming down on the roof, bouncing off the wet ground. It gathered in small white drifts while we watched from the warmth of the Minnie, eating toast with almond butter.

Mingus Mountain Campstite

About halfway down the mountain, the town of Jerome, Arizona clings to the slopes. Formerly a copper mining location, the little city is now an artist community. The old high school houses studios and the streets are lined with unique shops offering handmade jewelry, prints, clothing and more – a refreshing change from all the mass-produced tchotchkes we’ve seen at other tourist destinations.

One shop in particular is dedicated to enchantment and wonder – descriptors most often applied when talking about places for children, but this store is most definitely for adults. Nellie Bly Kaleidoscopes features gorgeous, intricate versions of the classic toy, reimagined in stained glass, brass and smooth polished woods. Though the pieces were intricate works of art, the atmosphere was quite the opposite of a stuffy fine art gallery. We were encouraged to touch everything. We spun small wheels and turned dials, peered into the mirrored scopes, watched as the colored beads and oils and chunks of colored glass formed ever-changing patterns. It was wonderful. As I looked around, I realized everyone in the store was smiling. Have you ever thought about how rare that is? Adults, just smiling, indulging in play and beauty?

Nellie Bly Kaleidoscopes

This whole planter box was a kaleidoscope – both the scope and the basin of the box spin to create beautiful designs. The atmosphere in Nellie Bly kept us smiling long after we had driven away, feeling warm and cozy despite the chill in the air. It’s definitely been one of our favorite stops so far.

Nellie Bly Kaleidoscopes

Nellie Bly Kaleidoscopes

Luxury & Extravagance

It’s been an indulgent week at Propane Kitchen. Not only did we tour Grand Coulee Dam, hike to a lake still dotted with ice, listen to accordion music played by a man wearing animal fur and marvel at Mt. Rainier & Mt. St Helens, we also stayed with Patrick’s friends and work colleagues, enabling us to take real showers multiple days in a row. I can’t stress enough what a treat that is.

Plus, thanks to a snafu with some reservations months ago, we stayed at the posh Hotel Monaco for free last night, and I’m writing this from a giant-sized bed while Patrick is out getting bagels. Continue reading