Denver – the food

If there’s one thing Denver does well, it’s breakfast. And everywhere you go the specialty seems to be Eggs Benedict. Regular Benedict, crab cakes Benedict, and this one that I tried at DJ’s Berkeley Cafe, California Benedict. I pronounced it awesome. Also, high praise for a restaurant that gives you both breakfast potatoes and fruit, instead of forcing you to choose between them.

The morning before we left we also ventured to Snooze, a great (and very busy) restaurant in LoDo. To be honest, I liked the decor better than my breakfast scramble (hello chefs, do not put 1/4 cup of raw onions into anything!), but Mike’s banana pancakes were pretty awesome.

In Boulder I was excited to go back to the Hungry Toad, which was one of my favorite restaurants in my old neighborhood. I always got the Cajun fettucine alfredo, which is something I would never usually order, but it is so good there. And it’s just generally a great neighborhood pub type of restaurant.

Back in Denver and despite the rainy weather, we also ventured to Liks Ice Cream (a mere couple of blocks from our host’s apartment) for some amazing waffle cones.

I think we just scratched the surface of the restaurant scene, though, so I’m pretty sure we’re gonna have to go back and continue eating our way through Denver.

I left my heart in the Rockies

We went to Denver without strict plans other than to run the Bolder Boulder 10k race on Memorial Day, and to see friends and family throughout the trip.

Race day was a little maddening. We took the park-and-ride to save time, and then proceeded to sit in traffic, not even picking anyone else up, for about an hour. By the time we got to the start both Mike and I had missed our waves, we hadn’t eaten in quite a while and I had to pee. Thankfully they had portapotties, and we were able to jump into another wave and start the race. But those waves were mostly consisting of walkers, which made it very difficult to try and weave in and out to keep running.

About halfway through, some kind of dehydration hit me, I guess, and my forearms started cramping up really badly. This had never happened to me before so it kind of freaked me out and I ended up walking a lot of the second half, grabbing Gatorade wherever I could. I very nearly thought maybe I shouldn’t continue, but when I got into Folsom Field and the whole place was just going nuts (people were walking on their hands and leap frogging to the finish), and I ran the rest of the way. Mike told me later that someone handed him a beer instead of water early in the race, and he ended up doing a Slip ‘n Slide in someone’s yard. It’s that kind of run, and you should totally do it if you get a chance. Just drink a LOT of water beforehand.

I wasn’t sure how I would feel about going back to Boulder (a place I never wanted to leave in the first place). I guess I thought things would have changed a lot, but they really hadn’t. Vendors were still peddling dream interpretations and Lara bars at the Creek Festival. Houses are still half a million dollars. Coffee shops still sell fair trade coffee and vegan cookies. Everyone still looks fit. I think I lost three pounds just entering the city limits.

All the street performers were out in full force, including the digeridoo players and this guy juggling swords while balancing on a ball.

A lot of people, including some of my friends, hate Boulder. It seems to inspire either a love or hate reaction because it is such a unique place. I still love it, and I think I always will.

We took a side trip to Ft. Collins to check it out since neither of us had ever been there. We both had kind of the same reaction – it was just kind of meh. Feel free to convince me why I should love it, too.

It was nice to have some friends who’d moved to Denver show us around the great neighborhoods there. Apart from some seriously cranky drivers, I did like the area a lot, especially the cutesy brick houses and blocks of yoga studios and knitting boutiques. (See also, my next post about the food).

On our last day, blessedly sunny and gorgeous, Mike wanted to really get into the mountains. So we decided to drive up Mt. Evans, the only fourteener with a paved road all the way to the top. I’d never even heard of it, and none of our friends mentioned it, but I can tell you now YOU MUST GO THERE. It was so cool, and quite an adventure, even in the car. Some of the roads at the top just skim the edges of huge dropoffs with no guard rails. Every once in a while you see a marmot pop up around a corner.

Part way up you pass Echo Lake, which is just gorgeous. And you can hear the Aspen leaves rustling as you drive by with the windows open.

Near the nature center there’s an area full of 1,800-year-old bristlecone pine trees. They look like something out of a fairytale book with knotty branches that lean into the wind. This was also about where we started to see snow, and by the time we got to the top it was full-on winter.

At the summit there is a building that actually used to be a restaurant before it burned down. Mike climbed a slippery ridge to the very top of the summit, where he got to sign his name.

This one bowl was especially beautiful, and if you looked closely you could see that people had been skiing down it. It looked way too avalanche prone to seem safe to me, but people in Colorado are just a lot more hardcore than you can imagine. One guy even biked to the top of the mountain despite the fact that that meant sharing a tee-tiny road with other cars coming around the switchbacks with almost no visibility. Yikes!

I have to say I was pretty proud of my little Yaris for making it to the top (and then all the way down).

Denver – the weather

One thing I remember from living in Colorado is that the weather is consistently wonderful and hotter than you would expect from the mountains (mainly due to the intensity of the sun). So when we planned our trip, including running a 10k, I was mainly concerned about getting too hot. And then it just rained and rained almost the whole time.

On the way there as we were driving through Nebraska we went through one of those foreboding black-cloud rainstorms the plains tend to get in the summertime.

The rain just poured and poured, and then all the sudden it was over. About 15 minutes later we started seeing storm chaser vehicles going the other direction. Not a good sign! Mike checked the radar on his iPhone and apparently we had driven through a giant bean-shaped red spot, meaning very possible tornado area. Oh my.

The first few days in Denver it would be sunny in the morning, and then storm in the afternoon and evening. And when I say storm, I’m not kidding. At one point the tornado sirens went off in downtown Denver and then it hailed.

A lot of the time it looked like this. But it was still beautiful.

This is my old neighborhood in Boulder. I hardly recognize it with so many clouds!

We decided that Colorado was mad at me for leaving. But just when I was starting to get really mopey about the weather, the clouds lifted and we sort of got nature’s apology. It was like “wait, come back. I was only kidding!” You’ll see from my other pictures how amazing it was, and why we fell in love with it all over again.

Off to Colorado

Finally, we’re taking a trip to Denver/Boulder for a few days to catch up with friends and revisit my (brief) stomping grounds. I hope it’s the same, I hope it’s different. I hope it doesn’t rain as much as the forecast calls for.

We’re also running the Bolder Boulder, a 10k race (at altitude, am I crazy?). I’ve been training, not enough, but hopefully getting in those few long runs make it bearable. I need to sign myself up for this stuff or I will never stay motivated.

I’m just glad we’re taking a trip, a true vacation, to a place I really love. It may even be worth driving 10 hours across Nebraska.

Buddy Holly crash site

A few months ago was the 50th anniversary of the “day the music died.” Mike spent a long time building an online tribute to the musicians that died in a 1959 plane crash after playing at the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Ia.: Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper. On the anniversary he went up to Clear Lake, where they had a (freeeezing cold) tribute at the crash site. Since I wasn’t able to go, I’d been wanting to see the site, and so on our way up to Minnesota we took a side trip there.

There aren’t a lot of markers pointing to the site, which is actually quite far into the middle of a cornfield. But when you get there you see this.

I love it.

People have left an assortment of items at the memorial, especially glasses and identification cards.

Apparently while working on the tribute project our reporters discovered the owner of the plane still lived in the area and was planning on writing a book about the whole thing. He had to wait until the 50 year mark so he could no longer be sued, I guess.

Just being there, it kind of gives you chills.

Looking at wedding venues

So we finally got up to Lake Superior to look at potential wedding venues. It’s not a totally unusual area to have a wedding, but there are very few places that can do the ceremony and reception all in one, holding more than 50-80 guests. We decided to visit two resorts, Lutsen and the Naniboujou Lodge. Thankfully, they both turned out to be viable options, and each was totally unique.

We started out looking at Naniboujou, which is a longer drive, but closer to Mike’s family’s cabin. It was built in the ’20s as an exclusive club, and still has the over-the-top paint job and original stylized furniture.

I have never seen anything like it.

To hold a wedding there, you actually have to rent out the entire lodge, and they can set up their huge dining room for the dinner/dance part. The downside, though, is that you have to wait until the off-season, which is late October. And the rooms were pretty teeny and didn’t have TVs. Some people might relish that, others might be annoyed. Still, we were just blown away by how unique the interior was, and thought it would certainly be a memorable wedding.

When we got outside to the parking lot we saw this. A sign?

Mike was saying it would have to be a pretty impressive venue to top that one. But when we got to Lutsen the next day, he was impressed. And I was really smitten. The beachside location, where a river runs into the lake is just gorgeous.

And as we toured all of the different lodging options (log cabins, townhouses, condos, some with beds for up to 6 or 8 people), we liked it even more. Hearing that we could choose any date, including the late-September fall color period we’d hoped for, was a bonus.

They also offer hiking tours and sea kayaking lessons, and have a frisbee golf course. The downside is probably the cost, which is a little higher, and the fact that you have to vacate the dining room pretty early, and end your dance by 11 at the latest.

I am a go-with-your-gut type of person, and the more I thought about it, the more it seemed that Lutsen was the type of place I had pictured in my head for a wedding. The views are incredible, and the reception room feels like a blank slate I can decorate how I want, which is really important to me.

So now begins the process of seeing if we can make it work. I really hope we can swing it, because I’m anxious to set a date and get this thing rolling!

North woods hike

Last weekend we went up to the cabin in northern Minnesota so we could check out some wedding venues in the area (more on that later). We took our friends Brigid and Aaron so they could see what we’re always talking about, and though we didn’t have much time and the weather cycled through at least three seasons while we were there, we did get one afternoon of exploration in.

Mike knew about a waterfall that’s sort of hidden – no signs, no tourists pulled over to the side of the road. We hiked down a pretty steep hill covered in toppled trees and all kinds of mossy growth and lichens. It reminded me a little of the Portland walking photos from Posie Gets Cozy.

I loved these little sprouted saucer-like growths.

And then suddenly we were face to face with a massive waterfall, absolutely gushing from recent rains and spring meltwater. It was terrifying and gorgeous at the same time.

Sigh. Too pretty for words.

My best-selling item

So far my best-selling item on Etsy is not what I set out to make (candles) or what was in the Country Living article (gingham thumbtacks), but the vintage fabric thumbtacks. It’s so interesting, what sells and what doesn’t, but I’m glad for anything that does well. Actually thumbtacks generally are a good seller for me, even though they are pretty ubiquitous on Etsy. I think it’s a myth that you HAVE to create something original. You just have to do what you do well.

And I have to get back to work because I’m all out of vintage tacks (although I do have a set of magnets in stock).

Have you had any Etsy surprises?

The perfect roasted asparagus

It’s that time of year (and thank God). You can’t resist the little green bundles at the farmers market, even though you ate it last week and probably the week before. Fresh asparagus is everywhere, and I am a huge fan. I think the best way to prepare it is just to throw it in the oven for a little roast. My secret ingredient is a squeeze of lemon juice that gives it just enough tang to make it a little more interesting.

Roasted asparagus

Wash your asparagus and snap off the woody ends (just put a little pressure about 3/4 of the way down the stalk and it will break off naturally). On a baking sheet (I prefer one covered with a Silpat), roll the asparagus in about a tablespoon of olive oil, a sprinkle of salt and pepper, and a squeeze of fresh lemon juice, maybe a tablespoon.

Put the asparagus in a 400-degree oven for about 20 minutes, turning it at the halfway point, or until the stalks are wrinkly and browned but not burnt.