Travel

Tempeh lettuce wraps with a habanero plum sauce

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We are eating colorful meals to celebrate the end of summer produce. These photos highlight some of the best-of-summer from our lives this year. We were lucky to get in a trip to Guatemala where we ate tortillas in cities of colorful plaster walls & wild looking begonia vines. Long, bumpy rides through the jungle in a pickup truck to reach a river oasis. Swimming through dark caves with no lights, holding only a candle, and jumping into pristine blue pools of Neverland. Hiking up active, smoking volcanoes and toasting marshmallows over hot pockets of lava. Ahhh. Guatemala. Enough already, just go. The people are lovely, the country is beautiful, and the food is delicious. 

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Perhaps the most famous folklore legend of Guatemala is the story if El Sombrerón. It is a story based around the idea of a boogeyman... but one that it a bit more magical and in-a-way romantic. Although I enjoy the story itself, the lesson of the tale is one that is drenched in traditionalism. Lessons for daughters that bad things happen to them when they go off with men in the night. Reguardless, El Sombrerón  is an interesting character. Below is a little information about El Sombrerón - gathered from Wiki.

This character's main characteristics are always the same: a short man with black dress a thick and brilliant belt; he wears a black, large hat and boots that make a lot of noise when he walks.

He likes to mount horses and braid their tails and manes. When he cannot find horses, he braids dogs. He also likes to court young ladies who have long hair and big eyes. When he likes one in particular, he follows her, braids her hair, serenades to her with his silver guitar; but he also puts soil in her plate and she is not able to eat or sleep.

El Sombrerón appears at dusk, dragging along a group of mules carrying coal, with whom he travels around the city and its neighborhoods. When a woman corresponds to his love, he ties the mules to the house's pole where she lives, unhooks his guitar and starts singing and dancing. Some residents from the neighborhoods of La Recolección and Parroquia Vieja say he still wanders at nights when there is a full moon.

Sauce

Garlic - 4 cloves, minced

Yellow onion - 1/2 a medium onion, diced

Ginger - 2 TB finely grated or minced, fresh

Habanero chillies (or other desirable chilles), seeds removed and sliced

Plums - I used about a generous pint, about 2 cups once cut in half & pits removed.

Water - 1/3 cup

Tamari (or other soy sauce) - 1TB (generous)

Mirin - 1TB

Honey - 1TB (generous)

Anise seeds - 5 stars

Cloves - 6-8 cloves

Fennel seeds - generous 1 tsp

Cinnamon stick - 1 stick

Olive oil or coconut oil - 2TB

Prep your garlic, ginger, onion, habaneros, and plums. Place oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat and add garlic, onions, and ginger. Let cook, stirring frequently, until everything is fragrant, soft, and translucent. Cook for about 10 minutes and then add habaneros and plums and cook for another minute or two. Add water and then the spices. I put the spices into a tea bag (or tea) ball to steep. Cover & cook until everything is soft, bubbly, and very fragrant. Another 10 minutes. Remove spices & turn off the heat. Add in the liquids of soy sauce, mirin, and honey. Stir until combine & then transfer into a blender. Blend until smooth & then set aside until later.

Wraps

Radicchio (or other lettuce) - 1 head. Honestly, I thought the radicchio was a bit too spicy for this dish and that it would work better with a sweeter cabbage or iceburg.

Tempeh - 1 package, crumbled

Shallots - 2, small, slivered

Garlic - 2 cloves, minced

Carrots - 1 carrots, minced

Sweet peppers - 1 generous cup, sliced

Water chestnuts - 1 small can, diced

Tamari (or other soy sauce) - 1 -2 TB

Peanuts - a few TB, crushed

Cilantro - 1 handful, minced

Green onions - slivered

Coconut oil or olive oil - 1TB, generous

Chop up all the vegetables. Place oil in a large skillet and place over medium-low heat. Add in garlic and shallots, cook for a minute. Add in the tempeh and cook for 5-6 minutes until starting to brown. Add in the water chestnuts, sweet peppers, and water chestnuts. Stir and cook for several more minutes. Add in peanuts & stir. Toss in the tamari and stir. Turn off the heat. Take the head of lettuce or radicchio that you are using and slice it off the base and gently peel it off the head, so that each peeled lettuce head makes a "bowl."

Spoon scoopfuls of tempeh mixture into the lettuce bowls and spoon over the plum sauce. Then topped with chopped cilantro and green onions slices. Wrap it up & eat. :)

Summer pizzas. A basil + pumpkin seed pesto with cherry tomatoes & a baba ganoush inspired pizza with sweet pepers & arugula

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So much has happened in the last few weeks that it is hard to know where to begin. In short, I was living in Denver, CO, spent a week wandering the desert, drove across the country, and now I'm back living on the east coast in Charlottesville, VA where my current surroundings resemble a rainforest. Things have been dramatically nomadic and I've been absent from this space for too long. Perhaps I am still not ready to explain everything, well, at least my emotions of coming back to the east coast, my mind is still deciding how I feel about it. I can however provide you with some delicious pizza recipes I have been sitting on for a few weeks (sitting on the recipe that is... sitting on pizza for that long would be, erm, um, gross). I figure you need to make these before all our beloved summer veggies disappear. The first pizza, the basil pesto one, was inspired by happyolks, she is a love and so are her recipes. I made my own version of it recalling the beautiful photos in her post. The second was concocted from a desire to use some garden eggplants and my love for baba ganoush (a spread related to hummus but with eggplant instead of chickpeas). The eggplant pizza is amazing, my definite favorite of the two, but... why do you have to pick when you can make both?

I do want to share with you the experience of camping in the desert for a week. The harshness and beauties of the desert are so extreme that I barely feel as if it happened. While you are there, the intensity of emotion and feeling is so strong, that when you look around and there is no one else in sight for miles, you kind of have to question if it is reality.

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The first day was spent driving through western Colorado and pretty much, all of Utah. Utah is a drastically changing landscape. It is as if Utah decided to mimic a rubrics cube throwing on various faces of mountain, desert, farmland, and forests as easily as shifting squares of color. We ended our tour de Utah when we reached Zion National Park, but since we arrived so late in the day all the walk-in tent sites were full. In the state of Utah you can camp anywhere on public land for free and we cozied up on some BLM land near Zion. The skies were beautiful and streaked with meteors during the peak of Perseid meteor shower. Out there the skies are so huge, it appears as if the meteors last longer, their tails slowly fading out instead of quick flicks across the sky. The next day we hiked around Zion and up several miles into the canyon carved out by the Virgin River. Wading up the shaded canyon in the cool waters felt like paradise contrasting against the heat of the desert sun soaked into our skin. I couldn't help but think of pottery while rubbing my hand across the sandstone walls, layers of minerals deposited in a most unique glaze. The Virgin River: master sculptor. 

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WIld buffalo grazing, painted skies, and lush aspen forests were in our future at the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. Did you know the north rim is heavily forested? You could be lost in there for days never guessing you were in Arizona. The Grand Canyon is unbelievable... read it the way some people pronounce it with emphasis... un-be-liev-a-ble. It really is. Standing there the canyon does not only smack you with beauty but with questions of history and expanse of time. I couldn't help but envision the landscape as relatively flat with the snake of blue Colorado River flowing through it and then watch it carve and chip away the layers of earth into the vision I was seeing before me. The temperature was a pleasant 77 degrees and dipped down to 40 during the night as we slept huddled under the branches of aspen and pine, watching shadowy figures of deer grazing nearby through the window of the tent. 

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While driving to Glen Canyon we got sent on a very long, unexpected detour through Arizona. We will call it 'taking the scenic route.' When we reached Glen Canyon we grabbed a forest road map and picked a road the headed towards the water. The road was an unpaved dirt road that criss-crossed over several dry washes and through mini-canyons and opened up to a sandy bank. As the only ones out there; we spilled out of the car and headed straight for the water where we spent the rest of the afternoon. The sky faded into brilliant color over the lake, reflecting a perfect image of the horizon's beauty right back up to the sky as if she were admiring herself in the mirror. We decided to camp out there since we found campfire rings left behind from previous folk. We wished for no rain for the road getting back would be flooded and we'd be stuck until it dried out, and fortunately, luck was on our side. All night long I heard the excited yipping, yapping, and howling of coyotes hunting for rabbits and birds. They get especially loud after making a kill. I've camped and lived around coyotes, hearing them in the night is not a new thing for me, but I've never heard them that closely before or ever that many. I never get tired of listening to them, they are beautiful. 

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I had visions of popping a car tire on the treacherous roads we drove out on the next day, I worried we would be stuck in the desert waiting for someone to come along and rescue us. We would have to drink the melted ice water in our cooler to stay alive and when that ran out I'd be searching for yucca root and we would be half-dead when someone found us. Dramatic? Yes, but that is what my mind does. It took us 4.5 hours to go 40 miles on this dirt road until we finally reached the highway. In the beginning we drove up sandstone mountains to the top of the plateau, the view was phenomenal and terrifying. We realized it was too late to turn around and we were on this road for the long haul, avoiding loose boulders and sharp rocks. The arid landscape stretched on forever and I became very familiar with the twisted and gnarled trunks of juniper and the skeletons of creeks that resurrect during rain. We spent the day and night at Capitol Reef National Park. This place is so appropriately named, I felt like I was walking through a coral reef of red sandstone flecked with lush green plant life exploding from the river, just like tropical fish pop with colors against the unending blue of the sea. Early mormon settlers came to this place and planted acres of orchards, irrigating them with runnels from the river. It seemed surreal, a weird sort of oasis wandering under the dappled shade of apple, pear, apricot, cherry, and peach trees with the views of dry sandstone desert moving into view at the end of the rows. There is so much life and hidden history of the desert.  Despite how harsh the desert is, it can be so life-bringing, so colorful. The bands and palette of reds, browns, and orange that streak through rock faces in layers. The brilliant papery blooms of flowers, the deep greens of foliage and cactus. The grays and whites of dried juniper trunks. Huge flows of green that kiss alongside the rivers, cutting the red landscape into two pieces. Pristine teals of river water paved in every imaginable color with stones sanded into smooth rounds. The skies at all times of the day; the morning with their soft glows of color, mid-day it is an idealistic sky with blues so bright and clouds billowing as if it was ripped from a storybook page, and the sunsets are vibrant bands of color growing more intense until the sun blinks out and the milky-way emerges with not a single artificial light to compete with it.

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I'm continually amazed at the early Pueblo people and other Native American tribes in the four corners, how brilliant and intuitive these people were/are. At the end of our trip we got to spend time at Mesa Verde, I long to be able to live like that. I'm devastated that those civilizations ended and mystified as to why. I'm even more devastated at the ending of later Native American civilizations, and ashamed as to why that happened as someone who comes from both European and Native American descent (like many of us do). The four corners region, culture and landscape is perhaps, one of the oldest regions in the country, the most amazing, and it still feels like a secret.

 

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Recipe (Makes two pizzas)

Pumpkin seed oil. Ok ya'll, you really should get some of this stuff. Not only does it have amazing benefits, especially good for vegetarians as an omega source, but it tastes awesome. It has a deeper, almost smokier flavor, obviously very reminiscent of pumpkin seeds. I get mine from here Mountain Rose Herbs and theirs is cold pressed, organic, and unrefined. In this pesto recipe you can of course substitute the pumpkin seed oil for olive oil, but if you get around too it, try the pumpkin seed!

Quick Dough (For 2 crusts)

All purpose flour - 4 cups
Ground flaxseed - small handful of ground flaxseed (optional)
Flaxseed - A tablespoon or two of whole seeds for look/texture (optional) 
Salt - 1tsp
Active dry yeast - 3TB
Warm water - generous 1 1/2 Cups between 110 degrees and 115 degrees
Sugar - 1TB
Olive oil - 4TB
 
Place warm water, sugar, and yeast in a bowl and whisk until dissolved. Set it aside for 5-10 minutes until it begins to foam. Meanwhile mix together the flour, flaxseed, and salt. Then add the olive oil into the water/yeast mixture. Make a well in the flour and pour in the water/yeast/oil mixture. Slowly stir together until moist and knead until slightly tacky but not sticky. Adjusting with a little flour or water as needed. Knead with your hands on a floured surface for about 5-10 minutes. Place the ball of dough back into an oiled bowl, cover with a cloth and let sit in a warm place for about 2 hours or until doubled. Meanwhile prepare the pizza toppings. After two hours, turn the dough out, divide it in two. Also, a recommendation is to make the eggplant pizza first, since the eggplant needs to cook first.
 
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Baba Ganoush, sweet pepper, and arugula salad pizza.

Eggplant - 1 small/medium eggplant. 

Lemon juice - 2 lemons

Tahini - 3TB

Olive oil - about 1/4 cup plus extra for drizzling

Salt/pepper - to taste

Sweet peppers - 6-8 sweet peppers chopped into slivers

Fresh cilantro - small handfull

Fresh arugula - 3-4 handfuls

Feta - 4TB (optional) 

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Place the whole eggplant in the oven on a baking sheet on the top rack and place another baking sheet filled with hot water on the bottom rack. Bake the eggplant for 30-40 minuets. Meanwhile chop up your sweet peppers into slivers. Remove the eggplant and let it cool until you can handle it. After you take the eggplant out, reset the oven temperature to 500 degrees. Once you can handle the eggplant, peel the skin off and discard the skin except for a few, small pieces. Add in the eggplant and few skin pieces into a food processor or blender along with juice of 1.5 lemons, tahini, and salt. Drizzle in olive oil while blending and stop when it has reached a consistency similar to hummus. 

Roll out your pizza dough on a flourd surface and transfer to a baking sheet. Spread over the eggplant spread (baba ganoush), top with the slivers of sweet peppers, then sprinkle over feta (omit for vegan), and then sprinkle over cilantro. Rub the crust edges with olive oil and then bake in the oven for 10-15 minutes or until golden. Meanwhile massage the fresh arugula in a bowl with the rest of the lemon juice, a drizzle of olive oil, and a sprinkle of salt/pepper. Once the pizza comes out of the oven top it with the fresh arugula. All ready to be eaten!

 
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Summer pesto and tomato pizza

Fresh basil - I packed a 5ounce salad green container with basil from my garden and used that much. So about 5oz weighed.

Arugula - I had a few, large, spicy arugula leaves in my garden so I threw those in. About 1 small handful. (optional)

Garlic - 4 cloves, chopped

Pine nuts - 1/3 cup

Pumpkin seed oil - 1/4 cup plus a little extra for drizzling

Salt/pepper to taste - go light on the salt since you are adding cheese to the pizza, which is salty

Cherry tomatoes - 2cups, generous, sliced in half. Feel free to use more or less.. I just purchased so many. 

Fresh mozzarella - 8ounces or to preference.  

Fresh pepper - cracked over top.

Preheat your oven to 500. Throw the basil, arugula, garlic, pine nuts, and pumpkin seed oil in a food processor or blender. Blend until smooth. Drizzling in a little extra oil as needed. Taste and adjust for salt/pepper. Set the pesto aside and slice your tomatoes. Roll out your pizza dough on a floured surface, I rolled mine out to fit a baking sheet since I did not have my pizza stones in Denver. Transfer your dough to the baking sheet. Spread over the pesto, I was generous with the amount but I had pesto left over. Spread the cherry tomatoes halves evenly and then tops with tears of mozzarella. Rub the crust edges with a little olive oil (optional). Bake in the oven 10-15 minutes until the pizza is golden brown. Crack over some black pepper and enjoy! 

 

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Tofu-q with a habanero, apricot bbq sauce + avocado & cabbage slaw.

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I'm sitting here in a coffee shop near my house enjoying a big cookie and a cappuccino, with two dogs at my feet, and acting like I've been a Denver resident my whole life. Ok... maybe thats how I feel but, in reality, I probably don't look that way.  Especially when I get on the light rail and ride 10 minutes before I realize I should have been on the bus, abandon mission, and trek half-way through the city by foot. This coffee shop has some parallels to the shop I worked in during college, so I really like it. It serves up giant cookies like the onces we baked, has comically large milk pitchers, offers you drinks in pint glasses meant for beer, has a large loose leaf tea selection, friendly baristas, bakes in-house, is next door to a bar, has a well-loved and welcomed slightly-crazy, semi-homeless person who leaves his bag behind the counter, is not over-decorated, really needs new tables/chairs, and serves up decent coffee with good foam but without the fancy, high-coffee style that comes with perfect pours. Give me a single shot cappuccino in a small cup spilling over with foam and I'm happy. 

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Anyways, I'm getting use to this place. Denver that is, not just the coffee shop. Although I do miss the trees and my dogs miss the grass. Don't get me wrong. There are lots of trees planted in Denver and it is a beautiful, green, cheery place but I'm use to being able to drive 5 or 10 minutes down the road and let myself and my dogs free and go trail running through a deciduous forest. I miss that... those plants and trees are friends I have left behind. Even though my dogs miss grass (it is too dry of a place to grow grass in dog parks and waste precious water resources by watering a lawn solely meant for dogs to pee on... which is a responsible thing for the city to do) they have so much to do, see, smell here. Everyone loves dogs and almost everyone has dogs. Seriously, our first morning here was an insane welcome with the manager of the restaurant we brunched at buying us "welcome to Denver, we love dogs cocktails" and providing us a list of dog-friendly Denver activities. 

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Last weekend we took advantage of the holiday weekend since Ty had Monday off work and we headed out towards The Great Sand Dunes National Park for some camping.  On Saturday we camped at a place called The Orient Land Trust where they have natural hot springs. This true, off-grid community can be found several miles off the highway on a dirt road. You know those types of roads that make you feel like you are in a secret, secluded place as the dirt kicks up around your car in a cloud that streams down the road as the largest feature in a broad, flat landscape. It is a special place. We were hoping to get a walk-in camping spot even though no one answered our morning call. Being Memorial Day weekend we arrived to find all the camping spaces filled up, they have a strict daily entry limit, and I was still hoping we could sweet-talk in a place for our tent. Fortunately they let us pitch our tent at some of the trail heads but we were not allowed to go to the hot springs. It was a little disappointing but more than understandable, we did take some beautiful hikes and watched the low-horizon sun play rumpelstiltskin on all the desert plants by turning them to gold before our eyes.  The rockies were dark silhouettes with a sunset cloak patterned in never-ending colors. Gawking over the sunset our dogs pricked up their ears and turned in the direction of the howling coyotes nearby and watched eagerly at the deer and elk grazing. We had the whole place to ourselves and in that moment we were the only ones. 

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The next day we woke up early and got to the sand dunes around 8 in the morning, before the welcome center even opened. I've been to a similar desert before and I know how hot the sand can turn under the fierce afternoon sun. There was only a handful of people at the dunes so early, lucky for us. (If you plan on going I recommend going early. When we left there was a streaming tail of cars filled with impatient faces waiting to get in.) We trekked the dunes from 8-12 and banjo sniffed the sand, pawed at it playfully and ran around in circles like she does in the snow. We kept climbing up big peaks, pausing to take in the view and then sprinted in a path straight down the dunes as fast as we could, with both hands failing in the air. Eventually we had to turn back even though each new dune peak was taunting us; begging to be climbed. The sand heated up and we had left our shoes behind at the car, while puppy paws had received an exfoliation treatment better than any spa could do. I love the duney desert, the grit in the air, salt in your mouth, and the wind in your hair. Leaving the dunes you resolve to an awe over how diverse and beautiful this country is. I've now seen this country from tippy-top north to low-country south and from east to almost west; it is truly magnificent. The weekend was for the spirit of remembrance, and gratefulness. Despite the bad, we have a whole country filled with beautiful things to be grateful for.

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On memorial day we felt a responsibility to use our roommates grill. After-all, it was Memorial Day, we are American, and neither of us had lived with a real grill before. Still sandy and with skin warm-to-the-touch, these spicy, tofu-q's with a cooling slaw hit the spot. You really want to factor in at least a few hours of marinating time, you can even leave it in the refrigerator overnight. 

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Tofu & sauce recipe (Makes 2 big ones) 

Buns - 2 buns

Extra firm tofu package - Pressed for 30 minuets and then sliced thinly.

Habaneros - 3, chopped (I didn't take the seeds out but you can)

Apricot - 1, peeled/sliced (I think you could use 2 without it being too fruity tasting)

Onion - scant 1/2 a sweet, yellow onion, chopped. 

Tomatoes - 2, chopped

Tomato paste - 6oz can

Garlic - 3-4 cloves, chopped

Honey - 2-3 TB

Apple cider vinegar - 1Tb

Liquid smoke - 1tsp optional (vegetarian version)

Chile powder - 2tsp or 1TB - depending on your desire for spiciness. 

Cinnamon - scant 2tsp

Paprika - 2tsp

Salt- to taste (about 1-2tsp for me) 

Slaw recipe - also makes a good side

Purple cabbage - about 1/6 a small head of cabbage, slivered

Onion - 1/4 an onion, slivered

Avocado - 1, sliced

Limes - 2, juiced

Salt - to taste

 

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Press the tofu for about 30 minutes. Once pressed, sliced into thin "patties" the size of the tofu block. While the tofu is pressing make the sauce. Chop up all your vegetables. Place the olive oil in a small saucepan on medium heat. Add your garlic and onions and let it cook for a few minutes, until slightly soft. Add in your habaneros and apricots and let cook for a few more minutes until soft. Add in the tomatoes and tomato paste. Stir until well combined and let cook for 3-5 minutes until soft, slightly bubbling, and evenly dispersed. Then add in all the rest of the ingredients and let cook for a few more minutes, until just fragrant. Add the mixture into a blender and blend until smooth. Adding in some water if needed to bring the sauce to the desired consistency. Taste and adjusted spices. Layer the tofu in between a generous amount of bbq sauce, making sure all the tofu is covered. Let it marinate on the counter for several hours (2-3 at least) or overnight in the fridge. The extra bbq can be stored for later use (think veggie kabobs or pizza sauce).

Heat up the grill (or grill pan) and cook the tofu straight on the grill (rubbed down with a little oil since tofu can stick) or cook on top of bamboo skewers on the grill (soaking the skewers in water for a hour first). Cook the tofu for about 5 minutes on each side. Brush over some more bbq sauce after flipping. We even threw our burger buns on the grill for 1 minute to crisp them up.

For the slaw, toss together the onion and cabbage. Add in the avocado and stir, slightly mashing up the avocado among the slivers of onion and cabbage. Squeeze over the lime and season with salt.  

To assemble the burger spread a little of the paprika aioli below (admit for vegan), top with strips of tofu and then pile on a good bit of slaw on top. No shame in adding some more bbq sauce too... bbq is suppose to be messy. Serve with grilled asparagus. 

 

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Grilled asparagus recipe + paprika aioli

Asparagus - 1lb with 1 inch of the ends trimmed off

Olive oil - 2Tb

Salt/pepper- to taste

Egg yolk - 1 large egg yolk

Lemon - Juice of 1 lemon

Olive oil - several TB

Paprika - scant 1 tsp

Salt/pepper - to taste

Pumpkin seeds - a handful, coarsely chopped (optional) .

To make the aioli add in the egg yolk, lemon juice, and salt into a small bowl. Beat with a whisk. Slowly drizzle in the oil in a very small, steady stream while whipping with a whisk. The aioli with start to thicken up and lighten as you whisk. I let my aioli get to about a medium consistency since I didn't need much and didn't want to use too much oil. Add in the paprika and more salt and pepper if necessary. Whip until combined.

Toss the asparagus in a bowl with the olive oil and season generously with salt and pepper. Lay on a pre-heated grill and cook several minutes, rotating the spears with tongs. You want the asparagus to get soft, a little brown in spots, but still retain a slight crunch. Lay the asparagus on a tray, top with some aioli and the sprinkle with pumpkin seeds.

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Venture

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I tend to pay too much attention to what is immediately before me. The weekend plans, a ticket I have to a show that night, a deadline, breakfast... I can be a poor long-term planner. I am impulsive even with more lofty goals of "what do I want to do with my life" thinking that I have to rush into the next exciting thing with vigor. I've moved headstrong into a number of pursuits in the past year, the short list being a landscape architect, small business owner, a travel writer, food blogger, restaurant owner, herbalist, a graphic designer, set designer, and going to grad school. While I was in college and a deadline for a project was heating up under me I was focused only on that, giving up everything just to keep ahead of the flames licking at my heels. Even though I feel like I have stopped to smell the roses so many times in my life and really, I have experienced a lot, I can't help but feel sad about all those little things that I have missed out on. Whether it was a little joke between my friends, that Andrew Bird show in Atlanta I gave up a ticket to, the drunken karaoke night, the mountain house trip where everyone got snowed in, or a cozy movie night, I feel like these moments have been stolen from me.

Moving out to Denver has been exciting and many of my thoughts the past month have swarmed around Denver and the drive cross-country. The day we planned to leave my inflating travel thought bubble got popped with the very real popping of my car radiator. The following day revealed my head gaskets had been leaking oil internally into my engine and silently ruining my car. Even though I moved from Athens almost a year ago, nostalgia has slowly crept through my body in the same way. It has kind of popped my outlook on what I want to do with my life. I feel so fortunate for having lived in Athens and discovering my tribe of friends and interests. The things I've learned and experienced the past 6 years has given me such a love for life that I only want to do the things that I really love. It has made pursuing a career very difficult for me, sometimes I wonder why it is so hard on me; I just cannot seem to accept certain realities. Like picking one thing means closing the door on everything else and I hate that feeling of limiting my freedoms. Almost as if there is a wire unplugged somewhere in my brain disconnecting that flashing, bright light saying "here I am, here is the answer!" Of course life is a path and one thing isn't forever but it becomes a part of you, a part of where you have been and where you are going. Sometimes I forget.

I've moved into this next stage of road-running across the country with a little sadness for being so separated from the many people whom I love on the east coast, and whom I want to always be a large part of my life. Also with the knowledge that I never want to miss those sweet little moments because of something else that is directly in front of me. You just have to live in what you love. Loving too many things isn't a bad problem to have. 

The drive out was beauty. Blissful beauty filled with curious sites and lots of car snacks. After a several day delay spent solving our car troubles, we relaxed a few day in NC visiting family. Then we began our long venture to the west with the first day ending in Nashville, TN. Along the way, we stopped at a curious place called the minister's treehouse - also the largest treehouse in the world. After a few hours drive and a hop over a fence we got to explore this fantasy land. A beautiful structure of mis-matched pieces of disregarded wood assembled into an astonishing treehouse castle that seemed manifested straight from a child's storybook. I was afraid that if I blinked it would disappear. We spent the night in Nashville in a lovely couple's spare bedroom through airbnb. I was extremely happy when they told us Nashville was home to a Jeni's ice cream shop. If you have ever had Jeni's ice cream then, without a doubt, you know why I was ecstatic  If you haven't tasted it and you seen a pint of it in the grocery, please do yourself a favor, suck it up, and buy the (super-expensive) 9 dollar pint of ice cream just once. It definitely is worth it once. It is probably even worth it more than once. It is the best ice cream you will ever have.

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The next day we drove up through Kentucky and Illinois stopping at a unique place tucked away between the forests and wildflowers of Illinois called giant city state park. Some of the most exceptional rock formations that appear to have "streets" cut through huge expanses of rock in such a way that it takes on the illusion of building faces. It feels very much like an alley in a city, well, a city for giants. Our dogs enjoyed sniffing around the crevices and stretching out their paws, tails up, after a spell in the car. We stayed the night in Kansas City, MO that night in a graduate student's beautiful loft in the river district. I didn't know what to expect from Kansas city and it surprised us how much we enjoyed it. The Missouri side of Kansas City is filled with delicious and cozy places and has a gorgeous trail complete with an overlook on the river. A great place to peer across water reflecting back, in little ripples, the cities lights at night.

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The last day was reserved for the long drive through Kansas. I was very excited about our treck through Kansas, I thought it would be interesting to witness a place rather flat and tree-less since I've never been somewhere in the like before. The first half of Kansas was unexpected. It was not very flat at all but soft, gently rolling hills coated in spring green and dotted with clusters of trees. Beautiful and peaceful. By half way through Kansas the landscape has turned into a flat expanse of earth. Imagine peering across an ocean of farmland, the horizon vanishing into a crisp line beneath the sun. We stopped at rock city state park smack dab in the middle of Kansas. We had the state park all to ourselves as a personal wonderland for the afternoon and it looked like ancient giants had played a game of marbles from giant balls of rock and then abandoned them mid-game. We picnicked admits the forgotten game and climbed along the rocks until we had to move on. As we approached the Colorado border some storm clouds had begun to develop and hang like weightless blue anvils over the green ocean. A surreal Dalí painting. Deep, stormy blue, cooper afternoon sun, and misted green; a sight for weary eyes.

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The rockies first emerged like a mirage over the desert having me doubt if it was real until they triumphantly came into view and puffed out their chests proudly at the travelers. They have a very different personality to the east coast Appalachians who welcome you with a sleepy yawn and stretch on peacefully, bumping along a heavy-lidded dream.

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