Something Old, Something New

This weekend I traveled to Tucson, Arizona to attend my cousin’s wedding (mom’s side) and visit my grandparents (dad’s side).

Prior to this weekend, I hadn’t been to a wedding since I was in 4th grade!  Only a handful of my high school classmates are married, and none of my close friends are.  (At that wedding in 4th grade, I was SO amazed by the bride wearing Minnie Mouse-themed Converse sneakers, it was like — wow, she is SO cool!  Hahah.  Offbeat bride before it was cool…. ;D )

I also haven’t seen my cousin and his younger brother more than a few times in the past 10-15 years, so it was nice to catch up.  There were only about 130 guests, and it wasn’t too crowded.  Tucson has some really nice desert landscapes, and it was so neat the whole thing was on the outskirts of town with lots of natural desert beauty to spruce the place up.

The wedding was fairly typical, but I appreciated the short ceremony (15 minutes!) and their dog being the master of ceremonies. ;)  Luckily there weren’t any awkwardly long and inebriated toasts, just a few short heartfelt speeches by immediate family and some of their college friends.

But best of all?!  GELATO BAR.  I’m really enjoying the trend of people personalizing their ceremonies and receptions, and I love gelato, so I was totally excited to see they had hired a local company to bring a small gelato cart to the reception!

Chocolate hazelnut gelato and salted caramel gelato and flower centerpiece.

A cup of chocolate and hazelnut cookie gelato and salted caramel gelato with one of the nice centerpieces at the wedding. Good times!

YASSSS.  I had chocolate hazelnut (it wasn’t just flavored — it had crumbled chocolate hazelnut cookie mashed in with the chocolate gelato!) and salted caramel.  The other flavors available included strawberry & champagne, raspberry, mint chocolate chip, pistachio, and one other.

Best of all — they were super friendly and aware.  My dad asked them to leave off the cookie straw in his cup, and they quickly said “Oh, gluten allergy?”  He explained he’s sensitive, and they immediately said “oh, I would recommend choosing another flavor, since this one is made with hazelnut cookies inside”.  Super on the ball but casual — sometimes you find out too late there’s something you can’t have, and you suffer.  We appreciated their attention to the customers!

So if you’re ever in Tucson or Phoenix, be sure to visit Frost Gelato.  …or apparently in the Middle East (?!?!) or Chicago.

The next day at my grandmother’s house, she told me she had some photo albums I’d never seen — a big one of my dad’s family trip when he was a kid, they picked up and spent 3 weeks on the east coast in Pennsylvania, doing Civil War battlefields and seeing family friends.  It also had some excellent 60s fashion and silly cowboy outfits on my dad and uncle!

Dog and great grandmother at the wall by the house.

My dad’s dog Duchess and my great grandmother, both looking over the wall at my grandmother’s house in Tucson — about mid-1960s.

I also got some quality time with a few albums from times I visited when I was 2-7 years old — awesome old 80s and 90s pics!  Hahah.  Love it.

Me in 80s-tastic clothes.

Me in my bomber jacket-style sweatshirt and super cool plastic visor. Not sure where we were, but it was 1989 and I was probably 3 and a half.

The archivist in me is screaming in horror that the albums are made of such acidic paper and I have a burning need to rescue the oldest photographs of the one album — they’re fading like crazy and the paper sure isn’t helping.  Unfortunately I didn’t have time to scan the pictures properly, so I was stuck taking pictures of pictures.   Also, the plastic sheets covering each page are horrible, and make it really hard to take clear pictures of what’s underneath.  Agggh.  Definitely going to make a concerted effort on my next trip to rescue the albums, or scan what’s in them at the very least.

Family photos are my favorite things. :D  Anyone have memories of some great old pictures?

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Fleischpflanzerl — Little Meat Plants

Yes, literally.  (Fleisch = meat/flesh, pflanze = plant/vegetable, -rl = a diminutive form like -ita in Spanish.)  Probably the only plants I can work with successfully…

When I visited my friend P in Germany last May, she graciously cooked for me two nights, and this was one of the dishes!  We ate out other meals, heated up precooked pasta, or ate leftovers other nights.  Let me tell you, these are great hot or cold!

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P’s kitchen. Bacon on the stove, fleischpflanzerl and garlic bread in the oven.

There are lots of variations, it seems — but essentially, they’re meatballs.  This recipe uses a lot of ingredients, including spices and things that I didn’t use, but they sure look good!  I’m not sure about the soaking in milk though.

The recipe we used was from a generic recipe book P had, which she shared with me.  Unfortunately, it’s sort of vague.  I’m pretty good at following recipes, but not so great with being spontaneous!

Here’s the original recipe:

– 1 roll from the day before (aka breadcrumbs)
– 500 grams ground meat (she used a mix of beef and pork)
– 1 egg
– 1 onion
– 2 pears
– bacon  (one for each patty)
– raclette cheese (one chunk/slice for each patty)

Chop onion and tear up the bread.  Mix the bread, meat, egg, and onion.  Form into patties/meatballs, and fry on the stove until cooked through. Spray pan or baking sheet and heat oven to 180*-200*.  Chop pears and raclette cheese.  Put a slice of pear and a piece of cheese on each patty/meatball.  Put the assembled patties on a baking sheet/pan, and pop in the oven.  Start frying your bacon.  Pull them out when the cheese is melted.  Pop bacon on top of each one, and serve.

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Delicious delicious meat plants, courtesy of P’s kitchen.  I love her green placemats. :D

…well, this is a little vague for me.   How much bread is one roll, exactly?

So this is what I did!

I didn’t have a box of breadcrumbs, so I decided to make my own.  I had “french toast bread” on hand — it’s uber-whitey bread that’s slightly eggy in color, and is about an inch thick.  I thought it would be better to have too much rather than too little, so I cut up 2 slices into cubes and let them dry out overnight.  (P used boxed breadcrumbs, they were easier to gauge how much you were adding.)

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Ingredients for the recipe. (The egg is hiding.)

…the pears at our grocery stores, even the nice local one with nearly-always-amazing produce, were hard as rocks.  :(  So I bought canned pears in pear juice (not syrup).  At least I didn’t have to skin them…

The store also didn’t have raclette cheese.  (It’s used in nice cozy Swiss chalets, they stick it by the fire and warm it up, then you scrape off gobs and eat it with bread and stuff.)  I’m sure Whole (Paycheck) Foods has it, but… even a chunk an inch thick and the size of the palm of my hand of Edam or Emmentaler was a good $12.  For something with canned pears, I’m not spending $12 on cheese.  I don’t even LIKE Swiss cheese that much!

We already had Oscar Meyer’s finest bacon… and an egg…

Then onion.  I don’t know what size onions are in Germany off the top of my head, but if I had used a whole onion like what we get here, they would have been called Little Onion Patties (with some meat in there somewhere).  I used three generous slices, about a third of the onion.

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About a third of a decent-sized onion. Also, some Hobbit-y moral support! Breakfast, second breakfast, lunch, dinner…elevenses…

For the meat — I used just a hair over a pound of meat.  500 grams is 1.1 pounds.  Obviously, this recipe is not built on an exact science, so really you could use as much or as little as you want. :P  I used ground round, and it’s the one good ingredient in there — from our local non-chain market’s own meat counter.  Mmm.

It never occurred to me to make the bread chunks into crumbs — stupid me… so you’ll see my patties look like they have Kix or croutons in them.  My mom suggested rolling the chunks with a rolling pin to make crumbs.

I ended up using 1 cup of chunks/crumbs — that was half of what I’d cut up, so about one giant slice of bread.  I’d use less than a cup of crumbs if I was using just crumbs, since they would be packed so much tighter than my crouton-chunks!

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Breadcrumbs, go.

After beating the bread/meat/egg/onion mix to death with a fork, I scooped out blobs to make patties in my frypan.  When P made them, I think we had about 11 or 12 tiny patties.  Enough for about 3 bites each.  I’m too lazy to take care of that many, and I wanted to have something more the size that I could just eat one.

I made 7 patties.  I cooked them about 5 minutes on each side, to make sure they weren’t pink in the middle, and so they got a nice little crust on the outsides.

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The bread bits look so weird. @_@ Luckily everything smells amazing once you start cooking.

Unfortunately I didn’t flatten them quite as much as I would have liked — oops!  I forget they shrink up.  They smelled amazing though!

After cooking the patties completely, I transferred them to a glass pan and started assembling.  My canned pears were pear halves, and my mom kindly sliced them nicely for me.  I’m lazy — I probably just would have cut them in half and called it a day.  Also, the swiss cheese slices made life much easier, just half a slice or so, and done.

Meat, pear, cheese, go!

I preheated the oven to 350*, and popped them in for 2 minutes or so for the cheese to melt.  While I was melting the cheese, I microwaved the bacon.  Yes, I’m a bad lazy person.  Whatever.

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Patties, assemble! This is after adding all the pears, and halfway through the cheese process.

Once the cheese was done, I took them out of the oven, popped them on plates, and dropped the bacon on top.

They were surprisingly good, considering I used canned pears and Swiss cheese isn’t my favorite!  Hahaha.  The meat came out perfectly, but I would like a way to make them taste more flavorful — maybe spices?  I don’t know.  Maybe just cook the onions first, or something.  I love onion flavor.

They tasted even better the second night — I reheated one in the microwave, and ate it as a sandwich between two pieces of toast.  Yummmm!

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The finished product! Sorry for the darkness, but it was getting late, and I was hungry. >.>

So!  -My- …recipe, we’ll call it…

– 3/4 to 1 cup of bread crumbs/croutons/assorted bread bits — add to your desired consistency
– 1/3 of an onion-ish — add to your preference for onion
– 1 egg (yay, something straightforward!)
– about a pound of ground meat
– 1 can of pears, or two pears, sliced — you could also do apples, I bet that would taste amazing
– 1 slice of cheese per meatball/patty
– 1 piece of bacon per meatball/patty

Mix patty ingredients.  Make patties according to your desired size, anywhere from 5 or so to 12.  Fry patties about 5 minutes per side (less time for smaller patties, of course).  Preheat oven to 350*.  Assemble meat + pear + cheese, toss them in the oven until cheese melts.  Fry bacon.  Take m+p+c out of the oven, add bacon, serve!

I call them ‘MERICAN STYLE.  They’re larger than the German ones, canned fruit, Oscar Meyer bacon, and lunchmeat-style sliced cheese.  Classy.  ;D

A Journey to Distant Lands

Dramatic, eh?  No, really.  I did go to Distant Lands!

I’ve lived in the same house since I was 2 and a half, within about 15 minutes from Pasadena’s “Old Town” district.  The area has had its ups and downs over the decades — it was pretty run down and grody when I was a kid, but it’s getting a lot more nice stores recently.

The light rail was extended to the area about 10 years ago, so now there are more apartment buildings and whatnot in the area to attract people to be in the area rather than just passing through and leaving after regular business hours.

I’ve always passed by this travel book store, Distant Lands, for years, but never stopped in.  Busy busy busy.  Apparently the store has been in Old Town since 1989!

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Aurora borealis (Arctic tour, but maybe on the eastern side of Canada? I forget) — from Quark Expeditions site. (quarkexpeditions.com)

I had to hang around the area, I was doing a favor driving someone home after an appointment.  So I decided “coffee it is!” and parked in the nearest city structure.  I decided to stop in to Distant Lands first, since it was just across the street — so glad I did!

The store isn’t enormous, but it uses all its available space efficiently.  It is two tiny stores connected — one side is the books and travel agent desk, and the other side is luggage, packing knickknacks, clothing, and other travel gadgets. They have a travel agent who can help suggest places, can book Europe rail passes right there, and lots of other stuff.  I love that such a niche store can exist!

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Kayaking on Antarctica tour — from Quark Expeditions site. (quarkexpeditions.com)

Right when I walked in, I didn’t have an agenda, but the lady that greeted me seemed to like to chat, and I love chattering when I can (can you tell?).  Although I can’t really travel right now — more’s the pity, so much free time…  :(  I said I was interested in Germany and Belgium, and that my friend was interested in Antarctica.  (Same friend who went to the coroner’s shop with me.)

What luck!  This lady said she had just taken a trip to Antarctica in November with Quark Expeditions, and she was going to be hosting a talk with slideshow about her trip.  Whee!  She told me all about it, and I learned so much — I can’t wait to go to the talk and report back to you guys!

For example, did you know all the boat companies get together and organize their travel routes so that they never see each other during any boat’s entire trip?  How awesome is that?

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Artic tour — from Quark Expeditions site. (quarkexpeditions.com)

I’m going to ask her permission to post some of her pictures, but for now — go check them out!!!  She’s got pictures from Antarctica, the islands nearby, Russia, Uzbekistan, Tibet, France, Yemen… so cool.

…for a cool $5,500 to $20,000, an Antarctic or Arctic trip could be yours!  Oh well.  We can dream, right?  She said she got hers 50% off by booking last minute (a month before the trip).

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Antarctica tour — from Quark Expeditions site. (quarkexpeditions.com)

What’ll it be, polar bears or penguins?