Thursday, September 22, 2011

Vacation #8: Walking in NYC---Central Park

Sorry about the delay in posting.  Our internet was out for several days and I have been watching Luke and Aaron while Laura begins a new job, and I'm obsessively knitting a sweater for Luke in any spare minutes.
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In the months leading up to our big trip we had thought quite a bit about what we wanted to squeeze into the three days in New York.  Now we were looking at weather to see how to organize our time.  Wednesday looked like a beautiful day, while there was rain in the forecast for Thursday.  We decided to try to get in most of the outdoor, walking activities on Wednesday.

Our breakfast was mostly some foods we had brought with us, along with orange juice from the corner market.  We did not get an early start.  This is vacation, after all, and we had stayed up late watching movies.

We needed to plot out our subway routes.
Our map and 7-day passes went with us everywhere.

First on the list was Central Park.  But before that was a trip to a nearby shoe store.  Becca was in the market for some Tom's shoes, had done her homework and found a store within a few blocks of our hotel that sold them.

Central Park is 2.5 miles by .5 miles, so even though we walked around in Central Park for 4-5 hours, we did not see everything.  It was great, though.

One thing we did not understand about Central park is that it is surrounded by a big stone fence and has limited entrances.  We came out of the subway, walked a few blocks to the park and came to an unbroken wall.  Apparently we turned the wrong direction, because we walked quite a distance before we found a gate and entered the park.

It was fascinating right from the start.  We crossed a wide, street size paved bike/roller blade/running path, then crossed a strip of grass and then a street size cinder walking/running path.  There were many people using these paths.  There were bike tour groups, people with dogs, numerous nannies.  How did we know they were nannies?  Because of nationality differences and obvious dissimilarity to the children in their care.

We saw the reservoir first, which also had a running path around it.  We also saw the sheep meadow where we could have returned to watch a movie in the park after dark.  There was an Egyptian obelisk, given to Central Park, with hieroglyphics on all four sides.

It was a big obelisk.
We had our lunch near the turtle pond where we also enjoyed watching a heron fishing.

At the turtle pond
texting at the turtle pond

pointing out the heron
the heron

There was a family at the turtle pond with a very active son who dropped his camera more than once.  They were patient, though, and no one got upset, even when it fell into the water.

Central Park is a location for many scenes from movies, and one of the most popular locations is the bow bridge.

Bow Bridge, with a wedding group and a photographer surrounded by other visitors to the park.
Chuck and I at Bow Bridge
Tim at Bow Bridge
We went through Belvedere Castle.
the view of Turtle Pond from Belvedere Castle
We saw the great lawn, the tennis courts, the baseball diamonds, and the lake with its many rowboats.  We treated ourselves to Ben and Jerry's ice cream bars from a vendor.  

A highlight was Strawberry Fields, an area dedicated to the memory of John Lennon.  Near the 'Imagine' mosaic was an old hippie who took it upon himself to tell everyone how to behave at the memorial.  Chief among his instructions was that if you are getting your picture taken with the mosaic, you are required to make the peace sign.

He harassed quite a few people who were getting their pictures taken.  Sometimes they acquiesced and held up the required peace sign.  Sometimes they held it up until he walked away and then quit.  Some ignored him completely.

We also walked through the mall before leaving Central Park.
 That's more than enough for tonight.  You need to know that more than half of the pics in this post were taken by Becca and borrowed/stolen from her facebook photo album (with permission).  Thanks, Bec!

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Vacation #7: On to NYC...and and update on current life

On Tuesday morning we packed up and left the Super 8.  Somewhere between there and the apartment, Tim realized he did not have his laptop.  We rushed back to the motel, wondering whether they would let us back into our room, whether the staff had already cleaned it, and if they had, whether we would ever see the laptop again.  But all the worrying was for nothing.  They sent us directly to the room where the laptop was exactly where Tim remembered leaving it.

We met at Joseph and Becca's apartment for breakfast.  We had waffles with white sauce and blueberries, leftover blueberry pie, leftover apple tart, and various other wonderful breakfast and non-breakfast items.  Chuck ate his leftover ice cream.

Then Joseph took us to the train station.  Here was another minor change in plans.  We knew about this one before we left Newton, but it didn't affect much for us.  A bridge between White River Junction and New York City was being repaired so the train no longer went the full route.  We rode on a very nice bus with a quite friendly train conductor supervising our ride.  We were even given free snacks, which we would have paid too much for, had we purchased them on the train itself.  The bus took us to Springfield, Massachusettes.  Chuck and Tim took a quick walk to get Tim some lunch because he was a lot more hungry than the rest of us.  Becca, Chuck, and I munched on bagels, cheese, and dried fruit while we waited for the train to arrive.
Our one train photo, Tim and Becca.  Notice that there were outlets at every seat, an improvement over our 2009 train trip to Portland.
 We had discussed our hotel location several times.  Part of the rationale for choosing Hotel 31 was its proximity to the train station---only four blocks away according to the hotel web site.  The other reasons were that we knew someone who had enjoyed that hotel a couple of years ago, and that it was the most reasonably priced hotel we could find that was also close to the train station.  We thought it would be challenging to get our luggage on the bus or subway, and I had not remembered that a taxi was an option. 

Chuck looked up the hotel and the train station on google maps and the map directions stated that the hotel was nearly a mile away from the train station.  How could that be?

Both bits of information were correct, however.  As many people are already aware, the blocks are very long and narrow in NYC.  We were four blocks away and we were walking in the long block direction, so it was nearly a mile.  Fortunately, this was our very first time in NYC.  As we walked those four blocks, we crossed 5th Avenue, Park Avenue, and Madison Avenue.  As we crossed one of those avenues, we looked down the street and saw the lit tower of the Chrysler Building directly north of us.  It was hard to think about how far we were walking when we were seeing things we'd only heard about all our lives.
Yes, that IS the Chrysler Building behind Becca!
We found our hotel, checked in and ordered a roll-away bed for Tim, and then did some walking around the neighborhood.  We found the closest subway station where we purchased 7-day passes---a great deal for sightseeing in NYC.  The picture above was taken sometime during our walk.

The hotel web site had boasted 15 restaurants within a one block radius of the hotel, so we also wanted to find a place for supper.  Just a couple of doors down from the hotel was Vezzo's Thin Crust Pizza.  We looked no farther.  I did not take pictures there, but here is a link to their photo page so you can see for yourself.  Scroll over the photos and they will enlarge for you.  Tim had a small meat lovers pizza.  Chuck and Becca and I shared a large pizza with roasted baby eggplant, portabello mushrooms, and marinated pork.  The pizza was delicious.

We went back to our room to get out our computers and use the free wifi to plan our next day's activities. was time to adjust our plans again.  Apparently the wifi was not very good in our room.  So we made our plans using tourist fliers and booklets we had picked up in the lobby of the hotel.  Most of the fliers had maps that included subway routes, so we managed to formulate a plan that we were looking forward to by the time we were ready for sleep.  While we looked through fliers and planned, the tv was on, and Becca and Tim watched the end of Scott Pilgrim.  Then we all watched most of Avatar.  Well, I didn't.  I hate the battle scenes so I mostly read through guide books during the second half of Avatar.

An update on current life---
The weather has finally cooled off and sweater weather has begun.  Toward that end, I quickly finished the sweater I worked on last winter.

This is the best I can do at getting the whole sweater in a photo I take myself.   For those of you who use Ravelry, I used the Shalom cardigan, recalculated the instructions to match my guage, added long sleeves and cables, and made the buttons go all the way down to the bottom of the sweater, instead of just at the top.
 This is just a close up of the ribbing, a twisted rib stitch that really makes the ribbing pop out more distinctly than a normal rib stitch.
 Close up of the cables.

In other knitting news, I've begun a sweater for Luke, top down and knit in one piece.  He was over today and we tried on the yoke and I think it's going to be great.  He's very excited about it.

Also, Andrea and I went to Wichita to choose yarn for their baby blanket.  That was fun and I can't wait to start on that as well.

This is the weekend we usually spend at the bluegrass festival.  We had decided not to go at all, but during the night on Thursday we both couldn't sleep.  We were thinking about going to Winfield.  We decided to go for the afternoon and evening on Friday.  We took Luke with us.  It was cold and misty most of the day and we left the festival at about 8:30pm instead of staying until 10:30, as we had planned.  Luke was a trooper, never complained, enjoyed meeting new kids, snuggled when he got chilly, and was generally just great to be around.
Luke is laughing because he wants to have his eyes shut in all my pics.

but I won by pretending to put my camera away

Mint oreo cookies and juice packs were the favorite snacks of the day.

Yes, after a record breaking number of days over 100 degrees I needed three shirts, a sweater, a wool cowl around my neck, and a woolen hat to stay warm at Stage I in the evening.  I also had Luke on my lap and a light blanket doubled up over us.
And finally, a spoiler.  The final and biggest plan that changed, as most of you know, was that Tim did not end up in Bolivia for Radical Journey.  He is heading for Paraguay, after having spent over a week in Buenos Aires.  His blog is BoliviaBlog 2.0 and you can read more about it there.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Vacation #6: Site-seeing and Meet the Parents

After Becca and I finished work and cleaned up, it was time to show Tim a few things in the area...namely Ben and Jerry's Ice Cream.  Chuck and I had been there a couple of years ago with Becca and Joseph in winter.  This was different.  There were a lot of people everywhere.  They were standing in line, or shopping, or taking pictures, or eating, or on tours.  We were just a bit overwhelmed.

Chuck and Becca went to get us our tour tickets.  King Arthur Flour and Ben and Jerry's have a reciprocal agreement that would give Becca either free admission or a discount.  The girl at the ticket counter extended that to all four of us, so the tour was free, but we needed to wait a while.

We perused the gift shop for a while, and then walked outside a bit as well.  There were lots of picnic tables outside and people were seated at those picnic tables enjoying the ice cream they had waited in line to order.  We saw one family that seemed especially exuberant.  They had this large bucket of ice cream and all six of them had spoons and were laughing and chattering and digging in.  On the bucket was the word "Vermonster".  They looked like they were having a lot of fun.

The tour was OK.  We got a better tour a couple of years ago when there were not so many people there.  This one had interesting info, but not as much trivia.  At the end, of course, you get to taste ice cream.  The flavor of the day was  Late Night Snack, "vanilla bean ice cream with a salty caramel swirl and fudge covered potato chip clusters" and it is based on what people probably snack on while watching late night TV.  It was surprisingly good.  

After the tour we headed back outside to find the family with the bucket still at the picnic table, but not nearly so enthusiastic.  In fact one of the children was loudly saying, "This was a BAD idea!"  The Vermonster consists of 20 scoops of ice cream, 3 dippers of hot fudge, 4 bananas, 3 brownies, and cookies.  It must be more than a family of six can eat in one meal.
After Ben and Jerry's we headed for Cabot Cheese.  This is not a tour, but a store.  In the store is a long oval table with plates of tiny cubes of cheese set around the entire oval.  There are toothpick holders everywhere, as well as little used toothpick receptacles, and signs asking that you get a fresh toothpick for every taste you take.  We began to taste cheese.  Cabot cheese is pretty good cheese.  Tim's favorite was Muenster.  Mine was the sharpest cheddar they make.  We bought some of each to take along with us to NYC.

Then we went to the store next door which had chocolate, and free tastes.  It was excellent too, but even the reject bins of heart shaped chocolates proved a little to expensive for us.  
On to the apple cider place.  When Chuck and I had been here a couple of years ago we could watch the cider being pressed in a giant press, and we could buy cider, as well as any of thousands of other things in their big souvenir store.  But this trip was right before apple harvest season.  They were sold out of cider and they had no apples to press, so that was a pretty short stop.

In the evening, Joseph and Becca had arranged a dinner at one of their favorite restaurants, Jewel of India, near the Dartmouth campus.  Four of their good friends (Pat and Kaitlin, Alex and Amanda Ann) joined us and it was such a fun evening, full of good conversation and delicious food.  We were so full after the meal, and not yet ready to stop getting to know each other, so we went for a walk around the green at Dartmouth.  It was a great way to spend our last evening in White River Junction. 
Joseph, Becca and Mosley in their apartment
***I forgot to write about Newt's.  We went to Newt's right before closing on the day we swam in the Connecticut River.  Newt's is a walk up ice cream store that is only open in summer.  They have 28 flavors of soft serve ice cream.  They also have many flavors of scoop ice cream---amazing flavors.  It is so hard to choose what to order there that they have an option just for people who have a hard time deciding.  It is a mystery cone.  You get two dips of scoop ice cream and they choose the flavors (but you can rule out a couple that you know you won't enjoy). 

Then you sit outside and enjoy your ice cream, or if the weather isn't so nice, you sit in your car to enjoy your ice cream.  We sat outside and enjoyed the night air.

Tim was pretty hungry so he got a soft serve (something with coffee flavor in it) and a mystery cone.  I wish I could remember the names of the flavors I got because they were so amazing.  In fact, Chuck, who also got a soft serve, decided to get a single dip of one of my flavors after a little taste.  But the ice cream store is generous with their single dips.  Chuck took most of it back to Becca's house to put in the freezer for another day.

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Vacation #5: Take your mother to work

My day began at 2:45am when I got up to get ready to go to work with Becca.  Becca provided me with a uniform so I was dressed like a professional.  

This was a day I won't soon forget.  After we donned our hairnets and aprons with hand towels tucked into our waist ties, we started what is for Becca a normal workday. 

We began with the cookie bake.  Becca handed me some pans of scones to brush with egg wash and sprinkle with sugar.  The scones had been put on pans the day before.  While I did that, she began working with the cookies that had been scooped the day before.  We mixed up blueberry muffins and peach muffins and scooped them into tins.  While I finished up the muffins Becca continued to put in and take out cookies and other items from the oven large enough to walk in and out of.  Of course they don't walk in and out when it is hot because their shoes would melt, but the carts of pans ready for baking are taller than I am and they roll right into that oven.  (edit 9-10-2011: Becca told me yesterday that they DO walk into the hot ovens to get the carts in and out, but they don't stand around in there!)

As soon as the cookie bake was finished (an hour after we arrived), we moved to the bread end where Sharon was mixing and shaping breads.  It is hard to describe the day that followed.  The breads I remember working on were French loaves, baguettes, ciabatta in three sizes, pizza, and some whole grain loaves that I don't remember the names of.  I know there was more than that, but the day was a whirlwind.

Sharon's job for the day was primarily to mix and shape loaves.  Becca's job was primarily to bake, and to help Sharon with any and all extra time she had around keeping the ovens full.  

There are two mixers that stand on the floor with mixing bowls that come up almost to just my waistline.  This picture is from a trip a couple of years ago because I didn't have time to take pictures while we worked. 

To the far left is a digital scale and Becca's hand is on the mixer.  On the shelves behind Becca are balance scales.

All ingredients are weighed to the gram.  It is a science as well as an art.  Water temperature for the dough is dependent on room temperature, because dough needs to rise predictably so that ovens can be kept full.  The baker needs to know the math.  It is definitely a science as well as an art.

Many of the doughs are started the night before.  A pre-ferment is mixed, which is some water, some flour, and a tiny bit of yeast.  Becca could tell you exactly what this does.  My sense is that the gluten develops differently with this overnight rising process.  Then in the morning the rest of the ingredients are added and the dough goes into a warm place (temperature controlled room) to rise again.  If dough is rising too fast, the temperature in the special room can be set cooler than the bakery to slow it down.

All loaves of the same kind of bread must be pretty much exactly the same.  Toward that end, large amounts of dough are carefully weighed before being set to rise.  Then after that first rising, there is this nifty machine that you can program to cut the dough into exactly equal sized pieces.  It can cut into very small pieces, as for the three sizes of ciabatta.  It can cut into quite large pieces, as for the French market loaves.

Any bread that isn't divided in that machine is weighed out so that every loaf is exactly the same weight and size.  There are balance scales on a shelf for that purpose and I did some of that weighing out with some dough that wasn't going to go through the cutting machine.

After the dough is cut it is set aside to rise again.  Ciabattas go directly on to pans from the cutter.  All the others are rounded and set aside to rest before shaping.  Each type of loaf has a desired shape and Becca was careful to teach me exactly how to push, fold, pinch, and roll the dough into the different shapes.  Then it would be set aside to rise again.

After that last rise, it was time to bake.  There is a long oven loader positioned just to the side of the oven.  I didn't take a picture this year but  here is one of Becca in front of the ovens a few years ago.
Becca in front of the breads oven.  Note the six oven doors.  Behind Becca is the white loader.  Behind that is the door to the temperature controlled room where bread is set to rise.
The above oven is divided into six sections.  Each section can hold 18 baguettes or an equivalent amount of other breads or rolls or foccacia, etc.  Becca can fill all six ovens, rush over to help Sharon with shaping loaves, teach me gently the art of shaping each of the different loaves, and, without using a timer, get each type of bread out of the oven without under or over baking.  I can't do that at home with one oven that only has two loaves at a time in it.

If you look closely at that oven, right at the divide between the copper area and the brick is a little tool stuck with a magnet to the oven.  That little tool is a double edged razor on a tiny stick.  With that razor, and with a similar one that is bent into a curve, all the artistic cuts are made in the tops of French loaves and baguettes.  It was a steep learning curve to get those cuts exactly right so that they would open artistically as the bread baked.  Becca is a great teacher, though, and I don't think they had to throw out any loaves because of my poor cutting skills.

As fast as Becca pulled breads out of the oven and placed them on the giant cooling racks, they disappeared, as the delivery drivers assembled the orders and took them away.  At one point in the morning I saw a large clean laundry basket full of baguettes in a giant bouquet being carried out to the delivery vehicle.  That particular day the three of us rolled a total of 180 baguettes.

At this bakery, there is not a break time.  We were on our feet working as quickly as we could from 3:30am until our lunch time at 9am.  Lunch was outdoors at a picnic table due to the mild weather.  At lunch we got to sample some empanadas that may be offered at the bakery store in the future.  There were four flavors and they were quite amazing.  

After lunch was finishing the baking and cleaning the bakery.  This included scraping the bits of dough off all the work surfaces, including all the dozens of wooden boards where loaves were set to rise throughout the morning.  We swept and wiped down and carried pans and dishes to the dish-washing station.  When we were finished we checked in with the pastry chef to see if they needed any help finishing up.

They were layering the butter into the croissant dough when we got there, which was one process I'd wanted to see.  Dough that had been weighed and let rise was now ready to roll out.  We rolled it into a large square and placed a square slab of butter on it turned so that the corners of the slab of butter were between the corners of the dough like a diamond on a square.  Then the corners of the dough were pulled up over the butter to completely hide the butter slab.  It was a giant square pillow.  Then we would take a rolling pin and beat that square pillow down until it was flat enough to roll into a long rectangle.  That would be folded in half or in thirds and taken to the machine that finished the job.

In front of me is dough ready to be rolled into a square to receive a slab of butter.  In front of Becca is dough that has been folded around a slab of butter and then rolled into a rectangle.  Directly behind Becca to the right are folded rectangles ready for the rolling machine.  To the left is the rolling machine with dough on the tray.
The rolling machine (that is not what it is called but I can't remember the name) can be set to different thicknesses.  The dough goes through multiple times, getting thinner, getting folded, getting thinner, getting folded again, to achieve the flaky texture of croissants.  

After cleaning the wooden table from the croissant dough, our work for the day was done and Becca went to the computer to make notes for the bakers for the next day, and to log out.

This is enough for one post, so I'll tell you about the rest of the day tomorrow, or whenever I get to it.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Vacation #4: Vermont Sunday

We had a relaxing start to our day, meeting Becca after 10am to go berry picking at a local family farm.  They were just starting their season so they were only open on the weekend, but soon would be open every day for raspberries, blueberries, apples, flowers and more.

We took a few pictures of the farm so that we would remember the diversity and beauty of it.  

Applying sunscreen.  It was actually quite hot that morning!

Pumpkins/squash in foreground, sweet corn behind.

the road to the berries and orchards

woodpile and crates of newly picked apples

Becca and Tim ready to go picking.
Chuck picking raspberries.
We passed these flowers on the way to the blueberries.

some of the apple orchards

Looking back from the blueberry bushes toward the farmstead.

Our pickings for the day.
Photos by the apple trees.

We were pretty warm from picking berries in the sun, so we decided to pick up some groceries on our way back to the apartment, grab our swimsuits and some lunch, and go back to the Connecticut River for another swim.  When we arrived at the grocery store we got sidetracked by the Borders next door and their 'going out of business' sale.  We did some shopping. Chuck found another Spanish-English dictionary. :-)

Then the groceries, and when we got done with those, it was obviously going to rain.  We skipped the swimsuits and went to Becca and Joseph's apartments to have some lunch.  We spent the afternoon relaxing.  Tim and I made our Invisible Shoes/Barefoot Sandals.

Then Becca made a blueberry pie and an apple tart, and we made roasted vegetables with chicken for a late supper.  MMMMmmmmm.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Vacation #3: Saturday in Vermont

On our first day in Vermont we met Becca for lunch at her job so that we could meet some of the people she works with.  When your work day begins at 3:30am, lunch is earlier than noon.  We met them at 9:00am, brunch for us.

It was a feast with artisan pizza (many flavors), brioche (Tim's favorite?), hazelnut bread, Napoleons, and fresh peach pie.  But better than the food was getting to meet the people Becca works with.

Becca still had a few more hours to work so we got advice from her coworkers about nearby nature trails and set off.


A few wildflowers

After Becca got done at work, we picked her up and went to her apartment.  She is a farm girl and manages to use every available bit of dirt for growing food and beauty.  I didn't photograph the food, except for the nasturtiums.

Nasturium - the flowers taste kind of like radishes
Inside we met Joseph and Mosley and hung out for a while.

Tim chillin' on the couch

We grabbed some hot dogs, buns, and fixings, as well as swimsuits and towels and headed to the Connecticut River, Becca's favorite spot for a swim.  It's beautiful, and the water is so much more clear than any spot in Kansas.
We swam off this dock.

Chuck and Tim warmed themselves after swimming with some Frisbee.

Bec was watching the game.

What a beautiful place to picnic and swim.
We had stopped at the store to buy charcoal but couldn't find any small bags, so we settled for a bag of kindling wood.  Here is our roaring fire, started with the last people's leftover hot coals from their picnic.

the chef
We lingered for a while at the park after supper, and then went home, tired after a long day.