January 2012


Breckenridge

USA – Wisconsin’s “Ali”

Germany's "Dancing Screens"

Interactive Snow SculptureI'm not sure this ice sculpture was meant to be interactive...

 

USA – Breckenridge’s “Fun Every Time Around”

Canada - Quebec's "Great Expectations"

I’ve been hanging out in a lot of coffee shops. They are warm, they have (mostly) free WiFi, they smell good. I’m a more productive writer of blog posts and grader of student papers while in coffee shops. There is no TV to distract me and I can’t take a nap. Here are some of my favorites:

Common Grounds in West Highland

You know how most coffee shops have one big room full of people clustered around outlets on their tablets and Apple computers? Common Grounds has five little rooms full of people (and full of outlets) on their tablets and laptops. The front of the coffee shop has two big rooms with huge windows looking out over the cuteness that is Denver’s West 32nd Ave. There’s a piano, tons of plants, and oddly sized tables strewed around these two front rooms. Some tables are dining room sized, perfect for study groups and writers meetings. Some tables are tiny, leaving just enough room for you and your laptop. The three back rooms are divided with partial walls and bookshelves. Magazines, board games, and used books are available if you plan on hanging out here. While it is usually crowded, I’ve always been able to secure myself a little table and an outlet, even on weekends.

In the middle of the shop is the bar when you can get your baked goods, tea, coffee, breakfast burritos, ice cream, and sandwiches. The coffee is pretty good, sometimes served in huge mugs with cute foam designs. When I came with my camera, I of course got a boring disposable cup. The food is okay. I’ve had a sandwich here which was pretty basic and not worth the money. Stick to coffee. Make sure to get a receipt when you order because the WiFi code is printed on the bottom.

Common Groups is open daily from 6:30am until 11pm daily. It is located west of Denver at 32nd and Lowell. There is also a location in LoDo on the corner of 17th and Wazee.

The Tattered Cover Bookstore Café

This has quickly become my favorite place in Denver. Not just the café, but the two story bookstore that it is housed in. This local bookstore has a HUGE magazine selection, book inventory to rival any Barnes and Nobel, plenty of used books, and tons of cozy seating throughout the store. They have a great Children’s and YA section downstairs, which is nice because kids can run around downstairs without disturbing the quiet book-store atmosphere throughout the rest of the store. Check their website for frequent author signings and special events.

The actual coffee shop consists of the order counter and a long line of bar seating. But then there are additional tables spilling out into the bookstore. WiFi is usually available here, but when I was there last week it was down for security issues…so no promises on that. Outlets and free tables can be a bit challenging to get access to on weekends and evenings.

The Tattered Cover is open Monday – Saturday from 9am until 9pm. They close at 6 on Sundays. There is a free parking garage attached to the bookstore. There are also Tattered Cover locations in LoDo and the West Highlands.

St. Mark’s Coffeehouse and Brewery

Not my favorite for ambiance, but definitely the best food. Their sandwiches are served on crusty slices of bread which are just delicious. Coffee is good too. St. Mark’s is essentially one long room, and they sure pack people in here. Be prepared to share a long table with several other laptops if you can’t get a little table. Most people here are working (or studiously checking facebook), but there are some friends and couples just hanging out.

St. Mark’s has a nice outdoor patio space, where you can check out the huge lamps hanging from the trees that line the sidewalk here. There are several shops and restaurants in the few blocks surrounding St. Marks, so the people watching is pretty good. The coffeehouse is open daily from 6:45 to midnight. Check out their infuriatingly intricate website here for entirely too much information about their “history,” film series, art gallery, and other such things.  

Paris on the Platte

One of the more famous places in Denver to get a cup of coffee, I am actually posting this review on site. Paris is not overlooking the Platte River as I’d hoped. It is on Platte Street. That’s okay too. This is the northern edge of the revitalized LoDo, so there are a few shops and other restaurants around. However, Paris is not really in the middle of things. Even though they claim to have been at the forefront of the revitalization, they are currently on the outskirts of all the action. This is actually handy for parking. I easily found a spot and….completely forgot to pay. (I just ran outside, paid, and now I’m back. I am so in love with Denver’s 50 cent per hour rates, by the way.)

Paris on the Platte is more restaurant than coffee shop. You sit down, they bring you a menu, etc. This is exciting though, because there are cheese plates on the menu!! For ten dollars J Besides the cheese, and the beret on the head of the guy who told me to sit down, not much here is French. They are currently playing Irish music. Soups, sandwiches, and pizza round out the menu. I went with the bacon-chicken-avocado sandwich and was thrilled to learn that I could get it on focaccia with a side of fruit. I haven’t had strawberries in months. The sandwich was tasty. The bread wasn’t quite as good as St. Mark’s, but the overall sandwich was better.

This place is half people-working-on-laptops, half people-hanging-out. There are only about 13 tables, less than half of them near an outlet. It’s pretty quiet today (a weeknight), but I hear things get much more crowded on the weekends. I won’t be returning then in hopes of securing a space to work.

Paris on the Platte is between 15th and 16th on (remember?) Platte St. It is open daily at 8:00am. They don’t close until one in the morning on weeknights, and stay open until 2am on Saturdays and Sundays. However, the kitchen has recently decided to close early – ten on weeknights and eleven on weekends.

Anytime I get to drive east from Las Vegas and don’t have to dip down into Phoenix, it’s going to be a good drive. I don’t know how half of one state can be so gorgeous while the other half is basically hell on earth. Of course anywhere in New Mexico is sure to be awesome. If you are ever taking the twelve hour Las Vegas, Nevada to Las Vegas, New Mexico drive, make sure you stop a lot along the way.

It used to be that you’d get 40 minutes out of Vegas and you’d find yourself in a two hour Hoover Dam traffic jam. Not anymore, as the new bridge whisks you over the top. Of course, you are missing driving across the New Deal Monument (sorry…teaching American history now – we are just getting past the Depression), but if you’ve seen it a million times, be happy for the bridge. Before you get to the Arizona-Nevada state line, be sure to pull over and check out Lake Mead. It’s not much to swim in, but the surrounding mountains always look cool. There is plenty of space to pull over, read plaques, and take pictures. The Lake Mead Visitors Center is closed for some pretty major renovations, so snap your picture and move onward.

Flagstaff is a next good stop. This pine-tree and university town is lucky enough to get great weather in the summer and enough snow for skiing in the winter. Drive down the historic Route 66 and do some shopping and/or drinking in the streets just east of N Humphreys and north of E Santa Fe. If it’s summer and you are doing things leisurely (which I hope you are!), dip down highway 89A and check out Slide Rock State Park and Sedona.

Forty five minutes down I-40 is Winslow, Arizona. Pull out your “Hell Freezes Over” CD and drive down to E. 2nd street to check out the Standin’ on the Corner Park. If you are in the mood for gourmet southwestern cuisine, The Turquoise Room at La Posada Hotel is a rare shining spot in this depressed little town.

I crossed the Arizona-New Mexico border at nighttime, which is sad. The slabs of red rock are an appropriate welcome to the state, even though they are decorated with statues of Native warriors and teepees. The whole scene is about as authentic as a dreamcatcher (um, that would be not very), but the scenery is so striking, I usually don’t care.

When you hit Gallup stop at Blake’s Lotaburger for a green chile cheeseburger. Or anywhere really, they are deliciously addicting. If you will be in this corner of New Mexico for more than a day or two, give The Blue Desert Guide Company a call for an authentic New Mexico experience. Amanda and Vino (former Navajo Reservation teachers) LOVE to show off their favorite part of the world. If you are only here for a few hours, make sure the sun is either going up or down. Southwest sunsets and rises are the best here.

Albuquerque gets a bad rap, which is good for cheap hotel rooms (usually less than $50 by the airport. I mean “Sunport”), but the Sandia Mountains are nice, as is the area around the University. Luckily, Santa Fe is on the way to Las Vegas. Santa Fe is not as cool as most people say it is, but the central plaza is pretty cute. Do some window shopping, (but if you are serious about buying Native goods, head back to Gallup where they are half the price), take a picture of the missions and the adobde buildings. Just don’t lose you pictures when your computer crashes (it’s been a fun week).

The quick drive between Santa Fe and Las Vegas, NM is really nice. I did it when the sun was rising in the morning, which I highly recommend. The Santa Fe National Forest, the low mountain passes, the mountian homes in the hills and the tiny little towns make for a nice drive.

As you coast off the exit and head down into Las Vegas, you won’t find any half-naked dancers, Elvi, or screaming blackjack tables. This Las Vegas is a great place to spend a couple hours though. Grab some posole and poke around the parks, shops, and museum on Grand Ave. Revel in the quiet and be glad you aren’t down $500.    

 

 

Since I’ve been reading Ruth Riechl’s “Garlic and Sapphires,” I’m inspired to write about food this week. If you’ve never read anything by this former New York Times Restaurant critic/Gourmet editor, you must pick up one of her books immediately. She will make you want to EAT. New Year’s Resolution Dieters, you actually may want to wait until February to read her, once the diet has already gone awry.  

One of my top-ten all time favorite dishes is Eggs Benedict. Of all the countless places I’ve consumed Eggs Benedict, here are a few of the highs and lows.

The Waterfront Hotel: Baltimore, MD: This has been my best Eggs Benedict restaurant experience to date. My friend’s cousin’s wife had recommended this brick Fells Point restaurant for brunch and it was fabulous. Instead of Canadian bacon (which I typically remove) between the poached egg and the English muffin, The Waterfront Hotel opted to go with regular bacon instead. This substitution had never occurred to me, but I’ve been ordering Eggs Benedict with regular bacon ever since.

But it was the cheese grits that really made this dish. I’d had my first “cheese grits” at a Waffle House in Savannah a few weeks previously. Not surprisingly, The Waterfront Hotel’s were oh-just-a-bit better. Eggs Benedict is a dish meant to be consumed with cheese.

My Parent’s House: Snohomish, WA: I used to hate eggs Benedict. That is because every Sunday my parents would make their far superior version of the dish, adorably named “Eggs Bennie.” Eggs Bennie featured the English muffin and poached eggs, but instead of hollandaise sauce, my mom would make a cheese sauce to pour over the top of the dish. I was the pickiest eater in the world during my adolescence, but I would eat just about anything as long as it was smothered in that cheese sauce.  It took me a long time to appreciate real Eggs Benedict without that sauce. My brother is anti-egg and just has “Bennie” on Sunday afternoons: an English muffin and the sauce.

Late Night Eggs Benedict: Tom’s Diner in Denver, CO and Blueberry Hill in Las Vegas, NV: I like bad food. I’m seriously just as happy at Chili’s as I am at Jaleo in Washington D.C. (Okay, maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but still). But the “Eggs Benedict” at Blueberry Hill is pretty bad, even by my *ahem* “late-night” standards. The hollandaise sauce is literally bright orange. I don’t know how this colorful feat is accomplished at three in the morning, but it is not good.

On the other side of the mountains, Tom’s Diner in Denver has got things figured out. I was there last weekend after a concert at the Ogden (Me! At a concert! It was weird. I’m definitely going to have to step up my music appreciation skills here in Denver. My Taylor Swift and Jason Durillo fandom is just not going to cut it.) The fine people at Tom’s fulfilled my inebriated demands for “good bacon” and their sauce was an acceptable color of pale yellow. Success.

Eggs Benedict on a Buffet Line: Mandalay Bay Buffet in Las Vegas, NV: When I lived in Las Vegas, I would usually opt for a breakfast buffet instead of a diner type place, (Guess how much weight that preference cost me?!?) but Eggs Benedict was usually a problem. Some chefs would try, but most understood that this dish was just not meant to sit under a heat lamp for longer than two minutes. Therefore, omelet stations were all the rage at buffets. I hate omelets unless they are equal parts egg and cheddar with lots of Nacho Cheesier Dorito crumbs thrown in at the last minute (don’t knock it ‘til you try it!). Chefs were exceedingly unwilling to add my favorite chip to their omelets, so I would boycott the egg section of buffet lines and stick to apple crumble, breakfast pizza and mimosas.  

Until we went to Mandalay Bay. This is an awesome buffet. If you go, be sure to get a seat overlooking the pool towards the back of the dining area. And don’t miss the desserts. They are way over on the other side of the restaurant. But the greatest thing about this buffet is that they have unadorned poached eggs resting atop bacon (the bad kind, but you can switch that out. The non-Canadian variety is bound to be around somewhere) and English muffins. The hollandaise sauce is sitting in its own little container and – this is the best part – you can put as much on as you want. Genius.

For all you fellow benedict fans thinking about consuming this fabulous dish in New Zealand, check out “The Best Bene,” a whole blog of bene reviews down under.

Last November I was in Montana when it started snowing. I completely freaked out. My heart was pounding and I was sure sudden death was about to befall me. I just knew I was about to crash into oncoming traffic, slide off a mountain pass, or hit a herd of deer. I pulled off at the nearest town and made my motel-hating friend stay in a dumpy room with five different wallpaper patterns and no bathtub. She was displeased.

Particularly because it snowed less than an inch that evening.

What can I say? I’m from Seattle. They cancel school in the Pacific Northwest if a threatening looking snow cloud is on the horizon. I’ve also been living in Las Vegas, where everyone is still talking about the great snowfall of ’08. It was also less than ½ an inch. Clearly, I never learned how to drive in the snow.

So I wisely decided to move to Denver. In January.

As I hurriedly threw clothes, cowboy boots, and teaching supplies into my little Honda I received a plethora of unhelpful hints for driving in the snow. Here are some of my favorites:

“Watch out for black ice on the freeway:” Okay, isn’t black ice supposed to be invisible? If that is the case, how does one “watch out” for it? Also, if I magically happen to see this invisible substance on the freeway, my options will be to just keep going and accept the tailspin and sudden death, or to slam on my brakes, (which apparently you are NOT supposed to do) and accept the tailspin and sudden death. Great advice.

“Turn in the direction your car is sliding:” This tidbit came from my mom who grew up in Spokane and regularly laughs at all the Seattleites who can’t drive in the snow. Including me. This advice also makes no sense to me.

            Mom: “Yes, I’m serious. Turn in the direction your car is sliding.”

           Me: “So if I’m sliding towards a sketchy looking guardrail that won’t stop me from careening down a mountainside, I should seriously turn towards said guardrail? Really?”

          Mom: “Well, if you’re in that situation, then I don’t know what to tell you.”

Helpful. Thanks.

“Here. Read this chart:” This also came from my mom, who cut out a “winter driving tips” article from the Everett Herald. The article contained several graphics of cars and several sets of arrows. The arrows indicated which way you should turn based on whether your right, left, front, or back tires were sliding towards the left or right. I studied the chart. Then I promptly forgot which way I was supposed to turn my steering wheel if my back tires where sliding towards the left. When I complained about this lack of memory problem to my mom, she suggested that I keep this chart in my car.

Great plan. That way if one set of tires is acting inappropriately at 70 mph all I have to do is locate my chart, try and remember my right from my left, and turn the wheel accordingly. While driving. I should totally be able to do that.

“Buy some snow tires:” I flat out refuse to spend any more money on tires. I’ve bought six tires in the last six months. I’m done.

“Wait to drive to Denver until I can come with you:” This came from Denise, who’d been my road trip buddy through that awful one inch blizzard in Montana. She clearly has no faith in my ability to remain calm and/or functional in the snow. Unfortunately she was scheduled to be in Hawaii when I needed to be in Denver, so that wasn’t going to work. I’d be driving solo.

“Ma’am, you need to slow down:” This tip came from a skinny little guy in an oversized police uniform as he was handing me a $91 speeding ticket. For the record, I was only going five miles an hour and I was in Arizona – no snow yet. While this tip was probably the most useful one I received, the $91 ticket was in no way, shape, or form helpful.

“Baby, don’t go to Denver, it snows there!” This last piece of advice was from this-guy-I’m-kinda-dating. He’d been launching a full scale anti-Denver campaign in the days preceding my move. This also included things like “Tim Tebow sucks” and “Denver is full of hikers and skiers” and “the Colorado Rockies stole Carlos Gonzalez from my Oakland A’s.” However I like hiking, skiing and Tim Tebow. And Carlos is pretty much the main reason why I’m moving in Denver. Chalk up another unhelpful hint.

The only helpful piece of information I got was from the Weather Channel app on my cell phone. The roads from Las Vegas to Denver were scheduled to be clear for the ten days surrounding my trip. Thank God.

“Hammer-man-hammer-man-hammer-man!” My friend’s almost-three-year-old shouted, running towards the Seattle Art Museum’s  outdoor fixture. He was going full speed, while also pounding one fist exuberantly into his other open hand, mimicking the moving statue. Luckily he’s a coordinated kid so the effort didn’t land him in a face plant.

“It’s his favorite exhibit,” Shawn explained to me.

“And the toys,” Berend (that would be the exuberant two-year-old) helpfully added. At this point Berend’s mom Rachel had caught up with her son. I ran cross country with Rachel in high school, so I’m assuming that Berend’s tendency to always be running comes from her. 

Unlike me, Shawn and Rachel are total art museum-type-people (this is why we parted ways in Italy when we all happened to be in Europe that one winter). When they visit art museums as a family, Shawn and Rach switch places so each of them can spend time individually staring at paintings and keeping their son entertained. However, these two activities mesh pretty well at Seattle Art Museum (SAM). There are several things to do here that keep an active toddler busy.

Listening stations: I’m not saying this will keep kids occupied for hours, but a few exhibit rooms have computer stations. These stations offer patrons the opportunity to scrutinize art on-screen by zooming in on certain parts of the piece and listening to information about it. Touch screen computers + headphones = a quiet and occupied child…for a few minutes.

Toy/Reading Rooms: These were my and Berend’s main hangout areas. SAM has GREAT toy rooms. In addition to the usual blocks, plastic tools, chalk easels, and child-sized cars to “drive,” the art rooms has spaces on the wall that kids can Velcro shapes to create their own modern art masterpieces. In my opinion, some of these children’s creations are more worthy of museum space than million dollar paintings featuring a red square with a blue line through it. There are also some great books in the reading room, which Shawn and I poured through while Berend organized a one-man drum line and then proceeded to gather up all the tools in the toy room and show off his carpentry skills.    

Open Spaces Downstairs: Berend would have been totally cool with running through every exhibit in the museum and shouting for us all to keep up. However, his parents nixed such activity. Luckily for Berend, the bottom floor of the museum is a great place to run around. There aren’t really any exhibits and it is not crowded at all. Huge windows look out to the Hammer Man statue outside, cars hang suspended from the ceiling, and this really creepy painting can provoke conversation in even the youngest art aficionados. 

Family Programs: Family workshops this winter include portrait and puppet workshops. The Seattle Asian Art Museum has workshops on their Free First Saturdays. They also show Kid Flicks in their auditorium on a monthly basis. Both the Seattle Asian Art Museum and the Olympic Sculpture Park have summer art camps available. To register for or learn more about these events, check out their calendar here.

After a couple museum hours, food (and beer) may be necessary. Seattle Art Museum is about one block from Pike Place Market, so dining options are plentiful. Rachel, Shawn, Berend and I decided on The Pike Brewery because it is loud and provided space nearby for Berend to walk around. Berend and I did a couple of laps through part of the market. Then we returned to our booth so Berend could steal everyone’s French fries and I could enjoy my bleu cheese burger (not on the menu, but they’ll add the cheese for you). The Pike is open from 11am to midnight daily.

If you go, Seattle Art Museum is open Wednesday – Sunday from 10am – 5pm. Thursdays and Fridays it is open until 9pm, and is closed Mondays and Tuesdays. Free days include First Thursdays (free to all), First Fridays (free to seniors 62+) and Second Fridays (free to teens 13-19 with ID from 5-9pm).

SAM is located in downtown Seattle at 1300 First Avenue. There is expensive street parking available (usually with a two hour limit) and even more expensive parking under the museum in the Russell Investment Center Garage on Union Street between 1st and 2nd. Suggested admission for the museum is $15 for adults. You can get a SAM membership for $65 ($80 for two people). Luckily Shawn and Rachel have a membership and I was able to utilize one of their guest passes.

Two summers ago I drove from Las Vegas to Albuquerque to Denver. It was around Father’s Day, so my parents flew in to the Mile High City to spend a few days with me. This was extra cool because they paid for a downtown hotel room. I was already really liking Colorado. The drive up from New Mexico was all red and blue and pretty. I ran a race in Evergreen, this cute town in the mountains. White water rafting in Cañon City was a bit scary, but (like all scary things are) very fun. Rocky Mountain National Park of course had great hiking. I didn’t even notice any altitude changes.

But Denver! Or my goodness, Denver was amazing. I usually connect more with small towns than big cities when I travel, but Denver was different. Colorado’s capital had exactly what I like in a downtown area – tons of great restaurants, a main thoroughfare set aside just for pedestrians, painted pianos set up randomly, a system of bike rentals that made navigating the town easy, a revitalized Lower Downtown area (LoDo) which was beyond adorable (in a rugged, outdoorsy sort of way), and the Platte River was brimming with families outside playing and picnicking. Everyone I met was into running, hiking, camping, skiing, and other things that I like. So of course I loved Denver immediately. But I wasn’t thinking about moving here. Not yet.

Then we went to a Rockies game. I’d bought my parents tickets (good tickets) to a Cubs vs. Rockies game. Being from Seattle, we are American League fans, but decided to root for the Rockies. It was a good decision.

Carlos Gonzalez’s first at-bat was a line drive that landed him on 3rd base. I filled in three-fourths of the diamond on my scorecard and snuck a hopeful look at Dad, who was doing the same thing on his scorecard. He gave me a warning look to keep my mouth shut. Verbalizing what I was thinking would be bad luck.

For all you non-baseball fans, I was thinking about the cycle. A cycle is when a batter gets a single, double, triple, and home run all in the same game. It happens very rarely. I’m not positive, but I think the Seattle Mariners (as a team) have had three players hit for the cycle in the 20+ years that I’ve been a fan. I’d never seen one in person.

Of all the four required hits, the triple is usually the hardest for a player to secure. This is why I’d given Dad a sidelong glance after that first triple. 

I’m unwilling to find my scorecard for fact checking purposes, but I remember that the game was an exciting one. It was back and fourth the whole night, with the Cubs pulling ahead and then the Rockies fighting back. Meanwhile, Carlos was busily getting his single and his double. At this point, cautious whispers throughout the stadium began quietly verbalizing what I’d been thinking six innings ago. By the ninth inning the game was tied (as it had been a few times previously). I don’t remember if it was the bottom of the ninth or the bottom of the tenth, but Carlos came up to bat. All he needed was a homerun to win the game and complete the cycle.

The stadium was screaming, but I felt doubt creep in. There was no way he was going to get a good pitch. That Cubbies pitcher had to know that Carlos would be trigger happy…ready to swing at anything.

He got his pitch.

Carlos slammed a walk off homerun and completed the cycle at Coors Field that night. In the midst of screaming, jumping up and down, texting this guy who’d been watching the game at home with me, doing more screaming, filling in a homerun on my scorecard, and jumping up and down some more, I decided that I needed to move to Denver. It was a sign.

So I went home and immediately applied for my Colorado Teaching License. And now here I am. I can’t wait for baseball season to start.

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