Monday, July 19, 2010

Prairie Home Fair and The Farm

We recently had the pleasure of camping out near Boonville, Missouri at our friend Shanon's dad's family farm (180 acres in Prairie Home, MO).  He doesn't actually live on the farm, but their family goes out every year during the Prairie Home Fair and hunting season, and this year we were invited along.

Brian left for the farm before I did on a Friday evening (I was stuck at work).  It takes about 1.5 hours to get to the exit off of I-70, and then another 30 minutes to get to the farm.  The farm is pretty much in the middle of nowhere, and very secluded.

After setting up the camper and getting a tour of the house, barn, sheds and pond, Brian, Shanon and Jessica ventured to the fair to see the four-wheel competition until it was time to come pick me up at the I-70 exit.  The first time you go out to the farm it's a good idea to meet someone at the gas station near I-70 and follow them out because there's not an actual address for the farm you can put into a gps or Google map.

I met them at 11 P.M. and followed them out to the farm.  The turn onto the driveway is pretty hidden from all the trees and brush, so if you didn't know where you were going it could be easily missed!  I didn't get much of a tour since it was dark outside, but I did get a tour of the house.  It's basically a shell for sleeping.  We think the house is probably 100 years old, and hasn't had much maintenance in about the same time!  There is running water and electricity, but really not much else.  They have the place set up with a bunch of beds so people can crash in the house during hunting season, but I think people spend most of their time outdoors.  I've never really experienced anything like this house.  Too bad we didn't get any pictures.  :(

On Saturday morning we had breakfast at the Isle of Capri Casino in Boonville.  It was suprisingly good as Brian and I both had two rounds!  We then went on a tour of Boonville and into a Pawn Shop on the main drag.

By the time we got back to the farm, Shanon's family had arrived, so we chatted with them for a while and then took a two hour nap.  When we woke up we found Shanon and Jessica cleaning a bunch of fish they had caught at the pond and were excited to go fishing ourselves the next morning.

We went to eat dinner Saturday night at La Hacienda (you guessed it, Mexican!).  The food was good, but our waitress was the worst I'd ever seen.  We almost said something to her, it was that bad, but we just decided not to leave a tip instead.

Once stuffed on chips, salsa and fajitas we went to the fair.  Saturday night is the big horse show and we were able to see some of the beginning of it.  I guess the portion we saw was a costume contest, but unfortunately there was some sort of scheduling mix-up and neither the contestants, the announcer, nor the judges knew what was going on.

We grew tired of waiting for more horses so we decided to watch Shanon's niece ride the amusement rides and even decided to ride the ferris wheel ourselves.  It had been a very long time since I've ridden a carnival ride, let alone the ferris wheel.

After the fair we went back to the farm and started a bonfire- always our favorite part of camping!  Everyone was pretty worn out and we knew we wanted to get up early to go fishing in the morning so we turned in around midnight.

On Sunday we got up at 7am, got our fishing gear and headed to the pond.  Brian did all the fishing while I steered the canoe.  We enjoyed ourselves, except we didn't catch a single fish!!  Supposedly there are a ton of bass and crappy in the pond, but we sure didn't see any!

Shanon, Jessica and her dad caught a few fish, but apparently we bring the worst luck ever.  Usually people can fish for an hour and catch ten easily, but luck was not on our side.  Oh well, next time!  It just got us excited (ok, Brian got excited) to do some more fishing.

I think Shanon felt really bad for us because she gave us the fish they had caught on Saturday to take home and eat.  We really appreciated it because it made a great dinner on Sunday- thanks again guys!

The sky started to get cloudy so we decided to head home before the rain hit.  We didn't quite make it because we drove through an awesome electrical storm and then a torrential downpour that caused a lot of people to pull off the highway- it was just us and the semis trying to navigate through the rain.  We finally made it home, unpacked, vaccuumed, and took a nap.

We had a great time and hopefully we'll get invited back.  And we'll remember to take pictures of the inside of the house next time!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Mahi Mahi Skewers with Ham, Pineapple and Ginger-Soy Glaze, Macadamia Nut Couscous

It's been a long time since I've published a cooking post!  I really have been cooking a lot of new meals, but I just haven't been taking the time to photograph the evidence. I made this meal over the 4th of July, and it was the perfect meal to celebrate the holiday, and a great way to end a long day of getting things done.

1 1/2 pounds 3/4- to 1-inch thick mahi mahi fillet, cut into 20 cubes
1 t Old Bay seasoning
1/2 t five-spice powder
4 thin slices (about 6 ounces) black forest ham, cut into strips as wide as the fish cubes
1/2 fresh pineapple- peeled, quartered lengthwise and cut into 16 chunks
1 small red onion, cut into bite-size pieces
Vegetable oil, for brushing
1/4 cup tamari sauce
1/4 cup honey
Grated peel of 1 lime and juice of two limes
One 1-inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and grated
1 T toasted sesame oil
1 1/2 cups chicken broth
1 T  butter
1 1/2 cups couscous
1/2 cup chopped macadamia nuts
2 scallions, sliced on an angle

1.  Preheat a grill to medium.  Season the fish cubes with the Old Bay seasoning and five-spice powder.  Wrap the ham strips around the fish.  Thread the fish alternately with the pineapple and onion onto skewers.  Brush the skewers with oil, place on the grill, cover and cook, turning ocassionaly, until the fish is cooked through, about 10 minutes.
2.  In a small saucepan, bring the tamari sauce, honey, lime peel, lime juice, ginger and sesame oil to a boil.  Cook until thickened, about 5 minutes.
3.  In a medium saucepan, bring the chicken broth and butter to a boil.  Stir in the couscous, cover, remove from the heat and let stand for 5 minutes.  Fluff with a fork and stir in the nuts and scallions.
4.  Serve the skewers on the couscous and drizzle with the ginger-soy glaze.

*Note- I doubled the ingredients for the ginger-soy glaze.  We like sauce!

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Ed's Amplifier Restoration

My father-in-law Ed recently got a good deal on a used amplifier. The amplifier in question, the Shenandoah Stereo 60, retails for a hefty sum. Ed purchased his amplifier for under one third the price of a new one. The main reason Ed got such a good deal is that the exterior of his used cabinet had taken a beating. Not only was the vinyl torn and peeling, but the amplifier had been exposed to damp conditions and the metal components were showing signs of rust. Long story short, I offered to help restore the amplifier and he accepted!

Here is the amplifier before I started:

The first thing I had to do was remove the vinyl and strip the glue underneath. It was important to remove all of the old glue so that the new glue would have something to adhere to. Removing the vinyl proved to be easy, but the glue was another story. Here is a shot of the evil nasty glue:

At first I tried to sand the glue off, but the sandpaper had no effect- the glue was too gummy and tacky. After trying a number of things I ended up relying on Goo Gone. Goo Gone worked, but you can't let MDF get too wet, so timing was important and things were slow going. Eventually I got most of the glue removed and I was able to sand the remaining residue off.

Next I had to make a slight modification to the cabinet. Ed had chosen tweed over vinyl for the new covering. Tweed was used on many classic amps and it looks damn good. The only problem was that the current design of the cabinet had some curves that vinyl could stretch over but tweed could not. I ended up cutting out the offending section and replacing it. Here you can see the piece I cut out and the new section in place.

After routing the new edge I was ready to cover the box in tweed.

I could probably write a whole post on the tweed recovering. In short, you need 3M Super 77 spray adhesive, a bunch of really sharp razor blades, rollers for pressing the tweed in place, the ability to cut long clean lines, and a lot of patience and attention to detail. Since I was dealing with a spray adhesive, and you really don't want to move too fast, I also spent a fair amount of time masking areas to be sprayed (only to rip the tape off moments later to press tweed into place). Below are a few pics, but I invite you to check out the entire gallery on recovering to get a better idea on the process.

All that was left was to reattach the hardware and install the amplifier. I replaced the rusty washers and screws with stainless steel substitutes and scrubbed the remaining hardware with a scouring pad to remove any surface rust. How does it look now?

I think it looks amazing, and better than stock! Ed hasn't seen it yet in person, I hope he likes it. :)

The following galleries document the whole process:

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Colorado Vacation – Part V

For Part IV go here.

Thursday was our last full day in Colorado. As usual, I couldn't believe how fast it had come. :(

We started our day with French toast (Southerners might know it as Freedom toast)- it was tasty. Next, while Courtney was packing for our hike, I began to slowly start organizing stuff in preparation for our departure early the next day. For me this is the worst part of any trip (far worse than leaving)- the first realization that the fun is almost over. It reminds me of the last week of summer vacation before school started.

Anyways, once we were all packed up we jumped in the truck and headed for The Crags trailhead. The Crags trail is a 4.0 mile trail with an elevation gain of 720 ft. That is not much of an elevation gain, but unfortunately it felt like most of it was at the end. The Crags is interesting for a couple of reason, the main reason being that somehow millions of years ago, many many square miles of younger sediment was covered with 60 million year old granite. Nobody knows how it happened but it did. It is not like the granite just squirted on top of the younger rock, it was already rock hard sediment.

Pretty close to the beginning you have an important decision to make:

If you choose the wrong trail you begin ascending Pikes Peak! Although I would really love to do that, it wasn't in today's playbook. Fortunately for us we chose the right trail. The first part of the hike takes you through a valley which has almost no elevation change, but it is very beautiful.

During this part of  hike you move through forests of Aspen and Pine, large meadows, and a lot of crystal clear water for Monkey to play in!

Once you pass through the valley you begin your ascent to the top of this amazing outlook where you get an absolutely spectacular 360 degree view (which includes Pikes Peak and some amazing granite formations). The trail is pretty hard to follow at this point so you just keep trudging uphill.

Panorama (click to enlarge!)

In the picture below you can see some bristlecone pines behind us. Bristlecone pines are amazing little buggers because they are the oldest single living organisms known on the planet. They live as long as 5,000 years! It is hard to know how old these particular trees were, but it is safe to say that some of them were there before Columbus set foot on the Americas.

A few miles away you can see the Catamount Reservoirs that we saw up close the day before.

As we headed back Courtney and I were both kind of sad that our trip was quickly coming to an end. I think Monkey even knew something was up. :(

The Crags trail was easily one of my favorite parts of our trip to Colorado. I would say that this trail and the Waldo Canyon loop are absolute musts for anyone visiting the area. The rest of The Crags pics are here.

For dinner that night we went to Savelli's Pizza in Manitou Springs. They had great pizza and mediocre service- would definitely go back though. The rest of the night was spent packing and enjoying our last camp fire.

There was a bit of excitement later that night when Monkey and I walked up on 3 mule deer that were about 20 feet from our camp site. Monkey went ape-shit and chased them into the forest, probably waking up half of the campers in the process (oops- sorry).

We woke up the next morning, finished packing, and got on our way. Fun fact for ya, you get amazing gas mileage when you leave the mountains.

Well that is it, thanks for reading! If you haven't looked at all of the galleries I would at least encourage you to check out our best of gallery.

My Fav

Friday, July 2, 2010

Colorado Vacation – Part IV

For Part III go here.

Wednesday was Pikes Peak day! After making breakfast burritos we started on our way. Originally we were going to take the Pikes Peak Cog Railway, but Courtney and I remembered we that typically don't like small talk with strangers. Couple that with our yearning for adventure and you have... dunnnhh duhhh dunnhh duhhhhh... Pikes Peak Highway!

Pikes Peak Highway is a 19 mile toll road that leads to Pikes Peak. The bottom third of the road is paved while the upper portion is gravel. The gravel portion is also home to the badassness that is known as the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb. While we were ascending we saw a bunch of rally cars being towed back down. One of the teams we saw was the Honda Ridgeline rally team and they all stuck their arms out of their cars and gave me a thumbs up. I was immediately cooler than I was the moment before this happened.

Anyways, the ascent is kind of scary because there are not many guard rails and pretty steep grades. Don't worry though, as soon as I would begin to feel brave and/or cool I would see something like a 1987 Chrysler Lebaron riding my ass and wanting to pass me. Eventually we got to the top where the air was really thin and the view was pretty impressive.

Biggass Panorama Warning (click below to enlarge)

Oh yeah, Monkey got to come too!

It was a tad windy and chilly but not too bad. Before leaving we visited the gift shop to purchase a shot glass and then walked around taking pictures. The trip down was a little scarier for one main reason- Hot Brakes Fail! The road is so steep that you would burn up your brakes pretty quickly if that is all you used to slow down, so you have to use your engine to slow down. They attempt to remind everyone of this by these scary signs that say "Hot Brakes Fail!". I ended up driving the entire way back down with my truck in first gear loudly whirring away at 4,000 RPM (and I still had to break at times).

On the way down we found this little unknown turnoff to an area called Elk Park Overlook. The main reason it is unknown is because you can't see the turnoff unless you are a couple hundred feet above the road in question. When you get to the turnoff you have to take it on faith that there is a road there because it looks like you are driving off of the mountain to a quick end (doh)!

While at the overlook we saw a deer, Monkey ate snow, and I got this cool picture of Courtney and Monkey while I was trying to setup a shot:

After leaving Elk Park Overlook we found another turnoff about 5 miles later to something called South Catamount Resevoir- it was beautiful!

And that was the end of our Pikes Peak visit. You can find all of our pics here.

For lunch we headed to Manitou Springs so that we could get a bite to eat at a place called Adam's Mountain Cafe. This restaurant makes everything fresh when you order it. The food was very very good. I had the Smoked Salmon Wrap and Courtney had a yummy Cashew Chicken Salad. The food was so good we almost abandoned our dinner plan later in the week and went back.

We closed out the night by visiting one of the original homesteads that make up Mueller State Park. Known as the Osborn Homestead, it has remnants of the original cabin and outbuildings along with some fabulous views:

All of the Osborn Homestead trail pics can be found here.

Once we got back to the campsite we had brats and corn on the cob next to a camp fire. It was a beautiful night as usual but we eventually went inside and watched some Band of Brothers before turning in.

Stay tuned for follow-up posts outlining the rest of our trip!

Update: Continue on to Part V

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Colorado Vacation – Part III

For Part II go here.

Tuesday was going to be a great day for two reasons:

  1. We made big piles of pancakes for breakfast.

  2. We were finally going on a hike with Monkey!

The trail in question is the Waldo Canyon Trail. It has an elevation gain of 1300 ft and a length of 7 miles. Unless you are Chuck Norris it should take about 4 hours.

I was really excited about this trail because I had read some great reviews and seen some cool pictures. The trail certainly didn't disappoint. There are a lot of elevation gains, a shady forest, a cool stream you get to cross multiple times, switchbacks, ravines, and plenty of wildlife and plants to observe. Let's see some pictures!

Notice how Monkey is in every shot? That is because he was always 10 yards in front of us looking back, wondering what was taking us so long.

Once we got to the highest point on the trail we stopped for a moment to eat a PB&J sandwich- it was a nice break that allowed us to soak up the amazing scenery.

The trail is very popular, but due to its length we didn't run into too many people. Many folks call this trail a beginner trail- well I call those folks doo-doo heads! Although the trail isn't supremely difficult or anything, I think it falls into the moderate category- Courtney and I were both tired afterward. I think Monkey definitely had a blast though. In closing, I would recommend this trail to anyone visiting the Colorado Springs area.

You can find all of the Waldo Canyon Loop pictures here.

The remainder of the night was spent eating grilled veggie kabobs and turkey burgers while relaxing and looking at pictures we had taken during the trip.

Oh, have I talked about the hassles of bear country yet? In bear country you are not allowed to have anything food-related stored anywhere but a hard shelled vehicle or camper (or a bear box). Since our pop-up camper is essentially a tent on a wooden box this meant us. We had to keep all food, liquids, and toiletries in our truck. We also had to store all of our cook stoves and grills in the truck. I even had to shed the clothes I cooked in before I went into the camper each night. Let me tell you, the truck was pretty full each night! All in all it wasn't too bad, but it was a pain at times (namely stowing the toiletries each night before I went to bed). People that don't follow the rules are pretty big D-bags though, as it is usually the bear that gets killed (and not the D-bag). Sadly we never saw a black bear in person, but we did often see reminders of their presence in the form of scratches on trees.

Stay tuned for follow-up posts outlining the rest of our trip!

Update: Continue on to Part IV