Harmonious Holiday Happenings (with helpful hints)

Ciao Readers!  And happy and healthy holidays to you and yours!

Before we head off to Portugal to eat as much seafood as deprived desert-dwellers can (and I run the Lisbon holiday 10k – yay!), I thought I’d share some happy holiday happenings with a helpful hint or two.

It’s been an interesting month and from what I’ve experienced in the universe (and on the inter- webs) many people are suffering.  I try not to be preachy, so I will just share my experience – Headspace is a meditation app that is really all that and a bag of chips (and no, they didn’t pay me to say that).  It’s pretty much how I go to sleep every night, plus there are cool mini meditations (3 minutes) for everything from feeling “overwhelmed” to “frustrated” to fear of flying. If you’re finding yourself frazzled this time of year (or any), you can try it out for free.

So, now that that “public service announcement” is over, on to the festivities.

Almost every year we go to the River of Lights at our bipoapark – it is super sparkly and festive. I blogged about it, complete with tons of photos, two years ago here. Since you can see those photos, I’ll just add a few new ones and a helpful hint. They now sell tickets to what they call the “magic hour” – this means you get in at 5:00 instead of 6:00 when it usually opens.  Now, granted, it is more expensive, but if you can swing it this is the difference: on a normal night you wait in a line of cars to get into the parking lot for 1+ hours, you are then sent to the farthest reaches of a back parking lot located in another state, and then you trudge through the River of Lights like a sardine lined up end-to-end. Pay the few bucks more and you drive right into the parking lot and pretty much have the entire place to yourself – score!!!   It’s gotten so big they even went into part of the Japanese Garden this year:

Another thing I do pretty much every year, but did much differently this year, is attend the Festival of Trees. It’s an annual fundraiser for Carrie Tingley Hospital Foundation which works with kids with disabilities. The Albuquerque Convention Center is stuffed full of 100+ trees and 200+ wreaths, plus festivities, a mini village, kids crafts, etc. You can go for free or donate any amount you like. While it’s over for this year, next year you can volunteer to help decorate!  That’s what I did this year – I had no idea they had to start in September or what a precise science tree and wreath decorating were.  I was mostly a “helper elf*” – for example, I made all the bows in the tree behind me in the photo (and sourced the supplies for the Hanukkah tree pictured). (*Okay, full disclosure, I relegated myself to helper elf as I don’t seem to have the decorating touch – the cool (at least I thought so) travel/foodie wreath I sourced and made (first photo) was in the silent auction – and purchased by me, the only bidder!)  Steve and I even went to the opening night shindig.  Fun, festive, and for a good cause:

Finally, what Festivus would be complete without a festive holiday run and an indulgent ooh-laa-laa fancy-pants tea at St. James Tea Room:

Whatever you do or do not celebrate Dear Readers, I hope you find a nice warm peaceful space this holiday season.  Here’s to a bright 2020!!!

(Not quite) More Muppets than Imaginable (or a trip to a museum closer to home)

Ciao Readers!  Happy Almost-Back-From-Turkey-Day!

So, today we venture to the Albuquerque Museum for the Jim Henson Exhibition, which just got underway this past week.  While our museums can’t compete with the big guns (or apparently even Omaha, Nebraska – which gets a Monet even though they have 100K less people than we do (see last post)), this is a pretty cool exhibit.  It features a history of Jim Henson and the muppets and we even get some of the real muppet puppets on loan from a bigger museum in NY.

So, a little personal history, which also explains why this exhibition is a big deal to me….

I was just a few months shy of turning 3 when Sesame Street premiered on November 10, 1969. As you may know, it just marked its 50th!!! anniversary!  When I was a kid I LOVED the muppets – so much so that my 13 imaginary brothers and sisters that all lived in an imaginary dresser were muppets, not people (insert psychoanalysis here). My favorite easy-read books were all from Sesame Street, and the one pictured below, The Monster at the End of This Book, was my all time favorite, and an original is on display at the museum (notice the price in the corner):

Even as an adult, I still love the muppets and my own Jim Henson Muppet Factory puppets have starred in their own epics, such as “The Puppetinos Move to Italy.

 

In any case, there were several cool old muppets from the 50’s and 60’s (I didn’t realize most of the muppets were created for commercials, like Rowlf the dog for Purina), some old sketches, notes and videos, and several actual muppets (though not the 47 the museum in NY has – play small violin here). I tried my best to take photos without people in them, but this is a big deal for little ‘ol Albuquerque and it was a full house….Enjoy!:

 

 

Sneak Peak of the Penguins at the ABQ Zoo!

Ciao Readers!  (and HELLO new readers who found me through the zoo’s twitter!)

Two blog posts in one week – I know! And both with us dudded up in black-and-white* to go to some fancy schmancy shindig!

Tonight we had the unique privilege of getting to go to the “sneak peak” event of the soon-to-open Penguin Chill exhibit at the ABQ Zoo.  Let me tell you, it is SUPER COOL!!!!! (bad pun intended). The exhibit itself is amazing – a multi-level sub-antarctic environment with various viewing areas (even underwater!), complete with interactive activities including Skyping with Antarctic scientists!  But of course the main attraction is the penguins (31 penguins, 3 different species – you can read all the info on the link, above). They are just getting used to being in Albuquerque and while they are trying to keep them on their usual wake/sleep cycle (and warned us they would be asleep), they were all fully awake and diving and swimming tonight – it was a site to see! You can’t use a flash and it was nighttime, so the one photo I got was dark (sorry) – but check out all the penguins in it!  (there are some good videos on the zoo’s twitter @abqbiopark)

On top of the cool penguins, there were h’orderves, sushi, drinks and catching up with old acquaintances. And, one really neat thing that made me smile (you’ll have to figure it out from the photos)…..Enjoy!

*see if you can spot all our penguin-themed attire

 

 

Quirky & Cultured: The Santa Fe Opera

Ciao Readers!  Happy back-from-the-long-weekend!!!

Boy, it has been a while, huh?  I’ve missed you (almost as much as I’ve missed doing things I thought were “blog-worthy”).  I think this past weekend’s excursion counts, so….

For the very first time in our lives we went to the opera! Specifically, La bohème, at the Santa Fe Opera. Now, in full disclosure – the two biggest reasons we went were for 1) the quirky and cool tradition of fancy tailgating before hand, and 2) the amazing scenery at the venue (which I had seen years before when I went there to see an Indigo Girls concert).

So, as to the tailgating – this is a major tradition (you can read more about here) – everyone dressed in their finery gets to the venue a few hours early and sets up for dinner (anywhere from a cooler to an all out banquet table) – there is champagne, h’orderves, fancy food, etc. (you can also order dinner from the venue, as we did). It is a unique site for sure. We went semi-all out and brought a little table, fake flowers and some fake (i.e. dollar store plastic) “crystal.” Steve even brought a lawn-looking rug and an umbrella (which we needed as it started raining shortly after the picture, below, was taken). Here’s also some other folks (picture from the opera’s website):

In the background (when you are tailgating, but also inside the open-air venue) are both the Jemez Mountains and the Sangre De Cristo’s (since you can’t really get the full effect from my photos as it was raining, I’ve also included a youtube video):

 

So, fun fancy food, beautiful scenery and…..then the opera. Ack, this is the part where I have to admit, that despite desperately wanting to feel cultured and all (and really appreciating that my friend Julie’s daughter is an opera singer) – I’m just not that into opera. I can appreciate the singing and the costumes and all of it, but for some reason it just doesn’t hold my attention like a broadway show or a concert. And, while I could use the excuse that it was raining and COLD (in the 50’s) for summer and late by the time intermission rolled around and that’s why we left…I realized on the drive home that if it had been a Green Day concert it could have been hailing and 2:00 a.m. and I would have toughed it out.  But – we have been talking about going back – specifically for the tailgating (is that weird?) – we are pretty sure there were some other folks doing that as they packed up and drove off after the tailgate part (or it could have been the rain). In any case, a unique experience well worth it, even if I had to discover I am uncultured in the process!

Balloons of Joy

Hello Readers!

So, these have been somewhat heavy times for me and maybe for many of us.  However, this is not that kind of blog (if you’re interested in the heavier stuff, follow me on twitter); it’s a blog to share exciting adventures, delicious food and cool pics.  There could not have been a better day for taking and sharing some AMAZING photos from the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta than this morning.  All of these were taken either on my cheap phone or my real camera and I have done nothing to them (not even cropping), so you can share this morning’s beauty as it was.  Have a wonderful day!!!

 

River of Lights!!!

Ciao Readers! Happy Festivus!

So, while I have one more Italy blog in me (“Siena’s 500+ year-old Palio: violent horse race or community therapy?”), it’s going to take some research and be a little heady, and after the melancholy note on which I left my last post, I thought I’d share some holiday cheer….

Tonight we went to the River of Lights, a ginormous light display throughout the Albuquerque Botanical Gardens.  The display has over 500 sculptures and millions of bulbs, requiring workers to start setting it up in early October (using over 90,000 zip-ties)! Next to the Balloon Fiesta, I think it’s my most favorite (non-edible) thing about Albuquerque.  So, instead of blather on about it, I’ll share it as best I can (notice one of the quirky new additions, a UFO over the corn field):

 

The Shake Shack Saga Continues (do-it-yourself version)

Ciao Readers!

So, that last post really exacerbated my longing for a Shake Shack burger (and I am glad I amused at least one of you who knows I was a long-time vegetarian).  I confess that I am one of those people who, once they get an idea in their head, can’t let it go until they make it come to fruition.  Which brings me to my current quest to replicate the illusive magical burger at home.

Fortunately for me, a writer for Epicurious already did the hard part – deciphering exactly how and what goes into making the perfect faux Shake Shack burger.  Now, all that was left for me to do was to track down the exact ingredients and replicate the process.  Okay, let’s take a time-out here – do you think I’m nuts at this point? Do rationale people go through all of this over food?  Have I been permanently psychologically damaged by watching too much Food Network?  In any case…

I think it’s the buns that make the burger, and fortunately, Shake Shack buys buns that anyone (anyone who lives on the East Coast) can buy at their grocery, Martin’s Potato Rolls.  For those of us in New Mexico, the internet does the trick (as I write this I am tracking my buns’ trip from Pennsylvania).  The rest of the ingredients are things you can find at most groceries (though be sure to buy really good quality, thick, fresh, crispy pickles; the ones I found at Sprouts are pictured below).  I did have to get the butcher to grind the meat for me as you need 3/4 to 1/4 sirloin to brisket (am I sounding nuts again?) but other than that, really no sweat. (The butcher did ask me why in the world would I need ground brisket, and no, he had no clue what Shake Shack is.)

So, as soon as those buns get here, we’ll conduct the experiment, take pictures and report…. (for those of you who know I have to get my gallbladder out and that I shouldn’t be eating fatty foods, rest assured I am only going to try a bite, just to sate my taste for now; after that I’ll just watch Steve enjoy his).

[Two days later]  Yay! The mail lady just delivered the buns!!!  Hmmmm……..seems I accidentally ordered mini slider-sized ones (pictured below), so I guess our burgers won’t be 100% spot on, but serendipitously bite-sized – and boy do these buns feel soft!  Only 2 days till the weekend and our test run.  Stay tuned…

[Two more days later] Okay, today’s the day!  So, I made the secret Shack sauce, Steve mixed the meats I had previously ground by the butcher, I opened the jar of pickles and got the fresh veggies ready.  Then, we properly smashed and grilled the burgers, buttered and browned only the insides of the buns and lastly added cheese to Steve’s……..and………drumroll please………..voila!!!!!  Do they taste like my dreams you ask?

……Almost.  They were without a doubt the best homemade burgers we’ve ever made.  The buns were oh so soft, the meat nice and caramelized on the outside, the pickles fresh and crisp and the secret sauce yummy.   But something from my dreams was missing – the fact that the last two times we had these burgers we were on fabluous vacations and someone else made them for us!!!   So, if you are asking is it worth the effort to make these burgers, the answer is an unequivocal “YES.”   But, if you ever have the chance to go on a fabulous trip AND eat a Shake Shack burger – even better!

Here’s how we did it (notice my improving photo-staging techniques):











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