I’m back in Los Angeles today after my business trip, but I spent yesterday working on one of my New Year’s resolutions. I visited state #34 – New Jersey! (Based on NJ’s relative size, the above map is almost identical to the one I shared last year with only 33 states colored in, but there’s a subtle difference. And that’s what matters.) While there’s no way I’ll be able to visit as many new states as I did last year, I’m very happy to start making progress on new travel destinations in 2015. Even if they aren’t any more exciting than New Jersey. Ideally I would have checked this state off my list last year when I took a day trip to Delaware on the tail end of a business trip, but for some reason I didn’t drive the few extra miles to do so. Due to my laziness a special trip was required visit the Garden State. So I tacked an extra day on to the end of my latest pilgrimage to the DC office and took a road trip to New Jersey. It wasn’t really that far to drive, really. Just a couple of hours, right? Unfortunately traffic wasn’t on my side yesterday morning. It took me over three hours to drive through three states and finally get to Fort Mott State Park in the southern part of the state. This wouldn’t have been a big deal except I missed the last ferry of the day to Fort Delaware on Pea Patch Island that I really wanted to visit. So instead I just walked around the remains for Fort Mott for about an hour or so and headed back to the DC area. (Lucky for me the traffic going that direction was much better.) It was a short visit in state #34, but it counts! Even better, I’m going to be setting foot in state #35 in less than two weeks. I’m going to Alaska on vacation! More on that soon!
A couple of weeks ago I wrote about saying good bye to my old suitcase that I bought in 1997. Well, a few days later I replaced it with a brand new carry on size suitcase, just in time for my business trip to DC this week. I wasn’t really in the mood to shop around all over the place for a suitcase so I went to Macy’s because they were having a sale. My first thought was to get a Victorinox since I love my larger suitcase from that line, but the cost blew me away! Even at half price they were way too expensive. The same thing turned out to be true of the other brands I was initially considering. It’s not that I couldn’t afford it, but I had no intention of breaking the bank for one little piece of luggage. This frugal stance led me to browsing through the Samsonites instead of the higher end brands. My old carry on was a Samsonite and it served me well for 18 years, so I figured I couldn’t go wrong with another one. Unfortunately I wasn’t that crazy about the aesthetics of the latest models. Why are there so many weird pockets on the outside? Who needs those? But anyway, after mulling over my options for about half an hour I settled on a 21″ Samsonite with spinner wheels. Take a look at it in the above photo, hanging out in my “fashion forward” hotel room. (The polka dot chair matches exactly nothing else in the room.) It was a little funkier than I really wanted, but there weren’t exactly an abundance of choices in my price range. Besides the price, the main selling point was the color. It’s dark red and I love it. My biggest requirement for a suitcase is that it can’t be black. Seems like everyone has a black suitcase and I want mine to stand out from the crowd at baggage claim. Especially at the zoo that is LAX. It’s a little easier when I’m flying somewhere like Tallahassee that has a grand total of two baggage claim carousels! But I digress. I didn’t really have high expectations for my new little suitcase, but it has already overperformed on this trip. It easily held a week’s worth of clothes (work clothes and workout clothes), three pairs of shoes, all the necessary toiletries, and a large container of cookies that I brought for my DC co-workers. Not bad! And even though I was opposed to the spinner wheels at first, they made it easy to maneuver on most surfaces (although the Budget rental car parking lot is a challenge for any suitcase wheels). What a pleasant surprise! This could be the beginning of a beautiful travel-based friendship.
Chocolate chip cookies #52: Based on Imperial Sugar’s Bourbon Chocolate Pecan Cookies. Baked on 7/25/15.
Before leaving for my business trip in DC I baked two batches of chocolate chip cookies. One of my East coast co-workers specifically requested two types of cookies (one with dried cherries and another with three different kinds of chocolate chips), but I doctored them both up a little to try a couple of new recipes from my “Best chocolate chip cookies?” Pinterest board. I was especially excited about this one in particular. I’ve saved several chocolate chip cookie recipes that include some kind of liquor, but I wasn’t at all sure how any of them would turn out. I was definitely looking forward to finding out, though. So on Friday I went to BevMo and bought a couple of tiny bottles of bourbon since I don’t usually keep alcohol in my house. At first I intended to add 1/4 cup of bourbon to the cookie dough, as the recipe instructed, but then I decided to try something a little different. I reconstituted the dried cherries in bourbon instead (by microwaving them in 1/2 cup bourbon for 1 minute) and drained the excess liquor before folding the fruit into the dough. In addition to that change, I didn’t really follow the rest of the original recipe either. Call me a rebel, but I used my perfect chocolate chip cookie recipe (because how can you improve on perfection?) and just added the boozy cherries. And the result was delicious! The bourbon flavor is pretty subtle, but you can definitely taste it along with the cherries. Out of curiosity, I think I’d like to try this again with a little more bourbon and see if I can make the flavor a bit more pronounced. Not overwhelming, but more obvious. I’ll let you know how it turns out!
I’m on a plane headed to DC for the week and this travel day has been quite an experience already. Between checking my bag and getting through security my flight was delayed by an hour and the gate changed. No big deal. I sat down for a leisurely breakfast and then wandered around the terminals to pass the time. (Today is the last day of Boeing on the Move 2015 and I wanted to rack up as many steps on my pedometer as possible before getting on the plane.) By the time I made it back to the second gate assignment it was in the process of changing again. And then as soon as people started lining up at that gate to board the plane, it changed again. I guess United decided to switch our flight to another plane since the original one was running late. I seriously contemplated sneaking on one of the three flights to Hawaii that were leaving from our terminal. In the end the flight to DC took off about two hours late. This kind of ruins my evening plans once we arrive, but I can be flexible. It should be an interesting week.
The purpose of this inflight blogging session wasn’t to share boring travel stories, though. Last night I was looking through all of my draft posts that I have been neglecting lately, and I realized a terrible trend. It’s one thing to have a backlog of fairly inconsequential posts waiting to be polished and published, but I’ve started a few on big and exciting events that I can’t believe I haven’t finished yet. Earlier this year I made a resolution to blog about events in a timely manner, but it’s a struggle for me. Finding the time and the motivation to write at the same time isn’t easy. I will continue to work on that going forward. The funny thing is, this post isn’t going to be about one of those big and exciting topics. Well, I guess it is a little bit, but only barely. I just want to make sure to tell this story before I completely forget about it.
On my way back from Hawaii I wrote about my bikini experience. Well, that was just half of the story. While getting ready for that trip I learned that by mid-June the bathing suit selection at most stores has dwindled down to almost nothing. Not only did this hinder my search for a bikini top that fit properly (as I documented in that post last month), but also for some bikini bottoms that would work with (or at least not clash with) whatever top I ultimately wound up with. Fortunately some of my old bikini bottoms still fit so I wasn’t quite as panicked about having something to wear with the black Rip Curl top that I was lucky enough to find. But on my last desperate trip to Aerie to complete my swimsuit collection for Maui I saw a purple bikini with white polka dots and little lobsters all over it. (See the photo above. Cute, right?) After discovering that Aerie bathing suit tops don’t fit my very well I didn’t even bother trying on the bandeau top, but the bottoms were just too adorable to pass up. And while they didn’t exactly match the black bikini top, it was still an acceptable combination and I loved wearing something whimsical on the beach in Hawaii. I was never one to follow fashion trends so why start now? I know this wasn’t the wrap up post that my amazing trip to Maui deserves, but I will work on that this week while I’m in DC. I promise!
I couldn’t wait for Friday to share this amazing recipe. I’ve been tinkering with this chocolate chip shortbread for a long time now and it is finally perfect. I first tried my hand at shortbread for Thanksgiving 2013 and I was encouraged by the initial results. Since then I’ve made some tweaks here and there to come up with a recipe that I absolutely love. The biggest change was using powdered sugar instead of granulated sugar. I shared my first attempt (Chocolate Chip Cookies #41) back with that ingredient swap back in February when I baked desserts for a Super Bowl party. The powdered sugar gave the shortbread cookies an amazing crumbly texture, but I didn’t think they were quite sweet enough with only 3/4 cup. Luckily folks still seemed to like them. However, I thought there was room for improvement. After doing some research about substituting different kinds of sugars in recipes I decided to double the amount of powdered sugar (1 1/2 cups) and see how that worked. Well, the flavor of the resulting cookies was incredible! They were buttery and just as sweet as I wanted them to be, but unfortunately the lovely shortbread texture was missing. So today made another batch with 1 1/4 cups of powered sugar and it’s perfect! I’m so glad I stuck with this recipe until I got it right. Go and make a batch and see for yourself how great these cookies are!
1 c butter, softened
1 1/4 c powdered sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp salt
2 c flour
1/2 c mini chocolate chips
In a large bowl, cream together the butter and sugar. (Measure the powdered sugar like flour, loosely spooning it into a measuring cup and leveling the top with a knife.) Since powdered sugar has a tendency to clump (and I don’t own a sifter), I usually use an electric mixer for this recipe. Add the vanilla and salt and beat until combined. Add the flour and beat until almost completed incorporated, scraping down the side of the bowl with a rubber spatula as needed. Fold in the mini chocolate chips. Spread the dough into an 11×7″ pan lined with aluminum foil and coated with cooking spray. Bake at 375 deg F for about 25 min (check after 20 min just in case), or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean and the top is starting to turn golden brown. Cool on a wire rack for 10-15 min and then lift the cookies out of the pan with the sides of the aluminum foil. Slice into squares before the they cool (it’s easier while the cookies are warm). Cool completely before eating. Enjoy!
“This is my little Samsonite suitcase that I bought back in 1997 to take to Europe. It’s not readily identifiable as a Samsonite anymore because the badge got ripped off on one trip or another in the last couple of years so you’ll just have to trust me on the brand. … I took this picture on my way home from a business trip last August because I thought it might be my last trip with that suitcase and I wanted something to remember it by. Not that I have any reason to replace it at the moment, but I don’t think it will be too long before I do.”
01/21/14 webpage post
Well, one year after I posted this ode to my trusty little suitcase, I finally had to say goodbye. I bought it to go to Europe back in 1997 and it has served me well over the last eighteen years. After the Tinkerbell Half Marathon Weekend in May I discovered that one of the wheels had completely fallen off which made it difficult to maneuver. And noisy! However, I still tucked it back in my closet when I got home and forgot about its shortcomings. Then at the last minute I decided to take a carry-on size suitcase rather than my larger one to Hawaii last month. I had completely forgotten about the missing wheel. Oops. When I arrived at LAX for my flight it was far too late to pick a different piece of luggage for my trip, though. Luckily it held up just fine and I got back to Los Angeles without any additional pieces falling off. I decided that trip to Maui was my old suitcase’s swan song, though. And what better way to go out? I’ve taken that little guy all over the world! But now it’s time to find a new travel companion for future adventures (and not-so-exciting business trips). I hope I can find something that will last just as long!