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Banh Mi

Posted by on Apr 3, 2017 in Craft, Travel | 6 comments

When we moved, we found ourselves near a place with great banh mi, which are Vietnamese sandwiches on French bread with these marinated vegetables and thinly sliced meats. It’s a beautiful blending of cultures.

Banh mi vietnamese sandwich

My brother Ian says the many banh mi places in Seattle all seem to charge exactly $3.98 for a sandwich. As with many things, they’re even cheaper here in Phoenix. It’s a lotta deliciousness for your buck.

Have you tried banh mi? Do you have a favorite spot near you?




Microblog Mondays: Write in your own space

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Bartlett Lake Marina

Posted by on Mar 9, 2017 in Travel | 0 comments

Bartlett Lake

Don’t believe the rumors. The road to Bartlett Lake Marina is definitely paved.

Bartlett Lake Road

I couldn’t help laughing when I learned that some guidebooks still list it as being rough and “unimproved,” like you’re blazing a trail through the wilderness. We had just made the drive – it’s an actual road, just like the highway we turned off to get there. You don’t need to machete your way through the undergrowth. You don’t even need 4-wheel drive.

Bartlett Lake

Reservoir

This perfectly good road takes you all the way to the marina parking lot, winding through beautiful desert hills until you finally spot blue water in the distance.

Bartlett Lake marina

Like many Arizona lakes, Bartlett is technically a reservoir, formed by damming part of the Verde River. Besides watersports, there’s hiking, camping, and wildflower viewing in the area, which is about an hour outside of Phoenix (half an hour from Cave Creek).

Bartlett Lake Marina Restaurant

The reservoir is part of Tonto National Forest, but the marina, general store, and restaurant are owned and operated by one entrepreneurial extended family.

Sarah Church at Bartlett Lake Marina

“We built every single thing you see,” Sarah Church, the self-proclaimed Matriarch of the Marina, told me, motioning from the restaurant patio to covered boat storage.
Bartlett Lake Marina
Phillip and I were part of a group invited to check out the new restaurant, The Last Stop, and take a ride on a rental boat. (Mr. Cheeseface stowed away too.)

Bartlett Lake Marina Restaurant

Restaurant

At lunch, we sampled cheeseburger sliders, grilled chicken sandwiches, pulled pork, regular and sweet potato fries, onion rings, and mac-and-cheese bites.

Bartlett Lake Marina Food

The clear favorites at our table were the pulled pork and the onion rings, followed by the sliders and fries.

Bartlett lake Beer

They offer a list of Arizona beers. Phillip liked the Scorpion Amber Ale by Lake Havasu-based Mudshark Brewery.

Bartlett Lake Marina Mousse

The winner, however, was dessert. Daily specials vary, but we got to try the mocha mousse, which was light and caramely and delicious. We’ve considered making the drive just for dessert (and a lake view, of course).

Bartlett lake Boat

Rentals

Afterwards, we all headed down a long pier and boarded a couple boats.

Bartlett lake Boat

Phillip and I joined the group on the 45-foot Party Yacht. It can carry up to 20 people, has seating on 2 decks, a bar, barbecue, speakers, and a water slide.

Bartlett lake Boat slide

Wouldn’t be fun to have a cookout in the middle of a lake?!

Bartlett Lake Marina Boat waterslide

The boat felt very sturdy and just rocked gently when the occasional waves rolled under it. We were there on a weekday, so everything was pretty quiet. It was neat to take in the view of the rocky hills that line the lake from the marina to the dam.

Party Yacht speakers

Besides the Party Yacht, you can rent pontoon boats, speed boats, or jet skis. There aren’t boat tours at Barlett Lake, unless you make your own.

Bartlett Lake Marina Boat

We enjoyed our time at Bartlett Lake and headed back down the (definitely paved) road contented.

Bartlett Lake

– More Bartlett Lake info –

  • The Last Stop Restaurant is open Friday through Sunday, 11am to 5pm or later.
  • Boat rentals: Party Yacht (full day) $1295. Pontoon Boat (half or full day) $295-425. Jet Ski (by the hour or day) $95-280.
  • Directions: Make sure you’re headed to Bartlett Lake Marina or Bartlett Lake Boat Club. Owner Bryan Church said GPS has lead some people to the wrong location and recommends calling if you need directions (602.316.3378).



Thank you to Bartlett Lake Marina for hosting us and RSVP & Associates for the invitation.

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7 Vegas Things to Do Off the Strip

Posted by on Dec 30, 2016 in Craft, Travel | 0 comments

UNLV

When we took our road trip to Las Vegas, our brief Bellagio Fountains visit was the most time we spent on the (in)famous Strip, where the supersized casino-resort properties (and, yep, lots of places for weddings) are clustered.

Sangria at firefly

Instead, we played retro arcade games, found some art, explored the desert, and ate some really good food.

Seven magic mountains

So, if ginormous casinos aren’t your thing, read on for awesome places to go in Downtown, near UNLV, and outside of the city altogether.

Bin 702

Downtown Las Vegas

Just north of The Strip is Downtown Las Vegas, which was built first, with casinos along its historic Fremont Street in the wild west days before Nevada was even a state.

Today Downtown includes the area between Washington Avenue and Sahara Avenue, Valley View Boulevard and Eastern Avenue. There is an effort underway to make it more welcoming and walkable, as well as focused on arts and small businesses.

You can still find casinos downtown too. Several of them are linked by the Fremont Street Experience pedestrian walkway, such as Binion’s (home to a free-pull slot machine) and Golden Nugget (home to a waterslide that goes through a shark tank).

Downtown Las Vegas

Downtown Parking

There are several paid parking lots in the Downtown area.

If you’re parking or staying on The Strip, you can take the Deuce bus from there to Downtown. ($8 fare for unlimited rides during a 24-hour period.)

Downtown Las Vegas - Container Park

1. Stroll through Downtown Container Park.

What it is: Three storeys of shipping containers repurposed into locally-owned stores and restaurants surrounding a central plaza and Treehouse playground.

Where: 707 Fremont Street, Las Vegas

Parking: Llama Lot and Fremont Street Experience parking garage (mentioned above) are each about .25 mile away, and you’ll save a few bucks over the Container Park’s own lot ($3/hour). Less money parking means more for things like cheese boards and bath bombs.

Hours:

Shopping Center –

Monday – Thursday: 11am to 9pm
Friday – Saturday: 10am to 10pm
Sunday: 10am to 8pm

Restaurants + Bars –

Monday – Thursday: 11am to 11pm
Friday – Saturday: 10am to 1am
Sunday: 10am to 11pm

Downtown Las Vegas - Natural Earth Cosmetics
We liked…

  • Art Box for jewelry and artwork from 35 local artists.
  • Natural Earth Cosmetics has handmade natural bath products and cosmetics, knit wash mitts, and other unique gift items – most of it handmade by the owner Michaela.
  • Bin 702 for delicious and adorable montaditos (mini-sandwiches).

Downtown Las Vegas Container Park
Tips:

  • Phillip wanted me to remind you not to miss the second and third floors. There is more food, more jewelry, clothing, and a cool pet store with reptiles, fish, and seahorses.
  • On the second floor next to The Perch, there’s what looks like a gallery container with a few places to sit, some local artwork, and a view overlooking the courtyard and stage. It may actually be the smoking section and not a gallery. However, when we were there, people were hanging out, eating, and watching the costume contest happening on stage, but I don’t remember seeing anyone actually smoking.
  • The Fire Mantis sculpture in front of the entrance periodically lights up, plays music, and shoots flames from its antennae.
  • Kappa Toys has their own custom pogs and slammers.

Downtown Las Vegas Container Park

2. Find restored historic signs in Downtown’s outdoor Urban Gallery.

What it is: As far as I can tell, this is not a single spot but several outdoor installations.

Nine of the Neon Museum’s vintage signs have been restored to working order and installed around Downtown, including at the Fremont Street Experience pedestrian walkway. Since they’re outside on public streets, you can visit them anytime. Just download a map of their locations and go on a self-guided tour.

Along the way, you’ll probably spot other public art like Bordalo II’s Meerkat mural on the side of an old bus or the world’s largest working fire hydrant in front of a doggy daycare center.

Downtown Las Vegas

Where: Downtown Las Vegas, especially around Las Vegas Boulevard (See PDF map.)

Parking: Fremont Street Experience parking garage or any of the Downtown Parking options above.

Hours: Always open.

Cost: Free.

Xeriscape

Around UNLV

The University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV) is east of The Strip and directly north of McCarran International Airport. One of the items below is actually on campus, while the other two are nearby.

Barrick Museum UNLV

3. Visit the Marjorie Barrick Museum at UNLV.

What it is: Small art museum with rotating exhibits inside a former gymnasium.

Where: 4505 S. Maryland Parkway, Las Vegas

Parking (PDF map):

  • Lot I (metered, $1/hour, right outside Musuem)
  • Visitor Lot V (metered, $1/hour)
  • Lot S (free, about 0.7 mile from Museum)

Hours:

Monday – Friday: 9am to 5pm (Thursdays until 8pm)
Saturday: 12 to 5pm
Closed Sundays

Cost: Free. Suggested contribution: $5.

UNLV

We liked…

Current exhibitions –

  • In Transition: Ceramic figurines of women in different stages of life from pre-columbian Mesoamerica, South America, and Central America. September 6 – March 30, 2017.
  • Edward Burtynsky: Oil: Photo series on the effects of oil extraction and consumption around the world. September 23 – January 14, 2017.

The ArtBar, where you can create your own art in response to the work on display.

A xeriscape entry garden wraps around the outside of the building with pathways through desert plants.

 

Pinball Hall of Fame

4. Play games at the Pinball Hall of Fame.

What it is: Not-for-profit, volunteer-run arcade of working (mostly) vintage pinball machines and games like Pac-man, Tetris, and Star Wars.

Where: 1610 E. Tropicana, Las Vegas (North side of Tropicana between Maryland Parkway and Eastern Avenue, about 1.5 mi from The Strip.)

Parking: Free lot on-site.

Hours:

Sunday – Thursday: 11am to 11pm
Friday – Saturday: 11am to 12am

Cost: Free entrance. Games are 25 cents to $1.

Pinball

We liked…

  • Playing pinball! We enjoyed the analog machines, as well as the newer movie- and t.v.-themed ones (The Lord of the Rings, Gilligan’s Island, etc.).
  • Indulging our nostalgia for video games we grew up with.
  • Phillip found some quirky old mechanical games, including one where you fly this little metal spaceship and one with a dancing clown that creeped me out.

Vintage arcade game

Tips:

  • Machines are old and finicky and may eat your quarters. Let the attendant behind the counter know which game it is right away, and they’ll attempt to fix it or refund you.
  • There are change machines near the back.
  • Contrary to rumors that they’re about to close, the Pinball Hall of Fame is actually in the process of expanding into a bigger facility down the street.

Firefly tapas

5. Enjoy small plates at FiREFLY* Tapas Kitchen & Bar

Where: 3824 Paradise Road, Las Vegas

Parking: Free lot on-site.

Hours:

Monday – Thursday: 11:30am to 1am (Happy hour 3pm – 6pm, 11pm – 1am)
Friday – Saturday: 11:30am to 2am
Sunday: 10am to 1am (Brunch 10am – 2pm)

Firefly tapas

We liked…

  • Sangria, croquettes, bacon-wrapped dates, merguez – everything was so good and reminded me of the flavors of Spain!
  • We ordered a few (5ish) tapas to share. The small plates were great for sampling a variety of things and made a great lunch.

Outside of Town

Red Rock Las Vegas

6. Explore Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area.

Where: 3205 State Route 159, Las Vegas

Parking: Free lot on-site.

Hours:

Visitors center –
Daily 8am to 4:30pm

Scenic drive –
Daily 6am to 5pm

Cost: $7/vehicle for entry to Visitors Center and scenic drive. Red Rock Scenic Overlook is outside of the fee area, so I believe it’s free to stop there.

Red Rock

We liked…

  • 45-minute scenic drive loop with plenty of places to stop, check out the view, hike, or picnic (see below).
  • Visitors Center with a great picture window and extensive exhibits outside.

Tips:

  • There’s a desert tortoise habitat outside the Visitors Center, when it’s not too cold for them.
  • We had no cell service out there.
  • While the scenic drive was beautiful at every turn, if you were suuuper pressed for time, you could at least stop at Red Rock Scenic Overlook. You won’t get to see everything, but it would be better than missing out altogether.

We had hoped to squeeze in a quick hike and/or picnic, so I picked out a few options, and then didn’t have time to do either. Anyway, here’s what I found.

Red Rock, Nevada

Easy hikes (and trail map numbers)

  • Overlook Trail (22): Paved, wheelchair-accessible path leading to the top of a small hill with a view of Red Rock Canyon. 0.25 mi.
  • Lost Creek Children’s Discovery Trail (8): Goes from the Lost Creek parking area to a seasonal waterfall. 0.7 mi.
  • Moenkopi Loop (1): Loop from the visitor center with fossils and panoramic views of the Wilson Cliffs. 2 mi.

Red rock

Picnic areas:

There are 4, and all have tables, trash cans, and nearby restrooms.

  • Red Rock Canyon Visitor Center Picnic Area: West of the Visitors Center parking area (with access to Moenkopi and Calico Hills trails).
  • Willow Springs Picnic Area: About halfway around the Scenic Drive (with access to Lost Creek and other trails).
  • Red Rock Scenic Overlook Picnic Area: On State Route 159 with access to Red Rock Scenic Overlook Trail. Some covered tables.
  • The Red Spring Picnic Area: On State Route 159 on Calico Basin Road, two miles east of the Visitors Center. Covered tables.

Seven magic mountains vegas

7. Drive out to Seven Magic Mountains.

30-foot-tall stacks of neon-painted boulders in the desert, a large-scale art installation by Swiss artist Ugo Rondinone on display through May 2018.

Where: 10 miles (about 30 minutes) south of Las Vegas off I-15 near Jean Dry Lake.

  • Take Exit 25 at Sloan Rd.
  • It’s on the way to Los Angeles.
  • If you’re headed to Phoenix or just about anywhere else, it’s not on the way, but we thought it was worth the detour!

Parking: Free lot on-site.

Hours: Daily, sunrise to sunset (recommended).

Cost: Free.

Seven Magic Mountains Las Vegas

We liked…

  • Seeing the vibrant colors against the muted landscape.
  • Experiencing art large enough to crush us.

Seven magic mountains

Tips:

  • You can get some background information from either the signage near the parking lot or by calling (702) 381-5182 (English or Spanish).
  • There are no restrooms, water, tables, benches, shelters/shade covers, or anything else on the site. Just you, the art, and the elements in the open desert.
  • The closest public restrooms are 5 miles away in the town of Jean.
  • It was very windy the day we were there. A woman showed up with a yoga mat but didn’t stay long because it was so dusty. Plan for the weather. Don’t plan on doing yoga.

French pastry

Bonus

A few more Off-Strip eatery options:

  • Delices Gourmands French Bakery (3620 W. Sahara Avenue, Las Vegas) – Stopped here for a pastry and coffee.
  • The Sparklings (8310 S. Rainbow Boulevard, Ste. 100, Las Vegas) – This is where our friend’s wedding was, so we didn’t visit during normal restaurant hours, but it seemed like a neat place.
  • KJ Kitchen (5960 Spring Mountain Road, Chinatown, Las Vegas) – Our Las Vegas friends’ pick for “real Chinese food.”

There are also lots of places to stay that aren’t on The Strip. We opted for a great little Airbnb casita rental near Red Rock. [UPDATE: You can get $35 off your first Airbnb stay and help us keep traveling by signing up via my referral page.] 

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What are your Off-Strip tips?

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Exploring Salem: Day One

Posted by on Oct 27, 2016 in Travel | 2 comments

[Ever been to Salem, MA? Me neither. Fortunately, Jessica Tennant of My Path to Mommyhood took a road trip there this summer from her home in upstate New York and is telling us all about it! –S]

Salem

My husband Bryce and I go to Maine every summer. There is nothing quite so beautiful as coastal Maine, and we get to see many different parts of the state because my in-laws live in the capital area, which is central to just about everything.

It just takes a REALLY long time to get there, so we’ve started stopping partway on the way there and the way back, which gives us the added benefit of exploring New England.

Salem - coach house inn tile

Weekend in Salem

This year, we decided on a romantic weekend in Salem, Massachusetts to break up the trip to Maine.

I had actually never been to Salem before, which is a shame. Salem is a tremendously kooky town, full of serious and tragic history (ahem, witch trials) as well as an affinity for ghosties, ghoulies, and all things Halloween, and a literary history involving Nathaniel Hawthorne and H.P. Lovecraft. It has cobblestone streets, tremendously old houses, and a red line painted throughout town called the Heritage Trail – following it sends you past many interesting historical attractions.

Coach House, Salem by boblinsdell

Bed and Breakfast

We stayed in The Coach House Inn, a bed and breakfast on Lafayette Street. It was built as a Victorian ship captain’s house in 1879. The inn was great, the innkeeper was very helpful and hospitable, and the breakfasts were continental and came in a Red-Riding-Hood style basket to your door at 8:30 in the morning, like magic.

Salem Breakfast

One thing about the Coach House that wasn’t so great was the location. It was right on the street that leads you straight into historic Salem, but, to get there, you had to walk through a fairly sketchy (and, as we heard from locals, heroin-plagued) section of town. We walked once and used Uber to go home and then took advantage of street parking after that…so if you don’t mind driving instead of walking, it’s perfectly lovely.

image

Geek Pizza

Our favorite place to eat was Flying Saucer Pizza Company, which sounds like a strange choice for me as a person with Celiac disease, but it had delicious and safe gluten-free options. AND, it was decked out in art and action figures and all kinds of paraphernalia from Star Wars, Star Trek, Doctor Who, the Avengers, Ghostbusters…it was a terrifically geeky place! All the pizzas were named after various things from sci-fi, and they have a Space Pug, Charlie, who is their mascot.

I had The Vision pizza, TWICE (for dinner the first night and lunch the next day, because it was THAT GOOD), which had walnut pesto, cheese blend, fresh mozzarella, cherry tomatoes, and balsamic fig. Does that not sound amazing? The regular pizza was excellent too, with Bryce mumbling “This is THE BEST pizza I have EVER HAD” to the server with his mouth full of a Hawaiian-style pizza with jalapeño peppers.

Salem burying point

Ghost Tour

It was an appropriately thunderstormy night for a ghost tour with Black Cat Tours. Our guide was dressed in old-timey clothing and delivered a great mix of historical and paranormal tales. He brought us through the burying ground, past an original house that was restored and, apparently, has a very Ring-like ghost of a girl who was quarantined in the attic for having scarlet fever and peeks out the windows.

image

Giles Corey

There was a section of the burying ground that had stone benches jutting from a stone wall, with each bench etched with one of the names of the witch trial victims and the date of their death.

All were hanged except one – Giles Corey, who was accused of witchcraft in his 80s (but, lest you think he’s a good guy, he also accused his wife), and knew that if he was convicted or confessed he would lose his property to pay for his time in jail (yup, they had to pay for their meals and everything they got in the deplorable jail conditions themselves). He refused to confess or consent to be tried. He was tortured to death through “pressing” – they lay a board on him laden with more and more stone weights every time he refused to consent.

Although he died, he saved his property from confiscation this way, and now you know what it really means to be pressed for an answer (!)

Supposedly, he haunted the head of law enforcement who had him arrested, hanging out at the end of his bed and causing chest pains.

Salem

Favorite Haunts

We also learned of an angry divorcee ghost who haunts the space where they have weddings and dances and other events, tries to push people down the stairs, and wreaks havoc on art displays, stomping around the top floor and going down invisible stairs that don’t exist anymore to frighten people on the first floor.

We didn’t personally see any of the ghosts, but thought the tour was fabulously spooky and informative. (Who knew the inspiration for The Tell-Tale Heart was a real-life murder of a stingy old captain by his caretaker right there in Salem?) I am a sucker for a good ghost tour, and this one was atmospheric and not corny at all.

So much to do and see in the first day, how could our second day in Salem compare?

[Part 2 is coming up on Monday!]


Photos –
1, 2, 6: Jessica Tennant.

5: Doug Kerr on Flickr, color corrected. CCL.
3, 4, 7: Robert Linsdell on Flickr, color corrected. CCL.

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Payson Pie and Strawberry Llamas

Posted by on Sep 1, 2016 in Travel | 0 comments

Llamas at ranch at fossil creek

Ever since a park ranger at Phoenix Comicon told us about Arizona’s National Park Centennial Celebration (which you may have seen on recent Happenings Lists), we had planned to make a day trip to Flagstaff to join.

image

After a late start the morning of the event, we were finally en route when we learned there had been a freeway-closing collision between us and Flagstaff and that the resulting traffic jam would likely last several hours.

So. We considered our options, ditched the plan, and headed to Payson instead.

image

While Phillip drove, I found a list of 35 things to do around Payson and read it to him. #33 was “Fossil Creek Llama Ranch.” Obviously, that went on the afternoon’s itinerary.

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First, though, we stopped at the Beeline Cafe for lunch and pie. They have crazy good pie.

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The clouds were moving in as we stepped out of the cafe and drove towards the Ranch at Fossil Creek in the town of Strawberry.

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The Ranch is home to llamas, goats, Fossil Creek Creamery – where they make fudge, cheese, and soap from goat’s milk – and a little log-cabin-style store with their products.

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It was sprinkling by the time we pulled up and went into the Creamery store. We checked it all out, sampled some cheese, made some purchases.

Fossil Creek Creamery: goat cheese

We went out to watch the animals. The llamas didn’t seem to mind the rain and just hung out around their field, chewing cud.

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The goats, on the other hand, had taken cover and stood huddled together.

Fossil Creek Creamery: goats

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Eventually, one black goat decided the rain had let up enough to venture out. The rest tentatively followed, one by one realizing the drizzle wasn’t so bad, and it was safe to get back to eating, climbing on stuff, butting heads, and doing all their regular goaty things.

 

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– More info –

ranch at fossil creek - strawberry, arizona

Photo of Phillip by someone at the National Park Service booth.

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