A Colorado Summer Vacation

Tom travels for work pretty often. Too often, in my opinion, for it’s far different for him to be out-of-town now than it was when I lived in Virginia. Just this week, pup and I dropped Tom and his suits off at the airport at 5 a.m. Monday for a three-day conference he’s putting on in Chicago, leaving us with lots of time for decorating and napping together. (And, job searching? And a puppy’s tooth extraction.) But the perks of his work-travel allow Tom to explore new cities (and countries!), and every once in a while, I’ll try to tag along. (San Francisco, you’re next!)

Last month, his company produced its largest event in Denver. A trip to the midwest seemed ideal for my own summer “funemployment,” since I’d last traveled to Colorado when I was but 1-year-old. Memories of hiking in the mountains during that trip are nonexistent, though a photo proved I had fun. This time, I’ll remember the vacation. Colorado is completely stunning.

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The conference was still ongoing when I arrived mid-week, so I roamed along the 16th Street Mall for most of the afternoon, and relaxed on the banks of Confluence Park. (Travel tip: Getting to downtown from the distant Denver International Airport is incredibly easy and doesn’t require an expensive taxi. A public bus runs about every hour, and is only $11, exact change required. A free shuttle along the 16th Street Mall dropped me off right by the hotel.)

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Strawberry Spinach Salad

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A quick search online will yield an overwhelming number of strawberry spinach salads. Some have cheese, some slivered onions. But I think this one is best.

It’s one my mom pulled from the Washington Post ages ago, but I haven’t been able to find it on their website. The salad is quick to pull together, yet impressive enough for parties, where my mom has served it, several times. Share it with a few friends at a pool party, or just enjoy for a weekday lunch.

A tangy-sweet dressing, specked with poppy and sesame seeds clings to the spinach leaves. Almond slivers add a crunch, and the strawberries, of course, offer a sweet and colorful bite.

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Molly Wizenberg’s Bread Salad with Cherries, Arugula and Goat Cheese

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Books are piling up on the shelf and beside my bed again this summer. It’s nice–I’ve missed them. Many are related to food, others are thriftstore finds, and two are quick picks meant to fill the hours on my recent cross-country flight to visit my family for the Fourth.

My favorites so far–and if you’ve read them, you’ll understand–are Molly Wizenberg’s A Homemade Life and the just-published Delancey, which chronicles the birth of their Seattle pizza restaurant. Recipes mix with stories of family, love, challenges and of course, food. So many pages are now dogeared, but the first recipe I tried was a simple one, a mealtime salad, one that reaffirms that salad shouldn’t be a swear word. “It’s handsome, delicious, and a little messy, like most good things in this life.”

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Blood Orange Margaritas & surviving the first months in San Diego

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When you’re working more than full-time for an erratic cafe owner with a weak grasp of the English language, standing on a concrete floor for such long hours that your hips start to burn, getting yelled at for turning away customers at 11:55 p.m. because you and the other overworked girl were ready to close up for the night, then San Diego isn’t quite the vacation that it had seemed on previous visits. It becomes real life.

I’m sorry that I’ve been missing from this space. I’ve jotted down many blog post ideas over the past weeks–months, actually–that I’ve been living out here. I’ve eaten lots and lots of good food, both at home and at restaurants, gotten sunburnt and bought bags full of blood oranges and avocados at markets.

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Day 4: Driving Across Texas

Before leaving San Antonio that Monday morning at the end of February, we had to get another good Mexican meal in our stomachs. The west of Texas was waiting; we better be prepared.

Taco Taco is a small taco shop that’s been featured on Food Network and in national food magazines. Bon Appetit proclaimed it to have the best tacos in America. The interior and food is nothing fancy–seat yourself at one of the small tables, so close together that your chair may be touching another customer’s. While we opted for breakfast plates rather than tacos, our dishes still came with the soft, warm homemade tortillas, served in a cast iron comal. My dad ordered huevos mexicanos, while I enjoyed my huevos rancheros. While not as spicy as some may hope for, the food was flavorful and fresh.

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Day 3: San Antonio

Don’t let the title of this post fool you. Texas didn’t swallow the three of us up, with it’s sky-sized flags and cowboy hats. We made it to San Diego long ago–I have a job! It’s sunny! We need to buy furniture!–but first, I want to finish telling you about how my dad and I got here.

After leaving snowy Virginia, driving through flat Mississippi and eating tasty fried seafood in Baton Rouge, my dad, dog and I began the drive into Texas. Let me tell you, it’s a huge state, more than a day’s drive across. I-10 keeps going and going and going. Luckily, this first day wasn’t too bad, for we only drove 5 hours from Lake Charles, Louisiana (home to many oil refineries) to San Antonio.

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Day 2: Tuscaloosa to Baton Rouge to Lake Charles, LA

Mississippi is flat and full of pine trees. The best fried fish swims on one end of a building and gets fried on the other. And dogs DO NOT like tigers, statues or the real animal.

Those were among the lessons we learned on Saturday, Day 2 of our cross-country road trip. We left our not-so-great Motel 6 south of Birmingham very, very early that morning (7:30 a.m.!), since neither of us slept well. Rachel made herself quite comfortable on my bed that night, a habit that I’m hoping to break immediately after this long drive. But, she’s stressed, and doesn’t know where her new home will be, so, I’m OK with it for now.

A search for green spots on online maps showed that the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa had a nice-sized arboretum with trails. We got off the interstate in a rundown section of town and didn’t see any evidence of the massive college. The road took us to what appeared to be a back entrance to the arboretum—gated. As we sat in the car, the website didn’t want to download, and our iPhone maps told us this was actually a golf course. Not ready to give up, after a few more minutes of driving and hoping maybe there’d be somewhere else to walk, we saw signs and finally found the arboretum, apparently adjacent to land that used to be a golf course. The pup was more than ready for a walk through some quiet woods.

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Day 1: Roanoke to Birmingham

The nearly record breaking snowstorm only set us back by about 2 hours Friday, and we left Wilbur Road around 11 a.m. with 122,557 miles on the Camry. Tissues, dog bones, lots of water bottles and Valentine’s Day brownies tucked in the little car, the 3,000-mile trip began.

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The first day of driving, aside from the snow, was fortunately uneventful. On Interstate 81, we passed several tractor trailers overturned in the median and other wrecked cars in the ditch. So glad that we had heeded the advice to stay home Thursday when 8+ inches of snow was still falling, and, really, that we had planned anyways to leave Friday morning. The sun reflecting off the snow along the interstate was so bright! Who said sunglasses were only for summer?

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