Iowa 2017

IMG_1213Midwest sunset on a farm

Two weeks ago I came home from a week-long vacation visiting my boyfriend’s family in Iowa. The main reason we went was for his cousin’s wedding.

We flew out of Honolulu and had a five-hour layover in Portland, then a three-hour night flight to Minneapolis. All of the flying culminated with a more than three-hour drive to Evansdale, IA. (We stopped in Wisconsin for, yep, cheese. And pickled Polish sausage).

Besides the wedding and reception, here are some highlights from the trip.

Cheese Curds

IMG_1114Case of a variety of cheese curds at the Amana Colonies meat shop

These small masses of cheddar cheese are the start of the cheesemaking process. Before cheese is made into blocks they start out as curds. You can have them fresh or fried. I tried both and have to say that fried is better. They taste like marinara sticks. They are also called cheese balls.

Lightning Show

The weather was unpredictable during the day–hot, cold and windy–but there were thunderstorms. And Midwest thunderstorms are not like ones in Hawaii. There were bolts of lightning, and it was neat to drive on the freeway and see that. One night there was a lightning show in the backyard.

Amana Colonies

IMG_1119Amana Meat Shop & Smokehouse

Our first adventure in Iowa was to the Amana Colonies, a German Pietist settlement in Iowa County. We only spent a few hours here, going to the Meat Shop & Smokehouse, Amana General Store (with a year-round Christmas market located inside!), Lehm Books & Gifts and Chocolate Haus.

Hansen’s Dairy

IMG_1189Decor in Hansen’s Dairy Waterloo

Our plan was to take a hands on tour of Hansen’s Dairy Farm, but we had a semi-packed schedule. The next best thing was to go to one of their storefronts in Waterloo for ice cream. We went twice during our stay! We even bought three pints of ice cream to eat at the house, but only ate one. Very creamy. Very tasty.

Downtown Ames

We needed to kill time before Reiman Gardens opened at 9am, so we walked around downtown Ames. We had an excellent chai latte at Cafe Diem and were treated to yummy chocolate–and nice customer service–at Chocolaterie Stam.

Reiman Gardens

IMG_20170621_095443Me and Elwood

Located on the Iowa State University campus in Ames, Reiman Gardens was such a pretty place! There was a lot to see on 17-acres, including the Christina Reiman Butterfly Wing, where we came face-to-face with colorful butterflies (there are 800 of them??) and Elwood, the World’s Tallest Concrete Gnome.

My first trip to the Midwest was an experience. The quintessential farm was seen (including a pig farm!), but my time was spent in small, urban towns. It was definitely different from living in Hawaii (rush hour traffic is nonexistent in Iowa, from what I remembered, and no mountains or ocean, of course).

In fact, the trip went by slowly because there was no rush, of any kind. It seemed to me that people took it easy and that didn’t bother me one bit. Yes, we did get bored but a small town is just that, small. Not much to do. Even Des Moines was small.

However, I still had fun. I saw fireflies glint in the backyard (everyone helped collect some when it was mentioned that I had never seen them), ate a lot, and experienced a different way of living.

It was awesome.

And I now want a small collection of mason jars; they were everywhere in the clothing stores we went into, and as centerpieces at the wedding reception. They are so cute!

Vegas 2017

I didn’t get around to blogging this sooner but here is my post about my Vegas trip!

My dad and I stayed at the New York New York Hotel & Casino, our first time staying on the Strip. It was a decent hotel and central to everything. The hotel lobby was outlined with restaurants and the further you walked past the casino, the decor changed to look like New York: there was a pizza parlor, painted brownstone apartments on the walls and cobblestone pathways. The hotel has a roller coaster which starts inside the hotel, so every few minutes there was the roar of the car taking off. Upstairs was Nathan’s Hot Dogs, an arcade, the second floor of Hershey’s World (first floor was by the casino), Coyote Ugly bar and entrance to the pedestrian bridge connecting New York to MGM Grand across the street.

New York New York
One of the walkways of New York New York

We arrived Friday afternoon and took the shuttle to our hotel. After freshening up it was 6pm, and we went to explore our surroundings. But first, dinner!

Broadway Burger
Bacon Cheeseburger and buttermilk onion rings

We ate at Broadway Burger and split the bacon cheeseburger and buttermilk onion rings. I loved the mini fryer the fries came in!

After, we went to look for the T-Mobile Arena, where the John Mayer concert was, which was located in The Park. It was a nice dining complex right outside of the hotel, with Shake Shack (need to eat there next time), Bruxie and other restaurants.

Saturday we went exploring. We went to see the flower garden at The Bellagio, ate pizza at Caesars Palace, went to a few of the Las Vegas gift shops and meandered around Hershey’s World.

Bellagio
Japanese Spring was Bellagio’s theme in the flower garden

Hershey
One of three cases of sweetness at Hershey’s World

That night was the concert, and it was alright. The arena was nice and in the foyers T-Mobiles signature pink was splashed everywhere. I’m still a hardcore John Mayer fan though.

Sunday morning we ate breakfast at Denny’s, checked out Wynn and Encore, took the tram to Mandalay Bay and Luxor and relived my childhood at Excalibur and Circus Circus.

Since it was our last night I wanted to eat dinner at Giada de Laurentiis’ restaurant, who is my favorite chef. I thought that since it was Sunday that it wouldn’t be crowded.

Boy was I wrong. The next open table was at 9:30pm, so we chose to eat at the bar lounge. Upon arriving, you walk up a set of stairs to a very clean, nicely lit and organized reception area. There are items for purchase on display, including her cookbooks and shirts. In the corner is a seating area with a photo booth.

Giada
Entrance to Giada

The dining area was equally fancy, with a panoramic view of the Strip, including the Bellagio Fountains across the street.

My dad and I split the chicken marsala meatballs and spaghetti. Both were full of flavor, especially the spaghetti, which was very lemony. It wasn’t overpowering. The shrimp was cooked well and complemented the pasta. I could’ve eaten a full order!

Spaghetti
Half portion of spaghetti with shrimp

After dinner we watched the Bellagio fountain show. It was good ending to our trip.

But it wasn’t over.

When we arrived at our hotel we noticed a crowd of people were waiting in front of the elevator lobby doors to Century Tower (where we were staying). The fire alarm had gone off on the 22nd floor so the elevators were shut down.

Our room was on the 37th floor.

After 30 minutes we were allowed to return to our rooms through different elevators (which didn’t make sense because each tower had their own set of elevators). But my dad and I were given conflicting information to get back to our room. We walked up stairs and took two elevators, only to come back down to the lobby. Eventually we had to be escorted by the hotel manager to our floor.

It was 11:15pm when it was over, and we needed to wake up at 5:30am to catch the airport shuttle.

After rushing to shower, I hopped into bed and awoke groggy. I didn’t want to go home.

But I had to. I had to go back to work, and vacation doesn’t last forever.

Until next time…

Camping

I went on my first camping trip over Memorial Day weekend. Four of us went to Keaiwa Heiau State Recreation Area and it was fun!

Since it was a weekend to unplug and be with nature, I didn’t take a lot of photos, but there was no need to. It was great making memories without photos.

Keaiwa Heiau State Recreation Area houses Aiea Loop Trail, with ten campsites scattered around the park. Some campsites had amenities such as bathrooms and showers, while others had nothing but greenery. Thankfully, we had the former, and our site was at the end of the trail.

Tent
Our tent

We arrived Saturday afternoon and spent the next 48 hours eating good food (someone ate more s’mores than I can count), relaxing, getting rained on (twice) and one Target trip (Sunday).

There were seven designated areas on the campsite, each having at least one picnic table. I was wondering how many people were going to there and it was quite a bit! The largest group had the prime spot, where they set up a covering and a large fire. It was populated, but the campsite was large so no one was invading another group’s space. I liked that there were a lot of people around.

Some of them made us laugh. Like group grilling over the sewer line. (Actually, that just made us concerned).

But, it was a sight.

During the day it was hot, but at night I needed to wear a jacket. In fact, I wore my jacket over my long-sleeve PJ’s.

Despite the cold, we saw the stars, and they were beautiful.

Smores
The…fifth, fourth time making s’mores?

Because of the rain early Sunday morning, it was too muddy to hike the trail. However, the four of us got our exercise walking to the entrance of the trail head looking for dill. (A friend and I went on a walk Saturday night and smelled it, so we brought the guys to explore but the smell was gone! They thought we were crazy).

Even though camping was fun, I was SO ready to go home and SHOWER. I think we all were. Two days in the “wilderness” was enough for me. I joked that camping was going to be a once a year affair. I’m not that much of an outdoorsy person, but wanted to try camping.

And my OCD was (mostly) kept in check. I was hesitant to go camping because of that, but I decided that I wasn’t going to let it prevent me from doing things.

And I didn’t.

Making Bread

My boyfriend, Matt, enjoys making bread. Dinner rolls, danishes, loaves filled with herbs. He’s a bread making machine! I never wanted to try baking some myself because of the kneading process. I was lazy.

That changed when I found Alexandra Stafford’s no-knead peasant bread. I read the recipe and figured it was simple, so I made it on a Saturday where I didn’t have any plans. (That’s rare, by the way).

Unfortunately, I didn’t take photos of the baking process, but it came together fast! It was mixed by hand with a spatula: no stand mixer needed. And you only need one bowl to mix the ingredients, how great is that?

However, even with the quick prep, the dough still needed to rise for a total of…okay, so the first rise is 1-1/1/2 hours and the second rise is 10-20 minutes. I let it rise for 1/1/2 hours, then 20 minutes, so you do the math for me. Haha!!

After the first rise, I formed the mass of dough into a ball, divided in half, and placed each half into two (different sized) bowls using forks. The transfer of the balls with forks resulted in the dough coming apart. I wasn’t sure why the directions called for forks, but I assumed it was to keep my hands from getting messy (if that was the case, the directions said that if the dough came apart during transferring, to use your hands. Contradiction).

Because my bowls were different sizes, that affected how the dough rose the second time. The dough ball in the small bowl became huge while the ball in the large bowl didn’t look too big.

The differences in bowl sizes also affected their baking time. The one in the small bowl was done in 20 minutes while the other took longer.

Now, as I mentioned, it was my first time baking bread. I didn’t know when it was fully baked, even though I ate it all the time. I’ve eaten (and seen) soft, white bread, brown bread, wheat bread…but baking loaves myself made me wonder, ‘Is it done? How do I know?’

loaves

The loaves came out decent. The outside was crunchy and the inside was really buttery (because of the greasing of the bowls) and soft, a little too soft. Not doughy. According to Matt, it was a little undercooked.

I trust him.

insideofbread

Even with that knowledge, I was proud of myself for making my first bread! I will be making it again.

But I better buy two same size bowls first.