Roasted Brussel Sprouts

Growing up, Brussel sprouts weren’t a staple in our house. In fact, they were only served once. Us four kids weren’t impressed by the bowl of boiled Brussel spouts on the table (nor the accompanying smell) so we entered into negotiations with my parents. My dad – apparently not a fan of mom’s boiled Brussel spouts – agreed to our terms. If our dog (who ate everything) refused to eat one, then we didn’t have to finish the serving on our plate. We whooped with delight when our dog promptly spit out the boiled mini-cabbage and walked away into the other room. It would be 15 years before I ate another Brussel sprout.

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I can’t remember the exactly place I had roasted Brussel sprouts as an adult but I remember being blown away and thinking “THIS is what they’re supposed to taste like?!? Brussel sprouts and lima beans seem to be the punching bag of the vegetable world. Thankfully, the former appear to be sprouting (hi oh!) in popularity and popping up on menus near and far. Rumor has it that Brussels sprouts hail from the land of Belgium – not surprising given it’s namesake. Food historians believe that the Brussel sprout as we know it were likely cultivated in Ancient Rome and considered to be part of the same species as cabbage. French settlers brought them over to Louisiana in the 18th century and they’ve been the chagrin of many United States children ever since.

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Occasionally, our Trader Joe’s will sell Brussel sprouts on the stalk, which is my favorite way to purchase them. However, I picked up this microwavable bag of whole sprouts at Aldi’s the other day. Do NOT microwave them – your kitchen will smell worse than a middle school hallway in June and then you’ll be subjected to eating steamed Brussel sprouts, which is about as much fun as eating boiled cabbage.

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The Grand Canyon

John Wesley Powell, famed geographic explorer, stated back in the late 19th century that the wonders of the Grand Canyon cannot be adequately expressed with words and that graphic art resources are taxed beyond their powers in attempt to capture the magnificence. Despite all of the technological advances that have occurred over the past 100 years, his words still hold true. No matter how brilliant pictures of the Grand Canyon may appear, they fall short to the splendor of witnessing in-person one of the seven natural wonders of this world.

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In March 2017, we went on an epic road trip that took us from Texas to California and back. After spending the first night in Albuquerque, we arrived at Grand Canyon National Park mid-afternoon and used our National Park Annual Pass (currently free for military) to gain entry for the evening. We checked into the Yavapai Lodge, dropped our bags off in the room, and immediately made our way to Mather Point, which was less than a mile from our building.

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Documentation of my first trip to the Grand Canyon and my mom’s 80’s hair.

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I hadn’t been to the Grand Canyon since I was in grade school so I was excited to experience the park as an adult. It was Clay’s first time, as well as the kids, so we spent the next couple of hours walking around the South Rim – keeping a death grip on the children when we would venture close to edges with no railings.

Coffee: A Love Affair

This part of the country experienced record-breaking wind last Friday that resulted in massive power outages across the national capital region over the weekend. Clay was home for the weekend (woohoo) so we were able to ride out the storm together and introduce the children to Monopoly and flashlight tag. Our stove and hot water heater are gas so we were fine – just a little cold because this house doesn’t have a fire place (womp womp). I instagrammed a picture of Clay grinding coffee using a power converter in our 4Runner for our French press on Saturday morning because the absence of electricity wasn’t going to come between us and our coffee.

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{enjoying an Americano on the Ayrshire coast of Scotland}

I admit that I am intrigued by people who don’t drink coffee. It is such an integral part of my morning and afternoon (and occasional evening) routine that I honestly have trouble imaging my life without it. Not only is it my number one source of antioxidants, research shows that multiple cups of coffee a day does far more good than harm. Ensuring that I reap the benefits, I am a simple girl when it comes to my coffee – either black or with a splash of cream and the occasional sprinkle of stevia. No flavored coffee. No artificial creamers or sweeteners (blech…) and I limit my lattes to special treat status. Those who know me know my love affair with coffee and my penchant to lean into my coffee snob reputation. I can’t help it – I love coffee. I love the taste. I love the way it makes me feel. I love the stories behind each region and roast of bean. I love the cultural impact coffee has around the world. And I love how it doesn’t matter what language is spoken or skin color is represented – we can always sit down and enjoy a cup of coffee together. Coffee is a universal language.

Our Trip to Scotland, Part Two

The national capital region has pretty much shut down due to the extremely high winds we’re experiencing from the nor’easter that’s hammering the East Coast. School and other plans have been cancelled so we’re staying put and declaring today Family Game Day – which sounds like the perfect way to kick-off a three-day weekend. This post is the second recap of our amazing trip to Scotland from June 2016. See Part One here…

Within the blindingly green and blue landscape the comprises Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park is Ben Lomond, a 3,196 foot mountain on the eastern shore of Loch Lomond. One of the most popular hikes in the Highlands, the main path for ascent is scattered with tourists, all eager to see the famed Highland views for themselves.

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We chose to hike Ben Lomond on the lone Saturday of our week-long vacation because the skies were blue and the temperature a perfect 70 degrees. We ate a traditional Scottish breakfast at the restaurant attached to our inn and made the 90 minute drive to Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park. The trail entrance is near the Rowardennan Hotel on the shores of Loch Lomond and we were able to park our car in the car park for a minimal fee.

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This hike was my first and only time wearing shorts on our trip to Scotland. Because it was a Saturday, the trail was busy but not overwhelmingly so. Our first hour was spent hiking through wooded areas and gradually making our way up the base of the mountain.

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The trail became a bit more rigorous but totally manageable as we began the steep portion of the hike.

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Water breaks were the perfect excuse to just sit and soak in the view along the way.

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Seriously, the views were so stereotypical Scotland that we couldn’t stop exclaiming, “Wow!” Not surprisingly, as we climbed the temperature dropped and the air became thick with fog.

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And midges began to attack my legs and face. About halfway up the mountain, I realized my mistake in wearing shorts. Not only was it freezing at the summit, these little buggers hurt and left welts. It was worth it, though.

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We’d together for almost 15 years on that trip. Over the years, we have experienced a lot of wonderful places together. I love our everyday life and I love our adventures. Hiking Ben Lommond together and sitting side-by-side in silence at the top – gazing at the seemingly never-ending Highlands is definitely deserving of our highlight reel.

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We chose to go down the mountain on the much less-traveled back-end trail.

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We treated ourselves to well-deserved pints and food at the beer garden located at the base of the trail. My face may have been covered in welts and my feet a bloody mess but I couldn’t have been happier. This hike was our favorite of the trip and I will recommend it to anyone traveling to Scotland until my dying day. It had all the elements for a perfect Clay & Karen Vacation Day – rigorous hiking, spectacular views, beer, and food. And what’s not to love about that?

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The following day we went into Edinburgh and spend the day eating and drinking our way around the medieval city in the drizzling rain. So it was pretty much a quintessential Scottish day.

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The Royal Mile was touristy and awesome all wrapped up in a tchotsky package. I wouldn’t have wanted to spend anymore time there than we did but it is worth a visit, if anything to go to one of the many kilt and tartan suppliers located along the famed mile. And since I am from McIntyre blood, I was sure to purchase my family’s tartan in a variety of mediums.

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We had a blast wandering around the city and seeing where all the courts, tunnels, and walkways took us. My favorite experience of the day was attending an evening service at St. Giles Cathedral, which dates back to the 14th century. I grew up in the Episcopal Church and we’ve been attending Episcopal services for awhile now so being able to experience an Anglican service in Scotland was quite special.

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For our last full day in Scotland we did something a little different because we were absolutely worn-out from all our days of hiking (and drinking!) so we booked a last minute tour through the Highlands out of Glascow. We don’t consider ourselves tour-bus people and after experiencing our first one in Scotland, I doubt we will ever go on one again. But it was a welcome treat to just be able to sit and have someone else drive the mountain roads.

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There were a lot of stops along the way to Loch Ness. I’m pretty sure every person who has taken a Highland tour has a picture of this guy.

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I didn’t accidentally eat reindeer in Scotland like I did during our Alaska vacation.

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The infamous Skyfall mountain. Sadly, no Daniel Craig.

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When planning this trip, we originally decided not to incorporate Loch Ness into our travel. But since it was part of the tour package we booked for the day, we didn’t really have a choice. Yes, it is very hokey. But the lake itself is quite spooky with deep and dark water – Loch Ness is the largest lake of the British Isles by volume.

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We took a cruise around Loch Ness, which included fantastic views of Urquhart Castle. We chose not to tour the castle and instead extended our time on the water.

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After a quick top in Pitlochry for a pint and ice cream we were on our way back to Glasgow.

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Our trip to Scotland was amazing and we can’t wait to go back with the kids someday.  We flew out of Edinburgh, where I had the best breakfast of the trip. Yes, at the airport. So if you find yourself at the Edinburgh airport, get the Asparagus Benedict at Sir Walter Scott and a pint of Tennent’s Lager to either begin or end your trip to Scotland (or both!)…you won’t be disappointed.

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Flight delays at JFK ensured that we didn’t get back to Atlanta until well-after midnight but when our kids came running into our room at 6am, it didn’t matter that we had gotten only three hours of sleep. A wonderful trip ended with the best reunion possible – snuggles and giggles and all.