Sunday, April 26, 2015

New Orleans, LA, Part One

As promised, I'd like to show you a little winter getaway, my husband and I took in February, to one of our favorite cities: New Orleans, Louisiana! (All photos, and photo collages, in this post, will enlarge for easier viewing if clicked on)

The French Quarter section of the city makes one feel as if they have stepped back in time. The city was established by French colonists and was named after the Duke of Orleans, who reigned as Regent for Louis XV from 1715 to 1723.

The older section of the city, the French Quarter, is known for its distinct French and Spanish Creole architecture, as well as its multicultural heritage.

We arrived the day after Mardi Gras - the famous celebration held annually in New Orleans to celebrate "Shrove or Fat Tuesday," which is the day before Ash Wednesday in the Christian faith. As much as we knew that the Mardi Gras carnival celebration would be a wonderful sight to see, we did not want to deal with the large crowds and noise. 

 It was fun to see the French Quarter still decorated for carnival...

....and the traditional, green, yellow and purple decorations were displayed everywhere!

Of course, the party never stops on Bourbon Street!

The thirteen street long block is a mix of bars, restaurants, and other forms of entertainment which are on a more seedy side, but it is definitely a "must see" at night if one visits New Orleans.  One evening we enjoyed listening to a jazz band in the Musical Legends Park that is located along one section of Bourbon street.

Another New Orleans tradition, that is a "must do," is to stop at Cafe Du Monde for their chicory flavored coffee, and fresh beignets. The original coffee stand opened in 1862, and now is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week and there is almost always a line to find a seat! 

The beautiful Saint Louis Cathedral is one of the most notable landmarks of New Orleans, and is located next to Jackson Square and faces the Mississippi River. 

Built over the foundation of a 1727 church, and completed in 1851, it is the oldest active Roman Catholic Cathedral in the United States.

The magnificent Rocco style interior of the cathedral includes a statue of Saint Joan of Arc. The cathedral was a serene place to visit after a busy day walking around this very scenic and enjoyable city.

I have much more to show about New Orleans! I hope you will come back soon to see Part Two.

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Sunday, April 19, 2015

New Belgium Brewing, Fort Collins, CO

The ride north from the Denver area to the city of Fort Collins, Colorado, where the New Belgium Brewery is located, is only a little over an hour away and passes some beautiful scenery.  My husband and I wanted to take the free brewery tour of New Belgium Brewery, Colorado's biggest craft brewery since we moved here. Colorado is known for its variety of beer producers and is home to five of the top 50 craft breweries in the United States.

(All photos, and photo collages, in this post, will enlarge for easier viewing if clicked on)

New Belgium Brewery opened in 1991 after its founder, Jeff Lebesch, decided to take his homebrewing passion commercially.  If you enlarge the photo collage above by clicking on it, you can see the brewery's logo is a bicycle, and a bicycle is permanently parked outside.  The brewery's legend is that one of the co-founders was influenced by a bicycle trip he made through Belgium and Europe, tasting craft beers along the way.  When he returned home he developed and brewed his own amber ale, and named it "Fat Tire" in honor of that trip. Fat Tire Beer is now their flagship brand and the most popular beer

Bicycles are used as decorations throughout the brewery!

Most of the brewery employees bike to work in the brewery, which is located close to the bike path along the Cache La Poudre River. All employees have a stake in the ownership of the brewery, which they earn after one year's employment, along with a limited-edition Fat Tire Cruiser bicycle. After five years of employment, the company sends the employee on a trip for one week to Belgium!

The New Belgium Brewery utilizes sustainability and recycling in its operations. You can watch a new program video about many of these methods at this Youtube link.  They use solar and wind power to provide electricity in their plant, plus methane gas created as a byproduct of their on-site water treatment plant.

The brewery also uses an energy-efficient kettle for the brewing process, that heats twice as quickly, and provides significant savings in natural gas consumption,

I enjoyed photographing the colorful mosaics floor around the demonstration kettle on the tour.

The brewery has been named one of the "Best Places to Work" by many publications and organizations, as it promotes employee satisfaction and wellness. How could they lose with profit sharing, free bicycles, trips to Belgium, paid sabbaticals, and fun slides provided for the employees to use to travel from one floor to the next?  My husband had to try one out!

At the end of the free tour of the brewery, we were treated to samples of the different New Belgium Brewery beers in their tasting room. In addition to Fat Tire, they make Ranger IPA, Sunshine Wheat, Blue Paddle, Shift, and a litany of other beers--seasonal and artisanal blends. My husband and I really enjoyed the tour and would not hesitate to go again on another visit to Fort Collins.

New Belgium Brewery is located at 500 Linden St, in Fort Collins, Colorado, Tuesday - Sunday, 11AM to 6PM. Their free tours are very popular, so it is best if you book ahead of time

New Belgium Brewery is expanding and is opening a new brewery on the east coast, in Ashville, North Carolina sometime in 2015, so that they may have a market beyond their present 38 out of 50 states.

Have you tried any of the New Belgium Brewery beers? Do you have a favorite?

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Sunday, April 12, 2015

The Georgetown Loop Railroad

I hope everyone had a very happy Easter or Passover holiday! We had beautiful weather and I cooked a big holiday meal, as usual. I have also been very busy with Springtime gardening. My husband and I planted many iris flower bulbs and multiple perennial rhizome roots in our front garden, in the hope that in a couple months, we will be rewarded with beautiful flowers.  I still have not had time to edit my recent vacation photos in New Orleans, and when l looked at my photo files I realized I never showed a trip we made to the town of Georgetown, Colorado, where we rode for an hour and fifteen minutes on the historic Georgetown Loop Railroad. As you can see by the photo above, the train ride is a very scenic ride through an area of Clear Creek Canyon and over Clear Creek.  Clear Creek brings down melting snow from the Continental Divide in the Rocky Mountains for sixty-six miles, where eventually it joins the South Platte River

Clear Creek was the location of the most intense early mining activity during the Colorado Gold Rush of 1859.  I took the photograph above, of a vintage photograph on display at the Georgetown Loop Railroad Visitors Center. I thought it showed both the ardor and the harsh conditions with which these early miners worked to fulfill their dreams of striking it rich in a gold or silver discovery. Georgetown earned the nickname "Silver Queen of the Rockies."

As soon as we drove closer to the railroad park we could see the famous 600 feet high Devil's Gate High Bridge that spans Clear Creek Canyon. Completed in 1884, the three-foot narrow gauge Georgetown Loop Railroad was considered an engineering marvel for its time, and was one of Colorado's first visitor attractions. In 1973, the Colorado Historical Society began restoring the railroad as part of its 978-acre park.

Click on this photo of a placard in the park of the Georgetown Loop Railroad, to see a diagram that shows how it was built in circular loops, as it rises in height, to reduce a 6 percent grade to a 3 1/2 percent grade.

The beginning of the train ride is fairly level, but soon we would be turning into many loops running over the creek and slowly climbing higher.

We chose to sit in the open rail car to get the maximum views.

At one point we passed under the Devil's Gate Bridge, knowing that soon we would be on top of it! You can see a video of us going under the trestle on my Mille Fiori Favoriti Facebook page on this link. As you can hear in the video, the train ride is narrated, and we heard the history and many interesting facts about the area and the railroad.

Climbing higher, we could see a good view of the creek and some of the ubiquitous bicycle riders that are on many Colorado roads.

We also had a good view of this section of Interstate 70 that runs parallel to some of the train tracks. You can see a slow increase or decrease in the grade, depending on whether you are traveling west or east.

About midway through the train ride, we passed the Lebanon Silver Mine entrance. You can buy tickets to take an hour-long guided tour inside this 1870 silver mine, where you will travel 500 feet through the mine shaft to see the veins. of silver and learn about how the mountain was mined.

Many areas along the ride became narrow in width...

...I almost felt like I could reach out and touch the canyon's rocks!

We had a brief stop at the Silver Plume Station. Silver Plume was once another mining town.

We finally reached the highest trestle called the Devil's Gate Bridge.

We had a good view looking down at Clear Creek.  I took these photos in autumn, but in June the creek will swell to four times this size with the spring snowmelt.

The train passes over the bridge slowly for safety's sake. You can see a YouTube someone took from a distance of the train going over this bridge at this link.

A photo from 1855 of the original Devil's Gate Bridge taken by Louis Charles McClure. and now in the public domain.  The train narrator told us that the original bridge used to sway quite a bit when the train passed over it!  Thankfully the new bridge, rebuilt in 1984, is much safer and sturdier.

Looking down through the tracks!

In the distance is the historic town of Georgetown.

We are approaching the end of the train ride and the engineer blows the "right of way" pattern on the vintage steam engine train whistle.  To hear it, click on this link for my Mille Fiori Favoriti Facebook page.

A good view of the steam engine as we pull into the station. You can see the Devil's Gate Bridge in the distance.

On the day of our visit, there was a complimentary wiener and brat roast at the visitor's center. It was so nice to sit by the creek and eat our food and try one of the local microbeer brews.  My husband and I really enjoyed our ride on the Georgetown Loop Railroad and look forward to taking another ride, and maybe a mine tour, when it re-opens for the season.

Colorado has many historic and scenic trains to ride and we look forward to doing all of them. I also look forward to taking you along, on my blog, the next time!

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Friday, April 3, 2015

Italian Easter Cookies

Both my mother-in-law and my husband's oldest sister, made these Calabrian-style Italian Easter cookies every year and would give us many of them to enjoy. They are called "i'nguti" in their Reggio Calabria town's dialect.  If you are Italian, you may know them by another name, as it seems almost every southern Italian town or district has another name for them. My mother-in-law passed away many years ago, and we no longer live near my husband's sister, so we have not had these cookies in a few years and felt nostalgic for them. Years ago, I watched my mother-in-law make them, and I copied down the recipe.  After a quick phone call to my sister-in-law, to make sure I had all the ingredients and methods right, I decided to finally tackle making them myself.  Was I glad I did!  The recipe makes a lot of cookies, but they keep well and the plain ones are wonderful with a cup of coffee or tea at any time of the year. I imagine you could halve the recipe if you'd like to make less, but they are light and not too sweet, so you will find you can enjoy eating quite a few at a time.  (All photos, and photo collages, will increase in size for easier viewing if clicked on)

Italian Easter Cookies


12 cups of flour, divided into 6 cups and 6 cups -- have more flour available if needed--it is almost an entire 5-pound bag of flour.
3 cups of sugar
12 extra-large eggs for the batter
12 teaspoons baking powder
2 tablespoons vanilla 
1 pound butter or margarine.
1 tablespoon cooking oil
Have extra egg yolks beaten, for the glaze--I used 4 egg yolks in total.

If you desire to make the bunny shape, holding the egg, clean as many eggs as you like (I used one dozen), and dye them if you desire. 

*Important: The eggs used in the bunny shapes are raw --they will fully cook in the oven along with the cookie holding them.


Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees and then lower to 375 F
Melt butter or margarine and let it cool.
In a mixing bowl with the beater blade, add 12 eggs and mix --do not overbeat.
Then add sugar, vanilla, baking powder, and butter or margarine to the egg mixture and mix well.
Then add 2 cups of flour and mix
Add 2 more cups of flour and mix
Add two more cups of flour and mix until the entire mixture is smooth. 

Place the remaining 6 cups of flour on a clean board or counter and make a well in the middle. Pour in the mixing bowl mixture into the center of the flour. Using clean hands, mix the wet and dry ingredients together, kneading until it forms a smooth ball.  You may have to add a small amount of flour if the mixture is too wet. I did not need to do this.
Clean your hands, pour 1 tablespoon of oil on your hands, and rub the oil all over the ball of dough--this helps to keep it from drying out as you make the cookie shapes.

Cut a piece of the dough off the dough ball and roll it into a rope about ten inches long and about 3/4 inch wide (see photo above).  Loop once to hold the egg and twist the top around twice to form Bunny ears (see photo). Place a raw egg in the bottom loop.  Flatten out a small amount of dough, about a quarter-inch thick, and cut two strips, which you then crisscross over the egg. pressing the ends into the loop to hold the egg in place. Using a thin spatula, pick up the cookie and place it on a lightly greased cookie sheet, then brush lightly with egg yolk.  Do not crowd cookie sheets as the cookies will rise.

You can also cut pieces of dough and roll them into shapes.  I made "S" shapes. circles, and twisted (See photo above). Brush lightly with egg yolk to glaze them.  

*Important: make sure to add the non-egg holding shapes to a separate cookie sheet, as they will cook faster than the Bunny shape.

Place the egg-holding bunnies in the 375 F oven. Bake for approximately 30 minutes, or until edges are turning lightly brown. The raw eggs will cook inside the cookies. If you place two cookie sheets in the oven at the same time, switch the sheet positions midway through the baking time. 

Place the non-egg-holding cookies in a 375 F oven and bake for approximately 20 minutes, or until edges lightly brown.

Cool on a rack.  Enjoy!

My mother-in-law did not refrigerate the bunny egg-holding cookies, but you can if you'd like. The non-egg-holding cookies store well in a cookie jar.

I am having Easter dinner at my house this year and it will be nice to have the cookies as part of our dessert, along with my New York Cheesecake that I will make with a gluten-free crust for the members of my family that must-eat gluten-free.

Our community held its annual Easter Egg Hunt last Sunday, and our granddaughter, our daughter and son-in-law, and Grandma and Pop-Pop all attended.  Unfortunately, my son and daughter-in-law, and grandsons could not attend, as they have all been passing around colds to each other.

The park lawn was studded with over 7,000 candy-filled plastic Easter Eggs!  There were different divisions and charting times according to age, and our granddaughter was in the 0-2-year-old group that went first.  The Big Carrot announced the start and egg gathering began!  The Easter Bunny was in the area for photo taking, and a local children's gym had some mats and play equipment available for the children to enjoy. The community playground was also in the area.  As you can see from the photos my granddaughter had a wonderful time!  She likes running as much as picking up eggs.  It was a beautiful sunny 70-degree day, so we could not have asked for anything better!

 I wish you all a very Happy and Blessed Easter!

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