Monday, July 6, 2020

Losing a Blog Friend


Shelagh Ann McNab-Duffett
JANUARY 8, 1955 – JUNE 24, 2020


Sixteen years ago my husband and I celebrated our 30th wedding anniversary with a cruise on the Queen Mary to New England and Canada.  On a stop in Nova Scotia, we stopped into the Halifax Seaport Farmers Market.  Walking among the booths and cafes inside the market, I picked up a brochure about the vendors and saw photos of whimsical paintings by folk artist Shelagh Duffet, who sold her paintings and prints in the market on the weekends.  I instantly became a fan of her many charming and colorful cat paintings!


Their bright colors and cozy scenes made me smile.  The brochure linked to Shelagh's blog "Alice In Paris Loves Art and Tea," which was one of the first blogs I ever read! (It was on a "Vox" website back then and only called "Art and Tea," until Shelagh moved it to Blogger with a longer title.)  We began to "converse" through her delightful blog, and became friends keeping our blog friendship all these many years!

I actually blogged about Shelagh back in 2008--click here to read that post-- when I began blogging myself and introduced her to all my readers, many who have told me they also became fans of her work.  I was a brand new grandmother back then and bought some prints from Shelagh's ETSY shop to decorate my baby grandson's room, and I also bought some of her adorable cat prints for my daughter. It was always a joy to see a new painting by Shelagh and to acquire her yearly cat-themed calendars.


Another favorite theme that Shelagh painted were scenes from her beautiful part of Nova Scotia and fanciful flowers. She also took outstanding photographs and sold quite a few.  Over the years Shelagh also published a cookbook of family and friends' favorite recipes and a children's book called "CATalphabet" which is the ABC's illustrated with her brilliant and joyful cat paintings. 

Like most bloggers, Shelagh joined Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest, but mainly used Facebook and would always leave cheerful and encouraging posts there almost every day, and I felt like we all got to know her even better.  When the COVID-19 pandemic quarantine occurred in March she began a journaling group on Facebook to encourage her readers to journal their thoughts and gave us wonderfully creative journaling" prompts" each day or so.   

Her last big effort was "Wild" -- a fundraiser Art Exhibition in support of Nova Scotia Nature Trust, held in February. The Facebook page is here.  Ten artists, including Shelagh,  held the event in support of The Nova Scotia Nature Trust's Campaign called "SAVE the WILD BLUE" protecting the Blue Mountain Birch Cove Lakes Wilderness Area, an area that was important to Shelagh.   I know Shelagh worked very hard on this event and was thrilled to have it be a success.



I received this cheery postcard from Shelagh towards the beginning of May.  It was the last time I would hear from her. Sadly, she passed away on June 24 after a very brief battle with cancer. Her husband said she had stomach pains for a while but put off seeing her doctor because of the coronavirus pandemic.  Finally, in May, her pains became worse and she found out she had inoperable pancreatic cancer.  She entered hospice and died peacefully, surrounded by her family. Her obituary can be read here.   Her family plans on re-opening Shelagh's ETSY shop in the future, which I hope will help prints of her painting continue to bring joy to all.

I will miss you, Shelagh! It is amazing that although we never met we became such good friends and shared each other's worlds through our blogs and social media. You brought much joy to me and beautiful memories of you will forever be in my heart. 

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Monday, June 29, 2020

A Quick Trip to Breckenridge



In these days of "safer at home," due to the novel coronavirus still being very active, my husband and I have not been going out too frequently, except for food shopping every week or quick visits with our immediate family using social distancing. It has been a strange beginning of the summer for that reason, as we would have traveled quite a few places already if there had been no restrictions. Honestly, we both worry quite a bit about not having a good outcome if we were to get ill with COVID, so staying home seems a better alternative right now.

But that fact doesn't mean we can't relive some wonderful memories that I never had a chance to blog about! In August 2019, my husband's sister and brother-in-law visited us for a week from their home in Arizona, and we drove them to some of our favorite places while they were visiting.  We were excited to drive to the ski resort town of Breckenridge one day, which is about an hour and a half drive from our home.  Since Breckenridge is so close to where we live we've visited it many times in the seven years we've lived in Colorado.  We've seen it in all seasons,  We saw the winter ice castles, took a sleigh ride, saw the snow sculpture competition, and enjoyed the summer fun park and hiking on the mountains top when my older brother and sister-in-law visited, which included a thrilling ride down a mountain on a snowcat during a thunder and lightning storm!  If you want to see those posts you can scroll through all them all on this search label on my blog: Breckenridge.

The view in the photo above is the iconic first view of the Rocky Mountains from Interstate 70 going west.  It never fails to take my breath away!



Traveling west we cut through the Colorado foothills.


Every now and then we could see tall peaks peeking through on the horizon.


Mountain driving is always an adventure! We drive through the continental divide through the Eisenhower Tunnel.  At an elevation of 11,158 feet, (3,401m), it is the highest vehicular tunnel in the US, and the longest mountain tunnel and the highest point on the US Interstate Highway System.  The downward grade is rather steep on exiting the tunnel, so there are quite a few "runaway truck ramps" on the side of the road in case a truck loses its brakes.


We soon begin to see ski runs on the mountain slopes as we approach Breckenridge.


 As soon as we drove into town we decided to take the gondola ride up to the ski resort village.


The mountains of Breckenridge have 5 peaks, 187 trails, 2,908 acres, and the highest lift-served terrain in North America. The resort village has dining, an alpine slide, and other rides, a ski chair lift, horseback riding, rafting, golf, fishing, etc. We had lunch at the grill and had hoped to take the chair lift to the top of the mountain to see the views and hike a bit, but, unfortunately, our brother-in-law began to experience some altitude sickness.   Since we were over 12,000 feet elevation we knew we had to go back down to the town's lower elevation where he would feel better, and took the gondola ride back down.



We gave our brother-in-law water and he rested at the Breckenridge Welcome Center, where he felt much better. He told us to go on and enjoy the town so we took a quick walk up and down the main street to show my sister-in-law the sights.


The Victorian core of this former mining town is preserved as the Breckenridge National Historic District, running primarily along Main Street, with colorfully painted buildings from the 1880s and '90s housing shops, galleries, and restaurants.



A vintage wagon


The town is very scenic!



A couple of interesting sculptures--click on the photo to enlarge it and read about "Tom's Baby"



Since we did not want to leave our brother-in-law sitting alone at the Welcome Center for too long we soon returned and drove back to our home which is at a lower elevation of around 6,000 feet on the front range. He was fine--except for a slight lingering headache.
.
Back to our house and feeling 100% better!

My sister-in-law found the funny t-shirt for him in a Breckenridge shop and we all had a good laugh about our dizzy high altitude adventure!


Happy 4th of July!
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Sunday, June 21, 2020

The Mahaffy Cache- A Prehistoric Discovery!





A few years ago I blogged about an interesting event my husband and I attended called the International Archaeology Day that was held in Roxborough, Colorado--click here--to read that post. We have always been fascinated by the past, and the people and civilizations that came before modern times and the remnants of their lives left behind. We found the lectures, exhibits, and demonstrations on this special day very enriching. The last lecture of the day was presented by the University of Colorado Boulder Professor Douglas Bamforth about the "Mahaffy Clovis Cache." When landscapers uncovered a collection of 83 stone tools in the front yard of Patrick Mahaffy's home in Boulder, Colorado, the homeowner called the University of Colorado at Boulder's anthropology department and the next day archaeologist Douglas Bamforth came out to investigate. What they discovered is called the Mahaffy Clovis Cache. It contains elaborate stone knives and blades used to butcher ice-age mammals 13,000 years ago!



Discovered by a landscaping crew digging a fishpond in the yard of a Boulder home in 2008, the 83-piece tool cache was packed in a space about the size of a shoebox under two feet of soil, apparently untouched for millennia. The tools were discovered in the yard of Boulder homeowner Patrick Mahaffy, who is loaning them to the University of Colorado Boulder Museum of Natural History as the centerpiece of the exhibit, “Unearthed: Ancient Life in the Boulder Valley.” 



My husband and I, and members of the Ken Caryl Ranch Historical Society that we are part of, took an excursion last year to visit the exhibit as we were all interested to see these ancient artifacts that are estimated to be 13,000 years old!



To be able to examine the tools up close and see their workmanship, and their almost pristine condition was very exciting. They are made of quartzite and chert materials, some of which are not found in Colorado. Professor Bramsforth feels the stones used may have originated in the Uinta Mountains in northeast Utah, the Green River Basin in northwest Colorado and southwest Wyoming, and Middle Park near Kremmling, Colorado. He concluded the Mahaffy Cache likely originated in the Uintas, was carried up the Yampa River Valley in Colorado, then through the Gore Range and into Middle Park. From there they were probably toted to the Colorado River headwaters and over a pass in or near present-day Rocky Mountain National Park, and up and over to the Front Range.


Because our group had pre-arranged our visit, we were fortunate to have James Hakala, a Senior Educator at the museum, give us a presentation about the exhibit. He explained that the landscape in Colorado 13,000 years ago was home to camels, horses, and now-extinct saber-toothed cats, wooly mammoths, dire wolves, short-faced bears, wooly rhinos, and giant ground sloths. While scientists have speculated these and other ice-age mammals may have disappeared as a result of overhunting or climate change, the reasons remain unresolved.  Prehistoric hunters obviously traveled to the Colorado Front Range to hunt the abundant wild game. They would then use these precision stone tools to skin the animals and remove their meat.  Remnants of camel and horse proteins were actually isolated for the tools in studies made.


The Mahaffy Cache Exhibit had many placards--click on the photo collage to enlarge.


Please click on photo collage to enlarge


The Mahaffy Cache includes elegantly crafted, salad plate-sized bifacial knives, a tool resembling a double-bitted ax and a number of smaller blades. It is one of a handful of artifact collections known as Clovis caches, named after a particular tool style used by one of the oldest known groups of New World Paleo-Indians.


We wondered who buried these prize tools with the intention of returning to retrieve them and what was the reason that they never came back? We will never know the answer but we can appreciate that they unintentionally left a marvelous array of artifacts for us to learn about their way of life. 
For that reason, it is said that Mr. Mahaffy actually re-buried a few smaller pieces of the cache and also a modern knife and fork in the same place they were found, in order that someone 13,000 years from now might make another discovery!

If you'd like to view a short YouTube video about the Mahaffy Cache click here.

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Sunday, June 14, 2020

Tomato Zucchini and Cheese Pie



If you are fortunate enough to have a vegetable garden you might soon have an abundance of zucchini and tomatoes to look forward to this summer. They are two vegetables that would dominate my garden as they are both favorites of mine. When zucchini and tomatoes are abundant my Tomato Zucchini Cheese Pie is a delicious savory pie to prepare and enjoy. It is full of flavor and can be a complete meal or a delicious side dish.   The full recipe is at the bottom of this post.

Newborn mule deer fawns -- photo taken by a neighbor

 I am not fortunate to have a vegetable garden, where I live in Colorado, as this is what I often see in my backyard.  Our state's native Mule deer have recently given birth to their offspring, and they often have twin fawns.  The deer eat quite a bit of our flowers, shrubs, and other growing plants, and what they miss eating the rabbits, squirrels, raccoons or an occasional bear will devour instead. Also, because of late spring snow, frost, and other changeable Colorado weather conditions, trying to grow vegetables is a challenge for me. 
With the COVID-19 pandemic still occurring, I try to limit my trips to the grocery store to as few as possible, and Costco has become one of my favorite places to shop.  I like to buy their bulk vegetables, especially their big box of hothouse tomatoes and their large bag of organic zucchini and summer yellow squash -- they are the perfect amounts to tide me over for a few weeks of different recipes.



When searching Pinterest for interesting new recipes to try I came upon this recipe for Cheddar Dill Tomato Pie from Taste of the South Magazine, which I pinned to my Savory Pies and Tarts Pinterest Board
It looked and sounded delicious in its all tomato version, but I also wanted to use some of the zucchini and yellow squash I had so I adjusted their recipe to make my own concoction.  I also omitted the dill and instead used pesto and a few other ingredients in my version.  I have to say mine came out fabulous and it is a recipe I will make again.




One tip I learned from the original recipe was that after slicing the tomatoes, zucchini and squash were to lay the slices on paper towels for an hour, after salting them on both sides, to allow the excess water in the vegetables to drain. Before using also pat the tops of the vegetables with paper towels




I also changed the creamy mixture in the pie from mayonnaise and dill to a mix of half sour cream and half mayonnaise, and instead of dill, I used a basil pesto mix.




Also, since I had quite a few vegetables to use up,  I doubled the pie crust recipe to make two pies--one of which I froze for future use.  I also changed the cheese mixture from all cheddar to a combination of grated mozzarella, parmesan, and white cheddar cheese.



I also added thin onion slices to the layers of tomato, zucchini, and squash. Each layer had the creamy mix and cheese layered between.  The last layer was finished with tomatoes but the final cheese topping was left off until the pie was almost completely baked, and added for the last 20 minutes to turn into a cheesy golden crust



My version of this savory pie was a delicious blend of summer vegetables, cheese, and fresh basil cream, and the crust had a nice crunchy, nutty flavor. Salting the vegetables meant there was no excess water in the pie plate and the pie was easy to cut and serve and kept its shape.  My husband and I enjoyed it very much and even had slices for breakfast one day.  I hope you will try it!


Tomato Zucchini and Cheese Pie


Ingredients Yields: 1 (10-Inch) Pie

CRUST:


1¾ cups all-purpose flour
¼ cup plus 1 teaspoon plain yellow cornmeal, divided
1½ teaspoons kosher salt
½ cup cold unsalted butter, cubed
1 large egg, beaten
¼ cup whole buttermilk

FILLING:

one pound red tomatoes
one pound--about two medium--zucchini
one pound--about two medium-- yellow summer squash
one small onion--optional
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup sour cream
2 tablespoons basil pesto mix, or a combination of chopped basil and garlic divided
½ teaspoon ground black pepper
one cups shredded sharp white Cheddar cheese
one cup grated mozzarella cheese
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese

INSTRUCTIONS:

For the crust: In the work bowl of a food processor, place flour, ¼ cup cornmeal, and salt. Add cold butter, and pulse until the mixture is crumbly. With processor running, add egg and buttermilk in a slow, steady stream just until the dough comes together. Turn out dough onto a lightly floured surface, and shape into a disk. Wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.

For the filling: Line baking sheets with paper towels. Cut a ¼ -inch slice from top of each tomato. Using a small spoon, scoop out tomato seeds. Cut tomatoes into ¼ -inch-thick slices. Arrange tomato slices in a single layer on prepared pans. Cut off ends of zucchini and summer squash and peel both. Slice in 1/4 inch slices. Sprinkle both sides of tomatoes, zucchini, and squash with salt. Let stand for 1 hour on the paper towel-lined baking sheets. Pat dry the tops of the vegetables with paper towels before using them.

In a small bowl, stir together mayonnaise, sour cream, basil pesto mix, and pepper.

Preheat oven to 375°. Sprinkle bottom of a 10-inch pie plate with the remaining 1 teaspoon cornmeal.

Let dough stand at room temperature until slightly softened, about 10 minutes. On a lightly floured surface, roll dough into a 14-inch circle. Transfer to prepared pie plate, pressing into bottom and up the sides. Fold edges under, and crimp as desired.

Arrange the tomatoes, overlapping slightly, in the bottom of the prepared crust. Spread with 1⁄3 cup mayonnaise/sour cream mixture, and sprinkle with cheese. Repeat with the zucchini slices,  mayonnaise mixture, cheese, and then summer squash slices. Add thin slices of onion if desired and end with a layer of tomato slices.  Keep 1/3 cup of the grated cheese mixture reserved for the topping.

Bake for 30 minutes, or until vegetables are soft. Spread top of the pie with remaining ⅓ cup cheese. Bake until golden brown, about 20 minutes more, covering crust with foil to prevent excess browning, if necessary. 

Let cool on a wire rack for 45 minutes. Sprinkle with chopped fresh basil if desired.

Enjoy!


Meanwhile, I'll let the various Colorado critters enjoy my gardens. They survived a long snowy winter and now are providing me entertainment as I stay home as much as possible during this pandemic.  I've rediscovered the joys of both my front and back yards--they are not such bad places to be!


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Monday, June 8, 2020

Festival Italiano in Lakewood, Colorado




Sadly, so many wonderful annual summer events held in our area of Colorado will be missed this year, as they have been canceled due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.  One festival we have been attending almost every year since we moved to the Denver area of Colorado seven years ago, was the free two-day "Festival Italiano" held in the streets in nearby Belmar shopping area of Lakewood, Colorado.
  


We enjoyed seeing all the fabulous vendors selling everything Italian at the festival--fresh pasta, gelato, pizza, cookies, wine, etc! There was bocce ball tournament, street chalk drawings, grape stomping for children, ceremonial flag throwers from Florence, Italy, musicians from Italy, and opera singers that performed on two stages! My husband and I were in heaven enjoying it all with our family.




Traditional Flag Throwers from Florence, Italy-- the "Sbandieratori Die Borchi E Sestieri Florentini"




They performed their colorful flag throwing multiple times a day.  You can see videos of their performances on their web page here.




Traditional Tarantella Dancers





We enjoyed the wonderful array of Italian food and Italian food ingredients for sale by multiple vendors at the festival.





There was lots of shopping available...




...and cultural opportunities.


We have many fond memories of the events and entertainment we enjoyed over the years at the festival.



This event was always a highlight of the festival for us!  If you read my last blog post about the Balistreri Vineyards--click here--you heard me mention we bought their "Little Feet Merlot" wine.  It was a special vintage made the year before during the annual Balistreri Vineyards Children's Grape Stomp event at the festival!


This was the second grape stomp that our oldest granddaughter participated in, during the summer of 2018. Last summer, in 2019, we visited the vineyard to pick up a bottle of the wine that she and other children had helped to make by stomping on the merlot grapes in the large vats at the festival.  Her parents are going to save the wine for her to enjoy when she is of drinking age.  Our granddaughter had a lot of fun stomping the grapes the old fashioned way and it will be something we really miss seeing her do again this year.

Colorado is slowly allowing the re-opening of many activities during the summer waning of the pandemic, but continuing to stress social distancing and encouraging everyone to wear a mask when in public to prevent transmitting the virus. Festivals and other sources of large public gatherings are canceled for this year, with the hopes that they will be able to return in 2021. Since my husband and I are seniors we are remaining cautious and staying home as much as possible. We have made the decision to try to keep our risks as low as possible until we feel there is a successful treatment or vaccine for COVID-19. We feel everyone has to decide what is best for themselves going forward. 

What are your plans for the summer?  Please stay healthy!

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