Culinary Adventures: Chocolate Cherry Bomb Cupcakes

Culinary Adventures: Chocolate Cherry Bomb Cupcakes Recipe

We were hosting an outdoor movie party in July in which the movie feature was The Runaways. I love a good theme cupcake, so I came up with Chocolate Cherry Bomb Cupcakes and  they were awesome (not to pat myself on the back or anything). Very rich, but in a good way.

I Frankensteined this receipe together with parts of two other recipes. For the cake part, I used the Hershey’s “Perfectly Chocolate” Chocolate Cake recipe, which is on the back of the Hershey’s baking cocoa can. Hershey’s may not be high quality chocolate, but their cake recipe is. It’s the best chocolate cake recipe I’ve found, and I think the secret ingredient is the cup of boiling water added at the end.

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**For the Chocolate Cherry Bomb Cupcakes, I subsituted out the vanilla extract for almond extract.

Hershey’s “Perfectly Chocolate” Chocolate Cake:

Ingredients:
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1-3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup HERSHEY’S Cocoa
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract (use almond extract for Chocolate Cherry Bomb Cupcakes
  • 1 cup boiling water
  • “PERFECTLY CHOCOLATE” CHOCOLATE FROSTING (recipe follows)

 

Directions:
  • 1. Heat oven to 350°F. Grease and flour two 9-inch round baking pans.
  • 2. Stir together sugar, flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt in large bowl. Add eggs, milk, oil and vanilla; beat on medium speed of mixer 2 minutes. Stir in boiling water (batter will be thin). Pour batter into prepared pans.
  • 3. Bake 30 to 35 minutes or until wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool 10 minutes; remove from pans to wire racks. Cool completely. Frost with “PERFECTLY CHOCOLATE” CHOCOLATE FROSTING. 10 to 12 servings. VARIATIONS: ONE-PAN CAKE: Grease and flour 13x9x2-inch baking pan. Heat oven to 350° F. Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake 35 to 40 minutes. Cool completely. Frost.
  • THREE LAYER CAKE: Grease and flour three 8-inch round baking pans. Heat oven to 350°F. Pour batter into prepared pans. Bake 30 to 35 minutes. Cool 10 minutes; remove from pans to wire racks. Cool completely. Frost.
  • BUNDT CAKE: Grease and flour 12-cup fluted tube pan. Heat oven to 350°F. Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake 50 to 55 minutes. Cool 15 minutes; remove from pan to wire rack. Cool completely. Frost.
  • CUPCAKES: Line muffin cups (2-1/2 inches in diameter) with paper bake cups. Heat oven to 350°F. Fill cups 2/3 full with batter. Bake 22 to 25 minutes. Cool completely. Frost. About 30 cupcakes.

 

To make the “bomb” part of the Chocolate Cherry Bomb Cupcakes, I used the ganache recipe from an Irish Carbomb Cupcakes recipe that I made for St. Paddy’s Day last year, sans whiskey:

  • 4 oz bittersweet chocolate (70% cocoa), finely chopped (I just used Ghiradelli chocolate chips
  • 4 oz (1/2 cup) heavy cream
  • 1 tbsp butter at room temperature

Put the chocolate chips in a heat-safe bowl such as ceramic or glass. On the stovetop, heat the cream until simmering (don’t scorch!), then pour it over the chocolate chips. Let it rest for a few minutes.

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After it has rested and melted the chocolate chips, stir it together and add in the butter. It should be rich and creamy and a little glossy.

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Cool the ganache so that it is thick and not runny, but can still be piped like frosting and still slides off of a spoon.

Make sure your cupcakes are cool, then cut holes in the middle. Some people suggest using a metal frosting tip to punch out the holes, I just used a butter knife. The holes don’t have to look perfect, no one will see them. They just have to be somewhat uniform in size.

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When the ganache is thick enough from cooling, spoon or pipe it into the holes in the cupcakes. The Irish Car Bomb Cupcake recipe says to pipe it in, but that just sounds like too much extra work for something that people are going to taste and not see. I’ll save piping for frosting.

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For the cherry buttercream frosting, I did my usual buttercream base of powdered sugar and salted butter, adding maraschino cherry juice as the liquid. You can adjust ingredients to taste, but this is roughly my amounts:

4.5-5 cups powdered sugar

2 sticks salted butter

6 tbsp maraschino cherry juice

Beat until spreadable consistency with an electric mixer.

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I piped the frosting on top of the cupcakes (for these, definitely pipe and not spread with a knife. The chocolate ganache will smear into the frosting if you try to spread the frosting on).

I sprinkled a little pink sugar sprinkles on top, and finished with a maraschino cherry.

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There you have it–Chocolate Cherry Bomb Cupcakes. I bet  Cherie Currie would be proud.

How To Plan a Great Road Trip

See the sights, avoid flea bag hotels, stay sane, and make the most of your road trip

There really is nothing like a road trip. The freedom, the adventure, the unknown. Just getting in your car and going. It’s a classic American adventure, and despite rising gas prices, it never gets old.

Part of the beauty of a road trip is spontaneity. Not having a plan gives you so much more freedom to do what you want, change your mind, stay longer here and skip that as you go. While I encourage you go keep a loose plan on your road trip, there are some things I’d recommend, based on our experiences:

how to plan a great road trip
Self portrait on the road, 2002

1. Set a budget.

Running out of money sucks. You’ll want to get a good estimate of how much your road trip will cost, starting with the cost of gas. A couple great resources for this are the AAA Fuel Cost Calculator http://fuelgaugereport.aaa.com/fuelcostcalculator/ and Gas Buddy Fuel Calculator http://www.gasbuddy.com/Trip_Calculator.aspx. The Gas Buddy Calculator has a broader range of cities and I like that one a bit better. Calculate the cost of gas between all of your stops, add it up, and then add a couple hundred dollars on to that. After that, set a daily budget for lodging and meals, and souvenirs and entertainment. Research prices on hotels and campgrounds that you know you want to stay at, and admission fees to any specific things you want to do. Always over-estimate.

Monument Valley, UT/AZ
Monument Valley, UT/AZ
Vegas Vic The Neon Boneyard in Las Vegas
The Neon Boneyard in Las Vegas

2. Get an atlas.

Call us old school, but we like to know and visualize our routes on a large scale. GPS and smart phones are a helpful resource, but don’t expect to have cell or internet service in the middle of nowhere. Atlases show all the highways and junctions, freeway exit numbers and often even topgraphical data and mountain range elevations. Plus, the maps are much bigger than your phone or tablet screen, and easy to pick up and read without searching and typing.

3. Be realistic about driving times.

Sure, you can drive 16 hours in one day, but trust me–you won’t want to. Google Maps is a great resource for mapping out how long it takes to drive from Point A to Point B. Remember to account for traffic through cities, possible highway construction, bathroom and meal breaks. Our limit is 6-8 hours of driving in one day, and we try not to do 8 hour long days more than twice in a trip. It’s a grueling experience, and towards the end your back and knees will be aching.

Northern Nevada highway
Northern Nevada

4. Be sure to plan enough days of not driving, or days with only short drives.

It’s tempting to want to see as much as you can and drive as far as you can, but spending the whole trip in the car is not going to be fun. I remember a family vacation when I was 14 where my parents decided to drive down around the Oregon Coast for the week, and we spent at least every other day on long car rides. We saw a lot, but the result was tired, cranky people snapping at each other the entire week. As much as you might want to see it all, you will have more fun if there are plenty of days where you get to wake up and leisurely enjoy where you are.

Redwoods National Park road trip
Paddy on our very first vacation together, Redwoods National Park 2003
colorful houses Haight-Ashbury San Francisco
San Francisco, CA
Horses on the road Taos, New Mexico
Horses freely wandering along the road in Taos, New Mexico

5. Do a little research.

Get a guidebook, check out your atlas, and figure out all the top cities, national parks, and other destinations you want to visit on your road trip. Once you have your priorities, research three hotels or campgrounds in the area that fit your budget and have good reviews. Tripadvisor is our favorite resource for finding hotels. If you are going in the summer or peak season for your location and are visiting a touristy destination, you might want to just make a reservation. If you have your heart set on a specific city or hotel, it’s better to go ahead and book than to be disappointed. If you’d rather be spontaneous, that’s fun too. Just have some ideas in mind that fit your budget and don’t have terrible reviews, so you don’t end up in hotel hell.

Also, check out what restaurants the town you’re stopping at has to offer and find out if the town has any local favorites that it is known for.  Tripadvisor and Yelp are always good resources, as well as travel guidebooks. You don’t want to miss out on the best mom-and-pop local spot and end up somewhere touristy and disappointing.

The Peppermill Reno
Completely over-the-top seafood restaurant at The Peppermill hotel in Reno

6. Find out where the weird stuff is on your route.

Haven’t you always wanted to see the World’s Largest Ball of Twine? If you’re on a road trip around good old USA, there is lots of kitsch and Americana to behold. A great resource for finding what weird, funky sights are near you is RoadsideAmerica.com. There is also a line of books about weird stuff in different states put out by the Weird US website. We bought the one about Nevada for our Nevada Road Trip and it did not disappoint. There is a lot of weird shit in Nevada. We definitely found it.

The Clown Motel in Tonopah, Nevada
The Clown Motel in Tonopah, Nevada
Sculpture park in Rhyolite Ghost Town, Nevada
Sculpture park in Rhyolite Ghost Town, Nevada
Alien jerky Extraterrestrial Highway, Nevada
Extraterrestrial Highway, Nevada

7. Get your car checked out before you go.

Before you leave, be sure to get your battery checked, your fluids checked, get your oil changed, and make sure your tires have good tread. Also make sure you have a spare tire and all numbers to call in case of a roadside breakdown or other minor issue (locking your keys in the car). If you don’t have AAA, you might consider it. We have roadside assistance plans with our insurance company, but when my friend and I went on a three week road trip around the southwest states in 2004, we got AAA for extra protection. AAA also gets you discounts at hotels, usually 10% for the ones that participate.

Other things to remember: First aid kit, windshield sun visor, flashlight, warm clothes, emergency water, a cooler for food and cold beverages, car manual, insurance card, tire iron. If you’re going through mountain passes, show chains are always a good idea, especially October through April.

Death Valley National Park road trip
Death Valley National Park, CA

8. Make sure you have a full gas tank if you’re headed on a long stretch of highway with no towns.

The western half of the United States is much more spread out than the eastern half. Check your gas tank and fill up before heading on a sparsely populated stretch of desert highway. There might be a gas station–but there might not be, and you don’t want to get stranded. While driving through Death Valley, we encountered one gas station in the visitor’s center with gas priced at $6.00 a gallon. Fortunately, we filled up beforehand so we didn’t need it. The Extraterrestrial Highway 375 in Nevada has no gas stations at all, not even in the tiny town of Rachel. The owner of the diner there said people still get stranded and she keeps gas in a can for sale at a hefty price. If you see a sign warning you that there are no gas stations for miles, you’d best top off the tank just in case.

Extraterrestrial Highway, Nevada road trip
Extraterrestrial Highway, Nevada

9. If you are visiting multiple national parks in the United States, consider getting an annual National Parks Pass.

When my friend Cass and I went on our three week road trip around the American Southwest back in 2004, we got the annual National Park Pass and it saved us a bit of money. Back then it was $50.00, now it goes for $80.00. The Grand Canyon regular fee alone was $25.00 per vehicle, and we went to five or 6 parks total. You can visit as many parks as you want as many times as you want for a whole year.

Added bonus: Some parks give you special treatment for buying a pass. The Grand Canyon was the busiest, with a line of cars for a ways down the road. There was an entrance lane and kiosk just for annual pass holders, and we zoomed right to the front.

Arches National Park road trip
Arches National Park, Utah
Bryce Canyon National Park road trip
Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah
Saguaro National Park, AZ road trip
Saguaro National Park, AZ

 

10. Build some good driving playlists on your ipod or phone.

Music keeps you going. Upbeat music keeps you alert, old hits inspire sing-alongs, and a good playlist of your own will get you through those stretches of road with no radio reception (or only tear-in-your-beer country music).

Paddy’s favorite road trip albums:

Physical Graffiti by Led Zepplin

Highway to Hell by AC/DC

Exile on Main Street by The Rolling Stones

Songs for the Deaf by Queens of the Stone Age

Whitney’s favorite road trip albums:

Tom Petty’s Greatest Hits

Whitechocolatespaceegg by Liz Phair

Out of Time by REM

Odelay by Beck

Also in my favorite road trip album list are several movie soundtracks:

Almost Famous soundtrack

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas soundtrack

Natural Born Killers soundtrack

Road trips are awesome. Have fun and be safe. Be sure to get off the beaten path a little.

cannon beach oregon coast road trip
The Oregon Coast

Lake Quinault WA Fourth of July 2014

Our Fourth of July weekend with friends at Lake Quinault WA: Fun with friends on the lake, hiking in the Quinault Rainforest, and a trip to Ruby Beach.

Originally, we had wanted to go to Lake Chelan for Fourth of July, as it is on the East side of the Cascade Mountains and usually hot and sunny. We only had four nights for this trip, and an exhaustive search for rental houses (I searched in the winter, so it wasn’t last minute) yeilded extremely high prices and one week rental minimums.

I expanded my search to the rest of the state to see what else whas out there, and came across this lovely house on Lake Quinault, on the edge of the Olympic National Park. It was huge, and right on the lake. We went for it.

Day 1:

We left Seattle on Wednesday at 2:45 PM and trudged through freeway traffic a ways, alternating between heavy and light traffic through Tacoma and Olympia. Finally, we got off I-5 and onto Highway 8 West to Aberdeen. We were getting pretty hungry, and decided to stop for some dinner at The Beehive in Montesano.

We really, really wanted to like The Beehive.

The Beehive diner Montesano WA

A diner built in the 1940’s, with a kitschy name, booths, and pies, it looked like the perfect small town gem.

The Beehive diner Montesano WA

The waitress gave good service, but the food took forever. We hoped that meant that good food takes time, which is true. I ordered the oysters with a salad and baked potato, and Paddy ordered a chicken fried steak with mashed potatoes and a salad. He had a choice of white or brown gravy, and he chose white, assuming it would be like the standard country gravy that comes with such a dish.

The salads were iceberg lettuce and croutons, but that is expected at a diner. My oysters, advertised from nearby Westport, tasted fresh but were pretty greasy and not crispy. The potato wasn’t anything to write home about, and came with a tub of margarine with chives and bacon bits mixed in.

oysters The Beehive diner Montesano WA

The big disappointment was Paddy’s chicken fried steak, which came with a thick, buttery, yellow sauce over everything and looked nothing like gravy. The steak was paper thin, and not worth the $16 price tag.

chicken fried steak The Beehive diner Montesano WA

We moved on, figuring the weekend can only get better from there.

We passed through Aberdeen, WA, the hometown of Kurt Cobain of Nirvana. The “Come As You Are” sign welcoming tourists to Aberdeen must have Kurt spinning in his grave. The town that he hated, called him names, and treated him like a freak for being himself is now trying to cash in on his fame. It’s grossly ironic.

Aberdeen come as you are

After Aberdeen and Hoquiam, we drove another 45 minutes north on the 101 and arrived at Lake Quinault. The house was beautiful. It was huge, with four bedrooms, two and a half bathrooms, a dining room with a table big enough for 10, living room with satellite and flat screen TV, and a huge deck and yard right on the lake. It also had a fire pit and a covered gazebo on the deck with a mosquito net, which was definitely useful in the evenings.

We settled in, had some drinks and watched a movie. Our friends Ian and Jaz had a 15 month old baby with them and they took the upstairs suite. We couldn’t even hear the baby from the downstairs bedroom at night, and they had all the space they needed. It was perfect.

Day 2:

The next day, we relaxed and waited for the rest of our group to arrive. I baked a pina colada cake for Sara and Jaz’s birthdays (you can get the recipe and read about that here).

Pina colada cake

Paddy and I went into the bustling metropolis of Amanda Park, the town on the west end of the lake and got some fireworks and firewood. There’s not much there, but there is a pizza place and a small general store.

Amanda Park WA
“Downtown” Amanda Park

Everyone else showed up that afternoon and evening, and we enjoyed some drinks watching the sunset, some drinks while playing some games, and some drinks around the campfire. Our friend Cass accidentally sat on a slug, but other than that it was a lovely night.

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Playing “Ticket To Ride”

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Day 3:

Lake Quinault is part of the Olympic Rainforest, and therefore is not always hot and sunny and great for swimming. The Western side of the Cascade Mountains seems to only guarantee sun and heat between July 5th and Labor Day. And by guarantee I mean about 85% of the time.

Knowing this, swimming would have been nice but it wasn’t part of our agenda. The temperature didn’t get much above 70 the entire weekend. There is a beautiful rainforest to hike in, though, and we took advantage. We woke to a beautiful sunny morning, and we drove to the South side of Lake Quinault to check out the forest trails.

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Sunny morning lake view from the deck

Our first stop was the World’s Largest Sitka Spruce Tree at the end of the South Shore Road. There is parking, and the tree is 0.3 miles down a level trail, so it is a pretty quick stop.

Lake Quinault (6)
Photo by Cassandra Whelan

And yes, it’s big.

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World's Largest Sitka Spruce Lake Quinault

World's Largest Sitka Spruce Lake Quinault

World's Largest Sitka Spruce Lake Quinault

The South Shore Road has a lot more going on than the North Shore Road. It has a museum, hiking trails, a Mercantile, and a post office. There is also a campground and the Lake Quinault Lodge, one of the Olympic National Park lodges.

We parked at the parking lot for the Quinault Forest loop trail, and embarked on a four mile hike through the temperate rainforest.

**Note: Bring $5 cash per vehicle for a parking pass (self serve)

Quinault rain forest WA

Lake Quinault loop trail
Photo by Cassandra Whelan

The trail ascends up a hillside, but the elevation gain overall is minimal and there are many level parts in between the hill parts so it isn’t very strenuous. I sweated the whole time, but I’m not quite as in shape as everyone else was. Oh, office jobs….

Lake Quinault loop trail
Photo by Cassandra Whelan

Lake Quinault loop trail

We crossed a lot of bridges and streams, and through a cedar bog with a long boardwalk. It wasn’t very boggy, but I’m sure that changes in the winter when the rains start falling daily.

Lake Quinault loop trail

Lake Quinault loop trail cedar bog
Cedar bog boardwalk portion of the trail

 

Lake Quinault loop trail

Lake Quinault loop trail

Lake Quinault loop trail

Lake Quinault loop trail

Lake Quinault loop trail

After about three miles around the forest and through the cedar bog, we arrived back at the road to cross down to the portion of the trail along the edge of Lake Quinault. The trail goes along the lake past many vacation bungalows with private docks and beaches, and past the Lake Quinault Lodge. The lake facing side of the lodge reminded me of the movie Dirty Dancing, or a mental institution. It was very nice looking though. The weather does get warmer in July and August, and I’m sure the beaches are nice for swimming.

Lake Quinault loop trail

Lake Quinault loop trail

Lake Quinault Lodge
Lake Quinault Lodge

Lake Quinault Lodge beach

At the end of the trail, my feet were dragging. It was a great hike, and we all went back and rested awhile, napping and watching movies. Later in the afternoon we started Fourth of July dinner, including Heather’s amazing lobster mac and cheese, cucumber salad, hot dogs, and my Asian watermelon salad. We were glad we hiked that day to make up for all the calories we consumed.

Heather's lobster mac and cheese
Heather’s lobster mac and cheese

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Lake Quinault Canadian Geese
Canadian geese on the lake
Lake Quinault Canadian Geese
Canadian geese on the lake

Because it was the Fourth of July, and I love seasonal cocktails, I decided to make Guy Fiery’s Fourth of July Cocktail, which is supposed to look like this:

Guy Fieri's Fourth of July Cocktail
Guy Fieri’s Fourth of July Cocktail: Ingredients 1 ounce watermelon schnapps 1 big splash cranberry juice 1 very thin slice jalapeno or serrano pepper 1 slice lemon 1 slice lime 1 1/2 ounces tequila 1/4 ounce blue curacao 1/2 ounce simple syrup Watermelon wedge, for garnish (optional) Directions: Mix the schnapps and cranberry juice in a shaker; pour into an ice-filled glass. Muddle the jalapeno pepper, lemon and lime slices, tequila, blue curacao and simple syrup (to make a batch, dissolve sugar in equal parts hot water and chill) in the shaker. Slowly strain into the glass over the red layer. Garnish with watermelon, if desired.

http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/guy-fieri/fourth-of-july-cocktail-recipe.html

Instead, what I got was this:

Swamp Water
Swamp Water

It turned brownish green, and was strong enough to knock you on your ass. We decided that we needed to mellow it out a bit, so we added some iced tea, which made it taste a lot better. It was still strong, and looked even more like swamp water. So that’s what we called it. So much for patriotic pretty Food Network cocktails.

We did the birthday cake thing with Sara and Jaz, stuffed ourselves silly, drank swampwater, and played some games.

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The fireworks we got were sparklers and bottle rockets  and a floating lantern like the kind used in countries such as Thailand for celebrations. The guy at the firework stand said they were safe, and that they burn themselves out high in the sky and don’t impact the environment. Unless of course, they veer off course and set a tree on fire.

We decided to try it out. We went down by the lake and I held it while Paddy lit the black flammable square at the bottom of the lantern. We got it going, and then Paddy let it go.

Lake Quinault Fourth of July

Lake Quinault Fourth of July

Lake Quinault Fourth of July

We watched as it soared really high in the sky, and then blew in the opposite direction of the lake. We panicked for a second, afraid that it might hit a tree, but it went so high so fast that it quickly turned into a tiny orange spec like a star way up in the sky. I’d love to go to a festival where they set a bunch of these off, it looks like a beautiful sight to behold from the pictures I’ve seen.

Lake Quinault Fourth of July

We then lit off the sparklers and bottle rockets. Not quite as exciting as a giant orange orb of fire, but still fun.

Lake Quinault Fourth of July

Lake Quinault Fourth of July

Lake Quinault Fourth of July

To our surprise, we did see some professional fireworks across the lake. (Lake Quinault Lodge maybe?).

Lake Quinault Fourth of July

Lake Quinault Fourth of July

 

Day 4:

Our last day brought morning showers, but they were off and on. Paddy, Cass, Devin, and I wanted to see a bit more of the southern Olympic Peninsula, so we took a drive up the coast to Ruby Beach.

After Paddy cooked eggs benedicts for everyone, the four of us left the others behind and drove north on the 101.

Eggs Benedict assembly line Lake Quinault 2014 184
Eggs Benedict assembly line
Highway 101 North Olympic Forest
Heading north on the 101 through the Olympic Forest

After 45 minutes, we reached Ruby Beach, which was pretty popular for a cloudy, semi-drizzly day. I suppose it was a Saturday in July, though. On the Olympic Peninsula, you can’t ever expect sun. If you get sun- bonus.

There were cars parked up the road from the parking lot, so we grabbed a spot along the road that was being vacated. There is a viewpoint at the top of the trail down to the beach.

Ruby Beach Washington

The trail is 0.25 mile downhill to the beach, an easy trip there and easy climb back. It looks like it can be muddy in the winter.

There is another viewpoint halfway down

Ruby Beach Washington

Ruby Beach Washington

Beach trail to Ruby Beach WA
Beach trail

We weren’t diligent enough to plan around a tide chart, but Ruby Beach is best visited at low tide. You can check the tide schedule here: http://tides.willyweather.com/wa/jefferson-county/ruby-beach.html. This is because Cedar Creek runs from the forest into the ocean, cutting the beach in half. We were at medium high tide, so we had to cross the creek to get to the other side of the beach . Cass wore rain boots and Devin had flip flops, so they were able to walk through the shallow water to the other side. I had to take off my shoes and go barefoot. Paddy didn’t want to go barefoot through the creek, so he stayed behind with my shoes.

Ruby Beach Washington

Ruby Beach Washington
Photo by Cassandra Whelan

Ruby Beach gets its name from small bits of garnet in the rocks and sand. Maybe this is only seen in the sunlight. The rocks were pretty, but we saw no ruby.

Ruby Beach Washington

Ruby Beach Washington
Little beach rock shrines
Ruby Beach Washington
Little beach rock shrines

Ruby Beach Washington

Being barefoot ended up being non-conducive to tide pooling, however. There are tide pools to see around the sea stacks (large rocks), but the rocks are covered in barnacles and sharp. I carefully climbed around a few so I could get a look at one of the tide pools, which hosted a solitary giant green sea anemone, anthopleura xanthogrammica. (I used to want to be a marine biologist in 6th grade, and somehow all that I learned stuck with me).

Ruby Beach tide pools sea anemones
Anthopleura xanthogrammica
Ruby Beach tide pools
Anthopleura xanthogrammica

Ruby Beach tide pools

Mussels Ruby Beach
Mussels

We also saw a purple starfish snacking on an unfortunate mussel.

Starfish snacking on a mussel Ruby Beach tide pools
Starfish eating a mussel

Next time we visit Ruby Beach, I’m going to come back at low tide and wear rubber boots. I think there are more tide pools to discover at low tide, and I want to have the footwear to do it.

Ruby Beach WA

Ruby Beach WA

We headed back to the car and drove back on the 101. We decided to pull into a driveway that had a sign with an arrow labeled “Big Cedar.”

Olympic rainforest Big Cedar

At the end of the road was a small trail with a sign telling us to watch out for falling trees. Within a few feet we reached the Big Cedar. It was big alright. And it had split in two. I later researched that this had just happened in March 2014.

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Olympic rainforest Big Cedar

Olympic rainforest Big Cedar

Olympic rainforest Big Cedar

Olympic rainforest Big Cedar
That’s a big cedar. Photo by Devin Margolies

It’s sad that this ancient giant finally began to split and rot. However, the massiveness of it is still a sight to behold. The intricate roots and internal structure are pretty fascinating.

Olympic rainforest Big Cedar

Olympic rainforest Big Cedar

Olympic rainforest Big Cedar

Moving on, we continued down the road and pulled into the South Beach Campground to check it out. It was right on the beach, but a complete clusterfuck. Maybe it’s not so bad when it’s not Fourth of July weekend, but it was camping chaos. RVs were lined along the beach, and tents were piled on top of each other in every available patch of grass. Zero privacy. I can see the appeal of waking up in an RV to the ocean, but there’s no way we’d pitch a tent here.

We made one last stop at Kalaloch Lodge to pick up a few things from their little store. The Kalaloch Lodge looks really nice, right on the beach with a lodge and cabins. There is a restaurant, the menu looks really good albeit expensive. I’d like to come back for a romantic getaway in the winter sometime.

Half our group left that afternoon, and the rest of us stayed one last night at the Lake Quinault house. Heather made crabcakes and steaks, we played games and had beers and wine out on the patio.

We left really early the next morning, anticipating bad traffic. Surprisingly, traffic was completely fine and we made it back to Seattle in almost exactly 3 hours. I’m sure the afternoon was a different story though….

We are already talking about renting the same house on Lake Quinault next summer. It’s a great deal in a great location. If you are okay with overcast days and like forest trails and beaches, this is a good spot for a getaway.

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Culinary Adventures: Pina Colada Cake

Culinary and Crafty Adventures: Pina Colada Cake

We were celebrating two birthdays over our Fourth of July trip with friends to Lake Quinault, WA and I wanted to make a fun, summertime cake for the birthday girls. I had found a recipe on Cooks.com for a pina colada cake, and decided to give it a try.

The cake part was easy. I took a white cake mix and followed the mix instructions, subbing out 3/4 cup pina colada mix for 3/4 of the water required. The batter consistency was pretty gooey, but it baked into a nice, light, fluffy pina colada cake.

Now for the frosting. It sounded great, but the reality was a little different. The frosting recipe was:

2 cups powered sugar

2 cups sour cream

8 oz Cool Whip

7 oz coconut flakes

The instructions were to “stir sugar into sour cream, fold in Cool Whip and coconut. Fill and frost cake.”

I followed the instructions and wound up with a frosting that is about the same consistency as lumpy syrup. Dissatisfied with the sticky, drippy mess, I added more powdered sugar. A lot more. I think the whole bag, actually. I added a bit more Cool Whip as well, and got it to thicken up a bit, but it was still pretty runny. I tasted it, and the sour cream really did compliment it nicely. It just wasn’t great to frost with.

I think a sheet cake in a glass casserole dish would have been better for this recipe. But I bravely persisted on with my two 9″ round cake layers. (I apologize for the lack of photos, I was too busy finding ways to keep frosting from overflowing onto the floor to wash my hands and pick up the camera).

I frosted the cake, adding some crushed canned pineapple in the middle between the layers along with frosting. I toasted the remaining coconut flakes on a baking sheet in the oven, and mashed handfuls of it onto the drippy sides of the cake. To my delight, it stuck, and covered up the drippy ugliness. It also tasted amazing–the smell of the toasted coconut brought a few people in from the deck outside to see what the awesomely delicious aroma was.

To decorate the pina colada cake, I cut up some pineapple wedges and cut pineapple leaves and arranged them along one side of the cake, and added little drink umbrellas.

Pina colada cake

It turned out great. The added crushed pineapple in the center provided a nice tart zing that the cake really needed, and the toasted coconut added a nice texture and flavor. The sour cream was the ingredient that made the frosting, and I’d like to try it again a little differently.

Pina Colada Cake

Variations I’d like to try on another pina colada cake would be using pineapple coconut juice instead of the pina colada mix, which has more flavor and less high fructose corn syrup. For frosting, I’d like to try it as a butter cream, with sour cream and butter mixed in, and/or possibly a splash of pineapple coconut juice.

Have you made a good pina colada cake? If so, let me know your recipe!

Crafty Adventures: Outdoor Pallet Sofa Sectional

Crafty Adventures: How we made an outdoor pallet sofa sectional and turned a boring corner into a little garden oasis

Paddy works in shipping and receiving, and tons of pallets are recycled by his warehouse on a regular basis. I’d been seeing lots of recycled pallet furniture ideas on Pinterest and really liked the outdoor pallet sofa posts that kept popping up. We had this corner in our garden that nothing was going on in, and I thought it would make a perfect summer reading lounge, or a cute little conversational spot for our next summer party.

Paddy brought home six 35″ x 50″ pallets in good condition. As soon as we had a free weekend day with some sunshine, we started the sanding phase. We don’t own a belt sander, but were able to rent one for a couple hours from Aurora Rents in Seattle. You might be able to find a similar rental shop in your area as well.

Our sanding job wasn’t super smooth, just enough to take the really rough splintery parts off, especially around the edges.

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The following weekend, we made some time to stain them with weatherproof deck stain. This was to protect the wood in the rain, and it also gave the pallets a nice dark wood finish. We picked up the stain and brushes at the Home Depot. It is pretty oily stuff, so we’d highly recommend putting a plastic drop cloth down to protect your patio area from getting stained as well.

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We took turns staining the pallets. The stain was really fumy, it gave me quite a headache by the time we were done.

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The next day, after the pallets were dry, it was time to assemble.

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We leveled the ground a bit, and then stacked two on top of each other in an “L” shape. We then screwed them together with long wood screws around the edge planks. We opted for screws instead of nails, because it would be easier to unscrew them apart if we had to move the sofa at some point.

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We also bought some reed fencing to wall off the walkway between the side of the house and the fence, and create a private little corner. You can buy a roll of reed fencing at most stores with garden departments. They are only about $35.00 for a 6 ft x 16 ft roll, and make a nice little summer privacy screen. They aren’t super sturdy, so my guess is that we may have to replace it by next summer.

We screwed on the last two pallets on as the back of the sofa, forming a corner backing.

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Here’s where I had to do most of my research and planning: cushions. I googled and googled and couldn’t find a decent instructional about how to actually make the cushions or where to buy the foam (and which kind). I determined that I needed upholstery foam, preferably at least 3″-4″ thick, and possibly an outdoor kind. When I started looking for that online, it proved to be really expensive. I would also have to get an electric knife to cut it, and find rolls of it that would be wide enough for our 35″ wide outdoor pallet sofa.

Then– somehow, during all that googling, a dog bed came up in the search. A dog bed that was exactly the size of the pallets, and 5.5″ thick. It was found at Drs. Foster & Smith Pet Supplies, and it was water and tear resistant, and it was on sale. All signs seemed to point to these dog beds as the perfect solution. I ordered two of them, and they arrived within a week. The model I ordered was the “Ultimate Dura-Ruff® Dog Bed,” in case you need to get one. They were still expensive at just over $100 each, but it was actually cheaper (and much less work and waste) than making them myself would have been.

For extra rain protection (and because sage green wasn’t my desired color), I googled waterproof outdoor fabric until I found some orange outdoor furniture fabric at Buy The Piece. It was $6.59 a yard, and I ordered 13 yards of it. This ended up being way more than we needed to cover the cushions and pillows, but it’s good to have extra for repairs.

Not being the best seamstress, I just wrapped the fabric around the cushions like a present, and superglued it. Probably not the best way, but it worked out fine and I can always re-cover them and repair them if necessary.

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Next, I found some dog pillows (it turns out dog beds and pillows make great furniture cushions and pillows) at the local Fred Meyer for $15 each on sale. I bought three an sewed covers for them.

I got through the first cover with my old sewing machine, and was in the living room cutting more fabric when Paddy and I heard a click, then another click, and then my sewing machine whirring at full speed. We ran into the back room and found my sewing machine going by itself, smoke billowing out of it and threatening to burst into flames at any moment. We quickly unplugged it and decided that the incident was the sewing machine’s swan song. We added it to the dump-run pile, thankful that our house didn’t burn down, and wondering if we have a poltergeist that we didn’t know about.

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I finished the rest of the pillow covers by hand. It wasn’t too bad.

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I tried out the new corner lounge and it was very comfortable. To add an Eastern flair, I bought a mosquito net on Amazon and some outdoor pillows at Cost Plus World Market (also on sale!) and completed our garden oasis.

I am looking forward to reading in the shade on our outdoor pallet sofa on the next lazy hot weekend day we have this summer!

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