Saturday, August 31, 2013

When visiting Prince Edward Island it is a must that you spend a little time searching out at least one lighthouse. Finding one should be pretty easy because there are 63 lighthouses and rangelights on this Canadian island province that is only 140 miles long with a coastline of 1,100 miles. Some of the earliest lighthouses date from before the 1870s, and these can be identified by their octagonal shapes.  Lighthouses built after this time period have square bases; and, regardless, all the lighthouses have their own distinguishing features that once allowed sailors to determine their location in proximity to the island.


When selecting which lighthouses I wanted to add to my itinerary, I went for style or for locations near our lodging in Cavendish.  The two lighthouses I determined to be worth the drive were West Point Lighthouse in West Point and Seacow Head Lighthouse in Fernwood - West Point for its black and white stripes and Seacow Head for its red sandstone cliffs and view of the Confederate Bridge.


Closer to Cavendish, we visited New London Range Rear Lighthouse and Cape Tryon Lighthouse.  New London is easy to access at the end of Cape Road in French River.  Cape Tryon, just up the road to the east of New London, is a bit more challenging to access since it is (technically) on private property and about a mile walk from Cape Road.  The red cliffs are worth the walk, and I only wish the weather had cooperated for us that day.




To the east of Cavendish, we stopped at North Rustico Harbour Lighthouse in North Rustico and Covehead Harbour Lighthouse within the Prince Edward National Park (fee to access the park). Across the street from Covehead is a small grouping of shops where you can rent a bicycle if you want to further enjoy the park's offerings.





Other thoughts on PEI:

Exploring the island, we came across some fantastic places you must try if you ever get the chance.  Of course, there's all of the Anne of Green Gables and Lucy Maud Montgomery sites to visit, including:

  • Avonlea Village
  • Green Gables Heritage Site
  • Anne of Green Gables Museum
  • L.M. Montgomery's birthplace, childhood homesite, and grave
  • Dalvay by the Sea, used in the movie
I'll cover all of the Anne stuff in my post specific to that topic.  Here I want to highlight some yummy food and very fun attractions, in my opinion. First, you must visit the Prince Edward Island Preserves Company.  The food was delicious! They are known for their Potato Pie with bacon crust and maple bacon sauce, as well as their amazing Raspberry Cream Cheese Pie.  There is a shop next to the restaurant that sells a large selection of homemade preserves and teas. 



They actually gave us a copy of the Potato Pie recipe to take home, we liked it so much.

Potato Pie with Maple Bacon Sauce
3-4 lbs peeled potatoes
Cheddar cheese (grated)
1 tsp. ground thyme
Chopped Chives (fresh or dry)
1 lb. bacon
Salt and Pepper

Thinly slice potatoes.  Line a pie plate or casserole dish with bacon, leaving half slice of bacon over the edge of the dish. Layer potatoes, a generous amount of grated cheese, chopped chives, salt and pepper to taste.  Repeat until you have four layers - sprinkle first layer only with the thyme.  Pull bacon up over the top.  Pie should be 4-5 inches thick in the middle.  Fasten center with a skewer.  Cover with plastic wrap and foil, then bake at 400 degrees F for 2 hours.  Remove wrap and continue to bake for another 30 minutes until fork tender and the bacon cooked.

Maple Bacon Sauce
1 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup sour cream
1/4 cup maple syrup
1 tsp bacon bits

Combine ingredients and serve drizzled on the serving of potato pie or on the side.

Speaking of food, we also had a fantastic meal at The Gahan House in Charlottetown.  This restaurant is mostly known for its popular beers brewed in the basement, and it is the only brewery on the island.  The favorite menu item is the Brown Bag Fish and Chips - by far the best fish and chips I've ever had.  I'm not sure if it was the tartar sauce or the batter made with the Wheat Ale and what I thought was a small bit of cinnamon.  I also enjoyed their seasonal raspberry flavored beer while dining.  

While Gahan brews its beers in the basement, additional batches are brewed over at the associated Prince Edward Island Brewing Company.  You can visit for hourly tours or just stay in the main pour area to drink some samples of all the Gahan brews as well as the beers they have crafted themselves:  Beach Chair Lager, Blueberry Ale, and a seasonal brew (black current sour right now).
 


  
Down the street from The Gahan House, near the water in Charlottetown is the Prince Edward Island Distillery tasting room in Peake's Quay.  Here you can purchase samples of their famous Blueberry Vodka, as well as their Potato Vodka and Gin.


Continuing with the food commentary, PEI is known for Cow's Creamery and its award winning ice cream - though I wasn't able to tell what made it any better than Ben & Jerry's.  You can take tours of the creamery if you desire.  My final food-related observation is that PEI seems to be very sensitive to restrictive diets due to gluten intolerance.  Every place we ate had several gluten free options (even bread!) - including Chez Yvonne and Moo Moo Grilled Cheese in Avonlea Village, in addition to the other two restaurants already mentioned.

Finally, whatever you do while on the island, take time to stop and enjoy the beauty of the colors of PEI: the vibrant red sandstone against the blue water, and the pale green grasses along the miles of coastline.  Or perhaps the terra cotta red soil against the vivid green of the rows and rows of potato plants.  Beautiful!


Posted on Saturday, August 31, 2013 by Julie

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Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Photo from Silvia Leite's Flickr Photostream

Happy 2nd anniversary to Learn, Live, and Explore!! (two exclamation points for two years, right?)

I am so thrilled at how many new people have discovered my blog about my life adventures this past year. The numbers are too high to keep thinking it's just my family reading.  In fact, I still can't believe that I've had almost 6 times more views this year than my first year - and there's no way all those numbers can be attributable to my family only.  The best part of this anniversary is that it reminds me that this website is my favorite thing I've ever done.  Why?  Because it makes me get out and do my other favorite things.  So, yes my schedule is much busier now, I'm a happier person as a result.  Thank goodness I excel at planning and organizing, or I would be a mess!

With all that said, I just want to say thank you all for being such great supporters.  It means a lot to think that someone may be inspired by something I've done (i.e. lots of people looking at some of my cupcake designs) or can get ideas for how to spend those vacation days in the best way possible.

Favorite posts from the past year:

By the way, did you know that Learn, Live, and Explore! is on Facebook?  It's the truth!  I sometimes post additional photos over there as well as links to posts from other blogs I really like - mostly travel and baking related.  Just click the "like" button to get my updates in your newsfeed. I'm also trying to do Twitter (@learnliveexplor) but it's a lot of logging in or repeating what you said on multiple social media sites.  I'll try harder next year though to manage it all!


By the way, do you like that felt birthday cake at the top of the post?  Me too!  I've been trying to find out where to buy it or how to make one online.  I found this instructional blog that was close, but not exactly it.

Posted on Wednesday, August 28, 2013 by Julie

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Tuesday, August 27, 2013

I'm not even going to try to rationalize seeing M&S for the 4th time in one year...no, in less than 7 months.  All I know is that when I saw they were playing in Toronto around the time we were planning our road trip that included a stop in Toronto, it was way too easy to just flip the itinerary around and go clockwise in order to make sure we were there on Monday, August 26 -- at the beginning of the trip instead of the end.





Was the concert tonight any different from the D.C. ones in February and the Phoenix show in June?  Not really -- same songs in maybe a different order save for one new song I had yet to see live, finishing out with a quiet round (Bruce Springsteen's "I'm on Fire" and their song "Reminder") before entertaining the crowd with the big hit they've been waiting for all night ("The Cave") and a surprise cover of AC/DC.

This band is one that started out as a live act before any album was made. The songs on their Grammy winning album, Babel, were for the most part already road tested for several years, including one of my favorites that was recently parodied by Jason Bateman, Jason Sudekis, Ed Helms, and Will Forte.  If you haven't seen this video yet, by the way, regardless of your affinity towards Mumford & Sons I think you'll like it!
Here's what that song sounds like live - first time in four concerts I've heard it played:

I can say for certain that while I liked their music and had a copy of both albums when I went to my first concert, I didn't become a real fan until seeing the live show.  And, as you can tell, I'm a goner!  If you like them as well, but have yet to go to a concert, put it on the near-term bucket list!  You won't regret it!

By the way, here's a great five-part series on Mumford & Sons in their earlier years as a band if you're interested.




Posted on Tuesday, August 27, 2013 by Julie

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Monday, August 26, 2013

I finally made it to the "Honeymoon Capital of the World," just not for my honeymoon.  My friend and I commenced our end of summer roadtrip this weekend, and the first stop was Niagara Falls.  Our first sight of the falls was on the American side, where we paid $10 to park and get up close to the edge of the river to see the rapids created by the rushing 35mph water -- before it then spills over the end of the tablerock, creating the, relatively, straight waterfall called the American Falls.  From this side, you can also access Goat Island, the land mass that separates the American Falls from Horseshoe Falls in Canada.  We didn't stay in America because there's really not much to do there, and the better hotels are across the river.  Plus, it's nice to have the customs wait out of the way.

American Side:


Having crossed over Rainbow Bridge with ease, even with my dog (by the way, all you need is a valid rabies certificate to travel with your pet across the border), we first stopped at our hotel for a breather after the long car ride.  Even before we got to the hotel, though, I could tell that this was going to be both a tacky and expensive experience - which tends to be the case whenever a casino is around.  The businesses in Niagara Falls have figured out a way to charge you for everything - even Starbucks charged $0.45 CAN for a cup of water. The restaurant selection is limited, for the most part, to major chain casual dining: Margaritaville, The Keg, TGI Fridays, Applebees, Outback Steakhouse, etc.  I will say that if I had known, I would have made a reservation at The Keg because they have a nice 9th floor view of Horseshoe Falls.  

Canadian Side



Of all the attractions available to tourists to break your travel budget - Maid of the Mist, Cave of the Winds, etc. - we selected to go up to the top of Skylon Tower at night, mostly because I didn't want to get soaking wet.  Mistakenly, I thought it was right night for the summer fireworks show, but I was off by a day (Fridays and Sundays at 10pm).  No matter because we still got some great photos of the falls lit up in the changing colors.





Oftentimes after visiting a place, I look back and think of what I would have done differently.  I think the primary change I would make would be that I would not have stayed in Niagara Falls itself.  The hotels are very overpriced for what you are getting and the quality activity options are limited. I have heard that Niagara-on-the-Lake is supposed to be nice, and nestled in wine country.  We drove along the QEW towards Toronto yesterday and couldn't even count the number of wineries, breweries, distilleries, etc. that one could opt to tour.  Maybe next time....

Posted on Monday, August 26, 2013 by Julie

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Wednesday, August 21, 2013


Every year in August, Washington Improv Theater puts on their Improvapalooza comedy festival where local improvisors finally have a chance to try out all of their wacky ideas with looser performance rules.  This year, the shows are running 8pm-12am on the weekdays, and then into the morning on Friday (2am) and Saturday, with Saturday being a 12-hour marathon from noon to midnight.  I highly suggest you BUY TICKETS and come see at least one night of shows.  Only $10 per show or an all week pass for $25.  See the full schedule HERE.

As a great introduction to the week long festival, last weekend Washington Improv Theater held the last two shows of their run called Dog Days of Summer.  These shows were extra special because Kevin McDonald from the 1990s show Kids in the Hall did a little stand up then played in with the night's performing troupes.  Kevin was in town to teach a sketch writing workshop.  I caught the 10pm show with popular team The Score and my favorite WIT house team, Season Six.




I'm writing this post at the end of Improvapalooza Day 2 after having just finished the second of my two planned performances with the two groups Gimme a Break and Fives a Crowd.  The first of the performances I was blind casted in, so I did not know who was in my team nor what the concept was about until an hour before our performance time - a little bit fun and a little bit scary. The concept of Gimme a Break was to do two person scenes where you try to get your partner to laugh first.  My second show was a delayed student showcase performance from my most recent class on the Harold improv format.  I was worried because we had a small group, but I have to say we rocked!

So you may have missed two of the days, but you still have time to come out and be outrageously entertained.  At only $10 per night, if you live in the Washington D.C. area or are visiting this week, there's no reason why you should not come out. Unless you don't like to laugh....and even if that's the case, they sell beer and wine at the concessions.

Here are some of the photos I took of Monday's improvised SyFy "sharknado-esque" movie with a hippo and a tsunami, as well as one of my favorite local acts, Country Music All-Stars.



Posted on Wednesday, August 21, 2013 by Julie

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Tuesday, August 20, 2013



Have you seen the news recently about China's newest gift that has seriously increased the internet cuteness factor: a 24/7 panda cam?  The new website - ipanda.com - provides live stream action of the 80 pandas in the Chengdu Research Center in the Sichuan Province of China.  Inspired by that great news and by Washington D.C.'s own Smithsonian National Zoo pandas, I give you my attempt to make Panda cupcakes similar to Bakerella's panda cupcakes.   


If I had to do them again, I would have bought semisweet chocolate or dark chocolate chips, instead of milk chocolate, for the darker color.  Also I would buy extra bags of chips because the ones I got were pretty banged up, as you may be able to see in the photos.  While the Wilton pre-made animal eyes can work, I got mine at a local specialty food store because they were smaller and had better centers.  You can also try to do it the way Bakerella did hers.

Inspiration Photo


Posted on Tuesday, August 20, 2013 by Julie

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Monday, August 19, 2013



Last weekend, a friend and I took a tour of Potomac Floral Wholesale in Silver Spring, Maryland as part of a Floral Arrangement Basics class offered by Helen Olivia in Alexandria, Virginia. Potomac Floral is one of Washington D.C.'s largest floral wholesalers - receiving shipments from all over the world on a daily basis trucked in from JFK (port for European countries), Miami (port for South American countries), and inside the U.S. (e.g., California, Oregon, Washington, and Florida). Later in the afternoon, the class returned to Helen Olivia Flowers to review the conditioning of flowers, how flowers get from farm to shop, and the seasonality of flowers.

One of the interesting facts I learned up at the wholesaler is that, to accommodate the vast quantities of flowers being shipped, all floral boxes are the same length in order to promote space efficiencies on the planes and trucks.  This and other transportation improvements have basically allowed the floral industry to become less seasonal by facilitating access to countries with more consistent growing temperatures or that are located the opposite hemisphere.  In fact, there are very few flowers that florists can only get seasonally now:

Spring: hellobores, flowering branches, lilac, peonies
Summer: celosia, dahlias, rudbekia, zinnias
Fall: dahlias, bittersweet, rudbekia, rose hips
Winter: ilex berries

Based on the shelf quantities at Potomac Floral, this time of year the hydrangeas from Holland looked to be at their peak, along with sunflowers and the fun "brain flowers" (celosia).  It's all too common that we, as consumers, balk at the high prices of flowers, but even at wholesale cost, one of the giant Dutch hydrangea blooms maybe costs a minimum of $5 a stem and even more for the deeper/richer colors that are not easy to obtain.

Speaking of prices, from my viewpoint and with my education background in economics, I find it interesting that the international flower market is still one that is driven by textbook supply and demand patterns.  The Dutch flower industry is centered around their daily auctions where, much like the New York Stock Exchange, brokers/buyers are employed by wholesalers and retailers around the world to bid on their behalf for lots of blooms (called stapelwagens).  Like stock prices, flower prices can vary minute by minute; and when demand is very high, the prices adjust up accordingly (i.e. red roses cost double wholesale around Valentines Day).  For U.S. consumers, the prices for Dutch flowers are higher than European resale flowers because of transportation costs.  At the same time, these transportation costs are ensuring that the flowers are fresher than they have ever been in the floral industry's history.  For example, located at the Schiphol airport in Amsterdam, the Aalsmeer auction (largest of seven Dutch auctions) can sell to a broker a lot of flowers that were picked the day before by the grower, then place those flowers onto a 7:10pm flight that arrives at JFK at 9:10pm.  The flowers are routed onto trucks and taken to Potomac Floral overnight to then be repacked onto local delivery trucks, arriving at the Washington D.C. florist shop by 10am.  That is approximately 48 hours after the flower was cut.  Fresher flowers equals happier customers, many of whom are willing to pay for higher quality products.







While wandering the rows and rows of flowers in the cooler, I saw two really interesting blooms. One was a simple orange and red rose (maybe a "circus" rose) that was genetically modified to have the ruffled edge look of a cabbage rose.  The other was a variety of flower I had never heard of but was a gorgeous, pale blue little bloom with its furry lime green leaves, called Nigella Love in a Mist (or, scientifically, Nigella damascena).



Of course, as a floral wholesaler, Potomac Floral also had a supply section for all your arranging needs.

Speaking of arranging, back at the Helen Olivia store, we spent an hour going over conditioning, storage, and selection of flowers for bouquets.  Then we took our buckets of flowers and created a beautiful arrangement to take home with us.


Contained in the 5" cylindrical arrangement above:

  • Variegated pittosporum (Florida), used as the base for the arrangement
  • Columbian "Circus" roses 
  • Ecuadorian mini green hydrangeas 
  • Aspidistra leaf (Florida), cut and folded into bow loops
  • Local sunflower
  • Yellow spotted orchid (didn't catch the variety)
  • Dutch lisianthus (one of my favorite flowers, next to snapdragons)
  • Dutch freesia (orange) 

Posted on Monday, August 19, 2013 by Julie

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