22 May 2013

100 to see/do before I die Update

100 to see/do before I die.

Updated again (Feb 2016)

Many years ago I compiled my list of 100 places to see and things to do.  I thought it would be nice to update the list a bit and see if I am working towards accomplishing my goals.  On the other hand it could be interesting to see how my list of wants has changed.  We have traveled a quite a bit the last six years.  We have seen many new countries, cities and many changes have happened in our lives.  
I know that Singapore and Vienna are near the top of my list, Iceland is on the top of Art's. Less than 30 on our list.  We'll have to think of more :-)

1 Coral Reefs of Australia.  I think we get partial credit for going to Australia but we went inland instead of to the reefs...
2 White sand beaches of New Zealand.  Spectacular place.  Best time was hiking on a volcano island off of Auckland.
3 Grand Canyon
4 Niagara Falls.
5 Drive on Autobahn in Germany.
6 Visit Eagle’s Nest.

7 Travel by high-speed train in Europe.  Mind-boggling!
8 Glacier Bay, Alaska.
9 Denali National Park
10 Summer Solstice in Fairbanks.

11 Chichen Itza.
12 Hoover Dam.
13 Zion National Park.
14 Victoria Falls in Africa.
15 Amazon Jungle tour.  
16 Belize.
17 Madiera.

18 Canary Islands.  Heard this was overrated.  I would update to Greece or Prague.
19 Kilauea Volcano in Hawaii.  The big island of Hawaii was amazing!  Two weeks was perfect.
20 Cable car in San Francisco
21 Fish Market in Seattle.
22 Old Faithful in Yellowstone.
23 Houseboat on Lake Powell.
24 Opryland in Nashville.
25 Zion National Park.
26 Rocky Mountain National Park.
27 Hike part of Appalachian Trail.
28 Tenochtitlan.
29 Cruise Panama Canal.
30 Louvre in Paris.  Visited France and Paris in 2015.  Did see the Louvre from the outside...crowds
31 Great Wall in China.  Looking to do this in the next couple of years :-D
32 Bike trip in Ireland.  We did a driving tour of Ireland which was incredible!
33 Statue of Liberty.  My niece lives in Brooklyn so it is a short walk to view her. 
34 Top of Empire State Building.  Visited the 9/11 Memorial instead...

35 Riverboat on Mississippi.
36 Buckingham Palace.  Tower of London, National Gallery, Hyde Park, Big Ben, Thames cruise...
37 Double Decker bus ride in London.  Did a quick tour of London before heading to Ireland.38 Amsterdam.
39 Carnaval/Mardi Gras in Rio De Janero.  Carnaval in Mazatlan!
40 Ayre’s Rock in Australia.  Went to the Blue Mountains and hiked around falls instead.

41 Mt. St. Helens42 World Cruise.
43 Singapore
44 Machu Picchu
45 Pearl Harbor
46 Biodome in AZ
47 Alamo
48 White water raft Colorado River.
49 Golden Gate Bridge.
50 See a concert at Carnegie Hall.
51 Smithsonian Museum
52 Octoberfest in Germany.  Germany many times, and much beer, but no Octoberfest...
53 Sauna in Sweden.  We did visit Stockholm and Gotland in 2015.  Went to a RenFest which was great fun, but did not get into a sauna even though there was one at the hotel?!?
54 Stonehenge
55 Roswell, NM.
56 Bermuda
.  Did a cruise to here which docked for six days and acted as a hotel.  Awesome!
57 Visit Antarctica
58 Dogsled in Alaska.
59 Four Corners (CO, UT, AZ, NM)
60 Taj Mahal.
61 Pyramids in Egypt
62 Greece
63 Stargate set in Vancouver.  Sadly it is no more.  Victoria Island is still a good one for the list
64 Istanbul.  Didn't go here but did visit Budapest.  Should be on list as well...
65 Baseball game at Fenway Park.
66 Virgin Islands
67 White House
68 Watch Space Shuttle launch.  Didn't get to watch a shuttle launch but a great day at Cape Canaveral and NASA in Florida.
69 Sunset in Mexico.
70 Saguaro National Park.
71 Tombstone.
72 Abydos.
73 Fjords in Norway.  Went to Norway and saw many beautiful mountains in 2015.
74 Kremlin
75 Fiji.  Note- it is a four letter word.  Cyclone Daphne rained on our whole time there...
76 FAO Schwartz in NYC.  Been outside.  Crazy tourist area.  Abi got us out quick!
77 Montreal.
78 Eat Belgian chocolate in Brussels.  SO ENJOYED THIS ONE!  On my top five best places list!
79 Quebec City.  Stay at the Frontenac
80 Fishing in Gloucester81 Block Island  Pre-season delight!82 Nantucket.  Is Martha's Vineyard close enough??83 Gondola ride in Venice.  Venice, Tuscany, Rome!
84 British Museum
85 Georgia Acquarium in Atlanta.
86 Disneyworld
87 Sailboat tour to anywhere.
88 Spa in Monte Carlo
89 Moab, Utah.
90 Bar Harbor Maine
91 Cape Breton, Nova Scotia
92 PEI.  Loved this place.  Would go back in a heartbeat.  Done in 2013.
93 Coloseum in Rome.  Did the dungeon tour.
94 Metropolitan Museum of Art
95 Vienna.  Went here in 2014.  Much bigger city than I expected but we did get to see an opera.
96 Highland festival in Scotland
97 Bay of Fundi
98 Newport, RI
99 Redwood Forest
100 Bavaria
(Italic- done/been at least once.)
Not bold- done between 2013-2015

09 May 2013

Happy 15th Anniversary to our biz!

Fifteen years ago we received our official registration for StoveKeepers and our business was born.  We had just moved to New England and one night had a friend of Art's over; he saw that we had a selection of mailers on franchise businesses.  He said he had a better idea.  He was a pellet manufacturer who had just lost a dealer in the town we were now living.  He said start a stove shop and I will give you the support you need and introduce you to industry people you will need to know.  I worked on our business plan for months and secured financing.  We received our registration in May, attended trainings all summer, and opened a shop with five stoves and several big plants (thanks Mom and Dad!) to help "fill the space."
Our first location was cozy and the landlord was very flexible and let us choose our terms.  SBA, who provided our financing, did their best to mess with our plans but we needed them initially so we did what we had to do.  We ran an ad and opened our doors September 1, 1998.  We did make a sale that day :-D, sadly it was on credit card so I could not frame our "first dollar."  Still, we were thrilled!  When we took a vacation to Colorado for Christmas that year we left a clipboard and a couple tons of pellets out back and let people take fuel on the honor system.  We worked really hard those first couple of years with Art working another job, me taking small computer jobs in between, running the store, doing trainings, installing, delivering and every other task in a day.  We were exhausted but having the time of our lives.
Not every day was a joy.  I still remember having a week to come up with $20,000.  I never thought we would make it and was terrified!  Somehow it all worked out.  After two years going solo we hired our first employee.  By 2003 we had three others and at that point I stepped out of the shop to tackle the bookwork that we had previously outsourced.  We grew every year for the first ten years and received top ten awards from Harman a few times. We won a cruise to Alaska with other high achieving shops and Harman employees.  That was a trip of a lifetime.  A train and cruise tour from Fairbanks down to Vancouver.
We have had three locations in our fifteen years, as well as an off-site warehouse.  In 2009 we were able to purchase our own property.  We took two years where we used it as a warehouse and fixed up the showroom, paved the parking lot, and put up a fence before we moved.  It was risky.  We were moving two towns away!  The move was stressful but within a year we had a record setting quarter which eased our minds about our move.
We now have five full time employees, one part time, Art and myself.  The industry is a roller coaster.  It is not for the faint of heart.  One year can see a 20% increase and the next 30% down.  Cash flow is my main job now.  Art's main role is managing the employees and vendors.  We are a good team and both agree that we couldn't/wouldn't do it without each other!
It is a good technology and I think I will say that we have done more good than harm.  We have done our best to provide a good and fun job for our guys with stability and perks.  I think our guys are also proud of not only the products we sell but the work they do.  Hoping for another ten successful years and possibly beyond!

04 May 2013

Making Bratwurst Sausage with my KitchenAid

I absolutely think my KitchenAid mixer is the best thing since sliced bread.  It has a place of honor on my kitchen counter and helps me make cookies, cakes, whipped cream, pretzels, bread, pasta, ice cream, hamburg, dog food when Zdeno was VERY fussy, and now Sausage!  My parents live in Mexico part of the year where it is not always easy to find sausage.  This got me thinking.  How hard is it to make sausage?  What equipment do you need?  So after a quick Google search I saw that there were many recipes for making sausage with the KitchenAid.  I already have the machine and the meat grinder and I found I could get the sausage stuffer attachment for less than $15 from Amazon.  So, I was off on my adventure! 

A quick note on casings.  Most videos I watched showed a laborious and tedious process of gently stretching out natural casing, soaking it, rinsing it, soaking it in vinegar, rinsing it again, then laying it out for use.  This seemed to me to the burden of sausage making.  A quick stop at a local Meat House showed me that if you buy the cellulose casings you can skip all of the unpleasantness described above.

Homemade Bratwurst Recipe and Process
I found this German Bratwurst recipe at www.lets-make-sausage.com if you would like to see it in it's original form.
Bratwurst is made with emulsified meat.  I couldn't go that far but found that by grinding the meat through the large then small grinder multiple times worked well.  The consistency won't be exactly the same as the store but I think the taste is better!  The grinding is probably the most time consuming part of the recipe.  If the meat is cold/semi-frozen the grinding will be much easier!  I learned that the hard way.  If you hands are going numb handling the meat it is almost cold enough...

  • 4 lbs. Pork Shoulder or Pork Butt (80% lean is recommended as fat is an important ingredient.  If you get a leaner pork you may want to supplement with pork fat- which is what I did.)
  • 1 lb. Veal or Beef (Again if you get a lean cut you may want to supplement with added fat.)
  • 1-2 Tbsp. Kosher Salt 
  • 1 Tbsp. Ground Nutmeg
  • 2 tsp. Ground Mace (can substitute all spice, or cinnamon if you can't find mace)
  • 1 tsp. Ground Ginger
  • 1 Cup Cold Milk
  • 2 whole eggs, beaten
  • 1 Cup Non-Fat Dry Milk Powder (Used as a binder) 

Trim the pork and beef.  Cut into 1 inch cubes.  I start with semi-frozen meat for easier cutting.  Place a metal bowl inside a larger bowl filled with ice and chill meat in fridge.  I did this the morning of and left for a couple of hours but overnight is probably better. 

After cutting place in freezer for a half an hour before grinding.
Grind meat through large grind plate, then twice through smaller grind plate or step down in size each grind if you have more than two grind plates.

Grind Plates
In a separate bowl mix the beaten eggs with one cup of milk and combine spices.  I used a container with a lid so I could just shake it together.

Mix the egg/milk mixture into meat with your hands and work for at least two minutes.  It should be a soft paste.  You may run it through the small grinder one additional time if preferred.

Load up the sausage stuffer and casings onto the KitchenAid and tie a knot at the end of the sausage.  Leave a little slack in case if pops open when twisting links later.  In the picture note I did not leave much slack, which is how I know you need to leave slack because it blew out...
Stuff into 32-35mm casing.  I made one long sausage then twisted links after the fact.  Note- this part of the process is much easier if you have two people; one in charge of feeding meat in and the second in charge of catching and managing the growing link.  If you get an air bubble pop it by poking with a knife as the casing is filling.

Twist into links if preferred.  Size is your call.  Then refrigerate or freeze immediately.
I have read on many sites that the sausage should rest for a day before eating so it can plump.  I don't know how vital it is but I saw it enough that I let them sit overnight before cooking.
Cook and ENJOY!