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Friday, October 17, 2014

Italian Wedding Soup


I was bummed out when I found out that Italian Wedding Soup has NOTHING to do with a wedding at all! In fact, it’s not even really Italian! Madona Mia, in my mind I envisioned Italian chefs preparing the minestra maritata ("married soup") for Italian mobsters daughters weddings and if it wasn’t done just right, minga da faccia, they ended up in the soup!

Actually, The prized Italian Wedding soup derives from Spain where they crafted it out of dried Spanish lettuce, broth and any meat that one could find. They “married “the flavors of the meat and greens to make a meal that would sustain the hard working men and women who made their living the hard way, with their muscles and their hands.

Years ago, when I first learned how to cook, I worked for a true Italian master chef at an upscale, 5 star ristorante named, The Library Lounge and Restaurant. He taught me techniques that I still carry with me today. Even though I do not cook as my sole profession, I still love to make the Italian Wedding Soup from the recipe that he taught me and everyone loves when I do. It has a buttery smooth taste and what I call, “plate appeal”.

 

Over the holiday’s I decided I would put the finishing touch on our “food fest” with a big pot of his mastery. My wife was shopping for ingredients and was surprised how I could just pull the contents off the top of my head (I mean come on, I’ve only made 10,000 gallons of this stuff in my lifetime). She laughed and wrote down the list:



 

I do not use a starch in my soup such as Acini di pepe,  Ditalini or rice as some cooks do but you can if you wish. I also add some “chopped” chicken to the soup in addition to the beef and pork meatballs to get the true “married” effect of different meats. Finally, I use escarole as my green of choice because it adds flavor unmatched by kale or endive and it cooks up tender and holds together nicely for appearance. Whatever you do, do not add spinach! It will ruin your soup and the leaf resembles “seaweed” in texture when cooked, yuck!

 

The very basic cooking instructions are:

 

  • In a 3 gallon soup pot bring 2 gallons of water to boil
  • Add one chicken breast skinned and split
  • Let boil for 40 – 60 minutes
  • Mix 1lb of ground beef with ½ lb of ground pork, parmesan cheese, one egg, 2 teaspoons of quality garlic powder, 1 tablespoon of parsley, salt and pepper. Sound familiar? Yes, your making meatballs without the bread crumbs BUT roll these meatballs nice and small. Remember, they will be part of the marriage not the main course.
  • Remove your chicken breasts and season broth with some good quality chicken base. Not too much, just enough to complement the natural chicken flavor. You can add a little in the end too if it’s not flavorful enough but too much and it’s game over. You're in the soup!
  • Then start to drop your meatballs in the boiling stock. Keep it at a rolling boil by adding them slowly and be careful not to splash. Cook for a short time.
  • WASH YOUR ESCAROLE several times in a full sink of cold water. Cut it into 2 inch section 3 inches from the bottom stalk. Add your escarole to the pot and lower the temperature. It’s time to slow things down. 

  • Remove the chicken from the bone and start to chop. Not slice or dice, chop your chicken against the grain so some of it shreds while some stays intact but not diced. More like shredded or torn by hand.  
  • Cook until the greens are dark and tender. 
  • Taste your soup. Too strong? Add more water. Too weak? Add some base. Go back and forth until the pot is exactly the way YOU want it in flavor and in the quantity you want. 
  • Then add the chicken and simmer for 30 minutes covered. 
  • Let cool before you serve it and if you can resist, wait until the next day to eat it!

 

Serve in a bowl with a nice balance of greens/balls/chicken and broth. Top with grated parmesan cheese and bon app├ętit!


So what does this post have to do with anything outdoors or geocaching? Nutten, but Madona Mia, is that good or what? Enjoy……

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Cache Crazy Camping exCursion (Part 4)

By: George aka ggggeo2
Welcome back to the exciting conclusion of Cache Crazy Camping exCursion! We last left off on Cache Crazy Camping exCursion (Part 3). This was the final day of our camping adventure, so we wanted to make the most of it. We started out with a breakfast of cereal (for easy cleanup) then headed over the parking area for stage 2 of CCGT2012- State Parks (we found stage 1 way back in Cache Crazy Camping exCursion Part 2) and began the hour or so long hike up, up, up the mountain.
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Microcachers on the move
It was a pleasant temperature, but this was a tough hike, especially for 5- and 6-year-olds, so we took several water breaks to drink and rest. It was still cool, but starting to warm up. When we later got back to civilization, I uploaded the GPX track:
State Parks Terrain Track
Why yes, that is our track with a 450ft (140m) elevation gain!
Whew, no wonder we were tired by the time we reached the summit! There was a little bench on which we took a break, and soon after reached the area where the cache was supposed to be. We searched all over, deep in the thicket for a good while. We were starting to worry that it would elude us, but we really didn't want to head back without making the find. Finally, Team Firenze called out a joyful "FOUND IT!" and we all dashed over to see. Yeah, we had all passed it several times. And yes, it was an ammo can. The microcachers swapped out swag, and Geo-Ben dropped in a SEPAG (SouthEastern PennsylvaniA Geocachers) pathtag, then we replaced the cache and took a few father-son pictures and a few pictures of the valley and lake at Parker Dam State Park below.
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View from the top – our campsite was on the other side of the lake

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Team Firenze and RealIronman

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ggggeo2 and GeoConductor

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Geo-Ben and Geo Wot Wot
Then, after we were sufficiently rested, it was back down the mountain for us. On the way down, Geo-Ben started singing camping songs from his scouting days. We joined in on the songs we knew, but soon we ran out of songs. But before we know, the 80s nostalgia songs started. All the dads were soon singing the theme songs from Gilligan's Island, The Flintstones, Scooby Doo, and several other songs. (At least the words we could remember-it mostly worked out like "Scooby Dooby Doo, where are you….blah blah blah blah nyeh nyeh…"
We eventually made it back down the mountain to our geomobile. About 20 feet from the car, RealIronman took a spill-our first injury of the trip. He managed to pull through after some attention from dad, and we were on our way again. We stopped at the ranger station/gift shop on the way back to our campsite and got some souvenirs. I got a hiking medallion for my hiking stick, and we got several other pins, stuffed animals (not the real kind) and several other knick-knacks. We went next store to the education center and checked out all the stuffed animals (real ones) and other exhibits they had. Then, back to the campsite to pack up.
We packed everything up then had a quick lunch of sandwiches and were finally on our way. We had a few more local caching stops before we headed home, though. We hit our THIRD Earthcache for the weekend, Eastern Continental Divide. Team Firenze and Geo-Ben tried to answer the questions but ended up confused and confounded (Earthcache answers have been blurred out.) Side note: some of you may not realize that Earthcaches don't have to follow the same proximity guidelines as other cache types. The sign below is both the site of an Earthcache AND holds a traditional micro cache. Two active caches, legitimately within several feet of each other. Way cool!
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"I think it's this way…" "No, it's definitely THIS way!"
We stopped at a local virtual cache with 700+ finds honoring a fallen geocacher, Grizz. It took a few minutes but we finally found what we were seeking. We spent a somber moment with Grizz, then headed to another nearby cache (virtual answers blurred.)
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Rest in peace, buddy!
We headed on into the town of DuBois to find another local favorite that several of our new friends from the geo-event the day before recommended as a must-find cache: Would You Like Fries With That? Hold The Muggle. It was a great cache, we were glad we decided to grab this one. Geo-Ben even found the greatest cacher in the world at this cache! (We didn't have the heart to tell him it was just a mirror labeled "The greatest geocacher in the world.")
We then left town and were on our way home. We stopped at all the east-bound rest stops with caches on I-80 on the way (we couldn't get them on the way there as we were west-bound.) Finally, we got to where we had to go our separate ways and grabbed some grub before splitting up. Team Firenze and RealIronman dropped GeoConductor and me off at our home, then headed off to home. They even managed to snag an FTF on their way home that had just popped up! RealIronman was pretty worn out from the trip and didn't quite hold up all the way home:
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RealIronman snuggled up with his souvenir deer. They were just resting their eyes.
At some point during the weekend Team Firenze found a meteor which imbued him with super powers. He is very proud of this but is a little hush-hush on the details, probably because he wanted to keep the super powers for himself. The next day it was life as usual, but we all had a great time on our Cache Crazy Camping exCursion. We travelled hundreds of miles, hiked a few more miles, and ended up netting 40-50 caches for the weekend (some of us had already found some of the caches we hit.) We are already looking forward to our next adventure!

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Wordless Wednesday: BigAl Edition

Photo by BigAl from GCMVDX at Lackawanna State Park





Photo by: BigAl 2010


Cache Crazy Camping exCursion (Part 3)

By: George aka ggggeo2
Welcome back! We last left off on Cache Crazy Camping exCursion (Part 2). We made it back to our campsite and Geo-Ben watched the boys while Team Firenze and I went to "prefind" a cache about half a mile from our campsite so that we could bring the boys back that night on a fun caching night hike. We made the find and pruned some branches back from the trail so we didn't get whacked in the face in the dark (yes, we both had pruning shears in our geobags!) We headed back to camp and rescued Geo-Ben whose energy was starting to wane.
Next, we hopped in the car and headed off to do some of the most favorited caches in the area. One cache we definitely wanted to hit while here was an Earthcache called Bilger's Rocks. It was a little bit of a drive, and as we got close to the area, a few of the microcachers nodded off to sleep. (Caching is hard work!) We did the only thing we could do: drove around and grabbed a few Park-n-grab type caches (those that are close to parking and usually easy and quick to find.) We arrived at Bilger's Rocks but RealIronman was still cutting logs in the back, so Team Firenze stayed with him while Geo-Ben, Geo Wot Wot, GeoConductor, and I headed out to the rocks with a tape measure in-hand (needed for the Earthcache questions.)
We were not disappointed. This place was cool! Imagine a giant slab of rock, several acres big which, over time, has split apart and formed rows and grids of cracks, crevices, and caves. As we walked on the top, this is exactly what we saw. We found the first spot we needed to measure; it was a crack that slopes down from the top to the lower level of the rocks.
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Geo-Ben, Geo Wot Wot and GeoConductor in the crack
At the bottom of the  crack was a slight drop, so Geo-Ben went down first and helped the boys down. I stayed on top and took another picture looking down.
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Hello down there!
About this time, Team Firenze radioed us that RealIronman was awake, and they soon joined us. In the lower area, it feels like you are in some sort of abandoned dinosaur city. We half expected a T-rex or sleestak (from Land of the Lost) to jump out at any minute (luckily, none did, though.)
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Tyrannosaurus Rex bait…I mean microcachers on the rocks
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Things are looking up! Wait, no, we are looking up. Now how do we get back up there???
We continued to explore the area for a while, and ran into lots of other people wandering around, trying to find their way out of the rocks. At one point, the crevice got narrower and narrower. Geo-Ben went a different way to see if it went through. The microcachers, being small, were able to fit through just fine. The adults, though, were another story.
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Microcachers: No problem!
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Adults: We may have a problem...
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We may have to leave him there
I can't give any details precisely, but we will just say that some of the adults took the short way and some took the long way :). In the end, no one got permanently stuck and we were able to continue exploring.
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See, I told you he made it out alive!
We explored for a while and soon came to an exit from the rocks. It was not where we came in, but we recognized it as the road we drove in on. We walked back up to the parking area, then most of the group went to another nearby cache while I went back to the rocks to measure the needed Earthcache answers. (In all the excitement, we forgot to measure what we needed to measure.)
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This is where I had to measure, 5-10 feet across and about a 15 foot drop here
I got the needed measurements, then headed back to rejoin the group, who had already found the cache by the time I arrived. We signed in and were on our way again back to the parking area. On the way back, we passed a totem poll carved out of a live tree that oddly enough had a head just like GeoConductor and arms just like Geo-Ben's!
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GeoConductor Totem Poll!
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Did you see that? I think it just waved at me!
We got back to our geomobile and headed back to Parker Dam State Park for the part of the trip that Geo-Ben had been looking forward to the MOST: The Rattlers and Snappers presentation! At this presentation, a local law enforcement office in charge of animal control for the county gave a talk and demonstration on snakes and other animals. He brought around several live snakes that people could touch, including a poisonous rattlesnake! (Its head was in a plastic tube, so it was safe and so was everyone else.) He also showed a rat snake and a copperhead, among other things.
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Geo-Ben and company handling snakes
At this point, dark was starting to fall, so we headed back to our campsite and got ready for night. Flashlights came out, and each microcacher was assigned glow-bracelets. RealIronman also had his headlamp, and this was his time to shine!
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Our campsite at night
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RealIronman lights up the night
The boys were quickly fading however, so we continued with the plan to have s'mores cooked over the fire, but scrapped the plans to take them on a night hike. We put them to bed (err, sleeping bag?) and sat around the fire talking for a few minutes. Team Firenze and Geo-Ben then headed back to the cache Team Firenze and I had found in the afternoon so he could sign in, too, while I stayed at the campsite. This cache, Grizz I, was an older cache from 2002, and worth the hike. We stayed in radio contact, but after a little while the topography interrupted communications. Just as I was starting to worry and consider how to reach the ranger station, my walkie-talkie crackled back to life and they reported a found it. Whew, now I don't have to drive three boys back by myself and report the news to their wives. I was relieved!
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Geo-Ben makes the find in the dark
They made their way back to the campsite, and we stayed up a while chatting, had a chat with a nice ranger who stopped by, and eventually turned in for the night.
Stay tuned for next time, our final day of camping. One more great hike, another Earthcache, and our trek home!

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Cache Crazy Camping exCursion (Part 2)

By: George aka ggggeo2

We now continue our journey from Cache Crazy Camping exCursion (Part 1). We woke up bright, early, and chilly on Saturday morning while camping at Parker Dam State Park. It was about 20 degrees cooler than back home. We were prepared, but it was still took a little getting used to. It warmed up later in the day, but got cold again at night. Geo-Ben got out the breakfast food, and Team Firenze and I started cooking the bacon, sausage, and pancakes. (Yeah, I know, we should have had ham or something too, but we only had two breakfast meats.)

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ggggeo2 making pancakes

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The breakfast table

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Geo-Ben thought he saw a bear or rattlesnake or aliens or something…nothing was on the film

After breakfast, we packed up and headed south to S.B. Elliot State Park. We had contacted some local geocachers before our trip to help set up a geocaching meet and greet event (Visitors from the East) while we were out here. Local cachers KNAPAHOLIC and kimchee&smartykatt stepped up and helped us organize this event. We had a pretty good turnout for a Saturday morning in the middle of nowhere, and got to meet some great cachers from Western Pennsylvania.

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Visitors from the East event attendees

After the event, we headed over to the first stage of a nearby multi, CCGT2012- State Parks (the second stage is back at Parker Dam State Park.) Next, we took a hike to Trotting Along. In typical geocaching fashion, we missed the trail in and ended up bushwhacking in. This is rattlesnake country, so we made lots of noise, used sweeping motions with hiking sticks in the tall grass before us, and had the kids in the middle.

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Geo-Ben and ggggeo2 blazing trails with Geo Wot Wot, GeoConductor, and RealIronman in tow

After several stream crossings and related games of "toss the microcachers" and wading through waist-high grass for a tenth of mile, we finally made it to Ground Zero. The dads made the find since it looked like a great spot for a snake, and handed the ammo can off to the kids to check out. We dropped off some trackables, traded swag, and replaced the cache before heading back. We found the trail on the way back, but it was debatable whether or not it was better than our self-made trail in.

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Team Firenze supervising the cache examination

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Team Firenze leads the way back

Eventually, we made it back to the parking (this was after Geo-Ben and I had convinced RealIronman, Team Firenze's son, that we had lost Mrs. Firenze's car somewhere and would have to walk back.) RealIronman was pleased to find his mom's car still waiting there for us, and we consequently piled in and headed back to Parker Dam for lunch. On the way, we stopped for a few caches, included earth cache PANTHER ROCKS. We explored the area, took some pictures, and answered some earth cachey questions.

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Geo Wot Wot and GeoConductor at PANTER ROCKS

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Geo-Ben considers rock types

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Geo Wot Wot, GeoConductor and RealIronman do some rock climbing

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ggggeo2, Geo-Ben and company explore a cave

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We explore the top of PANTHER ROCKS

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The face in the rock, wearing Geo-Ben's hat

After we got all the answers we needed and had sufficiently explored the area, we were on our way again. One or two more stops on the way back, we stopped at an old cemetery for another cache. It took some effort as the cache had migrated, but eventually we found it. While I was helping the kids check out the cache and trade swag, Geo-Ben and Team Firenze were apparently having photographic fun:

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No grave matter, this was a serious undertaking

We finally made it back to the campsite and had a lunch of grilled cheese and soup, then Team Firenze and I went to find a nearby cache that we were hoping to bring the boys back later for a night hike. We made the find, but the later part didn't work out as intended (more on that in Part 3.) Geo-Ben entertained the kids during that time, but soon we came back and were off again on the next adventure.

All this before lunch! Stay tuned for Part 3 where we had more great hiking and exploring, found a live totem pole, and encountered a real, live rattlesnake! See you then!

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