Saturday, August 10, 2013


The past few weeks have been a huge transition. This time last month, we were on the road, traveling somewhere in New England. Now, we're stationary in Pittsburgh. Both Dave and I have gotten part-time jobs at grocery stores, and it's been a busy week of adjusting to new jobs, new people, and some 8 hour shifts. When we're not at work, we've been working through our wedding planning to-do lists. Planning this wedding has been a lot of fun, but also way more work than I had originally anticipated. I can't imagine how busy things would have been if we had waited until the beginning of September to come back to Pittsburgh, like we originally intended. Of course, we've added to what we have to do by hand-making things and creating many of the little details ourselves, which is exactly what we wanted, and we're really enjoying the process.

An even bigger component of this transition, though, is that we've decided not to continue traveling West after the wedding like we had planned. While our 6 months of travel were in many ways the highlight of our lives, we found ourselves becoming more excited and planning more for our life after our travels. While traveling, we developed a much more concrete idea of what we want to do with our lives: where we want to live, what we want to do, etc, which was a huge part of our original intention for our trip to begin with. So, in short, we accomplished what we set out to do and saw a good portion of the country. While we still plan to see the Western portion of the country someday, this just doesn't feel like the right timing. Right now, it feels like the right time to buy some a few acres of land with a fixer-uper house and set to work making the place into a home while working on our long-term life goals: opening a coffee shop and art space and getting started growing organic mushrooms, which we'll market to local restaurants and farmers markets, like our friends Joe and Angie we met while working at Woodsong Hollow Farm. We want to do all this in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Funny enough, we never actually went to Chattanooga in our travels, but we did hear great things about it. It's nicknamed "Little Asheville," which was our first and favorite town. While we'd love to live in Asheville, it's simply unaffordable for our limited budget, especially with our desire for at least 2 acres of land. Chattanooga seems to be perfect: highly affordable, plenty of land available, ideal climate (season changes, but with a shorter, milder winter), mountainous location, up-and-coming, and has a college. And, just to confirm its coolness, we read a recent report saying there are 400 underground backyard-chicken keepers in Chattanooga, who did not want to be named but were counted and cited in the recent push to legalize backyard chicken keeping in city limits. The place is perfect for us.

Using our remaining savings we would have used for traveling as part of a downpayment seems much more practical, and also exciting. We're hoping to put our savings, the money we make at our new jobs, and any money we get at our wedding together as a downpayment for our first house. We're asking for gifts of money as opposed to having a registry for our wedding because honestly, we have all the plates and blenders and tools we really need to start our official household. What we're missing is the house to put them in.

Deciding what to do with The Happy Nomads blog has been hard. We lost our momentum when we stopped traveling and returned here to Pittsburgh. Although there's always wonderful life stuff happening, like garden harvests, new recipes, wedding plans, and weekend outings, these things don't seem quite Nomadish enough for The Happy Nomads blog. We feel like our blog had its heyday, and that was good. It was exciting. It was fun. But now, it just doesn't have the same concentrated attention that it did on the road. In keeping this blog, Dave and I have discovered something we really enjoy. Blogging is a great thing for us to do together since it utilizes our skills so well: Dave's photography, my writing, and Dave's editing. I think as our journey moves forward and we actually go to Tennessee to house shop and subsequently find a place to make our home, we will start a new blog. So, The Happy Nomads blog isn't actually going away; its just transitioning into Phase II, the next part of this incredible life journey we're on. I still plan to post occasionally on this blog, especially when the wedding comes and we have all those pictures to share. We'll also share our new blog information here when we get that started. We sincerely thank everyone for following along; what a fun journey it has been, and will continue to be!!
Monday, August 5, 2013

August's Abundance

The deer love summer as much as we do. Each year, it seems, they eagerly await the time when apples from the tree in my parent's backyard begin to fall to the ground. My dad often sees deer sleeping under the apple tree in the early morning when he gets up for work. We don't make it up that early, but we've been treated to several daytime deer sightings since we've been here. 

This young buck was so excited about the tasty apples. 

It was amazing to see the photos Dave captured of the young buck through his camera lens. His photos were much clearer than what we were able to see by eye from the window. In almost every frame, the deer has a mouthful of apple.

As if one deer wasn't wonderful enough to see, two very young deer, still with their spots, approached the young buck under the apple tree. Clearly, he was not happy to share his apples. He lowered his head to the ground and snorted at the smaller deer. 

Once the young buck scared the other deer off, they retreated back into the woods behind the house. The deer population seems to be very healthy here; we have lost count of how many young deer we have spotted in the yard, all varying ages and sizes. 

And of course, we always enjoy watching the birds. We just hung a humming bird feeder up, as well, and saw our first humming bird yesterday! We are hoping he comes back soon, with all his friends. 

Today, we got another abundant harvest from the garden. 

Dave and I with the first two eggplants of the season. The whole family has really enjoyed watching the eggplants grow. It is amazing the plants support the weight of the heavy vegetables. Their speedy progression, from delightful lavender flower to glossy purple eggplant, is also amazing. 

We decided to make eggplant parmesan for dinner tonight. 

We combined about three recipes from the internet to make the eggplant parmesan to suit our tastes, one of which included directions for a no-cook sauce. We used all the ripe tomatoes from our garden and placed them in the food processor with two cloves of garlic, some black pepper, fresh basil, rosemary, and thyme, and 1/3 cup of olive oil. 

We pulsed the fresh mixture until liquid, and voila! I would love to also do a minced version of this as a bruschetta topping. 

The final dish turned out wonderfully. Our family ate the whole pan. I'll share the recipe here, though I'm not one for exact measurements. Happy eggplant season! 

Baked Eggplant Parmesan 

Total time: about 2 1/2 hours, start to finish 


1/3 cup olive oil 
Fresh basil, thyme, and rosemary 
Sea salt 
Black peppercorns 
Enough tomatoes from your garden- cherry, grape, Big Boy, and variety- to nearly fill up your food processor 
2 cloves of garlic
2 eggs 
Good italian breadcrumbs  
2 eggplant, about the size of your hand 
Good mozzarella cheese
Fresh grated parmesan cheese 


1) Peel your eggplants and cut them into about 1/4 inch slices. Layer the slices in a colander, salting each layer. Put a plate and something heavy (I used two acorn squash) on top of the eggplant slices to weight them down. Let the eggplant drain for at least 1/2 an hour. *This step is important! The salt draws the moisture out of the eggplants, ensuring better flavor and a non-watery final product. Some reviews on other online sites suggest this makes the dish far too salty. I did not find that to be true. Don't go overboard with the salt; the eggplant slices do not have to be coated. Also, I did not add salt to any other part of the dish, including the sauce, to ensure the final product would not be too salty. This method worked perfectly for me, but feel free to experiment. Others suggested washing the salt from the slices before patting dry.* 

2) Pat the eggplant slices as dry as possible with paper towels. You will be amazed at how much moisture comes out. 

3) While you're waiting for the eggplant to drain, you can make the sauce. As I mentioned earlier, we used all the ripe tomatoes from our garden and placed them in the food processor with two cloves of garlic, some black pepper, fresh basil, rosemary, and thyme, and 1/3 cup of olive oil. Blend until liquified. 

4) Many eggplant parmesan recipes call for frying. Our family doesn't like fried foods, so we opted to bake the eggplant, instead. Beat two eggs in one bowl and dump the breadcrumbs into another bowl. Make sure to have plenty of baking sheets ready to lay the eggplant slices on. Also, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. 

5) This step is more fun as an assembly line with someone. Dredge each slice of eggplant in egg, then breadcrumbs, and lay in a single layer on the baking sheets. 

6) Bake the eggplant in the oven for about 15 minutes per side. Other recipes suggest cooking for less time in the oven, but I found 15 minutes per side to be just right. You want your eggplant to be nearly cooked through and the breadcrumbs lightly browned when they come out of the oven. 

7) Now, cover the bottom of your glass baking dish with your homemade sauce. Then, layer eggplant slices, mozzarella, and sauce. Repeat. I did two layers. Top with fresh grated parmesan cheese and fresh basil leaves. 

8) Bake in the 350 degree oven for half an hour. Serve with crusty homemade garlic bread and steamed beans from the garden. Enjoy! 

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Morgantown and Cooper's Rock

We spent an afternoon visiting my parents in Morgantown, West Virginia, where they were spending the week for my Dad's work seminar. We decided to visit Cooper's Rock State Forest, near where my parents were staying on Cheat Lake. Legend has it that a fugitive hid for many years in what is now the state forest. He was a cooper, someone who made barrels, by trade. He made a living selling the barrels to people in nearby towns, and managed to hide out in the woods for years. Cooper's Rock was named for his legend. 

This bear statue, made of natural materials, was erected this April in honor of Earth Day and West Virginia's state animal. It was created by local artist Ben Gazsi. It also apparently comes to us transported via time machine. On the sign beside the bear in the park, it says the statue was completed in April 3013. 

We took a short walk to the main overlook. 

We were greeted by amazing views of the gorge and Cheat River, which is a popular white water rafting destination. 

Doesn't this view make you want to dance? 

"Point at it," Dave said. 

It is difficult to gain perspective from a photo, but there was a sheer drop-off beyond the overlook's rails. 

Cooper's Rock was filled with neat structures, mostly picnic shelters equipped with giant stone fireplaces, that were developed by the Civilian Conservation Corps from 1936-1942. Many were made of the American Chestnut that grew in the state forest.

Another structure was this, which we were fascinated by. It had an antennae and a small solar panel on the roof. 

When we went to peer through the windows, which had bars on them, we saw this giant metal box with a padlock. It had wires coming from it. 

Does anyone have any good guesses as to what this could be? We speculated it could have been some sort of park ranger communication box or weather station, but all the security and its location seemed very odd. 

My Dad went to college at West Virginia University in Morgantown, and my parents met there while my Dad was attending school and my Mom was working at a boutique. It was neat to drive through my parent's old town and see my Dad's college campus and the store where my Mom worked. We had dinner at a restaurant called Oliverios in Morgantown's wharf district. We had dinner outside under the covered patio with a view of the river. Dinner was delicious and the atmosphere was great. After we ate, we walked alongside the river for a bit, where we came across some neat graffiti, which Dave and I really enjoy. 

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