Monday, August 24, 2009


Up, Up, and Away

“It’s time to go up, up and away! Our illustrious pilot, Bill, announced in a thunderous voice with the early morning wake-up call we’d been anticipating for weeks.

Bill was treating our family to a special ride on his immense air ship, Shenandoah. It was his way of thanking us for letting the hot air balloon club use our pastures as touchdown spots for their “Touch & Go” races.

Our pilot was as colorful as he was competent who spoke and walked like a man in charge. He sported an unkempt salt and pepper beard, and his signature flight suit was scruffy blue jeans, a red flannel shirt and cowboy boots. “I’ve landed this baby on a dime, more times than I can count.” He boasted as he was going over some pre-flight safety procedures.

“She’s ready for take-off!” He said, motioning for us to climb into the gondola. Any apprehensions we may have had before were instantly replaced with the excitement lying ahead.

Upon lift-off we experienced some bumps and jolts, but soon we felt a sense of weightlessness. It was an exhilarating ride as the Shenandoah leaned into the arms of the wind, and seemed to waltz her way through the chilly sky. Once we’d ascended to our maximum altitude and the burners were turned off, I felt like we were eye-level with heaven and a glimpse of the Pearly Gates was eminent.

There was no resistance of the wind against the massive air ship. She had become one with the air current. Suburbia below us was buzzing with the day’s activities, yet high above the silence around us was like none I’d ever heard.

Suddenly our serenity was interrupted by sheer fright. I looked over to see my eight year old son, Brian, sitting on the top rim of the gondola with his legs dangling over the outside edge. He was holding one rope with just his small hand, and he appeared oblivious to the danger that loomed. Brian had climbed up to the basket’s edge to get a better view when everyone else was looking off in other directions.

Foreboding doom gripped me. I didn’t want to startle Brian, so I quietly reached over and tapped Bill’s arm, and nodded in Brian’s direction. Without a word, Bill took one swooping step toward Brian while at the same time reached around Brian’s waist and then pulled him to safety inside the gondola.

Brian was miffed that we’d robbed him of his perfect viewpoint. But all was forgiven when our attention was drawn back to the breathtaking view surrounding us.

Our adventure was drawing to a close. The pilot began pulling on a rope, which opened the side of the balloon allowing air to escape for descent. Against the calm I could hear soft flapping sounds, which reminded me of sails slapping together in a strong wind.

Bill flawlessly landed the Shenandoah in a field of tall willowy grass. We followed the balloon’s swath through the grass in making our way to the chase car. It’s easy to understand why enthusiasts are passionate about the sport of ballooning as it was a spirit-stirring experience that is tempting to the thrill-seeking sensibilities. We hadn’t even had breakfast, yet we’d fallen in love with ballooning.

Following our maiden voyage, Bill and the chase crew surprised us with an initiation party. Stem-glasses filled to the top with champagne were set on the ground in front of us. Our instructions were to kneel on the grass with our hands held behind our back. Then we were to lift the glass using only our teeth and drink the bubbly down. We weren’t allowed to use our hands or arms to support the glass. It’s a hilariously funny task, and impossible to accomplish without getting your face and clothes drenched with champagne.

“I christen thee fearless balloonist!” Bill announced with overly-dramatic fanfare as he walked around the circle behind us pouring shockingly cold champagne on our heads.

Over a hearty breakfast the crew shared some of their most legendary ballooning adventures, most of which were nothing less than hair-raising. Had we heard their tales prior to boarding the Shenandoah, we probably wouldn’t have had the courage to embark on the never to be forgotten hot air balloon flight.

Up Up and Away Breakfast Puffs
1/3 cup shortening or butter, softened
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup egg substitute
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon cardamom (optional)
1/2 cup milk
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 cup butter, melted

Preheat oven to 350˚. Grease 12 medium muffin cups. Cream shortening, 1/2 cup sugar and egg together in medium size bowl. Sift together flour, baking powder, salt, nutmeg and cardamom; add alternately with milk to creamed mixture.

Fill muffin cups 2/3 full. Bake 20 minutes. Wisk together 2/3 cup sugar and cinnamon; set aside in large plastic bag. Immediately after removing puffs from the oven, roll in melted butter, then coat in cinnamon-sugar mixture. Serve warm. Yield: 12 puffs
Note: Recipe needs adjusting for high altitude baking.

Last week when a friend sent me this Summer Strawberry Salsa recipe I was thankful for two things 1) it's an excellent way to make-use of the cherry tomatoes that are ripening faster than we can pick them, and 2) that strawberries are available year round. It's an interesting salsa with a sweet and tangy twist that I'll be serving to guest this year when once again the hot air balloons are floating over our home during the 2009 Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta.

Summer Strawberry Salsa: Combine 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar, 1 teaspoon fresh squeezed lime juice, 1/4 teaspoon sea salt and 2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint leaves in a medium-size bowl. Add 1 seeded and minced fresh jalapeno chili, 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, 2 cups washed, stemmed and chopped strawberries, 1 cup finely chopped cherry tomatoes, and 1/4 cup chopped green onion. Refrigerate for at least 20 minutes prior to serving with blue corn chips. Yield: 3 1/2 cups


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There’s a small choice in rotten apples.


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