Sweet & Spicy Corn Muffins

There is just something about the beginning of school that makes me want to go back to childhood favorite foods.  Cornbread is one of the highlights.  
This time for my recipe, I pulled out my cooking Bible – The Joy of Cooking, the 1975 edition.  This edition still has recipe gems such as: bear, armadillo, stuffed boar head, and squirrel.  I love the way Rombauer and Rombauer Becker write out their recipes.  It makes so much more sense to me to include the ingredients in bold in the body of the recipe, rather than creating an entirely new section for the ingredients.  Hmmm, I  may have to adopt this method.  

Mixed up the liquid ingredients. 

I swapped out the sugar for agave syrup.  This isn’t a big deal when the amount of sugar is minimal, otherwise you do lose volume.

The fresh peppers from the garden were the inspiration for the entire recipe tonight.  I sliced these up and did not remove the seeds, as they are not a really hot variety.  
I scooped the batter into 11 oiled muffin tins and added my sliced peppers on top.  
Next, the spicy glaze for the muffin topping.  I microwaved a couple tablespoons of margarine, added a little olive oil for flavor, mixed in 2 teaspoons honey, and 1 teaspoon chili powder.  

After baking the muffins at 425 for 15 minutes, I drizzled this hot & sweet glaze over the tops of the muffins.  
Next up, the main entree.  I had some fresh okra and green beans from the garden, plus some frozen zucchini from a friends’ garden.  This was the starting point, and I added in a few other things, but ultimately decided against the carrots in the end. 
I started with heating a few tablespoons of olive oil in a medium saucepan.  I added the thawed and diced zucchini. 

Next, I added sliced okra.  You can read more about okra in an older post, here.  I let the okra and zucchini saute for about 5 minutes.   

I added the sliced green beans to the pan next.   

Add 1 can diced tomatoes plus 1/2 to 1 can of water, depending on how saucy the mixture already is. 

Add 1/4 cup of dried lentils.  

Cover and let simmer on low while the muffins bake.  

Mix in 1 cup cooked rice.  Serve with Sweet & Spicy Corn Muffins.
Cornmeal Muffins – from The Joy of Cooking

Have all ingredients at about 70 degrees.  
Preheat oven to 425. 
Grease the pan with butter, oil, or bacon drippings. Place in the oven until sizzling hot.  
Sift together:
3/4 cup sifted all-purpose flour
2-1/2 teaspoons doubling acting baking powder
1 to teaspoons sugar (I used agave syrup)
3/4 teaspoon salt
1-1/4 cup yellow or white stone-ground cornmeal
Beat in a separate bowl:
1 egg
Beat into it:
2 to 3 tablespoons melted butter or drippings
1 cup milk
Combine all ingredients with a few rapid strokes.  Place the batter in the hot pan.  Bake muffins 20 to 25 minutes.  Serve immediately.  
Sweet & Hot Muffin Glaze 
Microwave 2-3 tablespoons margarine or butter.  
Mix in 1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil.  
Mix in 2 teaspoons honey and 1 teaspoon of chili powder.  
Drizzle over warm, baked corn muffins. 

Octopus Sculpture

The week before school begins, the art teachers have the joy of coming together and making art.  We are treated to a workshop that allows for our own creative endeavors, a new lesson plan idea, and a chance to remember what it feels like to be a student learning about art.
This year we went to the historic Dudley High School.  This is a beautiful building located with spacious rooms and lovely courtyards.  The art room was big and bright and had direct access to the outdoors – something I have always wanted. 
The full set up detailing ideas for future lesson plans. 
Pizza box plaster sculptures. Front. 

This was an example of the finished product were going to be creating.  The suggestion was to make a house. 

We started with a rectangular piece of cardboard.
We were given access to a wide variety of materials.  I chose to use scissors, glue, a hole puncher, air dry foam clay, dots foam clay (the blue-ish gray lump), bubble wrap, scrap cardboard, foil scraps, and a crimper.

I set to work immediately and began creating an octopus.  The foam dots clay was perfect for making the texture of the octopus suction cups on its tentacles.  I used the air-dry foam clay to sculpt the head of the octopus and used cardboard scraps to cut the tentacles. 
The bubble wrap and metal scraps were nice accents in the background and on the octopus itself. 
It would be best to let the glue to dry before this next step, but since we were pressed for time, we went ahead and painted the entire piece with a layer of black acrylic paint.  After the acrylic paint dried, we painted with Mayco Magic Metallic paints.  These fabulous paints have actual metal ground up in the paint.  It’s a cheaper way to give a metallic look to items.  The 8 oz. bottles run from $10 to $15 each.  
Samples of the Mayco Magic Metallic paints we used.  

Art teachers gone wild. 

The octopus after painting with metallic paints. 
Then we sprayed the entire work with Mayco Magic Metallics patina.   The two patinas created a green patina on the copper and bronze areas and a rust patina on the steel areas.   
Ten to fifteen minutes later my piece was starting to morph.  

Another art teacher’s creation. 
 We also got to use some from metallic Sharpies and metallic paper from Sax.  

The fun freebies that art teachers get at professional development (AKA play day).  

Slow Cooker French Toast

Well, summer’s over.  Tomorrow is the first day back to school with the kids.  You know what that means – the time of year when this phrase is uttered in our two-teacher household: “I’m too tired to cook dinner tonight, it’s your turn.”  So what is the solution, other than to spend a fortune on take-out?  The slow cooker!

I was perusing Better Home’s and Gardens publication Skinny Slow Cooker, and learned a few new tricks of the slow cooker.  I found a fantastically simple way to make french toast bread pudding .  Wtih a few tweaks, I gave it a try this past weekend, but it would be perfect if made the night before for a week day morning pick-me-up.

I substituted almond milk for the milk and agave syrup for the sugar in this recipe.  I also cut the proportions in half.  
I used a 7-grain bread from a bakery in Durham, NC.  The bread is my favorite with the addition of sesame and poppy seeds.   
Cut or tear bread into cubes about 1 inch.  Place in greased or lined slow cooker.  I used a greased slow cooker, the thought of cooking my food in a plastic bag bothers me.  
Add 1 cup of raisins to the bread cubes. 
In a large bowl whisk together milk, agave syrup, eggs, cinnamon and vanilla. 
Pour the mixture over the bread cubes.  Use a spoon to stir and flatten, ensuring all bread is soaked with the milk mixture. 
Cover and cook on low heat setting for 7 to 8 hours, or until a knife inserted into the middle comes out clean.  Turn off cooker and cool before serving.  
This meal made me want a programmable slow cooker so I did not have to make this just before going to bed.  The edges of this French toast browned and caramelized just right, giving it a little crunch that I love.  Serve with warm maple syrup.  
French Toast Bread Pudding
5 cups of bread, cut into 1-inch cubes
1 cup raisins
2 cups almond milk
1/8 cup agave syrup
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1. Cut or tear bread into cubes about 1 inch.  Place in greased or lined slow cooker.  Add 1 cup of raisins to the bread cubes. 
2. In a large bowl whisk together milk, agave syrup, eggs, cinnamon and vanilla. 
3. Pour the mixture over the bread cubes.  Use a spoon to stir and flatten, ensuring all bread is soaked with the milk mixture. 
4. Cover and cook on low heat setting for 7 to 8 hours, or until a knife inserted into the middle comes out clean.  Turn off cooker and cool before serving.  Serve with warm maple syrup. 

Iowa State Fair

Is this Heaven? No, Iowa. 
We went to the Iowa State Fair on two separate days.  Both days were beautifully cool.  Here is a sampling of our fun. 

We ate caramel apples, 
egg on a stick, 



veggie corn dogs, 
Iowa craft beer, 

honey lemonade,

cinnamon rolls, 

and Bauder’s peppermint ice cream sandwiches. 
Edibles we saw but did not eat were: deep fried candy, 

the butter cow, Snow White, and her Seven Dwarfs, 

a slab of bacon, 

deep fried butter, 

pork chop on a stick, 

a huge chocolate moose, 

prize-winning jelly, 

salad on a stick, 

double bacon corn dogs, 

chicken (or beef?), 

and the biggest pumpkins. 
Livestock we saw were: dairy cows, 


crowing roosters, 

pygmy goats, 

the biggest boar, 

we saw that Greta is no where near the size of the biggest boar, 

we saw Greta is also nowhere near the size of Jake, the biggest horse, 

We saw kids playing tricks on people in the horse barn, 

We saw tanks of Iowa fish, 

some I had never heard of before, 

we saw a farmer and his pig, 

Iowa ostrich association, 

a cow leaking water, 


and geese.  
We things uniquely Iowa State Fair-ish: onion petal flowers, 
dairy farmer cut-outs, 
a bus ride from the state capitol building, 
a tractor tram, 

4H exhibits, 

a 4H tattoo, 

a local potter, 

a bicycle that powers light bulbs, 

a vegetarian stand, 

double Ferris wheel,

the Ring of Fire, 

a tornado chaser (shudder), 

big tractors, 

funny tractors, 

tractor wheels, 

a mural about tractors, 

Back to the Future car made from canned goods, 

the sky ride, 

rhinestone ice cream cone, 

the big slide, 

the line for the butter cow, 

a wax corn, 

model of the tallest ever corn stalk, 

a really tall windmill, 

corn ice cream, 

award ice cream, 

Little Bo Peep, 

a dog peeing on a classic car, 

and lots of Iowans.  

Western Vacation: Yellowstone to Iowa

We got up early and to drive from Yellowstone to Iowa.  As we loaded the last of the items into the car, we heard wolves howling.  
We dropped out of the mountains fairly quickly.  
And then it was fairly flat. 

We saw an RV pulling a tractor. 

We saw a dog launcher.

Interesting road signs are always entertaining.

Still really flat.  

We stopped at the South Dakota welcome center and they had this fossilized saber tooth tiger skull on display.  
Greta learned that pointing is a great way to get what she wants. 
She got what she pointed at.  

Yup, still flat. 

We stopped for gas in South Dakota and Greta watched the motorcyclists with great interest.  There were a great many of them as Sturgis Rally was that weekend.  

We stopped for dinner in the Badlands National Park.  After this is was dark and Greta woke up the next morning in Iowa. Quite the drive, quite the trip!

Western Vacation: Old Faithful area

We got early the first morning at Old Faithful and hiked to the top of the Observation Point. It commanded a wide view of Old Faithful Inn, the geyser basin, and Old Faithful Geyser. 

Greta was bundled up – not used to 40 degrees in the morning!  
Old Faithful Geyser was warming up for an eruption. We didn’t last long enough though, breakfast was calling.
Left, we did see Beehive (I think) erupt.  Right, Old Faithful just after erupting. 

After breakfast we headed out to see some sites.  We started in Midway Geyser Basin to see Grand Prismatic Spring.  This is a popular stop, so hitting it early in the day is key.  

The early morning steam actually impeded our views of some of the pools.  The size of Midway basin is larger than that of many other features – the hot pools are on a massive scale.

The run-off from Grand Prismatic is a vivid orange.  This is due to the thermophiles that thrive in the hot waters of this hot spring.  The center is a blue, fading to a greenish, then to yellow, and then orange and red. Here is a nice aerial view of this well-known hot spring.  
Grand Prismatic is Yellowstone’s largest hot pool, measuring about 370 feet in diameter and over 121 feet deep.  
We enjoyed the clear blue day and the steam from the hot pools. 

Our next stop was at Artist Paint Pots.  This is a nice trail/boardwalk that takes you around some thermal features at the road level and then the trail climbs up into the hillside with a nice overlook. 

The view of Artist Paint Pots below.  Artist Paint Pots are named for the colorful hot pools like those of artists’ paints. 

My favorite part of Artist Paint Pots are the mud hot pools.  These bubble and splurt away – think hot bubbling oatmeal as the consistency.  

We headed north again toward the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone.  

It is aptly named for its steep canyon walls.  

We took a very steep hike down to Lower Falls.  

Lower Falls is 308 feet tall and twice the height of Niagara Falls.  During peak water run-off it can expel 63, 500 gallons of water per second. Eric’s view and my view.          
After our views of Lower Falls, we headed back to the Inn.  Again, we were just in time for Old Faithful’s eruption.  The best location to watch Old Faithful is from the second floor viewing deck in the Inn.  You have access to lovely benches, tables, and a second floor lobby with tables and its own bar.  We met up with my dad’s brother, Dick and his daughter, Molly on our last night at in Yellowstone.  

Greta thoroughly enjoyed this second floor viewing deck as well .  We moved on to dinner in the Old Faithful dining room after this.  Their menu has been updated to reflect Western fare, including elk, bison, and trout.  I was impressed with the level of quality on this trip. 

After dinner we made the mile and half or so trek down to Morning Glory Pool.  This pool’s color has been changed due to humans throwing debris into the pool.  It used to be a much deeper blue hue, like that of a morning glory flower.  After vacuuming as much debris out as possible, some of the color has returned.  

We waited around with a sleeping Greta and watched Daisy geyser erupt as well. 

Old Faithful has so many happy childhood memories.  I miss this place so much already, and look forward to subsequent trips.  I hope that Greta will have some of the same memories of this magical place as I have. 

Western Vacation: Colter Bay to Old Faithful

It was a full day of exploring for Greta and Dina – from Colter Bay, to thermal features, to Old Faithful.  
We started the morning out early and headed up to Signal Mountain.  Aptly named with its cell phone tower and nice views.  

The Tetons are not visible due to a large stand of trees behind this photo.  Instead, you look out over the valley below.  
We headed on to lunch at Colter Bay.  This has always been my favorite picnic ground for a couple reasons – 1. The views can’t be beat; and 2. It’s large enough that you can avoid crowds of people. 
It was a pretty hazy day and the Tetons looked a little out of focus.  
After lunch, we packed up and headed North again into Yellowstone.  We stopped at a few features along the way.  We headed to Sulphur Cauldron first.  This is a highly acidic thermal feature with a very strong smell of sulphur.  Greta was fascinated by the sounds and odors at this stop.  
We crossed the street and headed to Dragon’s Mouth next.  This feature is reminiscent of a dragon’s mouth due to the dark opening (seen begin Dina) and the loud noises made by the water slapping against the sides of the walls.  The water violently spurts out and creates a spitting, steaming, loud dragon of a hot spring.  
We drove along Lake Yellowstone, back south, toward Old Faithful.  
Seeing the Inn for the first time in 10 years was lovely.  As a kid, we were in Yellowstone every summer for family vacation.  Due to college, jobs, moving to North Carolina, a career, weddings, and a child, I had taken a hiatus from Yellowstone.  
The inside of the Inn is filled with a monolithic fireplace, pine timbers, chairs, and crows of tourists.  I cam all this way and saw a Duke shirt.  

The inside of the Inn is too ethereal to describe in words.  It gives me chills the first time I enter, every single trip.  Old Faithful Inn is named due to the geyser located just outside the inn.  Old Faithful used to erupt every 60 minutes, but now has slowed to every 90 minutes.  
We were just in time to see Old Faithful erupt.  My dad was readying cameras.  Notice the large viewing deck.  This area will fill up during the daytime hours when tour buses unload for photo ops in front of the famed geyser.  

According to the National Parks website
For geyser to occur there must be heat, water, and a plumbing system. A magma chamber provides the heat, which radiates into surrounding rock. Water from rain and snow works its way underground through fractures in the rock.

As the water reaches hot rock it begins to rise back to the surface, passing through rhyolite, which is former volcanic ash or lava rich in silica. The hot water dissolves the silica and carries it upward to line rock crevices. This forms a constriction that holds in the mounting pressure, creating a geyser’s plumbing system.

As superheated water nears the surface, its pressure drops, and the water flashes into steam as a geyser. Hot springs have unconstricted plumbing systems.”

Even with Old Faithful’s slowing eruptions, it is just as magical as when I was a child.  For the countless times I have seen Old Faithful erupt, it never loses its awe for me.  I loved being able to see Old Faithful through Eric and Greta’s eyes, for the first time.  

After the eruption we headed off to view some of the other geothermal features that surround Old Faithful Inn area.  
Castle Geyser is one of my favorites with its sand castle shape.  
There was an abundant amount of orange thermophiles, and they seemed to glow even more so in the evening light.  

As the sun began to set, we headed back to the Inn.  We had a full day ahead of us – our plan was to get up and going and hit as many geothermal features as we could before the tour buses took over.  I am missing this place so badly right now, but I found a way to feel like I am still there – check out the webcam for the boardwalks and Old Faithful.  

Western Vacation: Tetons Hike

We took a baby-free day to hike way up into the Tetons to see these beauties.  
But first, we had some questionable weather.  Just after breakfast, the skies opened up to thunderous, pouring, cold rain.   
We took a chance, based on what we saw on the radar, and decided to keep going.  
Half way to our trail head, the hail began.  So, we pulled over for a short rest.  
Soon, the skies were clearing off and we could see the Tetons in all of their glory.  

We drove to the String Lake area and parked.  Early arrivals are always key if you want to find parking in the Tetons.  Plus, it’s nice to have the trails to yourselves when you start early.  
We took the String Lake Trail, and connected with the Paintbrush Canyon Trail that would take us to Holly Lake.  Along the way we saw mountain waterfalls.  
We saw Indian Paintbrush (red), flea bane daisy (white), and bluebells (blue). 

The views on this hike were nothing short of amazing.  Jackson Lake Lodge, where we were staying, was way down in the valley below us.  
We huffed and hiked for five hours to the canyon for an alpine lake view.  

There were plenty of rocks and snow to keep us clicking away. 
This hike was much more challenging than I remembered.  The steep inclines can take a lot of energy and breath out of you.  
On the way back down we discovered we were not the only ones to use the hiking trail.  This marmot was eating a snack square in the middle of the path.  
He ran down the trail a little ways and into a hole in the side of a pile of rocks.  
He let us take a couple of photos, zoomed in of course, and we were on our way.  We spotted a black bear at the end of this hike.  It was sitting on its haunches eating huckleberries, 100 yards off the trail or so.  I felt too close for comfort and did not take my camera out for any photos.  Instead we hurried back to the Lodge to see our own little bear.  
Greta spent a happy day with her grandparents, aunt, and uncle.  Aunt Caroline is the best because she shares her potato chips!  Greta and I spent the evening relaxing in the Jackson Lake Lodge lobby.  You can’t tell by this photo, but I am wiped out from 12 miles of hiking!  

Western Vacation: Grand Tetons

After a night at Mammoth, we headed south through Yellowstone, toward the Grand Tetons, stopping at a few attractions along the way.  
First we saw Roaring Mountain.  This thermal feature is an entire mountain side covered in steaming vents.
We stopped at Norris Geyser Basin, next.  This is a large area with many thermal attractions.  It is a very popular stopping point, so getting there early is key.  Parking can be quite the problem later in the day.  The boardwalks and paths take you through some very interesting thermal features.  
Echinus is one that used to erupt quite frequently in the 90s.  
Steamboat is the world’s largest active geyser.  Currently, Steamboat has small frequent eruptions of 10 to 40 feet.  If you are lucky enough, you may get to see its grand eruption which is a jet of water more than 300 feet, lasting anywhere from 8 to 10 minutes.  However, these eruptions are rather unpredictable
This pool, Pearl Geyser, had an intriguing center – it was almost an opaque or smoky color of blue. 
Some of the thermal features also have interesting sounds.  Frying pan, no?
We arrived in the Tetons later in the afternoon, after a lunch and laundry stop at Colter Bay. 
  The first evening at Jackson Lake Lodge gave us pretty dramatic panoramic shots.  This is the view from the main lobby’s tremendous soaring windows.  This truly may be the world’s best bar – you simply can’t beat a patio with these views. The patio also happens to be the perfect early morning wildlife viewing vantage point. 
This photo does not give enough of a sense of scale of the lobby’s interior.  It is a fabulous place to lose an entire afternoon or evening, just sitting.  Can you tell how much I love being in the Tetons and Jackson Lake Lodge? 😉
Greta enjoyed an after-dinner strawberry milkshake from the Lodge’s Grill.  I enjoyed the views of my two as well as this view from our bench:
Stay tuned for tomorrow’s post: hiking in the Tetons. 

Western Vacation: Mammoth Hot Springs

After a lovely night in Red Lodge and a full view from the Beartooth, we moved on to Mammoth Hot Springs.  Mammoth is nice because of its village feel.  It has a main lodge, cabins with or without hot tubs, a general store, gas station, restaurant, grill, visitor center and museum, and its own boardwalks with thermal features.  It offers plenty of panoramic views and loads of hiking options.  
The cabins are a nice way to relax in Mammoth.  They feature cute cut-outs, a roomy porch, and are clustered around a skating rink in the winter.  
This was our view directly behind our cabin. 
We walked to dinner in jackets and long sleeves – quite the weather change from North Carolina.  
The obligatory after dinner pose on the balcony of the restaurant at Mammoth. 
The main lobby has a covered drive-up.  We took over some benches after dinner to digest our meals and ice cream.  Yellowstone has the best huckleberry ice cream around.  
An after dinner stroll was just the ticket.  The evening is nice for sight seeing in Mammoth for several reasons – the light is perfect, it has cooled off, and the crowds have dispersed as many visitors pass through the main lodges and end up staying outside the park or in the campgrounds.  
Liberty Cap is the remnants of an old hot spring.  The formation is the left over mineral deposits.
Obligatory warning sign photo.  
In all seriousness though, we saw far too many people stepping off of boardwalks and walking through unsafe areas.  The ground around thermal areas can be quite thin and the possibility of falling through and serious injury or death is too high to risk.  Stay on the boardwalks and marked paths.  
The terraces at Mammoth.  These are step-like thermal features that tend to move and shift over the years.  The dormant ones leave big white, empty spaces behind.  The coloring comes from tiny organisms called thermophiles.  These thrive in the hot water of the hot springs and other thermal features of Yellowstone National Park.  
You an opt to stick to the nice and flat boardwalks, or you can climb up and get a bird’s eye view of the terraces at Mammoth. 
Greta and her grandparents relaxing. 

My sister, Caroline and her husband, Brady. 
Eric and I went on a baby-free beautiful hike the following morning.  Thanks, Dad for the babysitting!

This sky is so blue it looks fake.  I could look at this sky all day.  

The hike was through the wide open sagebrush filled alpine meadows that make Mammoth as beautiful as it is.  
We found plenty of elk evidence. 
That evening, we drove on the Old Gardiner Road, next time I hope to bike this road.  This is the original road taken into Yellowstone by the stagecoaches.  It is now a one way road, leaving Yellowstone and ending at the North Entrance, or the Roosevelt Arch. 

It has soaring vistas, little to no human traffic, and meanders through the gorgeous countryside. 

It’s unreal, right?
We stopped for a (fussy) family portrait. 
We saw this pronghorn grazing along the road, as well as a collared coyote.  Alas, no photo of the coyote. 
Our ending point, the North Entrance.  We had a picnic and celebrated my sister’s birthday at the picnic grounds that are literally on the other side of this arch.  I always thought Caroline was so lucky to be able to have these views on her birthday.