Monday, September 22, 2014

Pico De Gallo - Fresh From The Garden


One of my favorite things about having a garden is the ability to have fresh Pico De Gallo. Of course, I have to wait until late August for the tomatoes to fully ripen, but by the time they are ready, I'm still harvesting plenty of jalapeno peppers and the last of the cilantro.

I make Pico De Gallo at least once a week. For most of the year, I use store-bought tomatoes or even canned petite diced tomatoes, whole jalapenos I've frozen, dried cilantro and store-bought onions. It's good, but the fresh Pico de Gallo is worlds better! We could easily make a meal of it, and often have when the "Pickles" are elsewhere and it's just Mr. LH and I for the evening.

Pico De Gallo

2 cups of fresh diced tomatoes (or one can petite diced tomatoes, NOT drained)
1 medium onion, diced
1 medium jalapeno pepper, seeded and minced
1 TBS finely chopped fresh cilantro (or 1 tsp dried cilantro)
2 tsp lime or lemon juice
1/4 tsp ground black pepper
(or you could substitute 1 to 1 1/2 tsp total lemon pepper seasoning for the lemon juice AND the ground black pepper) 
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp garlic powder

Combine all ingredients in a bowl. Cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes to an hour to let the flavors meld together. Serve with tortilla chips.



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Saturday, September 20, 2014

Apples Chips, Apple Bits & Apple Powder - Dehydrating Apples


When I have a farm... (lots of my sentences start like that these days)

Anyway, when I have a farm I will definitely plant fruit trees on it. I will plant every type of fruit tree I can find that will grow in my altitude and hardiness zone. And I will start with apples.

Last week, Sprouts Farmers Market had a wonderful sale on Gala and Granny Smith apples and I left the store with several bags of them. (I even met a lady there that was buying loads of them for her horses)

Of course, some of those apples would find their way into lunchboxes, apple fritters, fried apples and hand pies, but the rest would be dehydrated into apple chips, apple bits and even apple powder for use later when apple harvesting season is over.

With my handy-dandy apple peeler/corer/slicer, I can quickly get apples into the dehydrator. I searched everywhere for an apple peeler at thrift stores and yard sales before I finally gave up and purchased one. Mine has a clamp to keep it firmly attached to my table top or counter edge, but you can get one with a strong suction cup instead like this one on Amazon. It's really just a matter of preference.


The apple peeler is not a necessary tool, but it makes the peeling, coring and slicing go so much faster. And it's enough of a novelty that the "Pickles" don't mind helping me with it.

Once the apples are peeled, I cut the whole apple in half making half-slices. I prefer the rings, but the half-slices take up less space. If you want to make rings, slice through only one side of the apple once it's peeled. Here's a detailed YouTube video you can watch that will show you how to make the apple rings.

The slices are dipped in lemon or pineapple juice diluted with water and then placed in a single layer on the drying tray.



Some of them are sprinkled with cinnamon before drying.


Dried apple chips make for a tasty and healthy snack and are great for trail food, too. You can also use them in baking. Just re-hydrate the apples with some water for use in a pie.

Some apple slices get chopped up into smaller pieces and are dehydrated into tiny apple bits. These bits are great on oatmeal (add them to your DIY Oatmeal Packets) or in granola. You can also top your cereal or yogurt with dried apple bits. Add them to your muffin batter, cookies and pancake batter too (you may need to add a bit more liquid to your recipes to help re-hydrate the apples a bit).


The apple skins that are removed by the peeler are also dried in the dehydrator until they are crispy.


Once they are dry and crispy, they can be ground in a food processor (or blender or coffee grinder) into a powder. This powder can be added to tea, smoothies, pancake or waffle batter, or to anything else where you want to add an extra punch of apple flavor. It won't dilute foods like cider and juice can, but you will need to use more powder to get the same "oomph" of flavor that cider will give.

I dry my apples at about 130 degrees. It takes several hours to dry them. If I fill the dehydrator in the morning, I usually don't turn it off until around dinnertime. I like my apples to have a bit of "chew" to them like raisins or mangoes you might buy in a store. The Boy likes his apple chips to be crispy like potato chips so his dry for much longer.

Once the apples have finished dehydrating to your likeness, let them cool down before storing them (they get more crisp as they cool).

Note: The dehydrator I use is a 9-tray Excalibur I received second hand from my mom. I've been using it for about 10 years and my mom had it for about as long before getting a new one and giving this one to me. It's has been wonderful and I highly recommend it!



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Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Catching Up

Wow! September is already half over!

I've been pretty slack in tending to this blog in the last month. I'll need to devote some time in the next couple of weeks to writing in more detail about our end-of-summer activities.

Aside from a brief mention, I never wrote anything about The Boy's scout camp in late July / early August.


The scout group had to deal with miserable weather for the first half of their week (lightening, hail, downpours...) but everything turned out great in the end. When we visited the camp for "family night" , we noticed that The Boy, who is usually very shy and quiet, seemed to have really blossomed during his week at camp. He's already excited about next year!


As the end of summer break neared, we couldn't get away for several days in a row for a "proper vacation". We planned a couple of back-to-back day trips instead. On the first day, we headed into the mountains visiting places along the Lariat Loop like Red Rocks Park & Amphitheater and Buffalo Bill's Museum and Grave.


The following day, we piled into the car again. Driving just a few minutes east of town puts you right smack in the middle of nothing but prairie. That's where you'll find the Aurora Reservoir.  The Arapahoe County Fairgrounds are also nearby. We took advantage of a coupon offer - car admission, 2 hours pedal boat rental and lunch for four for $30.


Aside from the pedal boats, there were row boats, kayaks and canoes for rent, hiking trails, picnic tables, a playground and even some sand and a swim area. It was as close to the beach as we could manage on short notice but no one minded. Spending time out on the water was incredibly relaxing.


School started on August 18th. It was a little more difficult this year getting into the school routine again. The Girl started her first year in middle school and The Boy is a freshman in high school so there were a lot of big changes and adjustments for both of them.

The Girl had her 11th birthday last week. It was a small, quiet family celebration (my favorite kind) and as always, I made her birthday cake. She's is really into Pokemon now so she wanted a Pokemon cake. She also wanted it to be a Tres Leches cake. I made this recipe for Coconut Tres Leches Cake from Mel's Kitchen Cafe. It's REALLY good. Not too sweet.

To decorate, I "drew" a Pokemon ("Charmander") on her cake using an image I found on Google as a template and guide. Colored shredded coconut and a smidgen of additional icing were used to "color in" the drawing.


The "garden" looks a little shabbier than it did a month ago, but it is still producing beautiful tomatoes!


I've been using them as I need them and freezing the rest whole until I have enough to can. I've heard freezing makes the tomatoes easier to peel (just thaw and slip the skins off) so I plan to experiment with that this year. If it doesn't work, I'll just toss it all into the KitchenAid strainer attachment and let IT do the work. Side note: If you think you will ever need to grind your own meat, the KitchenAid strainer with the additional grinder attachment is worth it. The grinder works great for making my own ground pork.

The pole beans rebounded after their dismal summer. I might get enough out of these plants to actually manage a side dish before fall!


The last hail storm in August pretty much decimated the large zucchini plants. But beneath the prickly, punctured, shriveled leaves, I noticed some new growth and several tiny zucchini!


Our days start an hour earlier now (The Boy has to catch the school bus at 6:30 in the morning!) and while having that extra hour is wonderful, I feel like I haven't quite gotten my own routine worked out yet. I still feel incredibly rushed...perhaps because of my too long "to-do list".



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Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Along The Lariat Loop

Last month, we enjoyed a day trip sightseeing along the Lariat Loop. It's a 40-mile byway that is a combination of 2 historic routes, the Lariat Trail Scenic Mountain Drive that ascends Lookout Mountain and the Bear Creek Canyon Scenic Mountain Drive. The loop almost creates a triangle with the three cities of Morrison, Evergreen and Golden at its points. You can view an illustrated map at LariatLoop.org.

The Lariat Loop has more to offer than beautiful scenery (though I wonder how colorful it looks now with the leaves are beginning to change). All along the Loop are places of interest, from museums and lodges to historic homesteads and parks. In fact, the hard part of the planning this trip was simply deciding which places on the Loop to visit. There were many to choose from but only one day to do it. We had already visited Dinosaur Ridge several years ago and places like the Colorado Railroad Museum might need an entire day dedicated to it so it would have to wait for another time.

Our first stop was Red Rocks Park and Amphitheater. It was Mr. LH's #1 pick for the trip. But we had to get there early. There was to be a concert that night and the park would close early to get ready for it.

We learned a lot of people took advantage of Red Rocks for their fitness routines...


As for me? I tired from simply walking up the steps. Granted, it's a lot of steps but I'll have to start getting a little more in shape.

You can just barely make out Denver in the background of the picture above. Here...I'll zoom in for ya...


If you visit Red Rocks, you should definitely tour the Visitor Center below the amphitheater, if only to read through the huge wall of people and acts that have been at Red Rocks since it opened.


Then head on down the hall and feast your eyes on this wall of concert posters...


Oh...and be sure to get your smooshed penny souvenir  before you go...

From Red Rocks, we headed west along Highway 74 taking in the scenery, keeping an eye out for cyclists and searching for Lair o' the Bear Park. We thought for sure we had missed it when all of a sudden we were there.


The parking lot was packed but the park itself was not crowded at all. I'm guessing people parked there before taking off down the mountain road on their bicycles.

Lair o' the Bear park was my personal pick for the day. I chose it because Bear Creek ran right through it and I knew the "Pickles" loved to spend time playing in and along creeks and rivers. (I also liked the catchy park name)



This little one landed on The Boy's hand and did not want to leave. The boy could have probably walked around the park all day with it still on his hand.



We spent a lot of time down by the creek. It's so relaxing to just sit by the water and listen to it rushing by.

After a bit, we ventured on to the trails that rose above the southern banks.



It was quite a hike! When we got to this point, we decided to turn around and head back. It was past lunchtime and we needed to refuel our bodies for the rest of the day.



After raiding the cooler in the car for a bit of lunch, we headed west again on Hwy 74. We had thought to stop in Evergreen to see their historic district but I didn't want to spend the afternoon browsing shops. We also bypassed the Hiwan Homestead Museum. It was originally on our list but didn't make the final cut.

We instead kept following 74 until it met Interstate 70, then headed east on 70 to exit 254. Our next destination was Lookout Mountain Nature Center and it was quite a way up the mountain on the north side of the highway.


Next to the nature center sat Boettcher Mansion. We hadn't planned to visit the mansion and were visiting the area on a day they are closed to the public.


It was being decorated for what looked to be a wedding reception. Speaking of weddings, we came upon this stone gazebo that looked like it would be a perfect spot for a small, intimate wedding.


It has a slate roof and a huge fireplace.

I wish I had taken a picture of the bricks in the pathway leading up to this stone gazebo. It's called the "Path To Posterity". Bricks can be ordered with commemorative dates (weddings, anniversaries, birthdays) or as memorials or tributes.

Although we could only admire the mansion from the outside, it was enough to peak our interest for a future visit.

Oh, how I love Clematis!

We started to hike through the trails behind the nature center but thunder rolled in and changed our plans.


We instead hopped back into the car and drove just a little ways up the road to the Buffalo Bill Museum and Grave.

The view north of the parking lot at the Buffalo Bill Museum.

We didn't tour the museum. Instead we played around...


...and took in the view from the top of the mountain (you could see the city of Golden)



We also visited the gravesite where both Buffalo Bill Cody and his wife Louisa were laid to rest.


Look what we found tucked to the side of the grave...I didn't know Buffalo Bill was a Mason.


The road down the mountain led straight into Golden, Colorado, ending the loop.



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