Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Frosted Chocolate Chip Brownies

Hello, my wonderful blog friends.  I'm keeping this post brief tonight.  My eyes are barely open after a 13-hour road trip to Northwest Iowa, where I got to visit with a farm family that raises cattle, hogs -- and five kids! (And I complain about being busy...)

I just had to share this recipe for frosted chocolate chip brownies from Taste of Home.  I found this recipe in one of their new Brownies and Bars special edition magazines.  My husband loved these brownies, and he's not a big fan of chocolate desserts.  The creamy chocolate frosting is addicting.  I highly recommend these brownies for your family gatherings on July 4.  Enjoy!

Sunday, June 26, 2011

T-Bone Trail

When I was driving back from my visit to the western Iowa goat farm, I decided to stop and check out the T-Bone Trail, which runs underneath Interstate 80, at the Atlantic exit.

I travel quite a bit with my bike. It's not uncommon to see bike trails when I'm driving through Iowa's countryside.  Iowa has become a biking mecca.  Many miles of abandoned railroad tracks have been turned into bike trails across the state.  When I travel, I keep a copy of the Iowa bike map from the Department of Transportation in my car, which is how I discovered the T-Bone Trail. It's named "T-Bone" because the trail ends in Audubon, a little town famous for its giant "Albert the Bull" statue.

Since Audubon was a little out of my way, I decided to get on the trail close to Interstate 80. I stopped at the trailhead at Old Glory Park in Brayton. There was a very clean restroom facility there where I changed into my biking clothes.

Let me tell you, the T-Bone Trail did not disappoint. You'll often find native prairie wildflowers along railroad trails like this one.  And there were several newer wooden bridges, which are always fun to roll over on a bike.

I was surprised to see little benches all along the trail, even in spots that were a couple miles outside of town.

I didn't bike too far down the trail -- my husband always cautions me not to travel farther than I can walk if my bike breaks down -- but I would love to go back on the trail sometime and check out the other little towns along the way.

If you're ever driving west of Des Moines on Interstate 80, be sure to check it out, even just for a walk to stretch your legs. There's a trailhead at the intersection of Interstate 80 and Highway 71, next to a gas station.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Bucket list

I don't really like to talk about my work that much on this blog, because I'm a rather shy person and still have reservations about sharing my life to all on the World Wide Web.  (I wonder sometimes how professional bloggers share their everyday lives so easily.)  But I've had some pretty amazing things happen to me while on the job that I just had to share with someone.

If you didn't already know, I'm an ag journalist, so I spend a lot of time traveling the state of Iowa, meeting some amazing people and visiting all kinds of farms -- small farms, big farms, dairy farms, hog farms, organic farms and conventional farms.  A lot of people think Iowa farmers just grow corn and hogs, but in reality, Iowa agriculture is very diverse and vibrant.  There's room for all types of farms, and our hungry world needs them all.

A couple weeks ago, I visited a dairy goat farm in western Iowa.  While giving me a tour of the milking parlor, the farmers asked if I wanted to milk a goat.  At first, I was embarrassed. But then I said, "Why not!"  Next thing I know I was milking a goat, and believe it or not, I actually liked it.  The goats were very calm, and it wasn't "icky" at all to milk a goat. Now I can't stop daydreaming about raising my own dairy goats someday!

So now I can cross "milking a goat" off my bucket list!

Then earlier this week, I visited a farm where the family raised Clydesdale horses - like the Budweiser Clydesdales.  When I arrived, the family had the Clydesdales hitched to a hay rack, and they offered to give me a ride!  On the way back to their farm, they asked if I wanted to drive the horses down the gravel road.  Oh heck yeah!  And I must say, I did a pretty good job leading those horses -- until we hit a hay bale with the cart!  But no harm done :)

I was too busy with the horses to take a picture, but here's one I snapped of the farmer and the Clydesdales.

So now I can cross "drive a team of horses" off my bucket list!

Monday, June 20, 2011

Iowa Greek Food Fest

A couple weeks ago (sorry, I'm a little behind in my posts), I visited downtown Des Moines to cheer for my sister, who ran the Dam to Dam 20K for her first time.  (She did awesome by the way -- finished it in 2 hours and 8 minutes!)  I heard in the news that a local Greek Orthodox church was hosting a Greek Food Fair.  My hubby and I love gyros -- sometimes I make him take me on "date nights" to Cafe Northwest in Ames so we can get our gyro fix -- so I decided to visit the fair and bring him back a gyro. A romantic gesture, if you will :)

I didn't take any photos of the fair because 1) I was in a hurry to get home for a nap after waking up early, 2) it was 90 degrees, 3) there was a really long line for the food stands and 4) I'm still too shy to pull out my camera and take pictures of people I don't know.  But I did snap some photos of the take-out Greek food I brought back home to my hubby.

These gyros are from the Coney Island booth.  Who knew that we could get an excellent gyro from a hot dog stand?  These gyros were awesome! They were drizzled with a garlic butter, instead of the standard cucumber-yogurt sauce. Loved this!

I also came home with a pork kabob, which was just OK, and a Greek salad, with feta and olives.

And authentic spanikopita (yes, I'm probably spelling that wrong, but I'm too tired right now to look it up.) 

But what really wowed me, besides the gyro, were the Greek pastries.  I brought home a sampler box because I couldn't decide on just one.  And I loved every little buttery cookie.  Truth be told, I ended up eating everything in this box by myself -- in one night.  I couldn't help myself.  The sweets were that good.

The Iowa Greek Food Fest is an annual event, so I highly recommend a visit next year.  The line was long, but I had no problem finding parking.  And the food (and Greek cookies!) were worth the wait.

Friday, June 17, 2011

My first (and only) strawberry

Hello, everyone!  I told you I would give an update on the strawberry pot I planted way back in April. (Can you believe that was two months ago already?)  So far, my potted strawberries are doing excellent.  I highly recommend the Stack-a-Pot, which I bought from  The strawberries are growing fast, especially the plants on the top "stack."  And the pot looks so pretty, I'm thinking about buying another for next year.

The only drawback of the potted strawberries is that the six little plants aren't producing many berries.  In fact, I've only picked one red berry from the plants.  I blame our crazy weather.  We had a cold, wet spring, followed by a week of dry, 90 degree temps, then pouring rain the last couple days.  Needless to say, I'm a little disappointed.  I was hoping for at least a half dozen strawberries, so I could add a few to my morning bowl of cereal.  But the one berry I picked was delicious -- very sweet and ripe.

There was actually a second berry that was ripening plant.  It was pink and on the verge of turning bright red.  But one night after I got home from work, I looked at the pot and the berry had completely disappeared -- all that was left was the stem.  At first, I thought my husband had picked it.  Then I remembered seeing a bird on that same corner of the deck. 

I did a little research on the Internet, and sure enough, birds are notorious for eating strawberries.  About 30 percent of strawberry crop losses are due to birds!  That's why many backyard gardeners place nets around their strawberry gardens.

Well, lesson learned.  Just when I think I've got this gardening thing figured out, there's always a new (frustrating) twist.  I'm still loving my strawberry pot, though.  The pot looks very pretty on my deck. The strawberries are an ever-bearing variety, so they should produce fruit throughout the summer. I can already see a new berry forming on a plant.

I'm trying to console myself with the thought that at least I'm keeping the neighborhood birds well-fed. :)

Have you ever tried to grow strawberries in a container garden?  Any tips for a newbie like me?

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Lincoln Highway

I've been noticing these new Lincoln Highway signs on my travels across the state.  I saw these signs west of Carroll, but I've also spotted them in Nevada (the Iowa town, not the state), Ames and Council Bluffs.

You history buffs likely already know this, but the Lincoln Highway was once the longest cross-country route from the East Coast to the West Coast.  Here in Iowa, the Lincoln Highway has been replaced by Highway 30. But you can still find red, white and blue "L" signs on buildings and electric poles along the county roads that once made up the Lincoln Highway.

Traveling on these county roads, you see the prettiest scenery that Iowa has to offer.  Many Iowa farms are now putting "barn quilts" up on their old and new farm buildings.  Doesn't this look like a picture postcard?

On the other side of the road, the newly planted corn was popping up in rows.  I'm sure these corn plants are quite a bit taller now after last week's 90 degree temps.

Have you seen any of these new Lincoln Highway signs in Iowa?  Do you live near the Lincoln Highway?

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Homemade Instant Oatmeal Packet

Once again, I meant to post this recipe last night.  But I got so caught up in trying to teach myself how to play Google guitar that I forgot to blog.  Did you get a chance to play the Google guitar?  I couldn't stop trying to figure out new songs to play on it.  It was absolutely genius!

To keep myself fueled to play Google guitar, or whatever I'm in to at the moment, I like to eat a healthy breakfast.  However, my commute to work doesn't give me a lot of time in the morning to make and eat breakfast.  One of my favorite go-to breakfasts is an instant oatmeal packet. I mix the oatmeal with milk, then pop in the microwave. When it's done, I add a tablespoon of peanut butter and a few banana slices.  It's a great, filling breakfast that I look forward to when I get out of bed in the morning.

But for some reason, I don't like the instant oatmeal packets as much as I used to.  I've started noticing the "artificial" ingredients and flavors in those little packets.  Not that I have anything against it; they're a good, quick breakfast, and I often buy the packets when they are on sale.  But when I have time, I also like to mix up my own oatmeal packets, using this recipe I found from Iowa State University Extension.

I've tried all the recipes listed and recommend them all.  I like to add the dried apples that my husband makes in our food dehydrater whenever apples are on sale.  Sometimes, I alter the recipe and just use 1/3 C. of oatmeal and add 2/3 C. of milk, because the servings are pretty filling.

Hope these oatmeal packets brighten up your mornings, too!

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

June garden update

I absolutely love this time of year!  The weather is so beautiful here in Iowa, and my garden looks its best in late May and early June.  Last week, we had all kinds of flowers blooming in our backyard. I like to spend time outside every evening admiring all the birds, blooms and bees.

The neighbor's cat "photo-bombed" this next picture.

My husband planted our clematis vines a couple years ago.  They're like his babies; he's very proud of all the blooms.  Our neighbors liked the vines so much, they're putting up a clematis trelis by their garage.  We're neighborhood trend-setters!

I finally finished planting my little vegetable garden.  I plant annual flowers in the front, for our neighbors' benefit.  They like to sit out on the backporch at night, watching the fireflies in our garden.

My first vase of cut flowers of the season! My husband's good friend and mentor made this gorgeous clay pitcher.  It's my favorite for displaying flowers.

As always, I'm joined in the garden every night by Levi, our neighbors' cat.  He's always good company!

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Omaha Road Trip

You never know who you will meet on a road trip.

I didn't have any plans for Memorial Day weekend.  So I decided to take a mini road trip to Omaha.  I've never really done much exploring in Omaha.  I've only driven through for business.  A few weeks back, I received a press release promoting a new exhibit at Omaha's Durham Museum.  The exhibit featured every single newspaper photo ever to receive the prestigious Pulizer Prize.  I'm a huge news junkie, so I really wanted to check this exhibit out before it moved on.

When I arrived in Omaha, it was raining. (Boo!)  The street near the museum was blocked off, and all these adults and kids were milling around in costumes.  I couldn't resist stopping and asking the folks if I could take their photo.  Turns out that they were part of an ethnic cultural festival parade. The men in liederhosen were members of a German polka dance troop.  How much fun is that!

Because it was raining, I didn't stay to watch the parade.  Plus, I couldn't wait to see the Pulitzer Prize exhibit.

But the best treat was seeing the Durham Museum.  I had no idea how beautiful it is! Why have I never visited here before?

Turns out the Durham Museum was one of the busiest Union Pacific train stations back in the early 1920s when it was built all the way through WWII, until Americans started traveling more by car.  A really neat display of photos helped explain the train depot's history.

Throughout the Art Deco style lobby, there were life-size carvings of people waiting for trains or buying tickets at the counter.  I recently finished reading the novel, "Unbroken," about a WWII POW survivor, so I felt like I was stepping into the pages of the novel when I saw these "troops" leaving for war.

In the exhibit area downstairs, I found a display of Missouri River and Omaha history.  I just had to take a picture of this buffalo -- and the Mutal of Omaha logo!  Do you remember watching Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom back in the day?

Also loved the old locomotive and trolleys on display.  Visitors were encouraged to step inside the trains and get a closer look at them, which kids especially seemed to enjoy.

No photography was allowed at the Pulizer Prize photo exhibit (ironic, isn't it?).  But I can tell you that I was very moved by the award-winning photos.  To be honest, I wasn't really prepared for how violent and gruesome many of the images were.  I walked away with a bigger view of the world and a greater understanding of the need and suffering out there. Yet several photos also proved how beautiful and kind people can be.

As I understand it, the Pulitzer Prize photography exhibit also appears at the Newseum in Washington, D.C.  I highly recommend it if you ever have a chance to see it.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Iowa recipes: Rhubarb coffee cake

So this is kind of a funny story.

I made this rhubarb cake the other night while my hubby was out fishing.  After a couple days, it looked like he hadn't eaten any of it, so I threw the rest of the cake away.. (I was afraid I'd eat it all myself!)  The next morning, I got a call from my husband at work.  He asked why I threw the cake out.  I told him it's because I figured he didn't like it.  But it turns out, he really, really liked this cake.  He's just been too busy fishing, he never got around to polishing off the cake!

I found this rhubarb cake recipe in a local ag newspaper; I found another version of this recipe in one of my church cookbooks.  Hope you enjoy it as much as we do!


Rhubarb coffee cake

  • 3 C. finely cut rhubarb
  • 2 C. sugar
  • 3/4 C. margarine
  • 1 egg
  • 1-1/2 tsp. vanilla
  • 2½ C. flour
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • 1 C. buttermilk
  • ¾ C. brown sugar
  • ½ C. nuts
  • ½ C. evaporated milk

Combine rhubarb and 1/2 C. sugar, and let stand. Cream margarine and 1 C. sugar. Add egg and 1 tsp. vanilla to margarine-sugar mixture. Add alternately to that: flour, baking soda, salt and buttermilk. Blend in rhubarb-sugar mixture. Put into greased 9x13-inch pan and top evenly with brown sugar and nuts.

Bake 45 to 50 minutes at 350 degrees. While the cake is baking, combine: ¼ C. margarine, ½ C. sugar and evaporated milk. Boil exactly 3½ minutes. Remove from stove and add ½ tsp. vanilla and mix well. When cake is baked, spoon the margarine-sugar-milk mixture over the hot cake.
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