Friday, September 30, 2011

Biking Iowa: Grant Wood Trail

I was driving through Jones County the other day, when I came across a small rest area on the way to Anamosa.  The rest area was a trail head for the Grant Wood Trail, west of the small town of Olin.

The Grant Wood Trail runs about 3.5 miles, a little short for a bike ride, but perfect for walking.  It was a pretty stretch of nature, with wildflowers and corn fields bordering the trail.

A lot of folks are calling Iowa the "king of bike trails," and I'm starting to discover why.  I carry my folding travel bike in the back of my car whenever I'm on the road for work, so I'm always ready for a quick ride whenever I see a new trail.  It's a great way to stretch my legs and get a little exercise while I'm traveling for work.  And it seems like there really is a bike trail in every county in Iowa, even in unexpected spots like little towns.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Iowa road trip: Lincoln Highway historical exhibit, Missouri Valley

 I've been fascinated by the history of the Lincoln Highway ever since I started seeing these new Iowa Byway signs popping up along Highway 30 in central Iowa.

I discovered a new Lincoln Highway exhibit at the Harrison County Welcome Center in Missouri Valley, a little town tucked into the Loess Hills of western Iowa.  The welcome center has a terrific indoor and outdoor display with photos and interpretive signs telling the story of the Lincoln Highway in Iowa.

If you're not familiar with its history, the Lincoln Highway was the first highway to stretch across the United States from New York City to San Francisco. It was started in the early 1900s, around the time that automobiles were just hitting the road.  Actually, "highway" is a loose description.  The Lincoln Highway was a series of roads; at first, most of them were mud trails.  Over time, the roads eventually were paved.  Here in Iowa, the Lincoln Highway is the precursor to Highway 30 and Interstate 80 in central Iowa.

But back to the Welcome Center, I was delighted to see on display an original concrete marker, with a Lincoln medallion. The host at the Welcome Center told me the marker was placed by the Boy Scouts back in the 1930s. The Lincoln Highway used to run right through the Welcome Center, back when the land was an apple orchard.  In the 1970s, the farmer sold the land to the county to create a conservation/welcome center.  So the Lincoln Highway marker is pretty much in its original spot, even though its not on the highway anymore.

The outdoor exhibit was excellent.  I'm glad I stopped to check it out.  I found a large map of the Lincoln Highway's path through Iowa.

There was a model of an old filling station.  (You can still see a lot of these old filling stations when you drive along the old Lincoln Highway in Iowa.)

And this was really neat:  You could walk through a small-scale re-creation of the Lincoln Highway to get a feel for what it was like to drive on the roads in the 1920s.

Another highlight was a demonstration of the different types of roads that made up the Lincoln Highway -- dirt, gravel and paved.  I learned that Iowa was notorious for being the "stuck in the mud" state.  Cars would sink into the muddy roads whenever it rained.

I highly recommend a stop at the Harrison County Welcome Center if you're traveling to the Loess Hills.  It's a great area of the state to visit.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Pickled banana pepper rings

This year was my first attempt at growing banana peppers, and boy oh boy, did I end up with a bumper crop of peppers!  I planted three banana pepper seedlings earlier in the summer, and the weather was perfect for peppers this year.  I'm still trying to figure out what to do with all the peppers. Every time I pick one, two more seem to grow in its place!

I actually decided to plant banana peppers this year because I wanted to make pickled banana pepper rings, like the kind you find at Subway or Quizno's.  However, I should have looked for a recipe BEFORE planting the peppers, because I've had a tough time trying to find banana pepper recipes to use up my bumper crop.

After quite a bit of searching on the Web, I finally found a pickled yellow pepper ring recipe from the National Center for Home Preserving.  This was a very easy canning recipe to follow. The most time-consuming part was cutting up all the peppers.

The peppers settled to the bottom a few minutes after a pulled them from the canner.

I waited a month before opening up a finished jar to let the flavors develop.  And they turned out excellent, if I do say so myself.  I like to use them as a sandwich topper. (They're really good with deli roast beef).

Do you have a recipe for banana peppers that your family enjoys?  I'm still on a hunt for ways to use up all my banana peppers.  We missed last week's frost, so the peppers are still growing out in my garden.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Summer at the Iowa Arboretum

Every time the Iowa Arboretum has a plant sale, I can't seem to drive by without stopping.  This time, I ended up buying a few daylily bulbs for my garden.  I was looking for red and yellow daylilies to add a little more color to the garden, since all I have now are orange daylilies.

My hands were literally full of bulbs, but I tried to snap a couple pictures of the Arboretum's children's garden. It featured a mix of flowers and vegetables, planted in raised beds. I also discovered this garden tunnel for the kids to play in.

It was really sunny out when I took the photo below, so it's hard to see.  But the garden displayed plants ranging from A to Z, as you could see from the stone markers.  (If you look closely, you can see the "M" towards the front.)  I loved this idea!

The Iowa Arboretum also has several miles of hiking trails, which I plan to check out this fall. The arboretum is located north of Madrid near the 4-H camp. From Highway 30 west of Ames, travel south on Highway 17, then turn west at the old brick school.  Look for the signs pointing south to the Arboretum road.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Iowa Church Cookbook Recipes: Banana Bars

I've officially declared this the summer of bananas.  I've baked up three different varieties of banana bread, and then I followed it up with these banana bars.  I remember eating these little bars with their rich cream-cheese frosting at our after-church gatherings when I was a kid.  These bars are so easy to bake, I'm not sure why I don't make them more often.

Well, I've remedied that this year.  My husband and I enjoyed these banana bars so much, I made another batch the following weekend, which we shared with the neighbors.  Hope you enjoy this recipe as much I as we do.


Can't Be Beat Banana Bars

  • 1-1/2 C. sugar
  • 1/2 C. margarine (I used butter instead)
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 C. sour cream
  • 3 ripe bananas, mahsed
  • 2 tsp. vanilla
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 tsp. salt 
  • 2 C. flour

  • 3 oz. cream cheese, softened
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 6 T. butter
  • 1 T. cream
  • 2 C. powdered sugar

Bars: Cream sugar and margarine.  Beat in eggs and sour cream.  Mix in bananas and vanilla.  Sift baking soda, salt and flour.  Add to banana mixture.  Bake in greased 10 x 13 inch pan at 350 degrees for 20 to 25 minutes.  Frosting: Mix all frosting ingredients together well. Spread on cooled bars.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Frost advisory

Tonight, I enjoyed a wonderful dinner at one of my favorite restaurants, Felix & Oscars in West Des Moines, with my sister and mom, who was in town for a meeting.  When I got home, I checked my Facebook page and saw that my friends were picking their tomatoes ahead of this evening's first frost of the season.  Granted, many of my friends are from northern Iowa, where temps are supposed to dip well below freezing.  But when I saw that a CSA farmer in nearby Boone was also picking her tomatoes and peppers, I realized I better save what I could, even if it was 9 o'clock at night.

So my husband and I grabbed flashlights and jackets, and we just finished picking the tomatoes and peppers worth saving (i.e., those that aren't too small or bug-ridden).  I really wanted to save the late-planted heirloom tomatoes I bought at the Osceola Community Garden back in June.  The plant had plenty of tomatoes on it, but none had ripened yet.  I'm hoping they will ripen after picking on my kitchen counter.

Looks like my gardening season is coming to an early close.  Did your gardens escape the frost?

Friday, September 9, 2011

Iowa church cookbook recipe: Morning Glory Muffins

I planted carrots in the same garden plot as tomatoes.  By mid-July, the tomatoes were getting so big that they were overshadowing the carrots.  So even though the carrots were on the small side, I decided it was time to yank them out of the ground.  We have really rich, black, heavy soil here in central Iowa, so I always have a difficult time trying to get the little carrots out of the ground without them breaking off.  Does anyone have a trick for digging up carrots?

Even though the carrots were small, I ended up with quite a few of them.  

Fresh from the garden.

All cleaned up!
Since they were so tiny, I thought it would be best to shred them in the food processor and bake with them.  I wasn't in the mood for carrot cake, so I turned to my favorite church cookbook and found a recipe for Morning Glory Muffins.  I had all the ingredients on hand, which is great because I didn't want to make another trip to the grocery store.

These muffins turned out a little "tough," but I think that's because I didn't add the shredded apple.  (I was out of apples.)  You're welcome to give them a try if you have a few extra carrots in your refrigerator that need to be used up.


Morning Glory Muffins

  • 1/2 C. raisins, soaked 1/2 hour in hot water (drain)
  • 2 C. flour
  • 1 C. sugar
  • 2 tsp. baking soda
  • 2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/8 tsp nutmet
  • 2 C. shredded carrots
  • 1 large tart apple, shredded
  • 1/2 C. sliced almonds (opt.)
  • 1/2 C. coconut (opt.)
  • 3 eggs
  • 2/3 C. cooking oil
  • 2 tsp. vanilla

Combine flour, sugar, baking soda and spices. Stir in drained raisins, carrots, apples, almonds and coconut.  Beat eggs.  Add oil and vanilla.  Add to flour mixture and stir just to combine.  Grease muffin cups or line with paper liners.  Fill cups 2/3 full.  You can sprinkle sugar and cinnamon on top, if desired.  Bake at 350 degrees for 20 to35 minutes.  Yield: 24 muffins.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Biking Iowa: Raccoon River Valley Trail

I've been having so much fun hitting up different bike trails this summer.  Now I know why Iowa is gaining a reputation as the bike trail capital of the world.  There are many miles of trails within a short driving (or walking) distance from my home and work.

I recently took a day off to check out the Raccoon River Valley Trail, which runs through Adel in central Iowa.  It was such a hot, humid day, my camera fogged up when I stopped to snap of picture of my little Dahon folding bike.  But I kind of like the photo effect of the foggy lens.

The scenery was absolutely gorgeous.  Iowa is so green and beautiful in the summertime.

The trail crosses the Raccoon River on the way east to Waukee.  The steel bridges were radiating heat on the 90-plus degree day. Thankfully, most of the trail runs through wooded areas.

Discovered this steel engraving on the trail bridge over the Raccoon River.
The locals know that any trip on the Raccoon River Trail requires a stop at the Adel ice cream shop.  My stomach was a little uneasy from the heat, so I opted for a fountain cherry coke instead.  Gotta love the cherry syrup!

Have you visited any bike trails this summer?  Do you have a favorite bike trail?  I'm looking forward to hitting a few trails during the height of the fall color.  Can't believe it's that time of year already!

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Iowa Road Trip: Missouri - Mississippi Divide

A few weeks back, I was driving in west-central Iowa along Highway 44, when I noticed a sign on the road that said "Missouri - Mississippi Divide."  I had never heard of this before, so I looked it up when I got back home.  Turns out, it's the dividing line where every river on the west side flows to the Missouri River, and every river on the east side flows to the Mississippi River.

I learned a little bit about the geography of my state just by reading a highway sign! 

It was such a beautiful, hilly area, I stopped to take a few pictures before heading on my way.

Have you ever heard of the Missouri - Mississippi Divide?
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