Monday, November 11, 2013

Boone Scenic Valley Railroad

A few weeks back, my family took a trip on the Scenic Valley Railroad in Boone.  It's been on our to-do list for quite a while, but we've never been able to get our schedules lined up to go.  In fact, my sister and I bought my dad a gift certificate to buy tickets for the train, and it took him two years to actually use them.

But the trip was worth the wait.  My dad used his gift certificate and bought us first-class tickets for the afternoon train.  My niece got to ride for free with her "first-class toddler" ticket.

Again, I was having so much fun catching up with my family, I didn't take very many photos.  I did get this picture of the Des Moines River Valley as we went over the Kate Shelley high bridge.  The train engine let off a puff of steam so we could see a rainbow over the valley.

I thought I'd share just a few tips if you are planning a trip on the Scenic Valley Railroad. (I could tell by all the out-of-town license plates that it's a pretty popular tourist attraction.)

I would recommend spending the extra money for a first-class ticket.  The first-class car is a double-decker, and it was fun to take a seat up above. We also found out the first-class section is air-conditioned, which was nice since it was a little warm that day.

Also, there were four different train rides on the day we visited, so it was hard to find a parking spot.  I ended up parking on the street.

We got there a couple hours early and decided to eat lunch at the concession stand. But the concession stand was tiny and only offered hot dogs and brats for lunch.  When we ordered hot dogs, the volunteer behind the counter took four huge, frozen-solid hot dogs out of the freezer, and then microwaved them as we watched!  We couldn't believe that she had to microwave the hotdogs! And the hot dogs weren't cooked through when she served them.

I don't blame the volunteer; she probably had the worst job of the day, because there were a lot of people at the concession stand and she was working by herself.  But if you do go and want to have lunch, I recommend bringing your own food and eating at the picnic tables in the adjacent park.  Just a suggestion if you plan your own visit.  There is a dinner train at night that serves a meal from Hy-Vee, but we really enjoyed the afternoon ride.

It was a great family trip, and as you can see, my niece seemed to enjoy the day.  She even slept on the train!

Have you ever been on the Scenic Valley Railroad or another passenger train excursion?  What did you think of the trip?

Monday, November 4, 2013

Pumpkin bread & autumn in Iowa

I think I've mentioned before that I'm trying to focus my time on family favorite recipes.  Now that canned pumpkin is on sale at the local grocery store, I'm baking up loaves of pumpkin bread to freeze and share with my family.  I can't believe how many recipe variations there are for simple pumpkin bread!  I finally settled on the version I found from Better Homes and Gardens.  It has my favorite fall spices -- nutmeg and cinnamon (I can't believe some pumpkin bread recipes don't have cinnamon!).  It also uses vegetable oil instead of shortening. 

It's a great recipe. My only complaint is I don't think my old oven is working right.  It takes forever to bake anything lately, including these pumpkin bread loaves.  And by the time it was finally cooked through the middle, the outside was a little dark and dry.  We probably should replace our oven, but we've got so many other projects on our list right now!

Before I share the recipe, I thought it would be fun to show off my neighborhood in the fall.  I live in a small town with a lot of old, large trees, and each tree turns a different color.

 Unfortunately, I also have quite a few leaves to rake up!

The first freezing night finally arrived two weeks ago.  I picked the few last flowers from my garden before they were gone.

For Halloween this year, I made the popcorn ball recipe from Two Chicks from the Sticks.  It was my first attempt at making popcorn balls, and they were so good!  They tasted like caramel popcorn.  You can buy the Two Chicks cookbook here.

Here's the pumpkin bread recipe, if you want to try it at home.  Enjoy!


Pumpkin bread

  • 3-1/3 C. flour
  • 2 tsp. baking soda
  • 2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1-1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. nutmeg
  • 1-1/2 C. sugar
  • 1-1/2 C. brown sugar
  • 1 C. vegetable oil
  • 4 eggs
  • 2/3 C. water
  • One 15-oz. can pumpkin

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease the bottom and 1/2 inch up the sides of two 9x5x3-inch pans, three 8x4x2-inch or four 7-1/2 x 3-1/2 x 2-inch loaf pans; set aside. In a large bowl, stir together flour, baking soda, 2 tsp. cinnamon, salt and nutmeg; set aside.

In an extra-large mixing bowl, beat granulated sugar, brown sugar and oil with an electric mixer on medium speed until combined. Add eggs; beat well. Alternately add flour mixture with the water to egg mixture, beating on low speed after each addition just until combined. Beat in pumpkin. Spoon batter into the prepared loaf pans, spreading evenly.

Bake for 55 to 60 minutes for 9x5-inch loaves, 45 to 50 minutes for 8x4-inch loaves, 40 to 45 minutes for 7-1/2 x 3-inch loaves, or until a wooden toothpick inserted near the centers comes out clean.

Cool in pans on wire racks for 10 minutes. Remove from pans. Cool completely on wire racks. Wrap and store overnight.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Homemade pretzels

Pretzels must be a hot food trend right now, because I've been seeing them everywhere -- in cooking magazines, on fast-food menus, at the grocery store bakery.  I took a few days off of work earlier this fall and decided to try a pretzel recipe I found in the latest issue of Hy-Vee's Seasons magazine.

I was surprised by how easy this recipe is. I mixed and kneaded the dough in my Kitchenaid mixer.  (Thanks again to my parents & sister for giving me the mixer for my birthday!)  The dough rose beautifully.  The hardest part was rolling out the pretzels. I don't have enough counter space to roll out the dough in long ropes.  So my pretzels puffed up quite a bit in the oven and ended up looking more like pretzel rolls than knots.

My hubby got the bright idea to turn the pretzels into hamburger buns. He made blue-cheese mushroom burgers (with Maytag blue cheese).  So good!

You can find the Hy-Vee Seasons pretzel recipe here:

Have you ever made homemade pretzels?  Do you have any tips for shaping the pretzels?  I'm definitely going to try this again, now that I know how easy it really is.
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