Baking soft pretzels, not as hard as you might think!

After a recent trip to Philadelphia, the land of soft pretzels, I came across the recipe for Alton Brown’s soft pretzels and figured it was a sign that I should make them. The technique is fairly straightforward, make the dough, let it rise, divide and roll it out, form pretzels, dunk in pretzel bath, apply egg wash, and bake.
The only change I recommend is to divide the dough into 12 or 16, instead of 8 if you don’t want enormous pretzels. I found it was easiest to hold the dough in the air and roll between my hands rather than try to roll on the counter.
The result was delicious and I will definitely make them again!
I also whipped up a batch of roasted poblano queso for a dip and highly recommend it.






Kale and caramelized onion stuffing

Two thanksgivings ago, I made a bread pudding as our stuffing for thanksgiving. It was delicious, rich, cheesy, bready… but it wasn’t exactly stuffing. So this year, I went the opposite direction and found a stuffing without any cheese, yet it was still moist and flavorful. Kale and caramelized onion stuffing from the Smitten Kitchen. In the version I cooked up, I used slightly less olive oil, added a bag of sliced cremini mushrooms, and went the vegetable broth route. It was awesome and the caramelized onions were so so good.

First, I shaved off the crust of the sourdough loaf and cut it up to toast. It was a few days old and quite hard to get the crust off actually, but in the end you couldn’t tell at all.


I actually caramelized the onions the day before I put together the stuffing since they take so long to cook down.


On thanksgiving I finished assembling the stuffing and baked it. So much delicious kale, mushrooms and onions!


A Cornucopia Thanksgiving Feast

The cover of this year’s Thanksgiving issue of Vegetarian Times had the loveliest food I’ve ever seen: a bread cornucopia stuffed with colorful roasted vegetables. I knew I had to have it, so I made one for Thanksgiving! I mean, vegetables and bread are my two favorite things to eat, so there was really no way I wasn’t going to try it.

I started off following the dough recipe for the cornucopia. The dough rises overnight in the fridge into a massive amount so make sure you use a large bowl.


To create the cone of the cornucopia, you have to form a cone out of poster board and then cover it in foil and cooking spray.


I then used sections of the dough to roll it out into rectangular sheets, cutting 20″ x 1.5″ strips and then wrapping them around the cone while it was standing up, starting the bottom. The last bit of dough was used to create 3 additional strips and braid them. I laid the cornucopia on its side and then added the braided strip, so it did not go all the way around.


The cone then went into the oven. About half way, I had to remove the foil / posterboard cone from the dough, which was not the easiest thing to do.

In the meantime, we prepped many colorful veggies to prepare using the recipe Fork and Knife Roasted Vegetables. We used mushrooms, acorn squash, butternut squash, purple sweet potato, onion, and cauliflower. We also made the recommended Essence of Thanksgiving Gravy.


We very carefully transported the cooled cornucopia to our friend’s house, and kept the veggies in a separate container until it was time to put everything together on the table. Thanksgiving-16

I was soooo pleased with the final result. And it was good too, not just pretty! Everyone ate a bit of the cornucopia bread, and we even took home the leftovers and continued to eat the bread with our thanksgiving leftovers until it was gone.Thanksgiving-17Thanksgiving-18

A most delicious fresh fig tart



Back when we had figs ripening like mad, I came across a recipe from Vegetarian Times for a Lavender and Fig Tart with Goat Cheese Cream, and oh man was it worth the effort. It was a super big hit at a party, the first food to completely disappear.

The only change I made was to use thyme instead of lavender, since we had that in abundance in our garden.


The hardest part of the recipe was dealing with the puff pastry, something I had no experience with.


After you bake it, you have to cut along the edges to create the crust and then press down the middle. It wasn’t too bad, but of course mine wasn’t as pretty as the magazine picture.


We had on over-abundance of figs at the time, so I really loaded up the tart.



The final step was drizzling with a sweetened balsamic and thyme mixture. I can’t wait to make this recipe again next year!FigTart-6

The cutest ornaments: Almond shell birds

My handmade holiday ornaments for last year were these little almond shell birds, and they were a big hit. I followed the instructions pretty much line by line, but instead of shellac to seal my almond shells, I used a matte Delta Ceramcoat sealant that I had left over from a wood painting project. I made at least 10 of these little guys and am happy to have a few left over to hang on my tree this year.

We even held a little photoshoot for a few of them:



During the outside portion of the photo shoot, we were photo bombed by my favorite photo bomber. Do you see her?





Acorn jingle bell ornaments

Simple hand-embroidered ornaments

Hand-painted wooden ornaments

Beer cap ornaments

Simple, healthy banana “pancakes”

I’m not sure where I came across this, but if you’re worried about the number of calories (or gluten) in typical pancakes and you like bananas, this recipe is for you. Make banana pancakes by mashing a ripe banana and mixing with two eggs. Add your favorite pancake spices, like cinnamon and vanilla, and then cook like a pancake. Serve with your favorite toppings. I’ve been using honey from our bee hive, my homemade applesauce, and/or strawberry jam. I really enjoy them!


Bike MS Rock’n Hot Ride 2015 Recap – thank you donors!

One week ago we drove 488 miles up to North Little Rock so I could spend Saturday and Sunday riding the Bike MS Rock’n Hot Ride from Little Rock to Hot Springs Village and back. Thanks to all of my friends & family I’ve currently raised $2,791 and am the 4th highest fundraiser for this event! That’s without the $500 match that my employer will make this fall. It means the world to me that so many people chose to donate to the National MS Society in my honor, as I rode in memory of my godmother Barbara Hoffman who passed away last December after a very long battle with progressive Multiple Sclerosis.

Thank you donors! This year’s fundraising brings me up to a lifetime total of $15,460 over the last 8 years!

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We arrived in Arkansas on Friday night at Garver LLC, an engineering firm in North Arkansas that graciously hosted the start on Saturday and the finish on Sunday. This ride only had about 200 riders, so the swag bag was pretty stuffed. The best thing was this awesome top fundraising jersey:


Early Saturday morning I put on that same jersey and we headed back to Garver to the start line. It was just under 60 degrees so I broke out my arm warmers for the first time in many months. They didn’t stay on very long after I started riding.

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Once we rolled out, the route quickly turned onto miles of nicely paved hike and bike trails along the Arkansas River.



I was very impressed by the large pedestrian bridge spanning the river near the dam.





After crossing the long bridge, we rode along the south side of the river before crossing a shorter pedestrian bridge.


After getting off the trails, the cyclists spread out quite a bit and I rode by myself for long stretches. It was a beautiful day for a ride, cool, with very little wind and shady roads.



I was impressed by the number of cyclists I saw out riding on Saturday, including this large group. Given the small size of the MS ride, I hadn’t taken Little Rock for much of a cycling city.


In addition to this Ferrari, there were a ton of motorcycles out driving around. We came to find out later that the Hot Springs Motorcycle Rally was taking place.


Arkansas likes fancy bridges on the country roads.


The first rest stop was at mile 36, basically the half way mark for Saturday’s ride. It was the “lunch stop” so it had a lot of food inside this small little school building.


Look at the small class photos lining the auditorium walls!


Pretty roadside yellow flowers:


Graveyard tucked in under the trees:


Arkansas country side church:


Guys, liquor store 6 miles ahead!


As I mentioned, there were tons of motorcycles out on Saturday, including quite a few trikes and even one weird motorcycle that looked like a sports car in front, sat two people, but had only a single back wheel and looked like a motorcycle from behind. No photo of that unfortunately.


I didn’t realize before Saturday morning that most of the hills on this ride were at the end, after you make the turn into Hot Springs Village. I made the turn, and even then the hills were mild until after the next rest stop.


Hot Springs Village is a gated, huge, retirement community with a ton of amenities and outdoorsy activities.


It had nice bike lanes throughout.


The last few miles just seemed to go up and up, but with a few downhill rollers thrown in to keep my spirits up. At the last rest stop, a boy handed me an orange lei as I pedaled by. I managed to get it over my helmet while riding.


I was so excited to see this sign telling me only one more mile on the Hot Springs Village road!


Shortly after I left the gated community, I made a turn down into a parking lot by the Village Inn where the finish line was setup.


I got off my bike and stopped my Garmin bike computer to be greeted with a message that I set a personal record for climbing, 4,587 feet in one ride! It sure felt like it was concentrated in the last 10 miles. My grand total was 69 miles with an average of 17.5 mph. It was such a great ride!


For the rest of Saturday, we explored Hot Springs in the middle of a crazy motorcycle rally. We had lunch at a brewery in the Superior Bathhouse and then took hot baths at the Buckstaff bathhouse. It was definitely an interesting, and hot, experience that left my body feeling relaxed.


On Sunday morning we woke early and headed back to Hot Springs Village to the start line. It was only 48 degrees! I haven’t ridden in those temperatures since April. Luckily I had packed a few layers to wear along with my Bike MS Sam’s Club Round Up Ride 2014 top fundraiser jersey from last year’s ride.

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After a quick round of announcements, we were on our way back out of Hot Springs Village. The hills out of Hot Springs Village were more down than up so we were really flying. I exited Hot Springs Village with an average speed of over 19 mph!


I might have to retire to this place. So many outdoorsy things to do!


Someone was out early on the golf course playing in the dewy grass.


After exiting Hot Springs Village we turned north and my average speed slowed. Saw a donkey and his friends:



I pulled into my first rest stop at mile 32, at the same school as Saturday. Carl met me here so I could shed some extra layers.


I saw 3 deer high-tailing it across a field towards the road I was riding on. You can just barely make them out between the two trees behind the little pond. While the GoPro takes nice landscape photos it does not zoom at all.


Saw some old fancy cars on a trailer:


Luckily it turned into a warm and lovely day. I rode through a lot of shaded roads.


Many lovely yellow wildflowers along the road:


I met up with two other riders, one of whom works for Orbea, a Spanish bicycle manufacturer that recently set up US headquarters in Little Rock. After many hours of solitary riding between the two days it was nice to chat with friendly locals. In general the volunteers and cyclists in Arkansas were less friendly / talkative than the ones I’ve met in Texas. Approaching the first, smaller, pedestrian bridge:


Crossing the Little Maumelle River, just as it comes into the Arkansas River:


After crossing the bridge we were riding on a combination of bike / hike paths and closed roads:


Riding up onto the second, longer pedestrian bridge spanning the Arkansas River:


Very impressive architecture – the bridge is quite high over the river:




After the bridge, we were almost to the finish line. The route differed from Saturday at this point, curving around behind the Garver building.


And just like that, I was finished!BikeMSRockNHot-8-2

Day 2 was 67.8 miles, 3,684 ft of elevation gain with a 17.2 mph average. I definitely felt the climbing but was able to finish strong and collect my finisher’s medal to add to my collection.


We celebrated with lunch at a brewery in Little Rock (surprise, I know) and a stop at a state park for a short hike.

Thank you again to all of my donors, I am honored by your generosity and am so happy to help the MS Society on the quest to find a cure for MS!

Bike MS final training weekend: Century ride attempt

The Bike MS Rock’n Hot Ride is next weekend and I’m definitely ready! Not only have I hit my fundraising goal thanks to my friends and family, I also rode 100 miles in one day this past Saturday. It was a very tough ride. The heat index over the last few weeks has been reasonable but that all ended in time for my ride this weekend. Saturday’s overwhelming heat and humidity forced me to break the ride into two parts – I stopped at 86 miles of my 100 mile route out to Ink’s Lake State Park when I realized I was battling heat exhaustion, no longer able to eat or drink. My support team (AKA Carl) picked me up and drove me to our appointed meeting spot for swimming and relaxation with our friends. After we made it back to Austin that evening, I rode another 15 miles so that I could officially ride 100 miles in one day. Maybe later this year after the heat calms down I’ll try another 100 mile ride.

Next weekend’s Rock’n Hot ride will be 70 miles with almost 4,000 feet of elevation gain on each Saturday and Sunday . I’d be honored if you would consider making a donation in support of my ride, and in memory of my godmother Barb who passed away in December from progressive Multiple Sclerosis.

In my failed attempt to beat the heat on Saturday, I left our house at 6:30 am, about 45 minutes before sunrise. The sunrise wasn’t particularly exciting, some dreary clouds muted the colors.


The Hutto Lutheran Church:


I saw two different water towers, far apart from one another, labeled Jonah. Must be a brand of water tower?DCIM100GOPRO

Colorful grazing cows:DCIM100GOPRO

A lonely longhorn cow:


The Weir Cemetery:


It’s hard to see, but I saw the banana bike again! Look closely behind the street sign, there’s a normal cyclist and then a yellow oblong shape close to the ground, that’s the banana bike. I’ve seen him on a number of different roads and organized rides. This was just after I passed through Weir.DCIM100GOPRO

Just north of Weir is Walburg, where the main attraction as far as I can tell is the Walburg Biergarten. They take reservations!DCIM100GOPRO

Around mile 40 I turned west and crossed over I35 and rode on the new section of the Ronald Reagan Blvd.


The road has a nice shoulder and many cyclists were out taking advantage of the smooth riding. DCIM100GOPRO

Eventually I crossed 2338 which goes to Georgetown, the previous end of this road.DCIM100GOPRO

This pasture had a donkey, sheep and goats all in one spot:


Another country side cemetery:DCIM100GOPRO

Nice countryside riding:DCIM100GOPRO

There were three different family cemeteries along this one section of road:DCIM100GOPRO

Crossing a small stream:


Bertram was having some sort of festival and there were a bunch of people waiting for the steam train. You can also see a nice new library building to the right of the train station. I had my final water / rest stop in Bertram where Carl called to tell me that the road I planned to ride was a gated, private road (thanks Google!). Heat exhaustion symptoms had kicked in at mile 68, so I was beginning to doubt my ability to make it to 100 miles. DCIM100GOPRO

I went about 10 miles passed Bertram along my route and saw some more churches of course:DCIM100GOPRO

I began to not be able to consume food or drink and was just dumping my water bottle over my head to try to stay cool. Next, I was beginning to feel ill so rather than press my luck I called Carl who was not very far away by car and he picked me up at mile 86. From there we drove to Ink’s Lake to meet friends. It turns out the road I planned to ride into the park on had some extremely nasty hills so I was grateful to be in the air conditioned car. We had a nice time floating in the water, swimming with our dog Molly, and then stopping at Save the World Brewing in Marble Falls. After making it back to Austin and letting the sun go down a bit, I rode around our neighborhood for the final 15 miles.

Some pretty views along the park road:


Bike MS Training: August 29 & 30 – Almost time for Bike MS Rock’n Hot!

Next weekend is my biggest training weekend, the weekend I ride 100 miles, all in one day! The Bike MS Rock’n Hot Ride is the following weekend and it goes from Little Rock, AR to Hot Springs and back over two days. Normally, Bike MS events have a 100 mile option for the Saturday route, but this ride somehow does not. What it does have is a lot of climbing on both days, for a total of 140 miles, and 8,000 feet of elevation gain between the two days. To make up for the lack of a 100 mile option, I will ride 100 next weekend, and it’s going to be a one way ride, so prepare yourself for too many biking photos. This weekend I rode 80 miles out east on familiar roads to get ready and then on Sunday another 40 miles of hills.

This year, I ride Bike MS in memory of my godmother Barbara Hoffman who died of the progressive form of Multiple Sclerosis in December 2014. She was diagnosed with the disease when I was young and I watched it progressively devastate her life from that point on. Please consider supporting my 8th annual Bike MS ride and helping to put an end to MS by donating to the National MS Society.

And now for some photos from my rides. I started out Saturday morning as the sun was rising to beat the heat. The sunrise was lovely because of some wispy clouds in the sky. None of my photos do it justice, of course.


I headed southeast from home and hit a short section of the southern walnut creek trail. If you look closely, you can see a sliver of Decker Lake in this photo.DCIM100GOPRO

Throughout the ride, I saw these white flowers, which looked like wild garlic, except normally a wild garlic stalk is a single stalk. These flowers were part of a many branch stalk plant.DCIM100GOPRO

For the first time I went by the entrance to the Travis County East Metro Park. It was a very nice, new park. I think I’ll take my dog back there for a walk sometime.


There’s a horse hiding in this photo. Can you find it?


I rode on a few roads I’ve never been on before and was chased by 5 dogs! It always is saddening to see that people just let their dogs free range like that. What if they get hit by a car while chasing a cyclist down the street?? I also saw a few tied up to really short chains which makes me even sadder… poor doggies. I didn’t get photos of any of the dogs that chased me since I was busy worrying about whether they were dangerous (they weren’t). I did get a photo of 4 dogs that were properly fenced in and not on short chains. What, you can’t find the 4th? Look up on the porch!


The same section of the ride that had all the dogs also had many chickens. It seemed like every house had a sizable flock. It was a challenge to get a photo of chickens in the yards with my GoPro, but I think this one worked out:


Back to roads I’ve ridden before – and an old rusty bridge next to a new concrete bridge:DCIM100GOPRO

This field had so many giant round hay bales.DCIM100GOPRO

Wispy clouds over a giant country house:DCIM100GOPRO

I went through the small town of Elgin so I could stock up on water. It has a cute little train station in the downtown square.


Saturdays are some sort of market days which were just getting set up when I rode by. On the right is some old canon with a plaque. I should go back and explore sometime.DCIM100GOPRO

Elgin city hall is a lovely brick building:DCIM100GOPRO

Texas country side roads, complete with cow.DCIM100GOPRO

Passed a large group of cyclists:DCIM100GOPRO

The water tower has a smiley face!DCIM100GOPRO

Small town church and water tower in Lund, TX.DCIM100GOPRO

My ride ended on familiar roads, so I didn’t take many more photos. I rode 80 miles, averaging over 16 mpg. It was a good ride and I was thankful for the cool temperatures and cloudy skies on the first part of the ride.

On Sunday, I rode a very familiar route on Loop 360. I’ve been using this for hills often lately so I didn’t take many photos.

At the corner of Amherst and Adelphi, there’s a really lovely new community garden:


Loop 360 houses on the ridge, lit up nicely by the morning sun:DCIM100GOPRO

There looked to be a small brush fire on 360, a collection of fire trucks and police cars were around:DCIM100GOPRO

A small view of downtown:DCIM100GOPRO

Sunday’s ride was a hilly 40 miles.