Wrapping Up 2016

A camping Christmas trip with our family ended 2016 in a delightful way!

2016 is now in the “books,” and 2017 has already seen our first snow of the winter season and of the new year.  Thankfully, it was nothing like the mega storm that introduced 2016 to us, and we only received about an inch this time.  My back starts hurting just looking again at some of the photos from last January and remembering all the snow Hubby and I shoveled for three straight days.  Ugh!

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Girly Girl had lots of fun in the foot of snow we received the first week of January in 2016.
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The foot of snow caused lots of issues for the next two weeks in our city and area, but it was so very pretty, too.

It’s been several weeks since my last post, but all is well, good in fact.  I just took a little break to enjoy the Christmas season and take a few things “off my plate” for a bit.  I also had more holiday prep work to do this year, due to our ten day Christmas and New Years trip to the mountains of far West Texas.

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Spending “golden hour” at the top of Skyline Drive on Christmas Evening with my family is a precious memory now.  We captured some great photos of family and scenery here.
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Sunset at Davis Mountain State Park on Christmas evening with historic Indian Lodge in the distance was absolutely gorgeous.  We had the view all to ourselves, something I will always remember fondly.  This was literally the last ray of sunshine on Christmas Day. 😉

 

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The Belt of Venus is always so beautiful in this area, and it was lovely once again on Christmas evening.

All our kids joined us for a long Christmas weekend in the Davis Mountains, and they all departed for home on Tuesday afternoon after lunch, driving to El Paso together then catching their respective flights.  It was a most enjoyable holiday for me, and I think for all of us.  After all, what mama doesn’t like to have all her kiddos with her for the holidays?

We secured our daughter and son-in-law a room at the historic Indian Lodge (see photos below) during their stay, which was just a mile away from our RV in the state park, and our son stayed with us in the RV.  With all the additional space inside now, as compared to our previous RV, we were all quite comfortable, even with the dogs who slept on their nice, new beds next to him.

By cooking some dishes ahead of time, I was able to serve all our favorite holiday foods in the RV… tamales for Christmas Eve, sausage toasts and eggs for Christmas morning, and ham, turkey, cornbread dressing, black-eyed peas, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce and yeast rolls for Christmas dinner.  We even enjoyed a Christmas morning picnic together at our site for breakfast, which was a real treat!  Truly, the weather was gorgeous the entire week we were there.

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Our festive picnic table at our site for Christmas.  Snoopy and Woodstock helped to light up the holiday nights at our site, along with three mason jar lanterns on the table.

 

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It was a real treat to have a visit from several mule deer late each afternoon during our vacation week, with our first visit on Christmas Day!  We also saw several javelina at our campsite on our first night, as well as some great birds all over the park during our stay.

Following our picnic breakfast, we opened gifts inside the RV in our comfortable living area, which was so much fun.  As usual, the dogs each had a gift of their own to start things off, and I can say that we all received some very nice gifts.  My family was especially good to me, but the real treat for me was just having everyone together for a few days of fun.

The weather was gorgeous in far West Texas the entire week we were there, which certainly helped make our trip more manageable and truly enjoyable.  We even ran our air conditioner for a bit on a few afternoons, too.  I’m sure some friends may think we’ve lost our minds spending the holidays in our RV, but we enjoyed our time in the Davis Mountains with our family more than anything we’ve done for the holidays in many years.  With all the cooking done ahead of time, meals were easy and tasty with minimal clean-up needed afterward, leaving quality time for visiting, hiking and playing games together.

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My long, long shadow during a walk in the park late on Christmas afternoon.  I feel so at home here now and have even entertained the thought of retiring in this very remote area that holds some family history for me.

After the kids left, Hubby and I enjoyed a few days all by ourselves, followed by two days with two friends who made their first trip to the area for the New Year’s weekend in their RV, the same friends we’ve started traveling with a bit over the past year.  We enjoyed showing them around, and they also spent some time on their own at the McDonald Observatory, which we have seen many times on previous trips.  Hubby and the friends hiked from the state park to the national park, and I picked them up there after we all toured the fort area together on New Years Eve.

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We always enjoy a quick visit to the national park in Fort Davis.  Just before our trip, I also learned that a family member, now deceased, actually lived at this fort for a time when he was a young boy!

Our holiday trip was pretty much perfect for us, spending time both with family and friends, as well as quality time alone.  We even made new friends, a couple close to our age that just recently started their full-time RV journey, and we exchanged contact information with them.  It was delightful to visit with them off and on all during our vacation week.

Hubby and I opted to dine out a little more on this trip because there are some really good restaurants in town.  Rumor has it we dined at our favorite Mexican food restaurant three times during our week in the area and that our waitress knew what we wanted to order as soon as we sat down on our second and third visits.  We dined there on the evening we arrived with our son, for lunch with all the kids on Tuesday before they left, and again with our friends on New Year’s Eve.

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Cueva De Leon is our favorite restaurant in the area with the best chips and salsa and chile rellenos to die for! 🙂

We also dined at three other restaurants in town during our stay, which was a nice treat for us.  All were very good, and two were new to us.

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We ate lunch at Poco Mexico for the first time… yummy!
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We made a return visit for burgers at the Fort Davis Drug Store and Hotel.  My green chile and Swiss cheese burger with homemade onion rings was awesome!
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We enjoyed delicious panini sandwiches at The Porch, a new restaurant for us that serves breakfast and lunch and is part of the historic Hotel Limpia.

(On a side note, I couldn’t disagree more with the Trip Advisor restaurant ratings for Fort Davis restaurants, especially the #1 pick listed right now.  We’ve tried that place twice and are not at all impressed with it.  We won’t try again.  In our opinion, after many trips to the area, Cueva De Leon is by far the best in town.) 

Hubby and I also drove to both Alpine and Marfa on separate drives.  We had to make a quick trip to Alpine with our son on Christmas Eve morning in search of a new coffee pot, after ours unexpectedly died on us.  Thankfully, we found one at the big hardware store, the last one on the shelf, because we would have had a crisis on our hands without a coffee pot!

Our scenic drive to Marfa on an overcast day after the kids left was nice, and we saw the pretty courthouse there, along with the historic Hotel Paisano and the whimsical El Cosmico campground south of town.  On their drive back to El Paso, the kids stopped for photos at Prada Marfa, too.

Hubby and I also enjoyed a Thursday evening presentation at Indian Lodge where the hotel manager told us all about the history of the lodge from the CCC era to date, and she also pointed out several of the original furniture pieces from that time period, marked by the metal strappings at the bottom of each one.  It was a nice evening with other hotel guests and campers, complete with hot cider and cookies by a warm fire inside.

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I’ve seen this beautiful table at Indian Lodge on each trip to the area, but it was interesting to learn that it is one of the original pieces from the CCC era.

She also shared that Indian Lodge will close in September 2017 for four months for exterior resurfacing, just in case anyone is planning a trip to the area and would like to stay there.

The week prior to our trip was a fun and busy week, too.

Prior to Christmas, I also hosted my second annual cookie swap on the Monday evening before Christmas.  It was a big success once again, with two new participants this year, in addition to those returning from last year’s swap.  This year, we actually decorated cookies together for the first time, and it was so much fun, even though it was more prep work for me.  I think we will have to keep doing this in future years, if only for the laughs… which were many!  Those ladies pretty much destroyed my kitchen decorating cookies, and I would do it again in a heartbeat.

After the cookie swap, I was able to provide some awesome cookie platters to my elderly neighbor, to Hubby’s side of the family during our evening together the next night and to the state park staff on Christmas Eve morning, while also saving lots of cookies for my family to enjoy during our trip, too.

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Christmas cookies are a tradition with us, and swapping cookies with friends makes the tradition even more special.  This tray included cowboy cookies, snickerdoodles, holiday thumbprints, peanut butter with chocolate kisses, cardamom cream cheese cookie press cookies and decorated star sugar cookies that we all decorated together.  I also made a few other types of cookies not shown here, including oatmeal with fresh cranberries and chocolate chip, and I totally hoarded the white chocolate and cranberry cookies that one of the new ladies brought to the exchange!

Just before we departed on our Christmas trip, we spent a delightful evening with Hubby’s side of the family on Tuesday evening, including some family members from the Dallas area.  The big home-cooked meal was a real treat for all of us during those last busy days before Christmas, with meatloaf served as the main entrée.  It was our first opportunity to gather together in our nephew’s new home with his precious wife and girls, and they were good sports to host everyone while still in the process of moving in.  They wouldn’t have it any other way.

I didn’t have an opportunity to celebrate a friends Christmas with my two special friends here before we left on our trip, but we are hoping to finally get together one evening this week.  I have grown accustomed to this fun tradition over more recent years and definitely missed our fun gathering.

I trust you all had a wonderful Christmas and wish you all the best in 2017!

 

Homemade Cornbread Dressing

Make your own tasty dressing instead of buying it at the store!

Years ago, I started making our holiday dressing from scratch, one of the best decisions I’ve ever made as far as our holiday menu each year.  Cornbread dressing has to be one of the most forgiving recipes ever, and anyone can tweak it to their own taste.  Indeed, I think I’ve varied my own recipe just a tad every year, and that is just part of the fun of making it.

Today, I’m sharing my dressing recipe, along with photos of each step.

  • Steps in Part 1 of this process can be done ahead of time to save time on the day the meal is to be served.
  • Steps in Part 2 are best done on the day the meal is served. 

Part 1 (Advance Preparation)

In my previous post, I shared the first aromatic step in making this dressing, sautéing the Creole mirepoix (meer-PWAH).  While this recipe can certainly be tweaked in many ways, omitting a basic mirepoix of onion and celery with another ingredient would be a mistake, since this is the foundation of the dish as far as flavor.  For several years, I just used diced onion and celery, but more recently, I have added diced red bell pepper to the mix because it adds even more flavor and also some nice color.

The mirepoix for the dressing consists of one large sweet onion, the green stalks of a bunch of celery (not the tougher white parts) and one large red bell pepper, all chopped finely by hand or in a food processor.  The mirepoix is then sautéed in about two tablespoons of Land O’ Lakes soft butter/canola oil, but feel free to just use butter or oil, if you desire.

Good cornbread is the base of the dressing, and I prepare two boxes of Jiffy Cornbread Mix.  Jiffy cornbread is actually a traditional family dish and the only cornbread my mother ever baked.  She also added a little sugar to her cornbread, and I’ve been known to do that a few times myself.  For this recipe, I follow the recipe on the box, which calls for one egg and 1/3 cup of whole milk per box, doubling those for this recipe.

The cornbread can be baked as desired, but I start mine on the stove on medium high heat in an enameled cast iron skillet that has been warmed to 400 degrees in the preheated oven.  Before adding the cornbread mix to the skillet, I melt two tablespoons of Land O’ Lakes butter with canola oil in the skillet, but butter or oil alone would be fine, too.  Allow the mix to heat on the stove for only one minute, no longer, then transfer the skillet to the 400 degree oven for twenty minutes or until the cornbread is thoroughly done in the middle, using the toothpick test.

Cornbread is a real treat for me these days, as I have to follow a low-carb diet most of the time.  So, when I make it, I want it to be pretty much perfect.  This method of preparation is the best I’ve ever found, as the cornbread has a little crunch on the bottom and is evenly cooked throughout.

Isn’t this a beautiful… gorgeous… lovely sight?

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Cornbread, baked to perfection!
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The cornbread turns out to a plate with ease
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I confess. I ate a warm piece. Cooks prerogative.

I could have just stopped right there and eaten the whole thing!  Seriously.

After letting the cornbread cool, crumble it into a bowl or large pan and leave it on the kitchen counter covered by a paper towel for one or two days.  I used a pan with more surface area to allow it to dry out a little faster.  If pressed for time, use the oven at 250 degrees to help the cornbread dry out faster, stirring it every ten minutes until it is a bit crunchy but retains some moisture, too.

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Crumbled cornbread dries for one or two days on the counter or faster in a low oven

Adding one pound of cooked pork breakfast sausage is an optional step, but it is a requirement for us because it adds even more flavor and helps keep the dressing moist.  Simply cook a pound of regular sausage, then drain it thoroughly on paper towels, removing as much fat as possible.  Store the sausage in a sealed container in the refrigerator until the day to make the dressing or in the freezer if making the dressing more than two days later.

At this point, I add some finely diced fresh parsley.  It adds a subtle flavor and also adds some color, complimenting the red bell pepper nicely, and I store it in a sealed container in the refrigerator until I’m ready to make the dressing.

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Several sprigs of finely diced fresh parsley

 

Part 2 (Assemble and bake)

On Thanksgiving, all that is left to do is combine the pre-prepared ingredients with the seasonings and chicken broth, then bake the dressing in the oven.  Yes, that’s it!  Easy peasy.

Combine the cornbread, mirepoix, sausage and parsley, then add most of a 32 oz. carton of chicken broth, reserving just a bit of the broth.  Add seasoned salt and poultry seasoning, sprinkling both generously over the top, then stir well to combine.  Feel free to taste test and add seasoning as desired, being careful to not over-season the mix.  I don’t add pepper but some other people include it.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and place the empty baking dish in the oven to also preheat.  I used an enameled cast iron baking dish.  When the oven and baking dish are preheated, remove the dish from the oven and spray it with non-stick spray.  (Don’t spray the dish before pre-heating it.)

Pour the dressing mix into the pre-heated dish, smooth it out, then bake it at 350 degrees for thirty minutes.  At that point, remove the dressing from the oven and stir it thoroughly, then bake it for fifteen minutes or more until it reaches your desired consistency.

I love, love, love this dressing!

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The finished product… oh, how I love this!

I can make a meal on this dressing and nothing else.  It’s that good.

As I said earlier, dressing is a very forgiving dish to make.  If your dressing is a bit dry, just add a little more chicken broth and heat it a bit longer.  Take it to new levels by adding even more tasty ingredients, like sautéed diced mushrooms or finely diced jalapeno pepper

For this dish, I do not recommend adding any other types of bread other than cornbread, but feel free to give it a try if you’re feeling especially adventurous.  The consistency and flavor of the cornbread is what makes this dish, in my opinion.  If you opt to use other breads in place of part of the cornbread, just be sure to dry them out as much as possible before making the dressing.

Here is the complete list of ingredients.  Just read back through this post for the preparation instructions.  Enjoy!

Southern Cornbread Dressing

For the Mirepoix:
one large sweet onion

one bunch of celery (use only green stalks)
one large red bell pepper, seeded and cored
two tablespoons Land O’ Lakes butter/canola oil spread

For the cornbread:
two boxes Jiffy Cornbread Mix
two extra large eggs
2/3 cup milk
two tablespoons Land O’ Lakes butter/canola oil spread

one pound regular pork breakfast sausage

7-8 stalks of parsley leaves, diced

poultry seasoning (to taste)

seasoned salt (to taste)

 32 oz. box regular chicken broth 
(if using low sodium broth, use a little more seasoned salt or regular salt)

 non-stick spray for the bottom of the baking dish

I use enameled cast iron dishes (pre-heated) to bake both the cornbread and the dressing for best results.  If using other non-heated baking dishes, cooking times may take a bit longer.

Happy Thanksgiving cooking!  Savor every moment of the fun!  🙂

 

Creole Mirepoix

The start to so many great dishes!

I’m not sure I enjoy savoring anything more than the colorful look and the fragrant aroma of a nice Mirepoix (meer-PWAH).  My personal favorite is a creole variation with red bell pepper, and I also like equal parts celery and onion in mine.

Sautéing mirepoix is the first step in making our traditional Southern cornbread dressing, and I’m pleased to share these photos today as a part of the daily prompt, “aromatic.”  I only wish I could also share the actual aroma here, too.  Ahhhh!

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Even though we will be dining out with family and friends this Thanksgiving, I still had to make a pan of our traditional dressing because it just wouldn’t be Thanksgiving to me without it, even if we enjoy it in the days after the holiday.

Dressing is not difficult to make, and over the past few years, I’ve convinced a few friends to ditch the store-bought dressings in favor of their own homemade versions, especially since most everything can be done ahead of time.  Tomorrow, I hope to share my recipe here, complete with step-by-step photos, but today, I will just enjoy the aroma of this fabulous mirepoix!

via Daily Prompt: Aromatic

 

Around Angel Fire

So much fun, so little time!

In my previous posts, I’ve shared some of our adventures in the Enchanted Circle area of New Mexico.  Most of these were places that we visited on day trips away from our RV base camp at Angel Fire, but today, I want to share about our fun time in Angel Fire.  I previously shared about our visit to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, which is located just outside Angel Fire, too.

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New Mexico’s Famous Enchanted Circle

We stayed six days and five nights at Angel Fire RV Resort, which is part of Angel Fire Resort properties.  This year-round RV park opened in May 2015, and it sits a few miles away from town, just off Highway 64.  We were referred to this park by another RV friend who was quite impressed by it on a previous trip, and we opted to stay here because it was also centrally located for day trips to Taos, Eagle Nest and Red River.

The best option for us to drive to the area was Highway 64 from Cimarron, and the pass between Cimarron and Eagle Nest was very do-able in the RV, although *very* crowded with traffic on Labor Day with many people leaving the Enchanted Circle area to go home.

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Angel Fire RV Resort – one of the pretty paths in the park

Angel Fire RV Resort guests are granted full access to all resort amenities, no matter where they are located in the area.

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Angel Fire Resort Hotel at the ski area. RV Resort guests are permitted to use all resort facilities, even at the hotel.

Hubby played golf at the resort on our first day in the area and received a discount, and we were also given two free passes to ride the chairlift to the top of the ski mountain, compliments of the resort, worth $24.  It’s definitely worth taking these free and discounted items into account when deciding where to park the RV in this area.

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Gorgeous flowers were all around the RV park, and we felt that we were camping in a flower garden.

RVs older than ten years must be pre-approved to stay at Angel Fire RV Resort.  Since ours is more than ten years old, I sent a few photos to the RV resort office by email, and we were immediately approved for our stay.  I will also share that this is definitely the most expensive RV park we have ever stayed in at about $70 per night, but after our awesome experience there, we would do it again in a heartbeat for a special vacation week such as this.  If we took a nice vacation, stayed in a hotel and boarded the dogs, we would spend almost $60 per night just on boarding, so being able to bring them along on a nice vacation helped to justify this nightly rate.  Plus, we had them along for the fun!  After all, we are dog people.

We truly loved the spectacular views from the park, especially on the surreal foggy mornings we enjoyed our first few days there.

All the RV park amenities can be found on their website.  What we enjoyed the most was the pad site itself (long and level), nice views of the area, gated security (since it is just off a busy road), outdoor hot tub, gorgeous landscaping everywhere in the park and the big, grassy “Bark Park” to let our dogs run off-leash a few times each day, which was a lot of fun for all of us.

While this is already a beautiful RV park with amazing landscaping and flowers, it’s going to be even more beautiful in a few years as the trees grow taller.  There are a lot of trees in the park, and it should be a stunning place, for sure.

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View of Angel Fire Ski Area from our RV site, slightly zoomed in
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Evenings were just beautiful as the sun set with a mostly unobstructed view of the brilliant colors

The large conference center on property is really nice.  It also houses another camper restroom/shower facility with an outside entrance.  This was the closest restroom/shower facility for us, and we opted to shower there on two days, just because it was so very nice!  Just outside the center, we also enjoyed simply rocking in the nice wooden rockers in the evening after the campfire was lit.

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Conference center in the RV park for gatherings and concerts

To say the pups were happy at the “Bark Park” is an understatement!  Next time, I will bring their Frisbee along.  Having this nice dog park made us realize how much we wish other RV parks would consider adding one, too.

On the food front, there is a nice, well-stocked grocery store in Angel Fire, which is good to know since we discovered that there are only a few restaurants in the area.  On the morning we departed for home, we also filled the RV with gas at a pump at the grocery store, too.

We dined out twice in Angel Fire and certainly enjoyed our food both times.  We enjoyed a good pizza at Angel Fired Pizza for lunch.  This restaurant is located on the second floor of a shopping center next to the grocery store, and we had a great view of the ski mountain as we dined.  We also ate breakfast at The Bakery and Café at Angel Fire on our last full day in the area, and it was so good!  I had a huge breakfast burrito, and it was almost more than I could eat, but somehow, I managed to eat the whole thing.  They are not open for dinner, just breakfast and lunch.

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My huge breakfast burrito at Angel Fire Bakery and Café with green chile gravy and salsa on the side.  I. Ate. Every. Bite!

Trails in the Angel Fire area allow dogs, something that is actually a bit rare for many areas in New Mexico.

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Deer Trail in Angel Fire
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Trailhead in Angel Fire

We really enjoyed hiking one of the resort trails with the dogs one cool morning, and this trailhead is located just behind the Angel Fire Visitor’s Center in town.

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Hiking on a clear, cool morning with the dogs

The resort golf course is very pretty and is located just outside town.  Hubby enjoyed playing the course, even though some brief rain showers interrupted play for a bit.

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Angel Fire Country Club
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Driving range

The resort lake, which is just past the golf course, is also a pretty place to visit, picnic, fish or rent a paddle boat.

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Monte Verde Lake – Angel Fire Resort

One of the highlights of our trip was using our complimentary tickets from the resort and riding the chair lift to the top of the ski area.  In years gone by, we brought our kids skiing here on a few occasions with other families from our church, so it was a bit surreal to ride the chairlift with no snow on the ground below us.  It was even more awesome to ride it back down with the fabulous views of Angel Fire below us, growing closer and closer as we approached the base of the lift.  Truly, the views riding back down were just fabulous!

In the warmer months, Angel Fire Ski Resort transitions to Angel Fire Bike Park, offering a large selection of downhill bike trails.

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Big map at the top of the mountain

On the Friday we visited, there were several cyclists riding the chair lift up with their special bikes to ride the trails back to the bottom, and I admit that it looked like a lot of fun, too.  The trails are rated by difficulty, just like the ski trails in winter.  We could probably ride the green trails and may have to give this a try before we get much older.  If we opt to do that, we will rent our bikes and other gear at one of the local shops nearby.

We dined at the outdoor grill at the top of the mountain for lunch.  On the day we were there is was not too crowded, so it was a pleasant experience for us with great views.

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View of Eagle Nest Lake and the town of Eagle Nest from the top of the ski mountain
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Lunch cooked outside at the top of the mountain made for a great dining experience

At the top of the mountain resides an 18-hole disc golf course.  We walked over to the first two holes after lunch, and it looks like a lot of fun.  Just be aware that the altitude might take a bit to get used to.  I started to feel pretty lightheaded while we were there, so we decided to forego any further exploration and head back down the mountain.

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Map of the 18 hole disc golf course at the top of the mountain
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Look at the rough on this Frisbee golf course!

The resort also offers a zip line at the top of the mountain for those inclined to even more adventure.  I’m not sure I’m ready for something like this, but I might could be talked into it, too.

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Zip Line at Angel Fire Ski Resort – It’s straight down the mountain from here!

We also made a quick afternoon drive to check out Coyote Creek State Park to the south of Angel Fire.  This state park is remote, very pretty and has some hookups, but I doubt we ever take our RV there, since RVs are not permitted on the road between the park and Angel Fire… and for good reason.  Vehicles over ten feet are not permitted on this road that is quite narrow in one stretch.  Visitors to this state park must drive their RVs in from the south instead.

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Entrance to Coyote Creek State Park, south of Angel Fire
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A few RV sites on the river at Coyote Creek State Park

The drive to and from the state park was beautiful on a narrow and winding road through the tall trees, and we even stopped at one pullout to let the dogs get in the creek.

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Old abandoned log cabins on our drive

Girly Girl jumped right in the water, but Big Red wanted none of it.  Fortunately, we brought along some old towels on the drive.  Carry old towels is something we actually do most of the time when on vacation, especially when bringing the dogs with us.

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Big Red wouldn’t get in the water
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Girly Girl has always loved playing in the water and jumped right in

We had a great time re-visiting this area after many years and look forward to returning again in the future.  Our experience with Angel Fire RV Resort was so good that I suspect we will continue to base camp there, even if we stop over at Cimarron Canyon State Park for a night or two and maybe a night at Eagle Nest Lake State Park on the way next time.  I also hope to spend a little more time in Taos and Red River next time, if possible, especially Taos.

We didn’t actually drive the Enchanted Circle highway between Taos and Questa, and that was our plan for this trip due to time constraints.  On a future trip, we hope to complete the circle and visit that area, too.

I have one more post to share to complete my posts on this great trip, sharing some sights we saw on our drive to this area, especially Capulin Volcano National Monument in northern New Mexico.  Look for that one soon!

For more good, detailed information on visiting the Enchanted Circle, please check out the article below.

Legends of America – Enchanted Circle Scenic Byway

Wordless Wednesday – Birthday (Cup)Cake

Possibly the best chocolate cake I’ve ever eaten, delivered fresh to me by a dear friend on Monday!

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Decorated Valentine’s Day Cookies

Ten dozen pretty decorated cookies for family and friends!

I’ve missed baking and decorating cookies.  During the Christmas holidays, when I normally take on this special project for friends and family gifts, my right hand was hurting too much to even consider decorating so many cookies at once.  So, for that reason, I took a pass on the project and hoped to take it on for Valentine’s Day.  Happily, my hand is quite a bit better now, and I was able to bake and decorate about ten dozen cookies over the past few days.

This is also the first time that I have made cookies for Valentine’s Day gifts, and I must say that I like decorating them for this special holiday as much as I like decorating them for Christmas.  I opted to stick with heart shapes to help keep things a bit more simple.  After baking the first large batch and experimenting with different ways to decorate them, I quickly discovered that one particular cutout shape was by far my favorite.  So, for the final large batch, I only made cookies with that shape – a medium heart cutout with a pretty scalloped edge.

These are vanilla-almond sugar cookies and are so tasty, even without icing.  I also add a little almond flavoring to my royal icing before thinning it for piping and flooding the cookies.  The heart flowers are quite simple to do.  Just layer three dots of flood icing on top of each other, then drag a toothpick from top to bottom through the center of each one in one slightly curved motion.  I varied the heart flower designs on most of the cookies, just to see what each different combination would look like, and there are many combinations that I like in the bunch!

Here are the results of this year’s big cookie project!  I had so much fun that I’m thinking about doing Easter cookies this year, too, if I can find some cute cutouts soon.

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Four different heart cutouts (Wilton brand)
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The second large batch made 62 cookies.

 

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This is my favorite design for Valentine’s Day – a heart flower design with three-color flowers!
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My first attempt at “painted” roses.
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Sprinkle cookies are easy to make and are always a hit with kids.
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More flood icing designs
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Some of my favorites – each a bit different
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These were actually for a sweet little girl’s first birthday party and matched the party décor so well.
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My first attempt at a jumbo double cookie was very cute, and next time, I will make it with the three-color heart flowers.
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Two-color heart flowers are cute, too.  The darkest color can be used for either the outer or inner color, resulting in a slightly different effect.
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More two-color heart flowers
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Two-color heart flowers
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Smaller two-color heart flowers
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The first round of gifts are packaged and ready to deliver and mail!
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Ghirardelli dark chocolate chip cookies were a special request by our daughter, and they are now winging their way to California!
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The Best Low-carb Pizza Crust

After much searching, here is a great, low-carb pizza crust recipe!

In a previous post on Tuesday, I shared a photo of our very first “keeper” recipe for a low-carb pizza crust.  This crust is made from riced cauliflower and grated cheese with a variety of spices that makes the flavor of the crust complimentary to the other ingredients added on top.

Prior to trying this recipe, I made a couple of recipes that used almond flour as the primary ingredient in the crust.  Neither of us cared for these crusts, as the almond flavor didn’t seem to work with the savory pizza toppings that we like so much, and we also did not care for the consistency.  We actually just scraped off the toppings and left the crust on our plates.

Over the past few weeks, I have been searching for a low-carb crust recipe that might actually work for us.  I knew that a cauliflower crust would most likely work with our personal tastes, as long as the consistency and flavor worked with our pizza toppings, too.  On Monday, after narrowing down the search to two basic recipes that were almost identical, I decided to give it a try.

I bought a large head of cauliflower with the intention of making two pizza crusts, rather than just one.  While I was giving this a try, it made sense to make one crust, then make a second one with some adjustments if I felt that the first one wasn’t quite up to our expectations.  If both turned out well, we would have a spare crust to freeze and use for another meal later on.  This was a good strategy, and thankfully, the first one came out very well.  I simply repeated the process for the second crust, and it turned out nicely, too.

One of the most important things to do in this recipe is to drain as much liquid from the cooked cauliflower as possible before adding the other ingredients.  This takes a few minutes, but it is an essential step.

I followed the directions and used a kitchen tea towel.  I measured out the cooked, riced cauliflower and used three cups in each crust, and I highly recommend measuring it out, rather than eyeballing it.  I didn’t pack it down, just spooned it into the measuring cup.  I also did not add the optional tablespoon of almond flour, since my goal was to keep the almond flavor out of the crust completely.

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The first crust s ready to go in the oven. I pressed it out to about 10″ in diameter, and that is as thin as I would recommend for one recipe. I actually dried out the cauliflower a little more for the second crust. Practice makes perfect! 😉

 

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The first crust s ready to go in the oven. I pressed it out to about 10″ in diameter, and that is as thin as I would recommend for one recipe. I actually dried out the cauliflower a little more for the second crust. Practice makes perfect! 😉

The crust turned out pretty much perfect, and even though I didn’t give it a try, I think this recipe might even make a nice faux flatbread to cut and eat with another entrée, especially one with Italian flavors.

We topped our lovely pizza with a quick sauce that I made by mixing a regular can of tomato sauce and a tiny can of tomato paste, since I never buy pre-made pizza or spaghetti sauce anymore.  I did not have sugar-free tomato sauce, so I just used the sauce a little sparingly.  Also, not listed in the original recipe, I sprinkled some Italian seasoning over the sauce before adding the other pizza toppings, then added a layer of grated mozzarella cheese.  We then added sliced pepperoni, a little crumbled sausage, black olives and a sliced fresh jalapeno, seeded.  Finally, we topped off our pizza with some fresh grated parmesan.  I love to have both mozzarella and parmesan cheeses on a pizza.

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Our tasty pizza is ready to go back in the oven for about five minutes at 450 degrees.

Since the crust was already baked, the pizza with toppings only needed to bake about five more minutes in the 450 degree oven.  I added the fresh basil leaves to the top after removing it from the oven.

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Lastly, we topped our delicious and healthy pizza with some fresh chopped basil.

It was pretty funny as we sat at our dinner table and tasted our new pizza at the same time.  I wanted to wait to share my own reaction and thoughts until I saw what Hubby thought of it.  Bless his heart, sometimes he will compliment my cooking even when he probably shouldn’t, so I wanted to try to get an honest reaction from him.  It didn’t take long, maybe two bites, before he shared that he really liked it!  I agreed, and we proceeded to eat the whole thing, along with our side salads.  If I had made the second pizza, we might have eaten it, too!  It was that good, and we have definitely missed eating good pizza.  I honestly believe that we would not have known this was a low-carb option if we judged it only by the taste, especially since we like the thinner crust anyway.

Next time, I may try to put the baked crust under the broiler for a minute or so, just to crisp it up a bit more, since that is how we tend to like our crusts, thin and just slightly crisp but not overcooked.  I may also try adding a little more grated parmesan cheese to the crust batter.  The other recipe that I found was pretty much identical to this one but had 1.5 cups of this cheese, not just 1/4 cup.  I don’t think it needs that much cheese, but a little more might just make it even tastier!  (Grated parmesan cheese baked in the oven makes tasty snack crackers that are perfect on a low-carb diet.  I buy them at our local deli.)

One more nice thing about this crust is its low cost.  I calculated the cost of each crust right at $1.  I’m all about saving a little money where I can, for sure.

Here is the link to the original site where this recipe was posted on The Lucky Penny Blog.

The BEST Cauliflower Pizza Crust

This recipe has also turned up on Pioneer Woman’s “Tasty Kitchen” site, with a reference back to the original post. This crust, or a variation of it, honestly seems to be one of the more widely used low-carb pizza crusts now, for good reason.  While it took me a little more time to make it on this first attempt, it will definitely go faster next time.

Going forward, I will make several crusts at once and freeze the other baked crusts for future use.  If I had to make a crust from scratch like this every time we want a pizza, I probably wouldn’t go to the effort, but making several at once makes perfect sense.  I can’t wait to actually have pizza on one of our future RV trips, too!  What a treat that will be for us.  I also plan to experiment with this recipe as a standalone flatbread, too.

Where there is a will, there is usually a way, and I’m glad that I kept searching for such a great pizza crust option that works for us.

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