Category Archives: Travel Tales

My favorite hobby. I would travel all the time if I could afford it. My goal is to visit all 50 US states and most continents (if not countries) in my lifetime. I’m ambitious like that.

Vintage Vanilla Wafer Cake

This is not just a story about a recipe – it’s about a quest. A search and conquer mission. Okay, there IS a recipe, but it’s also about the journey to get here.

vanilla-wafer-cake-sliced

When The Complete Package and I moved to the Austin area last spring, we discovered Opie’s Barbecue in Spicewood, Texas. On a whim, he grabbed a slice of what they called Coca Cola Cake and a new obsession began. Each time we visited, he would look for the cake on the dessert rack, and most of the time it was sold out. Life can be cruel, and missing this cake became a constant topic for him, just as Opie’s famous butterbeans became for me (sold Friday-Sunday only; dine-in only; no whining allowed).

Because the cake became so elusive, I began to dig for recipes. Searches for Coca Cola Cake resulted in chocolate sheet cakes with fudge frosting, which is the traditional Texas way. Those cakes, however, did not resemble Opie’s version in the least. The cake TCP pined for tasted of vanilla, coconut and pecans. It was sold by the slice and slathered in cream cheese frosting. No chocolate. No fudge. No hope in sight. Then I ran across a blog post about a trip through Spicewood and a coca cola cake that prompted the writer to share a memory of her grandmother’s old-fashioned vanilla wafer cake. She included a family recipe, and that’s where I decided to begin.

The first time I made the cake, I followed the recipe exactly and the result was brickish. Too dense, too sweet, and no hint of coca cola anywhere, thus leading to further confusion about why Opie’s would call it such. The second time I made it, I scaled back on the sugar and liquids, reduced a Coke in a saucepan to create a syrup, and glazed the warm bundt with coke syrup before frosting. Result – still brickish, still too heavy, and slightly soggy from the syrup. Two fails in a row, but my mama didn’t raise a quitter.

On my third attempt, I went a completely different route. What the cake lacked was lift. Soft, fluffy lift. It was at that moment that it struck me. What if I added a plain yellow cake mix to the otherwise traditional ingredients? What if I gave up on the cola aspect all together and focused on keeping it simple? Could I use that dusty can of coconut milk in my pantry to boost the overall flavor? What was there to lose in trying? Sometimes one must be bold, or at least willing to fail. Again & again.

The surprising part is that it worked. Not just worked, though. It was delicious. So much so that The Complete Package declared it a winner. And that’s how we came to create our own version of this vintage Vanilla Wafer Cake with a modern twist. Thank you, Betty Crocker.

This comes together quickly, so pre-heat your oven, grease/flour your bundt pan, gather your ingredients and let’s get started.

vanilla-wafer-cake-ingredients

NanaBread’s Vanilla Wafer Cake:

  • 1 box (11 ozs.) Nilla Wafers, crushed
  • 1 bag (7 ozs.) shredded, sweetened coconut
  • 1 1/2 cups pecan pieces
  • 1 box (15.25 ozs.) yellow cake mix
  • 6 whole eggs
  • 1 can (13.5 ozs.) coconut milk  (not reduced fat)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste or vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup raw or granulated sugar (I used raw)

Pre-heat your oven to 350F. Grease and flour a bundt pan and set it aside.

In a food processor, combine the vanilla wafers, coconut and pecans. Pulse until blended to the consistency of coarse sand and no large chunks remain.

vanilla-wafer-cake-processor-collage

Pour the crumb mixture into a large mixing bowl and add the cake mix, eggs, coconut milk, vanilla and sugar. Just dump it all in there. No need to be delicate.

vanilla-wafer-cake-dry-wet

Grab a spatula and stir to combine (no mixer needed), just until all ingredients are moistened. Pour into your prepared bundt pan and smooth out the top.

vanilla-wafer-cake-ready-to-bake

Bake at 350F for 30-35 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean or with a few small crumbs. Keep an eye on it near the end. You don’t want to over-bake this one. Remove from the oven and allow it to cool in the pan for 15 minutes, then invert onto a cake plate and allow it to cool completely.

vanilla-wafer-cake-naked-bundt

I swear, your house will smell like heaven right about now. This cake is good enough to eat as is, but I think we all know everything’s better with cream cheese frosting. I like to keep mine simple.  In a small mixing bowl, combine one 8-oz package of cream cheese and 1/2 a stick of unsalted butter. Allow both to rest at room temperature until softened. Add 1 teaspoon vanilla extract or vanilla bean paste (my favorite), and 1/2 to 1 cup of powdered sugar, depending on how sweet you like it. Whisk until smooth and put it in a bag for piping.

Want a quick tip for piping frosting? I do it with a Ziploc freezer bag. Simply take a quart freezer bag and put your hand inside. Then put your hand & the bag down into a tall drinking glass and remove your hand. Then fold the edge of the bag over the rim of the glass. It keeps the bag upright while you fill it.

vanilla-wafer-cake-frosting-in-the-bag

Fold the edges of the bag up, press out the air, and seal the bag. If you have time to kill before your cake is cool, simply pop the bag back into the refrigerator. When you’re ready, snip the corner off and you’re ready to pipe. I love this time saver.

vanilla-wafer-cake-piping-bag-trick

I like to use a sheet of parchment paper to keep excess frosting from running off the cake plate after it’s piped. You’ll see what I mean in a second. Twisting the top of the bag to press the frosting down to the corner, start piping in the center of the bundt and work your way from inside to outside around the entire cake.

vanilla-wafer-cake-cream-cheese-frosting

I’m not playing when it comes to cream cheese frosting. I put it on thick, and I make sure there’s excess frosting in the middle, just in case I want more. And I always want more.

vanilla-wafer-cake-sliced

So simple, y’all. And so flavorful. And look at that lift! This one’s a keeper.

Sorry, Opie. I’ll gladly stand in line for your beautifully smoked meats, your creamy tater tot casserole, and your dine-in only butterbeans every weekend, but I’ll be having dessert at home from now on. Care to join me?

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Filed under Food & Recipes, Things I Love, Travel Tales

Utah: we really kept them hopping!

Okay, so I shared where we stayed in my last post. Now it’s time to share what we did during our vacation in Ogden & Salt Lake City. The question should be what DIDN’T we do? Here’s a rundown of our week with the grandkids and all the fun we had. And boy, was it fun. Exhausting, but fun. We wore those kids out!

A drive through Ogden Valley & the Pineview Reservoir:
The drive up Ogden Valley into the Wasatch Mountains began just blocks from our vacation rental. After a brief stop for Farr’s ice cream (the kids had Play Dough, which tasted like Fruit Loops) we were on our way to the scenic loop around Pineview Reservoir through the tiny townships of Eden and Huntsville. We stopped at a campground on the south shore so the kids could swim. What a breathtaking place to soak up the sun and take advantage of the clear cool water.

Ogden Canyon Drive

Ogden Valley Drive - Farr's Ice Cream stop

Ogden Mountain Drive - Wasatch Range from Pineview Reservoir

Pineview Reservoir - Lilly & Jonah in the sand

Pineview Reservoir - Sibling Love

Huntsville, UT - view of the mtns near Pineview Reservoir

A day at the Eccles Dinosaur Park in Ogden:
This fun park is located at the mouth of Ogden Valley on the edge of town. We arrived just before it opened and were surprised to see a pretty good line forming. As it turned out, we were there on a free day. Bonus! We started by walking through the indoor museum, but it was the outdoor area that the kids truly enjoyed. The paved walking path meandered through a beautifully landscaped and hilly area dotted with dinosaur statues. It wasn’t long, though, until the kids spotted the playground area and all bets were off. Still, they had a great time and we enjoyed the rolling hills and view of the mountains.

Ogden - Eccles Dinosaur Park

Ogden Dinosaur Park - Lunchtime

Ogden Dinosaur Park - Lilly tames the beast

Ogden Dinosaur Park - Meat Eater

Ogden Dinosaur Park - LOOK OUT!

A hike through the Ogden Nature Center:
On the northern edge of town, the Odgen Nature Center is a combination of a windswept prairie, desert garden and small forest. We enjoyed the collection of birdhouses that dotted the walking path from the parking area to the visitor’s center. Over 100 birdhouses that were part of a local contest were stationed along the path. After a visit to the gift shop and puppet theater, we hiked around the grounds following the paths to the bear den, observation tower and several ponds. While the only wild creatures we encountered were a swarm of rogue mosquitoes, we had a great time hiking the trails and looking at the local wild flowers and grasses. We also enjoyed the small collection of birds that were being rehabbed at the center, including a bald eagle, golden eagle, peregrine falcon, a few owls and a turkey that was allowed to roam the grounds freely.

Ogden Nature Center - Gift Shop & Visitor Center

Ogden Nature Center - Hiking the Birdhouse Trail

Ogden Nature Center - Lighthouse Birdhouse

Ogden Nature Center - Bee on Wild Flowers

Discovery Place Children’s Museum at Gateway Mall in SLC:
Best. Children’s Museum. EVER! You know when you spend five hours in a museum and the kids beg to stay longer that you’ve found a good one. Jonah & Lilly absolutely loved the Discovery Place in Salt Lake City. We played a few hours, took a break for lunch, came back for a few more hours and they STILL wanted more. Play stations they loved included the Construction Zone, the Farm-to-Market area including a grocery store, and especially the rooftop terrace area that included a real rescue helicopter complete with command center and mini-hospital with triage and ER. That rooftop terrace was their favorite, as they spent hours changing costumes, piloting the helicopter, and playing ER doctor, nurse and patient. They talked about it for hours after we left, and asked if they could go back the next day.

SLC Children's Museum - Construction Zone

Discovery Place SLC - rooftop rescue helicopter

SLC - Discovery Place - Dr Lilly on Call

SLC - Discovery Place - Triage Area

SLC - Discovery Place - Jonah in the Wind Tunnel

That last shot shows Jonah in a Hurricane Simulator. Even though it only lasted 60 seconds, wind in the tube peaked at 75mph, which was pretty intense. It also proved to be a valuable lesson for us. While Jonah loved it, Lilly got spooked and clung to him, screaming as the wind grew stronger. She was fine as soon as it shut off, but it helped clarify a few questions about our next adventure.

iFLY Ogden:
We talked about this with the kids before we left for Utah and at that point, both Jonah & Lilly planned to participate. After our museum wind tunnel experience, however, Lilly opted out and Jonah went full steam ahead. After sitting through the training video with a room full of adults, Jonah suited up and was ready to fly. He looks so grown up to us at seven, but next to his flying group, he looked so tiny. Still, he was pumped about getting into that air chamber while some of the teens in his group were nervous. Here’s our fearless flyer.

iFly Ogden - Jonah in his flight suit

iFly Ogden - Jonah Geared Up & Ready to Fly

iFLY Ogden - Jonah Waits for His Turn

iFly Ogden - Jonah in Flight

iFly Ogden - Jonah & Instructor Soaring

That last photo was snapped just as the instructor picked up his feet and they shot up to the top of the wind chamber. Twice! It was thrilling. After the students finished their rounds, the instructors played in the wind chamber showing off some of their moves. One guy would go so high you couldn’t see him, then shoot straight down like a rocket, turn just as he reached the cage floor, and fly out the door landing standing up on the bench just outside the air chamber. We all gasped. He was Super Man. Jonah came out of his experience high five-ing the instructors and bouncing with excitement. I think he will definitely remember his flight, and thanks to The Complete Package, who recorded it on his ION camera and the iFLY DVD, he can relive it over and over.

Speaking of flying, we visited Hill Air Force Base & Museum:
It’s hard to miss this museum when you see the planes in the outdoor exhibits from the highway. We passed it several times during the week and each time, Jonah would point them out and ask if we could go see them. Of course! We started with the indoor exhibits then worked our way through the airplanes outside. Besides the airplanes, we also had a great view of the mountains and saw several airplanes practicing for the air show that took place the next day. The kids enjoyed the exhibits and were thrilled to get a toy plane from the gift shop. Jonah picked a stealth bomber while Lilly picked a stunt plane.

Hill AFB - Aerospace Museum - Old Planes

Hill AFB - Aerospace Museum - Awesome Paint Job

Hill AFB - Outdoor Exhibits & Mountains

Hill AFB - Outdoor Exhibit - Cargo Plane

The Museum of Natural History in Salt Lake City:
I’m not going to lie – we took the kids to this museum just to see the dinosaur exhibit. What surprised us was we found so much more and enjoyed all of it. With five floors of exhibits, we started at the top and walked our way down. This was a great place to spend half a day and it had just enough hands-on interactive exhibits to keep the kids interested. The Complete Package and I also enjoyed the architecture and views. The dinosaurs were still the star of the show, but the rest of the museum was terrific as well.

SLC Nat History Museum - Exterior

SLC Nat History Museum - Display Wall

SLC Nat History Museum - Dinosaur Hall

SLC Nat History Museum - Dig Site

SLC Nat History Museum - Ancient Bison

After the museum, we popped into a small cafe downtown for Belgian frites, burgers & waffles, then hit the LDS Conference Center to see the Mormon Tabernacle Choir’s weekly practice, which is open to the general public regardless of religion. After dodging thunderstorms outside and taking a brief tour of the center inside, we settled in to watch the choir. Growing up, I’d seen them from time to time on television and have always marveled not only at the sheer size of the choir, but how perfectly heavenly they sound. With approximately 360 vocalists and 110 orchestra members, it’s not just large – it’s HUGE. Seeing it in person was amazing and a really special treat.

SLC - Mormon Tabernacle Choir - Public Practice

A drive out to Antelope Island and the Great Salt Lake:
Our last adventure was one I think The Complete Package & I enjoyed more than the kids – a drive to Antelope Island to see the Great Salt Lake. The geology and science behind the region was a little beyond both kids, but they enjoyed seeing the American bison (not buffalo, as I was schooled) and a few pronghorn antelope. While we found the landscape beautiful, stark and fascinating, the kids were bored and bickering in the back seat. Ahh… reality. Still, it was a ‘must see’ and we can only hope they’ll look back someday and remember seeing it in person. Here are a few shots from our day at the lake.

Salt Lake - lake& mtn view from Antelope Island

Salt Lake Park - Bison on Antelope Island

Salt Lake Park - Jonah & Lilly & the bison statue

That’s Jonah telling us if we find rattlesnakes, he’ll karate chop them.

Salt Lake Park - Jonah Master of All He Surveys

That’s Jonah, looking for rattlesnakes to karate chop.

Salt Lake Park - Pronghorn on Antelope Island

Salt Lake NP - Buffalo & Tourists

For the record – YES, that is a wild bison as big as a truck out on the beach, and YES – those are families with very young children getting dangerously close to him. WHY?!?! We had our own close encounter with the bison, even though it was unintentional. When we noticed a group walking near the road, we stopped the car so the kids could see them. When they turned and crossed the road in front of our car, we all held our breath collectively.

Salt Lake Park - Antelope Island bison crossing

We’ve been in bison jams in Yellowstone but it never ceases to take my breath away when they come so close. This small group with two babies crossed right in front of the car. We had to keep the kids from squealing with excitement. It’s hard to be quiet when you’re young and bison are right outside your car window. Heck, it’s hard for adults, too!

The Great Salt Lake and Antelope Island are really lovely. The contrast between the salt flats, desert flora and rocky terrain against the water and mountains is both surreal and stunning. It’s a little like being on the surface of the moon, with a view of Salt Lake City in the background. And that contrast is what makes the Salt Lake area beautiful. It’s a mix of high desert and mountain landscape. It can be lush one moment (Ogden Valley & the Pineview reservoir) and stark the next (the salt flats). It’s thrilling one moment (iFLY) and supremely relaxing in yet another (evening sunsets on the back patio). You can be as adventurous (mountains & rivers) or as zen (museums and parks) as you like, and have access to all of it within an hour’s drive.

We spent seven full days in Ogden and Salt Lake City, and still didn’t make it through our ‘must see’ list. If we are able to return, we’ll take those scenic drives through Big & Little Cottonwood Canyons up to Park City and Sundance. If you haven’t visited this part of Utah, maybe it’s time to add it to your bucket list.

Salt Lake Park - view of causeway & lake

Travel Links from Our Trip (click to open):

HomeAway.com: Vacation Home Rentals

Farr’s Ice Cream in Ogden, Utah & images of Farr’s Ice Cream

Eccles Dinosaur Park in Ogden, Utah

The Ogden Nature Center in Ogden, Utah

Discovery Place Children’s Museum in Salt Lake City, Utah

iFLY in Ogden, Utah

Hill Air Force Base & Aerospace Museum north of Salt Lake City, Utah

The Museum of Natural History in Salt Lake City, Utah

Bruges Waffles & Frites in Salt Lake City, Utah

The Mormon Tabernacle Choir in Salt Lake City, Utah

Antelope Island State Park & Great Salt Lake in Syracuse, Utah

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Utah: they wanted to see mountains

It happened because they wanted to see mountains. ‘Real mountains with snow on top’ they said. So last week, The Complete Package & I took our two young grandchildren – Jonah Bear & Lilly Bug – to Salt Lake City and Ogden in Utah to see the Wasatch mountains. Real mountains. With snow on top.

Wasatch Mountains - Ogden, Utah

Why Utah? That’s a legitimate question, I guess. Our answer is “Why not Utah?” It is beautiful, and the Salt Lake City to Ogden area offered us a unique opportunity to not only show the kids mountains, but also a high desert environment and the Great Salt Lake. More bang for our buck, if you will. While we stayed in Ogden most of the time, we were close enough to explore and play in Salt Lake City. And while the mountains were mere minutes away, so were the activities of both cities. It was a really good choice.

For this trip, as we do for most vacations, we found a vacation rental home at HomeAway.com. The craftsman style house we chose in the historic district of Ogden was perfect for us. It looks small. Don’t let that fool you. This house had four bedrooms, two bathrooms, a full kitchen, a breakfast room, formal dining room, sitting area, living room and a basement laundry room. It also had a great fenced backyard for the kids to play in when we spent time at the house.

HomeAway Rental - from the webpage

Ogden Rental House - Living Room

Ogden Rental House - Sitting Room

Ogden Rental House - Kitchen

Ogden Rental House - Kitchen Kitsch

Ogden Rental House - Breakfast Nook

Ogden Rental House - One of 4 Bedrooms

We loved the craftsman-style details of the home, but I especially loved the vintage kitsch that gave it personality. For antique junkies like me, it was a dream come true. Every room was adorned with pieces of the past and touches of fun. Check out the funky upstairs bathroom and some of the old paint-by-number pieces from around the house. They are a blast from my past.

Ogden Rental House - Upstairs Bath

Ogden Rental House - Vintage Paint-By-Numbers

The kids were really good about not trying to play with all the antiques. Instead, they were focused on the big screen TV, the fenced backyard and the front porch. Each evening, we spent time playing in the yard while the sun set. I’m including a diagram of Jonah & Lilly’s use of the backyard living space. I’m all for giving children a creative outlet, but if I hear ‘Let It Go’ one more time…

Ogden Rental House - Back Yard

Most mornings, their attention was focused on the front porch. Jonah loved to sit on the front steps and whittle the sticks he collected from everywhere we went. Sticks and rocks, sticks and rocks. That boy LOVES sticks and rocks.

Ogden Rental House - Jonah Whittles on the Porch

Lilly fell in love with the porch swing. If she wasn’t swinging in it, she was pushing it or laying across it. Some day, boys will line up to woo her on a porch swing like that, but not too soon. (Somewhere, her parents just shivered.)

Ogden Rental House - Lilly & the Porch Swing

Oh my gosh, we love these kids so much. They have our hearts, for sure.

Ogden Rental House - Lilly & Jonah on the Porch

When the weather was nice, we took evening strolls to explore our historic neighborhood. We especially loved the street behind ours, which was lined with huge trees and beautiful old mansions from a bygone era. To say it was lovely is to sell it short. It was like stepping back in time, which was magical.

Ogden Historic District - Evening Walks1

Ogden Historic District - Evening Walks3

Ogden Historic District - Evening Walks2

I fell in love with the tiny barking squirrels in Ogden. They ran the phone lines each evening, and every time Jonah or Lilly started singing those squirrels would join in with their high-pitched yipping. It was hilarious. Throughout the week, they would come close enough to check us out, but not so close that we could touch them. This little guy ran circles around a tree, then started popping out of the knothole on the right like a jack-in-the-box. It was adorable. I tried to convince him to come home with us, but he was having none of it.

Ogden Historic District - Evening Walks - Furry Friends with Arrow

Lilly, who loves all creatures, also found a neighborhood friend. Not as furry or cute, but just as friendly. Meet Turbo.

Ogden Historic District - Evening Walks - Lilly's Snail

Next up: what we did with the kids during our week in Ogden & Salt Lake City. It involves flying (but not in planes), swimming (but not in the Great Salt Lake), bison (not buffalo), and a few of these monsters. KIDS – LOOK OUT!!!

Ogden Dinosaur Park - LOOK OUT!

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The Complete Package: MotoGP Austin

Track Shot - Friday Practice - MotoGP Austin

Confession: I don’t know jack about motorcycle racing.
But I know someone who does, and that someone is my beloved husband, The Complete Package. Earlier this month, TCP and I went to Austin so he could attend the MotorGP event. While he was at the racetrack, I played with the grandkids. And thus we reveal the key to a 32-year marriage – compromise.

Because TCP had a great time, I thought it would be fun to share a few photos from the races on the off chance some of you enjoy it as well. The following photos were taken by The Complete Package at the MotoGP Austin event:

Track Shot - Lap Board & Stands - MotoGP Austin

Track Shot - The Tower - MotoGP Austin

Austin 360 Concert Stage - MotoGP Austin

Corn Hole Corner - MotoGP Austin

Traffic Jam - MotoGP Austin

Qualifying Rounds2 - MotoGP Austin

Coming Out of the Corner - MotoGP Austin

Here’s what I do know:
1. The Complete Package is a Valentino Rossi fan.
2. Our grandkids love everything TCP loves because they love him.
3. Lilly Bug is now in love with Valentine Rossi (all the ladies are).
4. Jonah Bear thinks Marc Marquez rocks because he’s the fastest in the world.
5. This next shot is of their favorites – Rossi (blue/green) & Marquez (black/orange/white).

The Kid's Favorites - Rossi & Marquez - MotoGP Austin

Valentino Rossi makes the fans go wild. People are crazy for this Italian racer, and I get it. He’s a maniac on a racing bike, has enough personality and charm for 10 racers, and is a world champion many times over.

Rossi - Going Going Gone - MotoGP Austin

Rossi - Signature Move - MotoGP Austin

But then there’s the up-and-comer, Marc Marquez. This Spanish biker is young, aggressive, and taking the racing world by storm. He is also the current World Champion and the winner of the Austin MotoGP event. How fast is he? Well, his top speed at the Austin event was clocked at 341.6 km/h. That’s 212.3 miles per hour. {gulp!} I. Cannot. Fathom. I wonder what his mother thinks about it.

Mark Marquez - Victory Lap

Mark Marquez - Victory Lap2

Three days of fun & sun at the Circuit of the Americas track was just enough for TCP. He had a blast, saw all the qualifying rounds and races including the big finale, and has the sunburn to prove it. Jonah Bear & Lilly Bug both got racing shirts (hers is a Rossi; his is a Marquez), got to hit the new Luby’s near the house, and spent some time in the hotel hot tub and at the park with their mother & I. We also hit Sandy’s Frozen Custard, so basically a great time was had by all.

Jonah & Lilly on the Swings

Okay, I lied. I took that last shot of Jonah Bear & Lilly Bug. But just that one.
#TruthInAdvertising #GratuitousGrandkidShot #HashtagAttack #NotSorry

Note: The Complete Package wanted me to point out that some of these photos were taken early on Friday during qualifying rounds, which is why the stands might look empty or sparse. For Saturday’s events and Sunday’s final races the racetrack was packed with spectators, as those in attendance can attest.

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OKMHHOU: The Great Reunion

OKMHHOU - Group Snap

I love this photo! What’s most notable is not the colorful donkey piñata (whom we named Kevin), but that all seven of our OKMH (One Kitchen Many Hearts) crew are in the same place at the same time for the first time ever. That’s right. We all gathered here in Houston so that we could gaze upon each other’s faces live & in person for the first time ever. Granted, some of us have met over the past 3 1/2 years since we met via The Pioneer Woman‘s website, but never have we all been in the same place at once. Until now. But let’s start at the very beginning. In a galaxy far, far away…. no, wait. That’s another saga.

Once upon a time, about 3 1/2 years ago, several of us started reading The Pioneer Woman‘s website. And during that time, we began to reply to one another’s comments, or comment on the recipes each of us would upload to the Tasty Kitchen page. Over time, we began to write our own blogs and continued to comment and subscribe to each other’s blogs. That gradually morphed into closer friendships via Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. Eventually, we all joined Group Me (an instant messaging app) where we began to share even more personal aspects of our lives. Things we wouldn’t share on the Internet for everyone to see. Personal things. Things you share with your closest girlfriends. And eventually, we became more like sisters.

Before the girls arrived, I made two keepsake crafts for them – handmade monogrammed pillowcases and toast-themed coasters (aka Toasters). Pinterest – it’s where the magic begins.

OKMHHOU - Pillowcases

OKMHHOU - Toast Coasters

Kirsten of Comfortably Domestic was the first to arrive. This was actually her second visit; she came last May for a long weekend. We joke that we are Sisters From Other Misters. She came in from Michigan around noon. When she left that morning, her journey involved black ice on the highway and a night spent with family in another city to ensure she could get a plane out. Once here, it was sunny and 70F and we were dining on burgers on the patio at Good Company Taqueria. The Polar Vortex can bite it.

OKMHHOU - Kirsten @ Lunch

After lunch, we drove home to prep a Mexican fiesta banquet for the others because nothing says “Thanks for flying all day” like a fiesta and a pitcher of Mexican Martinis. This is where things got dicey. The remaining five of our group (Madelyn from La Petite Pancake, Megan from Country Cleaver, Beka from Kvetchin’ Kitchen, Allison from Decadent Philistines and Kat from Tenaciously Yours) were subjected to all kinds of drama. First, three of them were delayed in Denver due to high winds. It all worked out, though barely in Allison’s case, and they all 3 boarded the same plane from Denver to Houston. Kat came from the tundra of Minnesota where the roads were treacherous, but the airport was up and running. Let it be noted that Minnesota knows how to winter. Ice and 8′ of snow? They barely flinch. Madelyn, from the LA area, flew straight in. No sweat. Californians make everything look easy.

But wait – there’s more! After being blown away that they had scheduled all their flights to arrive within 30 minutes of each other, they gathered at baggage claim and made their way to the car rental shuttle. Our group had made a reservation for a 7-passenger Dodge Caravan minivan for the weekend. As soon as Madelyn stepped up to the counter to get the car, the entire building lost power. I’ll let the others explain what occurred since they were there in person, but let’s just say the rental company failed us. There was no car rented and the cab called by the rental company charged them $115 to drive them one-way to my house that night (which they were told would be reimbursed but still haven’t been). If ever a group of ladies deserved a pitcher of margaritas, this was it.

The next morning, Madelyn & Kat spent at least 2 hours on the phone with Customer Care only to be shifted from number to number, each time getting yet another disinterested service rep. After two hours, the bottom line was no rental van, a strong probability they would be forced to eat the cab fare, and no car to use for our planned day trip to Brenham. Finally, we resolved it by canceling the reservation from hell and calling another rental company near my home. It cost twice as much and ended up being a 10 passenger panel van, but hey… it was wheels and they were great to deal with. Thank you Walter at Avis! Of course, we took Kevin the Piñata Donkey with us everywhere.

OKMHHOU - Party Van Collage

For our first full day together, we were off to the Hill Country and Brenham, Texas where we met up with Katie from The Hill Country Cook. We had so much fun! We hit a few antique shops and bought a few blog props, then hit Must Be Heaven for lunch. It’s a family owned sandwich shop that also has an old-fashioned ice cream counter and a case full of pies. What is not to love about that? I chose the daily special consisting of a slice of quiche (I chose the bacon, cheese & mushroom) and a bowl of soup (broccoli cheese).

OKMHHOU - Lunch at Must Be Heaven

Then we dove into the pie case. Together, we tried the Dutch apple pie, the cherry, a lemon meringue and a slice of chess pie. Madelyn opted for an ice cream cone and although I don’t remember what it was called (something something Mexican cheesecake maybe?) I’ll never forget her face while she was eating it. When asked if it was vanilla, Mads said something like “It looks like vanilla, but it tastes like heaven in my mouth.” Ringing endorsement indeed. A cookie made it in there, too, but my focus was on the pie. I love pie.

OKMHHOU - Desserts at Must Be Heaven

After lunch, we had no choice but to walk it off with more shopping. Here in Texas, we love our state. Not just “Oh, it’s great here” but in a more rabid “Our state is the best. Long live the Republic!” way. As such, we hang lone stars and things shaped like Texas in the same way others hang family photos. Case in point – this wall hanging made from vintage Texas license plates. Because the only thing better than Texas stuff is Texas stuff layered on more Texas stuff.

OKMHHOU - License Plate State

It wasn’t all antiques and rusty metal, though. There were hats, vintage clothing, baubles & beads, sandals & flip-flops and crocheted vests galore. Also food blog props, vintage literature and a handful of Christmas ornaments were involved. We stayed so busy shop-hopping that when we finally slowed down enough for a few of the ladies to try on clothes, the rest of us hit the sofas and took advantage of a Twitter & Instagram break. As we like to say, “Snaps or it didn’t happen!”

OKMHHOU - Twitter Break

When we eventually noticed that the shops were closing and the streets were rolling up, we said a sad farewell to our buddy Katie. So happy she joined us! Top Row: Kirsten, Allison, Me & Beka. Bottom Row: Megan, Kat, Katie & Mads.

OKMHHOU - Group in Brenham

We waved goodbye and crawled back into the panel van to head home. On the way, we impulse stopped at Buc-ee’s – the greatest convenience store on earth. Why? 1) ladies’ restrooms with 30+ stalls featuring full wood doors, complete privacy, individual hand sanitizer dispensers and a full-time cleaning crew. 2) clothing department with beaver emblazoned t-shirts, cammo everything and beer koozies to match. 3) full-size BBQ grills, Lodge cast iron cookware and a cooking/cookbook area. 4) an entire aisle devoted to jerky. 5) Beaver Nuggets – both caramel corn & the nugget equivalent of Flaming Hot Cheetos. They’re seriously addictive. What’s truly hilarious is while we were in Buc-ee’s near Hempstead, Katie was simultaneously hitting Buc-ee’s on Highway 71.

One kitchen, many hearts. Many kitchens, one mind. It’s spooky, really.

OKMHHOU - Buc-ee's Stop

Back at the ranch, we feasted on TCP’s brisket, sausage, beans, slaw, and all the sauces & relish tray items you can imagine. If it could be pickled, it was probably there. We also cracked open the Shiner and assorted beers on ice. When we were filled to the brim and crying for mercy, The Complete Package broke out the homemade peach cobbler and Blue Bell vanilla ice cream. Lord, I love that man.

Sunday, we slept late and were treated to French toast waffles. The recipe isn’t on the blog yet, but it’s coming soon. After snarfing up waffles and enough bacon to make your eyes roll back in your head, we hit the road for Alvin, Texas. On the way, we stopped at Rustic Metal Works where we checked out the cute lawn art, wall hangings and assorted hardware. And since there was a taco truck right next door, we decided to stop for a snack that included one 5-piece taco plate with salsas, one lingua taco (tongue) and a chicharrón (pork rind) taco. Following the Blogger’s Rule, first we photographed and then we dug in.

OKMHHOU - Taco Truck Snacks

After passing the wet-wipes and blowing out a flip-flop, we made a quick pit stop at Walmart for replacement footwear and to take in the local color (read: topless woman in a pickup truck). From there, we hit the antique mall to shop for more blog props and household items we couldn’t live without. I found this vintage locker basket and fell in love. For $20, I couldn’t resist and now it’s on my sewing table holding fabric and ribbons. Love it!

OKMHHOU - Locker Basket for Fabric

Since Kirsten’s visit last May, we have cooed over the miniature donkeys near my house more times than I can count, so of course we had to take the others to visit. Luckily, when we arrived they were in the meadow close to the road and we even got an up-close encounter with two of them. They are beyond adorable. Keep in mind when you view the photos – these donkeys are full-grown adults. The baby we saw last May was the size of a cocker spaniel. That’s right, people – the babies are practically pocket donkeys and I adore them.

OKMHHOU - Field of Miniature Donkeys

OKMHHOU - Miniature Donkeys Coming to Visit

OKMHHOU - Allison & Beka Pet the Donkeys

Mads & Megan - Petting Donkeys

OKMHHOU - Donkey Close-Up

OKMHHOU - Megan & the Donkeys

Two out of two tiny donkeys agree: ear scratches are the best.

Monday was another late start. Over many coffees and a few chai teas, we pulled together the breakfast we’d dreamed of while planning our weekend – The Biscuit Bar. We made a big tray of buttermilk biscuits, a pan of sausage gravy, and pulled all the jams & jellies out of the fridge. Oh, and there was more bacon. Of course.

After breakfast, we broke out the packing supplies and the flat-rate boxes, and packed up everything that couldn’t or wouldn’t fit in suitcases. It was frantic. And hilarious. And Mads & I both scored a bag of Beaver Nuggets that wouldn’t pack. Hooray for Bonus Nugs!

OKMHHOU - Packing Suitcase Overruns

The only thing left was a return trip to Rustic Metal Works to rescue a flying pig. You see, Beka fell in love but talked herself out of it. Then we were distracted by street tacos, and it was decided that if she still woke up the next morning thinking of her new spirit animal, we would go back for him. Arriving to find the place locked up (closed Mondays) was like listening to air slowly released from a balloon. Luckily, if it fits it ships, so I agreed to go back later in the week and rescue a pig. Meet Al Porccino.

OKMHHOU - Al Porccino Comes Home

He’s adorable. And speaking of Beka, she had my name for our last OKMH box exchange. Check out my package. (Stop giggling.)

OKMHHOU - OKMH Box Items

That’s an assortment of hot sauces from her recent trip to Mexico, a bag of Australian Jungle Jellies, assorted bars of chocolates (not sharing), a bottle of Mexican vanilla, and a squirrel ornament from our day in Brenham. Perfect.

And so, after four days of endless chatter, late nights, very little sleep, way too much food and a few bottles of wine, beer and bubbles, our first live & in person One Kitchen Many Hearts weekend came to a close. It was fun. It was heartfelt. And it was way too short. Anyone who says friendships formed on the internet aren’t real are doing it wrong. These ladies are my friends, and I couldn’t love them more. We may be different shapes, ages and personalities, but that’s what makes us work as a group. We fill each others gaps. We support each other, both on our blogs and in our personal lives. It may have started with random comments on a website, but it has grown into so much more. I treasure these ladies, and it was really hard to watch that huge panel van drive away. If you don’t believe me, just ask Kevin.

OKMHHOU - Goodbye is Never Easy

I seriously can’t wait to do it again next year! I’ll bring Kevin.

OKMHHOU - The End

To see what the other ladies posted from our weekend, visit:
Megan at Country Cleaver
Kirsten at Comfortably Domestic
Beka at Kvetchin’ Kitchen
Allison at Decadent Philistines Save the World
Mads at La Petite Pancake
Kat at Tenaciously Yours

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Filed under Blogger Collaborations, Things I Love, Travel Tales

Traveling TX: Lost Maples State Park

Do you ever dream of getting away from it all? Job, cell phone, e-mail, other people… all of it? The Complete Package and I found a place that does that for us. It’s called St. Clare’s Cabin near Leakey, Texas. If you’ve been a reader for a while, you’ll remember we went there last Christmas. This rustic, fabulous cabin is everything we look for in a getaway – quaint, quiet & remote.

LeakeyTX - Porch at St Clare's Cabin

The cabin is in the middle of nowhere in the Texas Hill Country – 4 miles from Vanderpool, 11 miles from Leakey. Still don’t know where that is? Well, that’s the point. It’s waaaaay out there, in the mountains northwest of San Antonio. So far out I had to drive to Bandera to get a cell signal. For real. And I loved it.

Last year, we went just before Christmas. This year, we decided to go right after Thanksgiving and I’m so glad we did. There was still some fall color to ‘ooh & aah’ over. To make the most of it, we visited Lost Maples State Park to try to catch the maples at their finest. We were almost too late, but there was still some beauty to behold. Here’s a sampling of our afternoon hiking Lost Maples.

Lost Maples - Lone Maple with Cliffs

Lost Maples - Pond at Trailhead

Lost Maples - Orange Maple

Lost Maples - Creek withTexas Rock

Did you notice that big rock in the middle of the creek? It immediately caught my eye. Why? Because it looks like the state of Texas, if the entire eastern side of the state crumbled and fell off. Err… sorry, Houston!

Lost Maples - Texas Rock

I’m taking that as a sign that we should move to the Hill Country. {wink} Another cool feature found near the water is the limestone rock that has literally been picked up by the cypress tree roots and incorporated into the trees.

Lost Maples - Cypress Stump with Rocks

The trails through Lost Maples are lovely. Some are steep and challenging; some are more level and lazy. Whichever you choose, the most important thing is to get out of the car and enjoy the trails. Pack a picnic lunch and find a quiet spot by the river. Take a nap under a maple or hike the loop & enjoy the foliage.

Lost Maples - Steps on Maple Loop

It’s so beautiful under the canopy of maples, you can’t help but relax.

To learn more about Lost Maples State Park, visit Texas Parks & Wildlife.

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Filed under Family Stuff, Travel Tales

My Favorite Season: Fall

Maine - Somesville Bridge

Oh, fall… I miss you so much. I miss experiencing all four seasons and the benefits of each like leaves turning, snow falling or bulbs blooming. But mostly I miss sweaters and drinking hot cocoa at high school football games. I long for those days when you can step outside and see your breath. In the suburbs south of Houston, we have only two seasons – Summer & More Summer. Our change of season comes down to this: in February, we stop mowing for 3-4 weeks.

The Complete Package and I both love Fall. So much so, we usually travel north each year just to celebrate autumn. Since we’ll be remodeling our master bathroom instead of traveling this year, I’m celebrating the advent of fall with a few photos from our trip to Acadia National Park in Maine back in 2008. It was glorious. So welcome, Fall. Please come see us. We miss you something fierce.

Foliage in Acadia Natl Park

Acadia Maine - Sun Through Fall Foliage

Acadia Maine Leaves in Water

Acadia - Path to Jordan Pond

Somesville Main Tree in Fall

Ever thought of visiting Acadia National Park? Learn more HERE. Some of our other fall favorites – Glacier National Park, Calgary & Banff, Yellowstone & The Tetons, and the Oregon coast. Do you have a favorite place to visit in the fall? Please share! You may just inspire our next fall vacation or someone else’s.

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Filed under Things I Love, Travel Tales