Thursday, January 22, 2015

Ladder Canyon

On our long and ever growing list of places we want to go and trails we want to explore has been a place called Ladder Canyon.  We read about it several years ago and finally made it out there a few weeks ago.  It's a couple of hours from where we live and just south of the small desert town of Mecca or close to an hour southeast of Palm Springs in Southern California.

It's in an area called Painted Hills.  The soil colors are varied and pretty.


We followed the directions in our hiking book, out some dirt roads to a parking area.  We were surprised at how many cars were there.  This trail was a lot more popular than we had expected!  It was a chilly day but beautiful and sunny.  The start of the trail was up a wash...


After a short hike, we watched for the side canyon described in our hiking book and hiked up to the start of Ladder Canyon.  It was awesome right from the start!  This is a spot right at the top of the first little climb.  The canyon is narrow, winding, and a bit dark...



Look....a ray of sun!...


Looking up!


The trail is named Ladder Canyon because of the ladders people have brought up to climb the steep sections of the canyon.  Here's the first one...


The trail winds around through a slot canyon that's been carved from water.  Here's a spot where we climbed up above an earlier section and could look back down inside.  That's my hubby in there...


Water carved this great place and continues to do so.  Therefore, ladders sometimes get washed away and sometimes they just need to be replaced from old age.  Here's an old one...


Here's the brand new one that replaced it...


Some places are steep but don't need a ladder...


 This is my daughter climbing the last ladder out of Ladder Canyon...


A short hike took us to the top and spectacular views!


There was a series of rock piles at the top.  Each one was bigger than the last.  It was art-like and pretty cool.  We all added a rock to each pile.  It seemed like the thing to do.  


The views were amazing!  That bit of water in the center of the photo is a peek at Salton Sea...one of the world's largest inland seas.


We were surrounded by badlands.


From the top, we could look down into the canyons we had just hiked in...



Onward and upward!  We followed arrows made of rocks to go up the final hill and back down into the main wash to hike back to our car.  There were several of these arrows to point the way...


Up, up, up!


As we hiked along, we were amazed at how so much of the plant life is dead and shriveled up.  I've lived in Southern California and explored it's deserts all my life and have never seen them so dry and crispy.  Evidence of how severe our drought really is.  We first noticed how bad it is last September when we came back from our trip to Arizona and Utah.  Their deserts there were lush, green, and colorful.  But, as we entered the eastern part of California and the Mojave desert it was almost all brown and black.  The cactus, small plants, bushes and trees that are normally green (at least a little) were brown and black.  It was sad to see.  But, I know that it can all come back if we get enough rain.

Here are some examples of what's happened to the plant life that would normally be green...

Thousands and thousands of cactus were not only dead, they were dried up with only skeletons remaining.


Most of the cactus that wasn't dead was shriveling up and falling apart.


Cholla cactus usually have brown bottoms but the tops are usually green with fresh white needles.  Most of the ones we saw that day were dried up and crumbling.


As we hiked back down into the main canyon there were some plants that were green because those areas get more water from run off and the river that occasionally flows through from flash floods.

Look!  My daughter found a heart shaped rock!


There were just a couple of ladders on the way down.  Here's the last one...


On our way through the main canyon, we came upon a section with white rock...


Then, we turned a corner and there was so much of it that it looked like snow!


 The moon!


 Slot canyons are fun to explore but here's a reminder that it can be a very dangerous place to be!  I sure wouldn't want to be anywhere close by when big rocks like this fall!


Beautiful and peaceful.


The afternoon sun and bits of green and Fall-like colors in the main canyon were pretty!



The brilliant gold of this tiny tree on the side of the cliff and the sun shining through it created a breathtaking splash of color.


We had a lot of fun exploring Ladder Canyon.  And, no matter how much we explore the desert, we're constantly amazed at how much there is to see and do in these seemingly empty places.


We were also surprised on this trip to see so much agriculture in the desert! 
We saw peppers, citrus groves, and grape vineyards


And, of course, the famous date groves.  Here's one on the side of a highway.  These trees were much shorter than most of the groves.  It made me wonder how many varieties of dates there are.  So, I looked it up.  I couldn't find a definite answer but it looks like there are at least a couple dozen kinds.


The sunset on the way home was pretty!  I tried to capture it in a photo but it was quite challenging in a moving car, with hills, trees, and trucks getting in the way.  But, here's a blurry one to give you an idea of what we saw...


We capped our day off with a dinner from the famous In-N-Out and a refreshing beer!


Such a fun day!

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

My New Red Shoes

I've needed a new pair of casual shoes for a while now but haven't found any I love.  I got lucky last week at REI!  Not only did I find some I love and in my size but they were also on the clearance rack for just $24.99!  What a deal I got since they're normally closer to $100!  

They're a pair of "Burnt Henna" colored Keens.  I love the color and they're super comfy!


I have a thing for red shoes.  I think they're so fun and so cute!  And, years ago, when my daughter was little, I found this little Golden Book called, "Bunny's New Shoes".  The little bunny ends up with a pair of red shoes and it makes her so happy that she dances around with joy.  That's exactly how I feel about my new shoes.  I've been giddy with excitement over them.  My daughter giggles and shakes her head every time I bounce around with excitement, saying that I love my red shoes!


I got a brown pair of Keens years ago and they were awesome!  They were comfy and lasted and lasted....at least six years.  Hubby has had the same luck with this brand.  They're amazing!  Yay for my new, discount, RED shoes!  Eeeeeee!  :-D

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Souper Sunday - Gluten Free, Dairy Free, and Versatile Cream Sauce

I tried something a few months ago that has opened up a lot of cooking possibilities.  I made a cream sauce with cauliflower!  Sounds a little weird but it's surprisingly good and very easy to make.  It's an incredible substitute for creamy sauces since I can't eat dairy anymore.  And, it's a lot more healthy! 

It's made by simply cutting up and steaming a head of cauliflower until it's soft, putting it into a blender with milk (we use coconut/almond but any milk or unsweetened milk substitute will work) and blending it until it's smooth and creamy.  I season it during the blending process.

If I'm making it to use as an Alfredo sauce, I season it with garlic, salt, pepper, and a dash of cayenne to add an extra level of flavor and some warmth but not enough to make it spicy hot.  Here's a picture I snapped a couple of nights ago when I used it like Alfred sauce and layered it with sauteed spinach with onions and red pepper flakes, gluten free pasta, the sauce, some diced tomatoes, and baked and crumbled prosciutto.  It was delicious!


I've also seasoned this amazing sauce with lemon juice and had it with rice, veggies, and chicken or fish.  It's delicious with lemon!  It gives it a light, bright, fresh flavor.

Another way we like to use this sauce is to make one of our old favorite chowder recipes.  The recipe originally called for a cream sauce made with lots of milk and cheese.  Since I can no longer eat dairy, this has become and amazing substitute and we don't even miss the cheese or dairy.  It's that good!  This isn't the best picture but to give you an idea of how good it is....hubby raves about it every single time, has seconds, thirds, and gets every drop out of the bowl that he can.


The original recipe was called something like, "Cheddar and Ham Chowder".  Here's my new version with no milk, no cheese, and no gluten....

4 cups of peeled and cubed potatoes
1 cup of sliced carrots
1 small to medium onion chopped
2 cups of fresh or frozen corn cut off the cob

Put all of the above ingredients into a large pan/pot and add just enough water to cover the veggies.  You can also add celery, if you like.  I leave it out because we don't like it.  Cook until the veggies are fork tender. DO NOT drain the water when it's done.

In a separate pan, steam a large head of cauliflower that's been rinsed and cut into large chunks.  Cook until soft.  When it's done, add it to the blender with enough "milk" to blend it smoothly.  I also add a bit of "butter" (I use Earth Balance spread) and season with salt, pepper, garlic powder, a dash of Cayenne, paprika and a bit of chili powder.  I also add some Turmeric because it makes it look cheesy with the red of the chili powder and paprika and it's a healthy spice.  Use the above ingredients in amounts that work for you and your taste.

When the sauce and veggies are ready, pour the sauce into the pot that has the veggies and water and stir it together.  Also, add ham that's been sliced into bite sized pieces.  One of those flat, round slices you get at the store that's wrapped in plastic is the perfect amount.  Cook it all on low heat until the ham is heated through.  Double check to see if the chowder needs any additional seasoning.  Enjoy!

I'm so excited about this delicious, creamy, cauliflower sauce and I'm trying to think of other ways I can use it.  I think it would be great in other soups like clam chowder!  Can you think of other ways to use it?  I'd love to hear about them and I'd love to know if you try it and what you think.

Friday, January 16, 2015

FO Friday - Getting Closer!

I don't have an FO to show for this week but I'm working as hard and fast as I can on my never-ending afghan/throw.  I started it a couple of years ago and it NEEDS to get done!  I've been working hard on it for the past few weeks and I'm aiming to finish it before this winter is over.  I won't let myself start any new projects until it's done!

I've been trying to work on it every single day.  And, I've been going to as many knit gatherings as I can to get a few hours of uninterrupted knitting time at each gathering.  Here's a photo I snapped with my phone last night while a bunch of us were gathered at a local Starbucks.  Several of us were working on afghans.  I called us the "afghan crew".  I love the footstools they have at this Starbucks!  And, my afghan keeps me warm while I work!


I can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel!  I only have nine repeats left now (yay for single digits!) and seven rows!  Hooray!  The closer I get, the faster I knit!  I can't wait!

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Souper Sunday - Pumpkin, Sausage and Mushroom

Since the weather cooled, I've been back to making soup again.  I've been making some of our favorites and trying new ones.  As I've posted them on Instagram, I've gotten requests for the recipes.  So, I've decided to do a little blog series and post a recipe each week.

This recipe is a new one for us.  I saw it being made on a TV show and it looked so easy and good that I wanted to try it out.  In my usual way, I went for it without an actual recipe.  I just got the ingredients I remembered seeing on the show and made it like I remembered seeing.  I love cooking that way.  It's not so fussy, it's more creative, and it's more fun!  Luckily, things usually turn out good and this did too.  It was hearty, rich, creamy and delicious.


The original recipe called for breakfast sausage (I'm planning to try that version tonight) but I had some ground pork and used that.  I fried it up with some finely chopped onion (drain fat as necessary).  Then, I added some finely chopped garlic and sliced mushrooms and continued cooking until the mushrooms were done.  I seasoned this mixture with salt, pepper, a little cumin, chili powder, paprika, and a dash of cayenne.  Next, I added a can of pumpkin and mixed it in and then a can of coconut milk and stirred until everything was combined and creamy.  I heated it through and served it up with a sprinkling of toasted pumpkin seeds on top.  It's super easy, quick, gluten free, dairy free and Paleo!

Here's the ingredient list:

Breakfast Sausage
Onion
Garlic
Mushrooms
Canned or Fresh Cooked Pumpkin
Coconut Milk
Toasted Pumpkin Seeds (optional)
Season as needed with Salt and Pepper

If you use ground pork instead of sausage, you'll need additional spices.  I used what I had but you could add some that are more traditional in sausage...like fennel seeds.  Here's what I used:

Salt
Pepper
Cumin
Chili Powder
Paprika
Cayenne - Just a Dash

It makes at least six nice sized servings.

I'm curious how people cook.  I've met people who only feel comfortable having a recipe with exact measurements and I've met people who like to just get creative and use recipes as inspiration.  I fit more in the second category and will only occasionally use a recipe exactly as written.  I've learned to cook a lot of things by watching TV and just going for it.   How do you cook?  Are you comfortable cooking without recipes and getting creative in the kitchen?  Or, are you more comfortable having exact measurements?  And, do you have a favorite soup recipe?  If so, is it from a recipe...maybe a family recipe?  Or did you come up with it?  I'd love to know!  :-)

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Sweet Harvest

We harvested out sweet potatoes this week...


We're actually amazed that they grew!  We don't have the greenest of thumbs.  In fact, the only things we've been successful at the past few years are herbs and some tomatoes.  Oh, and the lemons and figs that seem to grow no matter what.  Everything else we've tried has failed.  So, this is pretty exciting!  And, they're quite yummy!  So far, we've had them steamed and made some into baked French fries.  I have a few other ideas I plan to try.  I'll keep you posted!

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Snow?!!

It normally doesn't snow here!  Well, except occasionally...like one time in the 60's, again about nine years ago, and last week on New Years Eve.  On those rare events that it has snowed, it hasn't been much and it melted quickly.  This time, it snowed all night long and lasted for days!  It was amazing and beautiful and cold!  I wish it snowed here more often!

I had plans to meet a friend for breakfast that was in town for the holidays.  So, I wasn't able to go out that morning to see it.  Luckily, my hubby and daughter headed out first thing to see it and took pictures.  So, these pictures are compliments of my dear hubby.

They headed up to my hubby's parent's house in the nearby hills first.  It didn't snow at our house but did so in the hills just up the road, all of the hills and mountains surrounding our area, and in the neighboring cities of Murrieta and Temecula.  It's so rare that it was even on the national news!

What an incredible sight!


This is my mother-in-law's garden.  She had to rescue her zucchinis from the snow!


It's never looked like this around the pool!  Brrrr!


A cool shot of the tractor.


We store our trailer up there.  We should probably go up to make sure there weren't any leaks from snow sitting on top and melting for days!


Beautiful!


I wonder how this cactus is doing after that shocking blast of cold?!


It was really cold here for days after that but it's now back up into the 70's during the day.  Ahhhh!  The reason we live here!  But, I sure wouldn't mind seeing this more often in the winter.  It's beautiful and we sure could use the water!