Peachy Keen Energy Muffins

 

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It’s summer peach season in Georgia and despite the torrential rains we’ve experienced here lately, the peaches are abundant and beautiful this year. Those we’ve enjoyed so far have leaned to the tart side, making them the perfect fruity ingredient for muffins or quick bread.

Peachy Keen Energy Muffins are just the ticket to start your morning off on the right foot before you head out for a hike, a swim, a ride or whatever your summertime day includes. Literally filled to the brim with nutritious, delicious and healthy ingredients, these very lightly sweetened muffins are super easy to make and freeze well, too. You can whip up a batch in no time and eat them warm from the oven or save some for a road trip later.

The “Energy” component of this muffin equation comes from using rolled whole oats and sliced almonds as part of the “dry” mixture instead of all flour. I also add plain Greek yogurt to the “wet” mixture for some fat and probiotic tang, and a touch of cinnamon and some vanilla to pull all the flavors together. Truly a mighty breakfast in a very small package. I tried these out before hiking 3 miles to a waterfall and they kept me going, earning their name! And while these muffins are intentionally more dense than some recipes, using the rolled oats instead of cut or quick ones allows the leavening ingredients in the recipe to do their job, keeping them airy but with a variety of toothsome textures. We’re addicted to these muffins and I keep making them over and over again. I think you’ll love them too.

Got no peaches? Not summer in your part of the world? No problem. Substitute the same amount of grated apple for the peaches and chopped walnuts for the almonds. You can also substitute mashed ripe banana for the peaches and chopped pecans for the almonds. You get the idea.

Cheers to your health and more energy!

yum

Nice crumb!

•••••

To print this recipe, click here.

Peachy Keen Energy Muffins
Makes 12 nicely-sized muffins

For the dry ingredients:
1 1/4 cups all purpose flour
1 1/4 cups rolled whole oats
1/2 cup brown sugar packed
1/2 cup blanched, sliced almonds
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt

For the wet ingredients:
1 large egg
1/2 cup milk
1/3 cup plain Greek yogurt (2% or full fat)
3 Tablespoons melted unsalted butter
1 teaspoon madagascar vanilla extract
2 cups peeled and chopped fresh peaches and their juice (if too tart, you can add 1 tablespoon of sugar to the peaches)

Directions:
Line a 12-cup muffin tin with paper cups and set aside. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F and place a rack in the center of the oven.

Place flour, oats, brown sugar, sliced almonds, cinnamon, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a medium bowl and stir to combine the dry ingredients well.

In a separate large bowl, beat the egg slightly, then add the milk, yogurt, butter and vanilla and stir to combine. Add the peaches and their juice and stir to combine thoroughly. Add the dry mixture to the wet mixture and stir until just combined and all ingredients are moistened. Don’t over stir or you’ll lose the air in the mixture. Divide the batter evenly between the 12 muffin cups, filling them to the top of the paper cup…don’t worry, this batter doesn’t run.

Bake the muffins on the center rack for 16-18 minutes until they are lightly browned on top and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Remove from the oven and allow them to cool in the pan on a rack for 5 minutes, then turn them out of the pan onto the rack top side up to finish cooling.

These muffins will keep in an airtight container at room temperature for a couple of days, in the fridge for about 3 days, or in the freezer for about a month. Cool completely before freezing.

freshfromtheoven

Fresh from the oven, yum!

 

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What’s New? Summer Salad Days.

 

salad4

Hi there and happy first day of Summer! Okay, I realize it’s been almost a year since last I posted. It wasn’t my intention to take a year off, but you know how it goes…life. It’s really nice to be back now and I hope some of you are still with me.

So what’s been happening in my world you might ask? Work, family, celebrations, play and hiking. In fact, I have just started a new hiking blog, but more about that later. And I’m still cooking, of course!

Of late, I’ve found a lot of healthy inspiration (and fun!) in going to the summer farmer’s markets. The abundance of local fresh produce and cheeses is so enticing that the moment I step into the market, my mind starts racing with possibilities. The sights, smells and sounds make you want to dive in and purchase some of everything you see, then minimally prepare the ingredients to showcase their natural goodness. Colorful and well-composed salads are one of my favorite summer meals and the perfect way to enjoy the beginning of this season’s bounty.

On a recent trip to the farmer’s market at the Carter Center, I found beautiful rose and rainbow colored watermelon radishes, tender young fennel bulbs with the longest mane of fronds I’ve ever seen, sweet miniature butter lettuces, mild baby arugula and fresh local made goats’ chèvre with truffle. I envisioned a gorgeous, cooling salad and how delicious that would taste after a long, hot hike. I also had some ingredients at home to add to the mix – sweet red onion, Kalamata olives, Haas avocado and satsuma orange. And to pull it all together, a light and easy dressing. A little lemon, a little orange, some rice wine vinegar, shallot, a touch of local honey, salt, pepper and some of those amazing fennel fronds, et voilà! A feast for the eyes and food for the soul.

A large composed salad like this one makes a light lunch all by itself, but for dinner – and especially after a long hike – I paired it with my easy to make Tomato, Orange and Tarragon Soup served cold alongside a simple bruschetta of thinly sliced baguette and the truffled goats’ chèvre from the market. Lose the baguette and sprinkle a little of the chèvre on top of the salad or soup instead and you’ll have a fantastic low carb meal.

C’est magnifique!

*****

What else is new? Well in addition to being a year older, I hope I’m becoming wiser about feeding the mind, body and soul. To that end, my husband and I have taken up gentle versions of yoga and Tai Chi, tried to incorporate even more fresh vegetables into our daily diets and we still hike every Saturday that we possibly can. In fact, the name of my new blog is Saturday Hiker and its mission is to encourage folks of all ages, and most especially those of “middle age” who think they can’t hike, to get out there and see what nature has to offer. We are very casual hikers and hike mostly in our own area since we do it every Saturday, but our horizons are expanding and we like to hike on our vacations, too. You can check out the new blog at saturdayhiker.com and even if you aren’t in my area, I hope it will make you think about exploring and enjoying your own surroundings more fully. The site itself has pages with an ongoing list of tips and information as well as the blog.

What’s new with you? Please leave me a comment and catch me up.

*****

To print the recipe click here.

Spring into Summer Farmer’s Market Salad
2 servings

Salad:
3 cups fresh baby arugula, washed and dried
3 cups fresh butter lettuce leaves, washed, dried and torn into bite-sized pieces
1 small fennel bulb and fronds, washed, toughest outer part of the bulb removed, cored and thinly sliced, fronds reserved and chopped
1/4 sweet red onion
, peeled and thinly sliced
4 small colorful radishes, washed, trimmed and thinly sliced (I used 2 watermelon and 2 breakfast radishes)
2 satsuma or mandarin oranges, peeled and segmented
1 Haas avocado, pitted and cubed or sliced into bite-sized pieces
16 Kalamata olives, quartered
1 tablespoon reserved chopped fennel fronds for garnish

Dressing:
1 Tablespoon fresh lemon juice

1 Tablespoon fresh orange juice
2 Tablespoons unflavored rice wine vinegar
1/2 to 1 teaspoon local honey, to taste
1 1/2 Tablespoons shallot, finely chopped 
1 Tablespoon fresh fennel fronds, finely chopped
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste (I use about 1/4 tsp. of each)

Combine all ingredients for the dressing in a mason jar, screw on the cover and shake vigorously to emulsify. Set aside until ready to dress the salad.

On two dinner-sized plates, compose the salad in layers, dividing all ingredients equally and artfully between the two. Start with the arugula and lettuce, mixing them together gently, then a layer of the fennel slices sprinkled over the lettuce, then red onion slices. Scatter the radishes so that the colors are mixed across the plate, then do the same with the oranges, avocado, and Kalamata olives. Shake the dressing to recombine, then using a table spoon, drizzle 2-3 tablespoons of the dressing over each salad. Reserve the remaining dressing for another salad.

Finish each plate with a sprinkling of the reserved chopped fennel fronds and serve either alone or with goat cheese bruschetta and/or soup.

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Time to Catch Up with Some Recipes New and Old

Potsdecreme1I’m in denial that February is almost over. It seems like this year is flying by even faster than the last. Although for those of you in the northern U.S. and Canada who have had weeks upon weeks of tremendous snow, I’m sure Spring can’t arrive fast enough!

So what’s been happening here? Well, we’ve tried to get back into our wonderful hiking schedule every Saturday, but winter weather—even here in the deep south—can be daunting. We’ve managed a few nice, long hikes so far this year, but will probably  have to wait until March or so to get back to our routine. Here are a few scenes from some those hikes and as you can see, even winter forest is quite lovely. Enjoy these moments of peace and solitude along with the myriad of textures and pattern that a winter forest reveals. Continue reading

A Bodacious Birthday Cake!

Well, once again some time has passed since my last post, written on my birthday at the very beginning of this month. Thank you all for the wonderful birthday wishes…it was an awesome birthday! I feel like I’m still celebrating.

Upon request, my husband gave me a new pair of hiking boots and socks for my birthday, along with some other goodies. And additionally, keeping with the hiking theme, a friend gave me a really super day pack as a birthday present. In order to do justice to all of this new gear, we had to go someplace where the hiking was cranked “up a notch,” so to speak, and we spent a lovely weekend in Highlands and Cashiers, North Carolina. Continue reading

Peach and Blueberry Streusel Coffeecake

Ready to cut

Allow the cake to cool completely before you cut it…if you can wait that long!

Coffeecake. It’s not just for breakfast.

Sure, it’s a tasty way to start your work or school day, but this Peach and Blueberry Streusel Coffeecake is so much more a than breakfast food alone.

Peaches and blueberries were made for each other in my opinion, and this cake is chock-full of summer fruity goodness, without incurring too much damage to your waistline. The layered fruit within the cake and the oat, brown sugar and almond streusel topping combine to make this just sweet enough, with a crunchy and satisfying texture on top. It’s a perfect combo. Continue reading

Happenings, Fresh Corn Frittata and Some Potent Cherries

Cornfrittataslice1Work has continued to be brisk for me this summer…a very good thing. I don’t have as much time in the kitchen as I would normally, and when I’m in there, I’m not really experimenting on creating anything new. But I have been trying some new recipes…new to me, at least, from various sources. Here’s one of my favorites, especially since we’re in corn season—a fresh corn frittata.

This is such a brilliant idea from the June edition of Cooking Light magazine…and I wish I had thought of it! I can’t tell you how pleased this dish made me. This frittata utilizes a slightly better technique than I have used in the past, resulting in a perfect looking and perfectly textured slice of goodness. The fresh corn paired with egg, cheese, shallot and herby, fresh Italian parsley, just sings. It’s also very easy to make! We enjoyed this dish with the Fruited Farro Salad from my last post, also inspired by this particular jam-packed issue of the magazine. Don’t miss out on trying this frittata while corn is in season, you won’t be sorry! You can find the recipe at the end of this post.

In addition to this lovely frittata, I want to share another recipe that I’m so excited about. It’s for Bourbon Cherries from Greg and Katherine over at Rufus’ Food and Spirits Guide. (Click on the titles to see for yourself.) This year we’ve had an amazing amount of cherries at a decent price in our markets…the first time I can remember this, so it must have been a very good year for them. I saw this recipe on their blog and happened to already have a huge bag of cherries in the fridge, waiting to be dispatched…et voilà! I followed their recipe exactly except for the fact that I have a cherry pitter, so I left mine whole instead of halving them. I’m so excited about these potent babies, that I’m going to make another batch. We have particularly enjoyed the cherries and the liqueur mixed with rye and a couple of drops of bitters for a delicious spin on a Manhattan. My mind is reeling at the possibility of the new cocktails and quick breads or cakes that I could make with these cherries, and the liqueur they produce. Thanks Greg and Katherine, we’re all smiles over here!

We've polished off half of these so I'm making some more tonight!

We’ve polished off half of these so I’m making some more tonight!

We’re still having fun hiking this summer on our mission to do a new hike once a week, and these hikes almost always involve walking in woods and forests. It’s a fact that walking in the woods lifts spirits and makes you feel good, but did you know that it can lower blood pressure and pulse rate, decrease fatigue and tension, increase the number of anticancer proteins and encourage the growth and activity of disease fighting white blood cells? I have read that in Japan, this has developed into a new form of therapy and preventative medicine called shirin-yoku, or “forest bathing,” which involves taking a relaxing stroll among the trees, breathing it all in. Who knew? We love it and I think you will, too, if you give it a try.

There are some books and websites available that have been our inspiration for these hikes and you can check them out for yourself by clicking on these three links—Atlanta’s Best Hiking Trails, Top Ten within 40 miles of Atlanta, 60 Hikes Within 60 Miles of Atlanta, and the book Hiking Atlanta’s Hidden Forests-Intown and Out. So far, we’ve hiked 7 of the Top 10 trails and in the last few weeks, all of them beautiful and quite diverse. What we’ve found is that each place even has trails within the trails, so some of these we’ll be returning to and will hike at a later date. We’ve been at this since June 8, and I’m a little late in sharing due to delayed posting, so today I’ll highlight of a couple of them with you to get caught up.

Following are the Top 2 out of the Top Ten Atlanta Trails that we’ve hiked so far, along with links to more details about the trails. I would encourage you to read the links before visiting, as there is much more information about the areas and the history that I can detail here without making this post even longer than it already is. I hope you enjoy hiking along with us for a spell!

#1 Sweetwater Creek State ParkWe could certainly see why this one was ranked number 1 out of the Atlanta trails. It’s about a 30 minute drive west of Atlanta and the scenery is stunning, spanning over 2500 acres of creekside landscape. A wooded trail follows the stream to the ruins of the New Manchester Manufacturing Company, a textile mill burned during the Civil War. Sweetwater Creek provides a North Georgia outdoor adventure – without the drive. We trekked a 5.1 mile loop next to the creek, which involves some elevation changes and a small amount of the trail is over rock. Once you reach the end of the creek trail, you turn into forest for the next couple of miles, then come out into flat pasture land to make your way back to the trail head at the LEED Platinum Visitor’s Center, which is well worth taking a few minutes to tour. As another hiker recommended, we stayed to the left on our hike, walking next to the creek and meandering back to the main trail. The trails are easy to see, but the blazes are not well marked. Staying to the left along the creek makes it easy not to get lost and it’s very pretty, too.

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#2 Arabia Mountain Trails: To say that you’d never guess this exposed granite field landscape was in Georgia, much less half an hour from Midtown Atlanta, is an understatement. This barren, moon-like and almost surreal landscape is quite otherworldly. On our first trip, we chose to hike the Mile Rock Trail (but I like to call it Moon Rock Trail) over a mile long and stone cairn-marked granite face to Lake Arabia, then headed back through the forest trail leading to the bike trail, and out from there. It was early afternoon and 98 degrees the first day we went, so we kept our hike to about 4 miles and did not go up the mountain. Our second trip was this weekend. This time we did hike to Arabia Mountain and the summit, which commands a beautiful view of the surrounding area. From the summit you can see that there is another forest trail at the base of the mountain which will take you to Arabia Lake (yes, there are two lakes apparently with similar names.) Both granite trails feature many interesting ecosystems unique to the area, the granite itself is very beautiful with molten patterns. When we hiked this past weekend, we’d just had torrential rains the night before, so there were small ponds in the granite, teeming with life. I can just imagine how magnificent these ecosystems must be in Spring, and we’ll have to check that out. The are also some 30 miles or more of connected bike trails through this general area, known as the Arabia Mountain National Heritage Area, and we’ll be back there with our bikes in the Fall.

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Extreme panoramic view from the summit of Arabia Mountain.

Extreme panoramic view from the summit of Arabia Mountain.

Lastly, I’d like to thank everyone for their very kind comments about my header. While it does look quite tropical—and that’s what I was going for, being Summer—you might be interested to know that it is actually an un-retouched image of a cardinal flower in bloom in my front yard…next to a pine tree! Pretty cool, eh?

This is the most perfect looking frittata I've made to date!

This is the most perfect looking frittata I’ve made to date!

Corn Frittata with Pecorino-Romano Cheese (but I used Parmesan instead!)
Ever so slightly adapted from Cooking Light
Makes 4 servings

1 teaspoon olive oil
2 1/2 cups fresh corn kernels and their milk* (about 3 ears)
1/2 cup diced shallots
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, divided
1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/4 cup 1% low-fat milk
6 large eggs, lightly beaten
2 teaspoons unsalted butter
1/3 cup Parmigiano-reggiano cheese, grated
2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

Heat a medium oven proof skillet over medium high heat, I use my 10 inch cast iron skillet. Add the oil to the pan and swirl to coat. Add the corn and the shallots to the pan and cook 3 minutes, stirring frequently. Stir in 1/4 teaspoon of the salt, 14/ teaspoon of the pepper and the smoked paprika. Place the corn mixture into a small bowl and set aside to cool for 5 minutes. Wipe our your skillet with a paper towel, and set aside for a moment.

Place the remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon pepper, milk and eggs in a bowl and whisk to combine. Add the corn mixture to the egg mixture and stir to combine. Preheat the broiler to high.

Return the skillet to medium heat and add butter to the pan. Swirl until the butter melts. Add the egg mixture to the pan. Cook 1 minute without stirring. Gently slide the pan back and forth to keep eggs from sticking. Cover, reduce heat to low, and cook 4 minutes longer or until eggs are set and golden on the bottom. Sprinkle cheese evenly over eggs. Broil 1 minute or until eggs are are just set on top and the cheese browns. Remove from the oven, slice into four pieces and serve with parsley sprinkled over and a little more paprika for garnish, if desired.

*After you have used the sharp side of your knife to cut fresh corn off the cob, use the flat side to scrape down the cob and get the sweet corn “milk” liquid to add to the kernels and cook as outlined. Very tasty.

 

Camping and Hiking Part II, Fruited Farro Salad, and Grilled Za’atar Spiced Chicken with Peppers and Onions

FinishedFarroCherrySaladSummer is in full force and it’s just flying by. Soon the children will go back to school, the wind will take on a decidedly cooler feel, and Fall will be here before we know it—but not yet! There’s still plenty of time for grilling and chilling.

Hot weather makes me crave salads and this Fruited Farro Salad is one of my new favorites. This colorful salad is more savory than sweet, with a perfect balance between the natural sweetness of the fruit and nuts, the herbaceous parsley and crisp celery, and the chewy farro with a tangy dressing. It pairs well with most any food and is particularly nice with barbecued pork, or with your favorite style of chicken…like this Za’atar Spiced, Marinated and Grilled Chicken with Peppers and Onions. These two dishes make a complete meal, and the farro salad lasts for a few days, so leftovers can be used for a light lunch. Check out the easy recipes below for these two versatile and delicious dishes to try.

As I mentioned a couple of posts back, we’ve been doing some hiking lately and have managed a hike a week all summer—with the one exception of last week when we were traveling. Hiking in North Georgia is particularly nice right now because the temps are so much cooler than those we have here in the city. Following is the continuation and conclusion of my story about our little adventure camping in the mountains in early June, featuring three more great hiking areas to explore…

Close to the Warwoman Dell recreation area is Black Rock Mountain, a beautiful state park with a visitors center which is situated at the top of the mountain, overlooking the Georgia Blue Ridge Mountains. The area features camping, cabins and hiking trails as well as scenic overlooks with some 80 miles of vistas. The cabins and the tent campsite areas literally hang over the edge of the top of the mountain, and the views are breathtaking. There are RV campsites with hookups by reservation, cabins by reservation and walk-in rustic campsites on a first come, first serve basis. Because we’d just finished our hike at Warwoman Dell when we visited here, we didn’t hike any of the trails, but we did make a note to try renting a cabin here at some point down the road.

The next day our hike was at Tallulah Gorge State Park. I had visited the gorge before from the other side, but hadn’t been to the Interpretive Center or down some of the trails that follow a series of waterfalls from the Center…some of which are quite steep. One of the most spectacular canyons in the eastern U.S., Tallulah Gorge is two miles long and nearly 1,000 feet deep. You can obtain a pass at the Center to go down to the floor of the gorge and cross over it on an 80 foot suspension bridge. On the day we were there, they had given out the limited number of passes available to hike down into the gorge, so we toured some of the waterfalls instead. We walked down 3 different trails and viewed 3 of the numerous waterfalls, but were thwarted from going further by some rather ominous storm clouds moving in. For those who are lucky and adventurous enough to get a pass to go down into the gorge, know that there are around 1099 steps down into, and back out of, the gorge. It’s considered a strenuous hike…especially coming back up. You can loop across the gorge and come out on the other side…if you’re hearty enough to do so. Another day for us, perhaps.

Our last hike on this 4-day trip was up the mountain of Brasstown Bald, the highest mountain in Georgia. Brasstown Bald rises 4,784 feet above sea level and its peak looms half a mile above the surrounding valleys. The observation deck offers a breathtaking view of the mountains’ scenic vistas, which sweep a four state area, and the “Bald” falls under the purview of the U.S. Forest Service.

“You hiked all the way up the mountain?” you ask. Heck no. We drove up most of it to the Forest Service Park Ranger parking area, took our picture with Smokey the Bear like any other good tourists would, then hiked the paved and steep 1/2 mile trail to the summit of the Bald where the Visitor’s Center and lookout station are located. For those who don’t wish to hike the trail, there’s a free shuttle that will take you to the summit.

In addition to being able to view four states from the Bald on a clear day, the weather at the summit of Georgia’s tallest mountain is very different from the rest of Georgia. The temperatures are 5-10° F cooler than the rest of the state, and at any time, fog, mist, and storms may unexpectedly move in and obscure the view. These weather conditions help to contribute to the variety of plants and wildlife found on the forested slopes of Brasstown Bald Mountain, and we were able to see spring wildflowers, mountain laurel, azalea and ferns all the way up the trail. It’s a great place to visit in the summer because the temperatures have never exceeded 84° F. The Forest Service has an interpretive center inside the Visitor’s Center, along with a little theater that plays a short film on the history and nature of Brasstown Bald. You can walk up the short flight of stairs to the observation decks and see north, south, east and west, with maps to view that show you what you’re seeing. It’s quite charming and very beautiful.

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On the last day of our camping/husband’s birthday trip, we experienced a very scary thunderstorm during the night that had us hurriedly packing up our tent and heading home the next day. Fortunately, we have a great tent with a rain fly, and were camped in a secluded spot during the storm. And most fortunate of all, there wasn’t any significant wind or hail involved and our tent didn’t leak, but the lightning was frequent and the torrential rain was relentless. All in all, we had a great time and were lucky that the weather held for us as long as it did, since scattered thunderstorms are the norm here this time of year.

I’ll share more hiking adventures soon, but for now let’s get back to the food! Being outdoors makes me really hungry and this easy meal is a tasty and healthy way finish to your day after hitting the trails, or for dinner any time. I hope you all are having a lovely summer so far…or if you’re in the southern hemisphere, a mild winter. Either way, I hope you’ll enjoy these two dishes.

Fruited Farro Salad
Slightly adapted from Cooking Light’s Farro, Cherry and Walnut Salad
Makes 8 Servings

5 cups water
1 1/2 cups uncooked farro
1/2 teaspoon salt, divided
3/4 pound sweet cherries, pitted and halved (about 2 cups) or an equal amount of red seedless grapes, halved
1 cup thinly sliced celery
1/2 cup coarsely chopped walnuts, toasted
1/2 cup packed fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon whole-grain Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon honey
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
additional freshly ground black pepper to taste

Bring 5 cups water to a boil in a large saucepan. Add farro and 1/4 teaspoon salt to boiling water; cook 15 minutes or until al dente. Drain; cool at room temperature, about 15 minutes. Combine farro, cherries or grapes, celery, walnuts, and parsley in a large bowl.

Combine lemon juice, mustard, honey, pepper, and remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt, stirring with a whisk. Gradually add oil, stirring constantly with a whisk. Pour dressing over farro mixture; toss to coat. Taste for seasoning and add a little more pepper if needed.

A Camping Trip, A Birthday and A Blogging Anniversary!

Finished2 Happy Summer! 

These last few weeks have been filled with events—a lot of work, a little travel, a little cooking, a little hiking and some little cakes.

My posting has also been a little less frequent lately, so it’s time for a series of “catching up” posts on what’s been going on. Sit down with your favorite warm or cold beverage and come along with me as we explore some of the wonderfully wild and incredibly beautiful National Forests, Recreation Areas and State Parks of Northeast Georgia, United States.

My husband’s birthday was June 5th and he wanted to take a 3-4 day tent camping trip up to the mountains, which has become our ritual around his birthday. It’s a nice time to go because it’s just before the arrival of crowds, pesky insects and the super hot weather.

Full disclosure here: We have a very large tent that we jokingly to refer to as “the condo,” an inflatable queen-sized pillow-top air mattress, a clip on “ceiling fan” with a light, a two burner propane stove top, lanterns, chairs, a grill top for fire pits and an inflatable class IV rapid Sevylor two person travel kayak that we’ve taken out on lakes, rivers and the ocean. We only camp where we can car camp and there’s at least one “facility” close by. So before anyone says “I can’t believe you camp in a tent for fun and relaxation,” this is our version of “glamping!”

On this trip, we spent our time in and around Lake Rabun, camped in a National Forest Recreation Area close to the lake. Lake Rabun is the third of a series of six manmade lakes in North Georgia, owned and operated by Georgia Power who built damns in this area to create lakes that generate hydroelectric energy for Atlanta. Rabun is our favorite of these lakes and we always enjoy some of the small amenities in the area including a couple of restaurants and an inn or two, a grocery store, a marina and a local vineyard. It suits our glamping style quite well! On this trip in addition to swimming in the lake, we did something we don’t normally do up there while camping…trail hiking. As many times as I’ve been in that area, I had no idea there were so many beautiful trails so close by.

Of course the Appalachian Trail runs through Georgia and there are trailheads for it throughout our mountains, but in our case we were interested in smaller looped trails for short day trips. One we discovered that has now become a particular favorite of ours was Warwoman Dell. It’s a beautifully scenic recreation area along Warwoman Creek, featuring a small nature trail that leads to a waterfall surrounded by wildflowers and other fauna, and also access to the 37-mile long Bartram Trail, which runs through this area as well. We packed a picnic and hiked around through the dells along a small section of the Bartram Trail, then headed down the nature trail to the waterfall, snapping pictures as we went. It was so idyllic and peaceful…very “Middle Earth,” and I’d go back there in a heartbeat. Here’s a slideshow of our Warwoman Dell adventure.

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I hope you’ll take a moment to follow the links associated with the name of each spot and find out more about these scenic areas…and maybe even check them out for yourself if you live in this area. I’ll be sharing the rest of our trip and some sights in the next post, so stay tuned.

We actually had so much fun hiking while on vacation, that we’ve now decided to take one hike a week, but not necessarily in the mountains. You see, we are blessed with such a diversity of ecosystems here in this state, as well as having a plenty of State Parks and National Forest areas. There are actually 60 hikes within 60 miles of Atlanta, and 30 of them are within 30 minutes of our house! We’ve been doing more hiking since we returned from this trip and I’ll share some of the best of those with you over time.

In addition to celebrating my husband’s birthday, last Sunday (the 15th of June) was my 3 year blogging anniversary! My goodness, what a full 3 years this has been. And while my posting has suffered a bit lately, let me assure you that I’m here to stay and I hope you’ll keep on reading and commenting with me for the next 3 years. Thank you for joining me on this wonderful blogging journey!

This post just wouldn’t be complete or true to the tagline of this blog: “Where all trails lead to good food,” if I didn’t share these deliciously quick and festive mini-cupcakes I made upon our return home to celebrate my husband’s birthday and my bloggiversary. This devil’s food is rich and dark, with the addition of coffee to really liven up and enhance the chocolatey flavor. And my easy Vanilla Buttercream frosting is a recipe I’ve made since I was a child. It’s a perfect foil for the devil’s food cake.

Cheers, happy eating and happy hiking!

Easy Devil’s Food Mini-Cupcakes with Easy Vanilla Buttercream Icing
Makes 32 mini-cupcakes or about 8 regular-sized cupcakes

For the cupcakes:
2 ounces of unsweetened baking chocolate
1 scant cup of granulated cane sugar
3/4 cup of all purpose flour
1/4 plus 1/8 teaspoon of baking soda
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 cup of hot brewed coffee
1/4 cup light sour cream
1/4 cup canola oil
1 egg, lightly beaten
1-24 cup mini muffin tin and 32 mini muffin paper cups

For the icing:
1 3/4 cup confectioner’s (powdered icing) sugar, plus a bit more if needed for consistency 2 Tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
2-3 Tablespoons of milk
1/4 teaspoon good quality vanilla extract, I use Madagascar Bourbon vanilla

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line your tin with 24 muffin cups, reserving the remaining 8 muffin cups for the second batch (I do this in two batches, but if you have two pans by all means do one batch.) Melt the chocolate over very low heat, stirring constantly, then remove it when it is smooth and set aside. Sift the sugar, flour, baking soda and salt together into a medium bowl. In a large bowl, whisk together the coffee, sour cream and canola oil. Gradually whisk in the egg, then stir in the chocolate. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients, stirring until smoothly blended. Drop the batter by tablespoonfuls into the muffin cups, filling them 3/4 of the way full. Bake the cupcakes in the oven for 15 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the cake comes out clean. (Larger cupcakes will take 20-25 minutes.) Remove the cupcakes from the pan and allow them to cool upright on a wire rack, until they are completely cooled. If doing two batches, repeat the process with the remaining batter and cups.

When the cupcakes are completely cooled, make the frosting. Place the softened butter into a small bowl. Beat a small amount of the powdered sugar into the butter with a hand mixer fitted with beaters and on low speed, until well blended. Continue to add the sugar alternating with the milk until the icing is smooth but stiff enough to spread. Add the vanilla and mix well. Add more sugar if the mixture is too soft, or a tiny bit more milk if it’s too stiff. Use a small spatula to spread about a scant tablespoon of icing onto each cupcake. Serve with celebratory candles, sprinkles and ice cream! These will keep at room temperature well covered in plastic for a couple of days…if you have any left.