Monday, December 24, 2007

Holiday Greetings from San Diego

We're spending the holiday vacation in two places - first, we're at Santee Lakes Preserve, camped right on a small lake that's part of a 7-lake system in northeast San Diego. The temps are much warmer here than back home in the mountains - it was shorts weather today while we toured the Midway aircraft carrier. Don's spent lots of hours fishing (not catching - just fishing), and I've been able to relax, stitch, play on the computer, read, and not think about work.

This is the view out my back window. That's one of the things I love about this trailer's floorplan - the rear kitchen and a window to see what's behind us.

Just before we left to come on this trip, I received a statement from STRS (State Teachers' Retirement System), which predicted what I'll be making when I retire. It's considerably less than what I'm making now, and Don and I had a long talk about how we can plan even better than we have. The first thing we're doing is "practicing." I've been looking at websites about cutting grocery bills, and will be trying to implement some of the strategies I've learned about. One strategy is finding the "loss leaders" at the grocery stores. I learned that the front and back pages of the grocery store ads are where the loss leaders are found, and that I shouldn't even look at the inside pages. Another strategy is to locate the "manager's specials," which can range from specials that aren't in the ad to meats just at the edge of their expiration dates. Our local Vons store always has manager's specials on meats, and I make it a point to see what's available. Thursday I found a fabulous bargain on pork. They had a package that had a pork roast, about 8 inches long, then 14 thin boneless pork chops, and 6 1 1/2" thick pork chops. The total value of the package, which was originally a large boneless pork loin, was $35.00. They had marked it down to $11.46. Wow! I'm going to get 9 meals out of it, since the roast will make two different meals. I cooked two of the thicker chops first.

This recipe is an adaptation of one I've tried in the past, and we decided that we like this version the best of all.

Spicy Orange-Glazed Pork Chops

2 boneless pork chops, cut 3/4 to 1" thick
salt and pepper
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
½ cup orange juice
2 tablespoon orange marmalade
2 tablespoon brown sugar
1 tablespoon vinegar
½ teaspoon crushed red pepper
½ cup chicken broth
1 tablespoon cornstarch, mixed with 2 tablespoons water

Sprinkle chops lightly with salt and pepper; dredge in flour. Heat oil in a heavy skillet; brown pork chops on both sides. Combine remaining ingredients, mixing well. Pour over chops. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer 10-15 minutes. Liquid will form a glaze. Turn chops to coat, and remove them to a plate. Cover with foil to keep warm. Add 1/2 cup chicken broth to mixture, followed by cornstarch and water mixture. Cook, stirring, until mixture thickens. Serve sauce over pork and cooked rice. Serves 2.

Breakfast this morning was a variation of sausage-egg casserole. I made it in muffin cups using refrigerated flaky biscuits. I think it came out pretty nicely, and they sure did taste good!

Sausage-Egg Breakfast Muffins

1 5-count roll flaky biscuits (they have to be the flaky ones)
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese, divided
6 oz. (about 1/3 of a 1-pound roll) pork breakfast sausage
1/4 cup chopped onion
1 teaspoon prepared mustard
4 eggs

Preheat oven to 375˚. Separate layers of flaky biscuits and place them in pairs in 6 muffin tins sprayed with nonstick cooking spray. Since there are 5 biscuits and 6 tins, you'll need to "borrow" some layers from the others to make up the 6th one. When you put them in the tins, stand them on end, bottoms touching, and press to form cups. Sprinkle the bottoms of the cups with half of the cheese. In a skillet, saute onion and sausage together, breaking up sausage as it cooks. Stir in mustard. Break eggs into sausage, and continue to cook and mix until eggs are done. Divide mixture into muffin cups and top with the remaining cheese. Bake in preheated oven 17 minutes or until bread is golden and cheese is melted. Makes 6.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Surprisingly Good Chicken!

I've had this recipe in my files for a while now, and decided to give it a try the other night. I had some turnips I wanted to cook, and so I needed a sweeter main dish to contrast with the pungency of the turnips.

Apple Chicken

1 Tablespoon olive oil
2-3 boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut and pounded to uniform thickness
salt and pepper
2 Tablespoons butter, divided
2 Tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1 apple, peeled, cored, and diced (any kind will do)
1 4-oz. can apple juice (equal to 1/2 cup)
1/2 cup chicken broth
1 Tablespoon lemon juice

Heat oil in a skillet to rippling hot over medium-high heat. Sprinkle chicken with salt and pepper and add to skillet. Brown about 2 minutes on one side, add 1 tablespoon of the butter and turn. Reduce heat to medium-low and cook about 8 minutes, or until chicken is cooked through. Remove chicken and keep warm. Deglaze the skillet with the vinegar. Add apple, apple juice, and chicken broth. Cook over medium heat until juices reduce and thicken, about 4-5 minutes. Add lemon juice and other tablespoon butter; when butter melts pour mixture over breasts. (There will be almost no liquid left.) Serves 2-3.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

It's Candy Making Time

My husband's favorite treat is peanut brittle, and I really hate paying the high prices to buy it already-made. This recipe is so easy! You make it in a microwave! I've made it dozens of times, and only once did I cook it too long, and that was when I bought a new microwave that was higher wattage than the previous one. Once I made the adjustment in time, I was back to perfect peanut brittle. I got the recipe from a woman I used to know about 25 years ago, so it's named after her.

Delilah's Peanut Brittle
Make this in a microwave!
Times are for a 1200-watt microwave. Add 1 minute to each segment for 800-watt ovens.

1/3 cup white corn syrup
1 cup sugar
1 cup dry-roasted peanuts
1 teaspoon butter
3/4 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon baking soda

Spray a baking sheet with butter-flavored nonstick cooking spray (or use regular butter). In a 4-cup Pyrex measuring cup, combine corn syrup and sugar. Microwave on HIGH 3 minutes. Add peanuts and microwave on HIGH 2 minutes. Add butter and vanilla, and microwave on HIGH 1 minute. Stir in baking soda, and quickly pour out on greased baking sheet. Spread it out if it looks thick. (It'll look like you ruined it at first, but it regains its rounded shape as it cools.) Once it's hard, after about 5 minutes, break into small pieces.

Since we need to make a thank-you/Christmas gift for our neighbor Carol (for watching our newspapers and house when we go camping), I thought I'd make her some chocolate bark. I received some of this last year in a foodie exchange, and it's now a favorite that I'll make every holiday season. It's very easy to make, and you can get the cherries, pistachios, and milk chocolate chips at Trader Joe's.

Cherry-Pistachio Bark
This recipe makes a lot, so it can be easily halved.

3 8-oz bars semi-sweet/bittersweet chocolate (I used Ghirardelli's)
1 12-oz. bag milk chocolate chips
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 8-oz. bag dried Montmorency cherries
1 cup chopped pistachio meats, divided
In a bowl over simmering water, melt chocolates together with vanilla. Add cherries and 2/3 cup of the pistachios. Spread mixture on waxed paper, using an offset spatula to make it of uniform thickness. Sprinkle with remaining pistachios. Place in refrigerator or freezer till it hardens (takes only about 10 minutes). Break into small pieces.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Now THIS is a Grilled Cheese Sandwich

I don't remember where I first had one of these, but it was back in Theresa's soccer days so it was a long time ago. The combination of flavors intrigued me, and now I make it often because we like it so much. Our local Vons store has the best bread - it's a multi-grain bread with a sourdough base, so it crisps up beautifully when you grill it.

Southwestern Grilled Turkey Sandwich

For one sandwich, lightly butter one side of a piece of sourdough and place it on a hot griddle. Layer with swiss cheese, sliced avocado, sliced turkey (smoked or regular), and some diced green chilies (from a can). Top with another slice of lightly buttered bread. Grill on both sides.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Get Ready for Thursday Soup or Stew Nights Again!

Beginning in January, I'll be hosting Thursday Soup or Stew Nights again on "Ruminations." All you'll need to do is cook up some soup or stew, post about it on your blog, and then let me know by 9-ish Thursday night that you've done so. I'll do a roundup with a link back to your blog and recipe, and I'll include a pic of your completed dish. In honor of the return of the event, I made some soup - and had just a small bowl (Don had two large bowls!) since it was so rich.

Baked Potato Soup

3 large baking potatoes
5-6 green onions
3 tablespoon butter
¼ cup flour
1 8 oz. carton heavy (whipping) cream
5 cups milk
¼ teaspoon ground white pepper
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup sour cream
⅓ cup real bacon bits

Bake the potatoes (70 minutes at 350˚). This can be done the day before, and potatoes can be stored in the refrigerator until ready to use. Cut them in half, and scoop out the potatoes from the skins. Chop one of the skins up and set aside.

Thinly slice the green onions, separating the white parts from the green.
Melt butter with white part of green onions over medium heat. Cook, stirring with a wire whisk, about 2 minutes. Sprinkle with flour, and cook, stirring, another few minutes until mixture is pale golden. Add cream, milk, white pepper and salt, and continue to stir while cooking over medium heat. Add potato, chopped potato skin, green onions, sour cream and bacon. Gradually add grated cheese, and stir until all cheese is melted.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Alanna's Turnips and Carrots - Wow!

Any time I need a new or different vegetable recipe, the first place I go is Alanna's A Veggie Venture. This time I wasn't even looking for a turnip recipe, but this one caught my eye, since I had turnips in the fridge. The main reason I tried it was because of the cute photo of the two 7-year-olds enjoying it. I figured if 7-year-olds liked it, I probably would too. I made just a little bit - it's only Don and me - and we ate all of it. So the amounts below reflect what I made; if you want Alanna's original recipe, go here. I don't have a picture because I've misplaced my camera! Ack!

Alanna's Glazed Turnips and Carrots

1 large turnip, peeled and trimmed and cut in 3/4" cubes
1 1/2 cups baby carrots, sliced at various angles - try to make them about the same size as the turnips
2 tsp butter
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1/3 cup chicken broth
1/2 teaspoon lemon zest
1 tsp lemon juice

In a large nonstick skillet with a cover, melt the butter. When it's melted, swirl to coat. Add the turnips and carrots in an even layer, stirring to coat, then let cook undisturbed for 4 minutes. Stir again, let cook another 4 minutes. Add the broth, brown sugar, and lemon zest and stir to coat. Cover, reduce heat to medium and simmer until vegetables are just tender, about 8 minutes. Uncover and increase heat to high. Let cook, stirring frequently until liquid cooks down to a glaze. This only takes a minute or two. Stir in lemon juice and serve immediately. Serves 2

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Getting Your Veggies for Breakfast

I love Jimmy Dean sausage. I won't eat any other brand, except for the occasional Costco links that my husband likes. But he likes Jimmy Dean, too, especially in biscuits and gravy. Once in a while I like a good breakfast or brunch strata. This one seemed like a good one to make this morning since we have our first snow and the oven helps warm up the house.

Sausage-Spinach Breakfast Casserole

1 1/2 cups lowfat milk
4 eggs
2 egg whites
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp nutmeg
9 slices whole grain bread, cubed
6 oz (approximately 1/3 of a 1-pound roll) Jimmy Dean breakfast sausage
1/4 cup chopped onion
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 10-oz. box frozen chopped spinach, thawed and drained
1 cup shredded Swiss cheese, divided

Preheat oven to 375˚. Spray a 9 x 9" or 11 x 17" baking dish with nonstick cooking spray. In a large bowl, whisk together the milk, eggs, egg whites, salt, pepper, cayenne, and nutmeg. Add bread cubes and toss to coat. Let sit while you prepare the rest.
In a skillet, crumble the sausage and sauté with the onion and garlic until meat is browned. Add to egg-bread mixture along with the spinach and 1/2 cup of the cheese. Stir until well-mixed and pour into prepared baking dish. Bake 30 minutes. Top with remaining cheese and bake another 5 minutes. Let stand 5-10 minutes before serving. Serves 6.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Have You Ever Tried Greek Yogurt?

While I was getting a pedicure the other day I was leafing through Food and Wine magazine, which someone had brought to the shop and left. I came across a recipe for pasta with zucchini, and the sauce was made with Greek yogurt. Having never eaten Greek yogurt before, I decided to give it a try. So off to Trader Joe's I went, and found a small container. I decided to change the recipe by adding some chicken, since I know my husband really likes meat. I used only one chicken breast, which ended up being just right. The Greek yogurt (to me) looks and tastes just like sour cream - so I might continue buying it. The sauce in this dish ended up reminding me somewhat of the sauce for Fettuccine Alfredo - but much lighter. This is a recipe we'll definitely have again!

Bowtie Pasta with Chicken and Zucchini
Adapted from Food and Wine

1 boneless, skinless chicken breast
a couple dashes of Famous Dave's Chicken Seasoning
8 oz. bowtie (Farafelle) pasta
2 medium zucchini, shredded
2 Tbsp. butter
1/2 cup Greek yogurt
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese plus more for serving
dash nutmeg
salt and pepper

First, prepare the chicken. Split the boneless breast and sprinkle with a very small amount of Chicken Seasoning. Grill (outside or on a grill pan or electric grill) until done. Cut in small pieces.
Meanwhile, bring several quarts of salted water to a boil. Add pasta. Shred zucchini. About a minute before the pasta is ready, add zucchini to the pot. Cook about a minute; drain.
In a large skillet, melt butter. Remove from heat. Add yogurt, Parmesan cheese, nutmeg, salt and pepper. Mix well. Turn heat back on to medium-low, and add chicken and pasta-zucchini mixture. Toss to combine and heat slowly. Serve with more Parmesan cheese. Serves 4.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Back to the (Low Carb) Grind Again

After a few months of truly slacking off (meaning "eating lots of potatoes and sweets"), my doctor has chewed me out and said I need to get back in the low carb mode again. I can do it. I just need to plan better. Blogging about it is going to make it "public," and this should also help me get back on track.

The first thing I did after my doctor's visit was run to the grocery store to get lunch, since I need to stay away from all the fast food places near my office. (My office shares a building with the best fried chicken place in southern California, and it's so hard not to eat it when I smell it all the time!) I got a South Beach Diet frozen chicken meal. It was the Garlic Herb Chicken with Green Beans Almondine. Verdict: I have to start bringing lunch from home. I really didn't care for the chicken in this dish. The taste of rosemary was, in my opinion, overpowering. The chicken pieces were of good quality, though - not gristly or fatty. The green beans were okay. But I didn't finish all of this, so I'm filling up by drinking a Coke Zero. If you've never had one, because you've always drunk Diet Coke or Diet Pepsi, you have to give Coke Zero a try. It really tastes non-diet. I don't know how they did it. But I don't taste the artificial sweetener in it like I do with Diet Coke and Diet Pepsi.

The second thing I did was go back to Kalyn's Kitchen. She's the queen of low carb cooking and eating. Really! I've already figured out the conundrum of what to do at my weekly Friday breakfast with my pals. Oatmeal. I like oatmeal. And Kopper Kettle makes a great oatmeal. I can bring my own Splenda to sweeten it, and I'll be good all morning. I could even bring in a little peanut butter to add to it, as Alanna does. Speaking of Alanna, that's another great place to go for ideas, as she can tell you how to cook any vegetable under the sun. I like vegetables, too, which is a good thing if I have to back off the potatoes again.

So, now that my lunch break is almost over, mind mind is whirling with lists and ideas, and I can't wait to get to the commissary for my monthly grocery trip on Saturday. If I pack the right foods for our camping trips, then I'll be fine. It's when we're home that I come up with all kinds of not-good-for-me treats. Don is glad I'm doing this - he's trying to lose a little weight and get back in shape, so we get to do this together.

Stay tuned! It'll be fun!

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Lake Mead, Nevada and Some Great Fried Fish

With a week off for Thanksgiving, we returned to one of our favorite winter camping places, Lake Mead. Gary had moved his motorhome to Echo Bay since Overton Beach had closed, and he invited us there to do some fishing. (Well, he invited Don to do some fishing - I enjoyed hours and hours of uninterrupted stitching time.) The bucket above represents only one afternoon of fishing, and was turned into 4 meals' worth of boneless striper fillets - plus one catfish. We ate fried fish two nights, and brought home 5 meals' worth of fish. So now I need to share with you the best way to make fried fish! This is how Gary makes it.

Fried Fish (Striper or Catfish)

1 cup Stovetop Stuffing mix (any flavor)
1 cup cornmeal
1 teaspoon Mrs. Dash seasoning
1 cup flour
2 eggs
1/2 cup milk
8-10 boneless striped bass or catfish fillets
vegetable oil (about 1/2" deep in a large skillet)

Put stuffing mix in a plastic or brown paper bag. Use a rolling pin (a can of vegetables will do in a pinch!) to crush the cubes. Combine stuffing mix, cornmeal, and Mrs. Dash in a large bowl. Place flour in a large plastic or brown paper bag. Combine eggs and milk in a shallow bowl. Shake fish fillets in flour until coated, and place in egg-milk bath. Then dredge in cornmeal-stuffing mixture, and add to hot oil. Fry until lightly browned on each side.

Sauteed Mushrooms

So simple to make, and so tasty. I used to make large pans of these, and the kids and Don and I fought over who would get the last one. I made these on our trip to Lake Mead last week - and we decided just one basket of mushrooms wasn't enough!

Sauteed Mushrooms

1 8-ounce box fresh mushrooms, stems removed
1 cup red wine (any will do)
2 Tbsp dried onion (not fresh)
1 tsp beef or chicken bouillon

Combine all ingredients in a skillet. Cook over medium heat, turning mushrooms once, until wine is almost evaporated. Serve hot.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Bo Luc Lac Spaghetti

One of my favorite Asian dishes is Vietnamese - called Bo Luc Lac, or Shaking Beef. I normally get it at Le Basil, a Vietnamese/Asian restaurant in Redlands. Theirs is basically beef, sauteed in Maggi sauce with garlic and onion, and served over rice.

Craving that flavor, but also wanting some Dreamfields pasta, I made a variation of my Steak & Veggie Spaghetti last night. I used some low-sodium Tamari soy sauce, and didn't use the zucchini (mainly because I didn't have any). The result was a variation that I'll definitely repeat.

Bo Luc Lac Spaghetti

8 oz. spaghetti (I use Dreamfields since it's low-carb)
2 Tbsp. butter
1 lb. sirloin, cut in 1/2" pieces
1 Tbsp. low-sodium soy sauce
4 cloves garlic, crushed or put through press
2 large onions, coarsely chopped
1 large bell pepper (any color), coarsely chopped
1/4 cup white wine
1/4 cup pimentos, diced (small jar)

While spagetti cooks, melt butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Sprinkle beef with soy sauce, and add to pan along with garlic. Cook very quickly (only about 2 minutes) and remove from pan. Add onion and bell pepper, and saute until crisp-tender, about 5 minutes. Add wine and pimentos, and cook another 2 minutes. Drain spaghetti, and add to vegetables along with meat mixture. Heat through.

We ate this last night with Parmesan, since that's what I do with the Steak & Veggie Spaghetti, but it's not critical. What was really good, however, was that we sprinkled crushed red pepper on it. At the restaurant, I add green hot sauce to my Bo Luc Lac, but the red pepper was just as tasty.

Monday, October 15, 2007

In Praise of the Clay Cooker

Many, many years ago I contemplated buying a Romertopf - a clay dish used for cooking meats, fruits and maybe even casseroles in the oven. I didn't. I had no clue how to use one, so I just didn't. Then about 10 years ago I attended a party for "Cookin' the American Way," a home party company similar to Pampered Chef. I bought an apple baker, which the consultant said would be great for meats. I put it up in the cabinet in my kitchen, and there it sat for 10 years.

Recently, a Famous Dave's Barbecue opened up in Redlands, and my husband and I go there occasionally for lunch. They have a roast chicken that's divine, and the waitress let us know about the seasoning that was available for sale. She told us to try doing the chicken in a clay baker, and refreshed my memory for how to use it.

Yesterday I decided to try the baker and the seasoning with a small pork roast. While the oven was preheating to 350˚, I soaked the lid in a large bowl of water. Note: Do NOT preheat the oven like I did. I learned from the commenter below, as well as recipe sites, that if you put a cold clay pot in a hot oven, it's likely to crack. I got lucky!!!! The inside of this one is glazed, so there's no need to oil it. I put the pork roast, some red potatoes, and some baby carrots in the baker, and sprinkled them with some of the seasoning from Famous Dave's. After about 20 minutes of soaking, I put the lid on and placed the dish in the oven. An hour and a half later, all was done. OH MY GOODNESS. I have NEVER had such tender, succulent roast pork. No matter how I've cooked it in the past, it has always come out tough and dry. The meat is so lean, that the experts on the Food Network recommend brining. No need with this cooker. This meat was juicy, cooked perfectly, and so tender you could cut it with a fork. It just melted in your mouth. The potatoes and carrots, which were left whole, were exactly right.

I'm looking forward to trying a roast chicken, and roast beef, and maybe even some ribs. Wow. I can't believe I've waited 35 years to try a clay cooker.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Hardship Assignment?

Diego Garcia - a little island in the middle of the Indian Ocean. You can find it on a map. It's about 37 miles long, but never more than 5 miles wide. Here's an aerial photo.
My son Kenny just finished a 3 1/2-month assignment there, and has just returned to his base in Okinawa, Japan.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

I'm Posting Elsewhere These Days

The past couple of months I've been caught up in cross stitching again - it used to be a favorite hobby about 20 years ago; I'm back at it with a passion! So, if you want to see what's going on, go to my stitching blog, Just One More Stitch.

Food bloggers - I have a question for you. How do you keep at it? I truly enjoyed blogging about what I was cooking and eating, but eventually, I ran out of "freshness." I mean, there are so many things that I cook that we like so much we repeat them. Night after night, I fix a great dinner, but since I'd already blogged about it months before, I had nothing to blog about. You don't want to see post after post saying, "We had ____ again. It was great, as usual." And I don't want to fabricate things, nor do I want to try new things just to have something to blog about. I mean, If I DO try something new, I'll definitely share it, but those new times are coming less often. So what do YOU do?

Thanks for being such great readers!

Monday, August 20, 2007

Don's Eye Surgery Went Well

For a description of the original injury, go here.

Don had three procedures today - removal of the cataract that had grown since the injury (it's normal; caused by trauma), a lens implant, and a "capular tension ring" implant. The capular tension ring was needed to hold the lens in place because the injury had torn the tiny filament/ligaments that hold the lens in place. The surgery was a bit more complicated than a cataract removal, so he was in there for over an hour. He has to wear a patch over the eye for a week, so that means no driving. But he should be able to see out of that eye very nicely - we'll know in an hour or so because he has to take the patch off long enough to put in some eye drops. I'm really glad this is over - he's worried about it for 6 months, and being the pessimist he is, he's been convinced he would be blind in that eye. I'm glad he's wrong.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Morning Visitor

Don stepped out this morning to get the paper, and this guy was coming down the street. I grabbed the camera and shot this pic as he left Tom's house next door and was heading for ours. He wandered around our back yard, and when he figured out that he couldn't get out that way, he came back around by the front door and went down our stairs and under the deck. From here he went up to the next street. I guess the drought is going to bring more bears down in search of food. This definitely got our hearts pumping this morning!

Thursday, August 02, 2007

The Perfect Fish Marinade

About 10 years ago, Don brought home some bonita, a member of the tuna family, after a deep-sea fishing trip. A friend suggested this marinade, and it was fabulous on the bonita. I decided to try it on some regular white ocean fish, and we've decided this is IT. It's not a sweet marinade, which is what I thought I liked, but a savory one. It's soooo good, and so simple. Give it a try and let me know what you think!

The Perfect Fish Marinade
Makes enough to marinate up to 6 fillets

2 tablespoons butter, melted
3 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1/4 cup lime juice

Marinate fillets 30 minutes to 1 hour. Grill, using a fish grill basket.

Henry's Lake State Park, Idaho

Henry's Lake State Park is where we spent the last two weeks of our vacation. We had a site with a great view of the lake, and it was close enough (25 yards) for Don to walk down with his float tube every morning and evening.

This is our view north from our campsite, with the only thing other than the lake being the two rental cabins.

To the east of our campsite lay Howard Creek Slough, home to hundreds (maybe thousands) of birds and two moose. The moose, both bulls, came out to graze every evening, and slowly made their way to the lake and back into the bush over a 2-3 hour period. People came from thousands of miles to Yellowstone and didn't see a moose, and we had our own moose here at Henry's Lake. (It's only 13 miles from Henry's Lake to West Yellowstone.)

The last photo I took on this trip was fittingly a very colorful sunset over Henry's Lake.

Red Rock Lakes National Wildlife Refuge

From our campsite on Henry's Lake in the corner of Idaho near Yellowstone, we could look westward up a low pass to some nice-looking mountains in the distance. After looking at the map, we could see a road going up and over that pass to some lakes and a national wildlife refuge. We packed a cooler and picnic basket, Don bought a 1-day Montana fishing license (the other one had expired several weeks ago), and we made it an all-day excursion.

We were surprised when we reached the pass - it really didn't seem like a Continental Divide Pass. But here's the proof!

This is the southwest corner of Upper Red Rock Lake, and you can see that it's way too shallow and marshy to fish. Besides, after we found a pamphlet about the refuge, we learned that there's no fishing in the larger lakes. Using the map in the pamphlet, we drove off in search of some fishing ponds and streams that were supposed to produce trout and grayling.

Some old buildings still exist from the first settlers who came to the valley. The mountains in the background are the Centennial Range, and the reason it's hazy is because of the the fires burning in Montana and Idaho. About an hour after the photo was taken, the smoke was so bad you couldn't see the mountains at all.

Willett Pond was the first one we came to, and Don was disappointed to learn that there were no fish coming to the surface to feed on the many bugs that were all over it. That showed him that they most likely wouldn't be interested in his flies, either. So we gave up on the ponds and headed back towards Red Rock Creek. We drove right past a "Dead End" sign, because I insisted that the map, printed in 2005, showed that the side road went all the way back to the main road. 5 miles later we came to a washed-out bridge, and had to backtrack almost 10 miles.

But that backtracking took us to beautiful Red Rock Creek. Another fisherman, who was leaving as we drove up, told Don that this creek has grayling in it. Don's never caught grayling, so he had to give it a try. No luck on this day. But the next day, he went back, and caught several.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Big Springs, Idaho - the begining of the Henry's Fork

About five miles from Henry's Lake is Big Springs. Here, waters from the Yellowstone Plateau have percolated down through the basalt and come out, thousands of gallons a minute, forming the headwaters of the Henry's Fork of the Snake River. From 1929 until 1953, a German immigrant named Johnny Sack lived in this little cabin he built himself, which is now open for visitors and run by the Forest Service. See the moose?

This is just one small "corner" of the springs, where the water flows out of the ground.

Trout and whitefish gather at the springs to feed and spawn, depending on the time of the year, and these huge trout were just hanging in the water below the bridge.

This young moose was enjoying his lunch of rich vegetation from the springs.

Upper Mesa Falls, Idaho

As I type this, we're camped at Henry's Lake State Park in northeastern Idaho - about 15 miles west of Yellowstone. A couple of days ago we took the Mesa Falls Scenic Byway, and came to Upper Mesa Falls. Henry's Lake and the Island Park area are in a giant caldera, similar to the one at Yellowstone. The Henry's Fork (of the Snake) originates here, and flows south and "off" the edge of the caldera at Mesa Falls. We visited the upper falls, which has an old inn/lodge and pathways with viewpoints. Since we visited in the morning, we caught the sun in the right place to see the rainbow!

How I Spent My Birthday, Part 3: Red Lodge to Cody

The next morning, we partook of the free breakfast at the hotel (carbs, carbs, carbs - the only protein was a hard-boiled egg), and headed back to Cody. Back up we went, this time stopping at the West Summit for a while for some picture-taking. To the left, in the center of the photo, is the Bear Tooth, for which the mountains and the highway are named.

If you look closely, you can see a lone mountain goat grazing in the lower center.

I really don't like having my picture taken, but I've been told that it's necessary for "posterity."

This picture, to the right, is now in at least five other vacationers' photo albums. We stopped at Little Bear Lake for a while, so Don could try fishing that one. So many people stopped, got out, and exclaimed, "Look, a fisherman. What a great picture!" or something along that line. Indeed, it was a beautiful shot.

Here he is, letting go of a small brook trout from Little Bear Lake.

How I Spent My Birthday, Part 2: Cooke City to Red Lodge

The Beartooth Highway leaves the valley of the Clark's Fork and goes up, up, up, to the "Top of the World," where Beartooth Creek flows along the road for about two miles. Of course, Don could't resist getting out his rod and giving it a try.

About the third cast, he got a strike, and caught (and released - he always releases) several small brookies.

From the "Top of the World," which we learned really isn't the top, the road begins to wind its way upwards, past dozens of lovely alpine lakes, including this one. I made Don slam on the brakes so I could get a picture of these two, just because I thought they were so beautiful.

After you reach the summit, there's a lookout to the west at the top of Rock Creek Canyon. See the U-shape? That's a classic example of a (formerly) glaciated valley.

My camera doesn't show the depth here - it's really much steeper down to Gardner Lake than it looks.

Here's another view of Rock Creek Canyon, from the place where you start heading down.

Back to the geology lesson - doesn't that rock look like Yosemite's Half Dome? That's because it was formed exactly the same way. Once upon a time, it was a rounded huge granite knob, and then the glacier, through centuries of grinding, cut it right in half as it passed.

I just love taking pictures of alpine lakes.

From here, the road drops down into Rock Creek Canyon, and goes north into Red Lodge, Montana. We had a reservation at Rocky Fork Inn, a nice-looking bed and breakfast. We pulled into an empty parking lot, confused by the signs in the window that said "No Room at the Inn." We assumed that all the rooms were taken, so we proceeded to take our bags out of the truck. As we headed for the front door, the owner came out to inform us that her sewer line had broken, so she couldn't give us a room. Ack. What to do? She said that all the other B&B's in town were full, and it was a loooonnngg ride back to Cody. So, we took a room at the Comfort Inn. Not exactly plush, nor was it the "Romance Room" I'd booked at the B&B. But we made the best of it, and enjoyed a great dinner at a local restaurant- probably the best filet mignon I've ever eaten. Don had a buffalo ribeye and proclaimed it excellent as well.