Cooking, Cabins, Crafts & Careers

Things that make life interesting

The Colorado River – Grand Canyon Rafting Trip

Image Ummm — Check

This trip for hubby’s birthday was BEYOND expectations!  I mean, really, how does a high maintenance girl like me spend 4 days and 3 nights without any electricity, running water (well I guess those rapids on the Colorado could be considered running), potty, shower, mirror, and heaven forbid cell phone or internet access???  What was I thinking when I said, “sure honey, I’d LOVE to take this trip of a lifetime with you for your birthday?”  I’ll tell you what I was thinking… I was thinking, “this martini tastes pretty good!”

So we sign up for our little adventure and off we go, just like to summer camp, “2 pair quick dry shorts, 1 long sleeve fleece top, 1 pair socks, sturdy water sandals, hat, sunscreen… you get the picture.

First up is to arrive at a small airport on the outskirts of Las Vegas.  After each person is weighed, separate from their expertly packed duffel bag, we are assigned a seat so that the weight is equally distributed on our little cigar plane… wouldn’t want this baby flying sideways.ImageWe take the 40 minute or so ride to Whitmore International Airport in Arizona, landing oh so carefully on the dry dirt runway, 80 miles from the nearest town.ImageWe arrive at the Bar 10 Ranch for lunch and a debriefing on the activities for the evening, (horseback riding, 4 wheeler tour down to the river, cowboy lasso school, hike over to the original cabin on the ranch for a history lesson, and the evening’s entertainment by the staff at the ranch).  Just a little chef note – dinner included beef from the cattle being raised on the ranch – it was quite tasty.  The evening was relaxing and we all got to mingle and meet our fellow rafters — you know scope out who you think will and won’t “rock the boat” so you can kind of make your way to the right side of the group when they are dividing you up into groups for the rafts.  For me, that’s basically people who want to get their hair wet versus people who don’t.

Our first night’s accommodations.  Image








The next morning after a hearty cowboy breakfast prepared by the fine folks at Bar 10, we were again, weighed, measured and grouped for our next transport.  I can’t begin to describe the exhilaration of getting into a helicopter that literally comes to your doorstep and then leaps off the mountaintop as you make your way down through the cabin landing on the banks of the Colorado River.  
















So we meet on the banks of the river for our next debriefing… distribution of our day dry bags, night dry bags, sleeping bags and an introduction to the guides that will be responsible for keeping us alive for the next several days, both on the water and off.  Our existence is literally in their hands… from picking a campsite, to cooking our meals, to helping locate a missing camper the first morning (SCARY), to treating those suffering from dehydration and hyponatremia (the opposite of dehydration).  Luckily, dear hubby and I were spared of any maladies.

Second night accomodations:  Image

And one of the most invigorating showers ever… 


There are just soooo many great pics, but none can show what it was really like to experience a trip like this first hand.  Here is the group we shared this wonderful adventure with on our last day ImageSo while that hot shower back at the hotel felt REALLY, REALLY good the next day, the four days spent completely enveloped by nature touched all of my senses and gave me and hub memories of a lifetime.  I am so blessed to have someone in my life that makes me push the envelope and get out of my comfort zone… and have a bucket list worth sharing. 

Just a few of those memories… ImageImageImageImageImage







One of the Coolest Cabins ever…

We recently rented this very cool cabin on the Toccoa River in Blue Ridge GA for our anniversary.

Toccoa River Cabin

Toccoa River Cabin

While a cabin that sleeps 14 would be considered a bit excessive for a party of 2,  the cool factor was just too much to resist for my architect husband and me.  There were walls of window facing the river… a two story windowed garage door that opened up the dining area to an outside deck… an indoor / outdoor fireplace… a hot tub… and a beautiful kitchen with concrete countertops.

We spent the first afternoon lounging down by the river soaking up some rays, relaxing and reading.  It was some much needed down time for us both and the comfort communing with nature brings doesn’t come often enough.

River reading chair

River reading chair


Vintage cookware

We spent the next day taking a scenic train ride into the Copperhill/McCaysville TN/GA area and explored the old mining towns.  While there we enjoyed a burger and onion rings at one of the local establishments, “Roger & Carol’s,” picked up a souvenir train themed necklace for my granddaughter and rummaged through the numerous antique shops, where my amazing hubby threw down some cold hard cash for this beautiful set of vintage enameled cast iron cookware from the 60’s. It was a perfect turquoise color that I just so happen to be using as an accent color throughout the house and it cooks like a dream!  (He conveniently had not already bought me an anniversary present, so this just worked out perfect for everyone!)

The day was finished off with an evening around the fire-pit, eating a delicious homemade pizza from “town,” smoking a cigar (well hubby did, not me) and enjoying a nice bottle of wine.  We completed our long weekend adventure with a two hour rafting trip down the river in a funyak… (basically a kayak shaped blow up inner-tube with room for two).  We started upstream in the Toccoa River and finished 6 miles down, just across the Tennessee state border in the Ocoee River.

The weekend definitely made it an anniversary to remember.

Next up… white rafting down the Colorado River!

“C”olorado River Raft Trip!

I’d like to think that this counts as a “cabin” although the cabin will be a tent on the banks of the Colorado River deep in the Grand Canyon.  First off, I feel very, very lucky – this trip is booked solid throughout 2013!  In fact, back in March when we booked our trip, I think we snagged some of the last slots available and they just so happened to be during DH’s birthday week!  Check out Western River Expeditions here.

photo from

photo from

So here I am, a self-proclaimed “high maintenance” kind of gal, in a weak moment agreeing to go WAAAYYY out of my comfort zone for several days with what seems to be a trip that will be sans makeup, shower, electricity, running water… you get the picture, to celebrate my husband’s birthday.  (I hope he understands that I like my birthdays to include things like a steam shower, hot tub, wifi, a printed menu… (oh yeah, a food truck — some of you will understand), but I digress  He gets the idea for this birthday adventure from a book I bought him – (I should read the synopsis on Amazon a little more carefully).  He read in the book about an adventure of this kind on the Colorado River, and how the guides do ALL of the work — even preparing your meals, river-side.  Being the foodie/chef that I am, he won me over with the “how will they provide us three (gourmet) meals a day on the banks of the Colorado river?” — if I can’t even take a shower or flat iron my hair!?!?!?

So we make our reservations and get our information packet.  Now I think I’m going to summer camp — 2-3 quick dry shirts, 2 piece rain suit, 1 pair socks… oh and did I mention your suitcase / aka duffle bag can weigh no more than 20 lbs?  WHAT?  This girl needs 3 outfits a day / 4 if there is water involved… day outfit, swimming suit, dinner outfit and sleepwear… multiply that times 4 days and I think that’s in excess of 20 pounds, even without the makeup, hair styling tools and coordinating shoes!  No wonder I never went to summer camp after the year in 6th grade when I spent a week at Treemont in the Great Smokies and broke off my front tooth on the first night!

The countdown has begun – DH and I are both looking to lose a few lbs before the trip to prepare for all of those gourmet meals and so far so good!  He’s down 12+ pounds over the last several weeks and I’m starting on the 5 & 1 plan this week.  And just in case we don’t get those promised gourmet meals on the banks of the Colorado, there’s always the All You Can Eat Buffet’s in every hotel in Las Vegas!

C is for Change

Hugging my best buddy, Tabasco

Hugging my best buddy, Tabasco

I’m sure there’s a reason I happened upon an old posting of mine today which reminded me that I once started a blog and so I went to read it and found that I seem to have been triggered to post in “recent” years when it was a dog-day.  Well, I am sad to say that this big fella just passed last month and so we are empty-nesters in the dog world.  The good news is that now Tabasco is up in doggie-heaven playing with RocksAnne and telling her how much we still miss and love her; the bad news is that Tabasco had to go way too soon due to cancer.  When we lost RocksAnne, we already had Tabasco, so while her loss was painful, we still had someone to greet us when we came home from work, finish our dinner plates (with our without permission and sometimes before we were actually finished, or even started), take our spot on the couch the minute we got up to do something and comfort/protect us by sleeping in our bed at our feet at night… not to mention taking up more and more space in the bed during the night and kicking us when he had those all too familiar “chasing rabbits” dreams.  (I miss those bruises on my legs.)

So here we are… dog-less.  For the first time in 15 years… sad times, but I would not trade one day of this sadness for any of the days of joy these dogs brought us day after day after day… remember, dog is God spelled backwards.

Getting Back in the Swing of Things



It’s been a rough few weeks – everyone in the house is missing RocksAnne – including our other Chessie, Tabasco.  He’s our 4 year old baby, so hopefully we’ve got a long wait before having to endure this kind of heartbreak again.

I was doing ok until the following Tuesday night when I went to make dinner and RocksAnne’s rug in the kitchen was empty… she loved lying there watching and waiting — watching for me to drop something on the floor, knowing it would be “hers” as soon as I turned my back, and waiting for me to bring her a sample of whatever concoction I was cooking up.  My girl was the best mop on the market – she left not a single crumb on my floor tiles!

So the rest of the time has been filled with lots of neighborhood walks with Tabasco – in fact on the Thursday after we were about 15 minutes into the walk, he dug his heels/paws in and just said, “no, mommy – I can’t do this walk again today.”  Remember, you only “negotiate” with a Chessie, so we promptly headed back home.  I gave him a few days off before starting “occasional” walks after.

In addition to the walking, I’ve been cooking, testing recipes to add to my personal chef client menus.  I’ve had some great inspirations from my fellow chefs at the USPCA (United States Personal Chef Association) as well as looking for recipes to use up the goodies brought in this weeks basket from our CSA (Community Supported Agriculture), Delvin Farms.

Amongst the goodies I cooked and stocked in our freezer this week is my first attempt at “raw” cooking.  Sounds like an oxymoron doesn’t it?  A raw food diet (or living foods diet) is a dietary regimen consisting of uncooked and unprocessed organic foods.  I made a “raw” Key Lime Pie.  This dessert concoction was made from a host of ingredient, some seemed common, some not so common.  The crust was a mixture of coconut, macadamia nuts, lime zest and agave nectar… the filling ingredients included lime juice and zest, cold-pressed coconut oil, more agave nectar and avocados!  At this point I’m thinking the calorie and fat content must far exceed it’s “processed” counterpart, yet reports are that eating a raw diet is healthy and often results in weight loss.  Healthy — yes, weight loss — I’m not convinced.  However — I’m basing that on this one recipe experience.

The tasting:  I thought it was a great substitute, but obviously not the real thing.  Middle daughter (who is totally interested in this kind of thing) wants no one else to eat any of it.  In fact she scooped up 3/4 of the pie and took it to her vegan friends.  A few days later we went to a gathering at her space, Little Hamilton, and at the door when I said, “I’m Laura’s mom,” three people immediately said, “OH! You’re the one that made the key lime pie!  It was amazing!”  I can’t tell you how good it makes me feel to be known for my food!

In Honor of RocksAnne

RocksAnneI did the hardest thing I have ever done today.  I took my beloved 12 year old Chesapeake Bay Retriever, RocksAnne, to the vet to be put to sleep.  I won’t go into all of the issues she was having that zapped away her doggie joys, but let it suffice to say that my sweet baby girl is resting peacefully with all her doggie-ness restored.

This photo above is from quite a few years ago at one of the cabins in the woods we frequent.  She would hike with us, take a dip in the creeks nearby and chase critters in the woods.

A Chesapeake Bay Retriever is similar to a Labrador, but with curly thick hair.  There is a saying that you train a Labrador, you negotiate with a Chessie!  We have found that to be fact.  When I first got RocksAnne at 4 months old, I had a chain link fence put in my backyard so she would have a safe place to play – within a week she had literally unwound the chain link and escaped.  We repaired the fence and eventually “negotiated” with her to keep the peace and stay inside the fence.  The next summer I put in a flower/herb garden within the chain link fence area… she liked digging in my garden, so I installed an underground electric fence around the garden and put the collar on her.  The collar would give her a warning beep when she got within a certain proximity of the garden, if she proceeded to get closer, she would get a gentle shock… My smart girl took only days to figure out if she just stood there while the collar beeped, the battery would eventually run down and then she could dig up the electric fence wire without getting shocked!  How do you negotiate with your four legged friend when she is secretly reading the dog version of Popular Science?

We had some awesome times – sitting in the closet waiting for the storms to pass, replacing daddy’s favorite shoes that you thought tasted so good, getting the feathers out of your mouth when you caught your first duck, sizing up every stranger the other kids brought home before giving them your approval, swimming in the pond at Maury County, staying in too many cabins to count, and just sitting together in the same room.


RocksAnne Jan 2, 1997 – Jun 8, 2009

Rest in peace my sweet, sweet girl – you served us well and were a brave girl to the last moment.  We love you!

Pig Candy… aka Bacon Peanut Brittle

Pig Candy

Pig Candy

Being a personal chef and a member of the United States Personal Chef Association comes with its priviledges.  One of them is the access to many, many wonderful (and sometimes quite unique) recipes.  I stumbled across this recipe last week and just couldn’t resist making it for my husband – a HUGE bacon and brittle fan – who knew he could have both together???

Not being known for my great success at baking, except for cheesecakes, I was a little hesitant to try something as delicate as peanut brittle, but it really came together quite easy.  The main trick is having all of your ingredients measured out and ready to go because once the syrup/sugar mixture starts to boil, things go down in a flash!

Pig Candy aka Bacon Peanut Brittle

2 cups granulated sugar
1 cup light corn syrup
1 tablespoon pure ground ancho chili*, or to taste
Pinch of ground Cayenne pepper
1 cup whole salted, roasted peanuts
2 cups cooked, crumbled Applewood bacon, fully rendered and drained well
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
1 teaspoon baking soda

Butter a baking sheet with about ½ tablespoon of the butter and set aside.

Place sugar and corn syrup in a large, heavy 4 or 5 quart saucepan over medium-high heat, stir the sugar and corn syrup until the sugar dissolves and the mixture is bubbly and is pale golden brown. Add the ground chile and cayenne and cook for 2-3 minutes longer or until the sugar mixture has reached the hard-crack stage, about 300ºF if you are using a candy thermometer.

Take off the heat and working very quickly, stir in the remaining 1 ½ tablespoons of butter and then beat in the baking soda. Add the peanuts and bacon and mix well. Immediately pour onto the prepared baking sheet—it should even itself out, but if it doesn’t, smooth with a spatula and let cool.

Break the brittle into pieces by giving the entire tray a sharp slap on the kitchen counter. If it is made right, that’s all it will take! Store Brittle in an airtight container at room temperature or in the refrigerator for up to 1 month.

Makes about 1 lb

Recipe Tip*:
The ground ancho chile peppers make a big difference in this recipe so don’t leave them out. If you can’t find them ground in your local store, buy whole dried ancho chiles; they are available every where—I’ve even seen them at convenience stores! I actually prefer grinding them myself and never buy the chile already ground.

Here’s what you do: tear the chile in half and discard the seeds and stem and anything that is hard. The chiles should have a leathery texture, not a brittle one. Put the pieces of chile in a spice grinder, a.k.a. coffee grinder, and process until you have a tablespoon of “ground” ancho chile. Make sure you taste before you put in the brittle. The heat factor varies from chile to chile. Ancho chiles should taste a little fruity with a light heat. Store any extra in a jar with a tight fitting lid for up to 3 months.

Recipe Courtesy of Elizabeth Karmel

Cooking from a CSA

We joined a local CSA (community supported agriculture) group this summer for fresh produce every other week from late May to late August.  Last week was our first delivery and we had a basket full of kale, sweet potatoes, green onions, strawberries and broccoli.  What a treat – it was all so healthy looking and completely free of preservatives, pestisides and the other gunk that you find at the grocery store.   We are receiving food from Delvin Farms.

So the goal was to use this fresh produce AND to cook healthy (remember the 10 pound merry-go-round).  Since there was an abundance of kale, I needed to deal with it promptly, so I found two quick recipes that would be short on ingredients, big on flavors, low in calories and quick to the table.  These are from, one of my favorite recipe websites.  Both are around 100 calories per serving and I already had everything in my pantry/frig.

Kale and Ginger Stir Fry

2 servings, serve warm or cold

  • 2 tablespoons minced fresh ginger
  • 1 tablespoon safflower oil
  • 1/2 pound kale, coarsely chopped (may also use bok choy or spinach)
  • 2 teaspoons soy sauce
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 2 teaspoons toasted sesame seeds
  1. In a medium skillet, cook the ginger roon in oil, over medium heat, stirring often for 1 minute
  2. Add the kale and raise heat to medium high
  3. Add the soy sauce and water, and stir-fry until the kale is wilted but still slightly crunchy, about 3 minutes
  4. Sprinkle with sesame seeds


Feta Cheese, Kale & Red Onions

serves 4

  • 1 pound kale, washed and stems discarded
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 1 cup red onion, sliced
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • salt & pepper, to taste
  • 1/3 cup reduced-sodium vegetable broth
  • 1/4 cup feta cheese, crumbled
  1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil
  2. Put in the kale and cook 2 minutes, drain immediately and rinse under cold water
  3. Coarsely chop the kale
  4. In the same pan, heat the oil over medium heat and cook teh garlic and onions for about 4 minutes, stirring often
  5. Add coarsely chopped kale, salt, pepper, half of the feta and the broth
  6. Stir and heat thru
  7. Crumble remaining feta on top just before serving

Give one or both a try – they are quick easy and very, very healthy!

As for the 10 pound merry-go-round… I managed to workout 5 of the last 7 days for 1 hour each day, split between resistence training and cardio on the treadmill (did you know they have tv’s built right into the treadmills now???).  I watched what I ate, but could do better on that front.  It’s hard when I have a cookday and have to sample all of those yummy dishes that my personal chef service, Barber’s Home Bistro, is preparing for my client.  Increasing my water intake will be the focus this week.

The 10 pound merry-go-round

Who starts a diet on a holiday weekend???  Well it’s time for this chef to get her game back.  I’ve probably gained and lost this same 10 pounds about 10 times now…so basically 100 pounds, ugh!  My downfall is the weekends, thus my reason to start this on the weekend instead of doing more damage over the next 3 days.

I’m a big advocate of strength training over cardio.  I’ve never been a big cardio fan, never felt that runner’s high, but I do enjoy a good bicycle ride on a warm, sunny day.  I don’t have as many diet and exercise books as I have recipe books, but I definitely have more than than any of my friends.  Two of my favorite fitness authors are Jim Karas and Harley Pasternak.  Both are advocates of strength training for creating a toned lean body and both promote a healthy eating plan with a basis of moderation, not restriction.

So where am I now?  150 pounds, 5’7″ tall and measurements of 37, 32.5, 38.5.  I feel my best at 140, it’s really amazing what a difference 10 pounds can make!  I was just there (at 140), last July – what happened?  why did I not stop the climb at 142, 145, 147???  Why do I have to get to the 10 pound mark to finally dig my heels in and say enough?  At 142, I could have been back at “my best” in a week or two; at 145 it would have been 3-4 weeks, now here I am staring at that 10 pound merry-go-round and 8-10 weeks from where I need to be!!!

Oh well, the damage has been done, it’s time to put on my big girl panties and get moving!  So, following the Jim Karas methodology, going public is key – therefore I’m putting my goals and plan out here for all to see – adding some accountability to the mix.  To make the goals easier on the brain, I’m going to apply the number 5 to my goals from Harley Pasternak’s plan called 5-Factor Fitness – meaning 5 workouts a week and 5 meals a day.  I’ll post brief entries here so you can see how I’m doing and what I’m doing.  Maybe I’ll even inspire someone to get off their 10 pound merry-go-round.

So how did I get here?  Where did these 10 pounds come from?  What wagon did I fall off of?  Well to put it briefly…

  • I stopped watching what I ate
  • I all but stopped working out

Aside from some kind of illness, aren’t those basically the only two factors in a weight change… calories in vs. calories out?

Feel free to follow along with me, even if you have more than 10 pounds to lose, breaking it into smaller chunks makes it not quite so overwhelming.  Get yourself a notebook and schedule your workouts for this week.  Make a food plan and go to the grocery store so you aren’t having the think about it all week.  Reward yourself at each mini-goal and renew your commitment.

Here we go, Week 1, Day 1…

C # 3… “C”rafts

granny-with-hannahI can’t remember a time I didn’t enjoy doing crafts.  My granny is responsible for this desire to be creative.  She was always making something, and a lot of the time, it was something for me.  And unselfishly, she not only shared her creation with me, but the knowledge of “how to” create it.  There were Barbie clothes, crocheted tablecloths and bedspreads, quilts, potholders, costumes, knitted sweaters & mittens, dolls and much, much more!  She was a Paula Deen kind of cook, but instead of starting everything with a stick of butter, it was more often a spoonful of bacon grease!

Her name was Mary, but everyone called her Betty or “Granny Patty.”  She also ran an in-home daycare, back in the day, and nap-time was during her favorite soap, “As the World Turns.”  Although I can remember when she kept me as a child that she was a big fan of Jack LaLane (circa late 1960s), not so much a watch and participate kind of fan, but she definitely watched.  She’s been gone just a few years now, but she continued to share her creativity with my daughter and she enjoyed it as much as I did.

original-full-apronsCrafting has always been something I enjoyed, whether in the early, early days, making potholders from a small metal loom, making “sand-art”, making all of the “break-thru’s” for my high school football team’s Friday night game – or later on… painting t-shirts and clothes for my kids and my friends kids, cross-stitching, stringing beads for different types of jewelry, painting canvas and an occasional pillow or apron.  So lately, I’ve been trying to find a “craft” to use with my personal chef business,  After some encouragement from my fellow chefs that are members of our association’s chapter,, I’ve been focusing more on the apron making.  They set my goal of making 200 aprons by the end of July (our National Conference in New Orleans, ).  Ideally, I’m going to do a test market on Etsy before so I know what are the most popular styles and color combinations. 

turq-brown-half-apron1My focus is on creating retro and hip looking aprons by using a combination of some vintage fabric and some vintage-inspired fabrics.  However, I’m also taking the “green” route and recycling some clothing into some pretty cool aprons.  So far I’ve bought a truly vintage pattern off of ebay and used to make a couple of “full” aprons (photos of a pink and a green up to the left), 3 styles of “half” aprons that I found on the internet… a “clothespin” style apron (which I am showing here in the brown/turquoise and the blue/green), a “bistro” style apron and a flirty apron with a ruffle on the blue-apronbottom (more photos coming).  I have about 10 of these different half aprons made that I’m getting ready to put on Etsy, although I have to admit, I’m having a little separation anxiety with some of them… Check back soon for my Etsy Shop Opening post.

Comments and suggestions welcome!floral-apron

The next C – “C”areers…

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