Thursday, August 27, 2009

A Short Note...

I hope you are all enjoying these last few days of summer. Ours is technically over, though I haven't quite been able to wrap my head around it. With the kids back in school, my days should feel free, but instead seem mysteriously full and busy...but at least there's peace and some much needed solitude. I have a new computer, which has been lovely (and SO necessary--ever since I spilled a glass of wine on mine...whoops!), except for that it has slowed down my work a bit due to file transfer time. But I hope to be fully functional by later this afternoon.

I've taken over the dining room table as my desk and have a cat on my lap and a dog at my feet. There are piles of cooking magazines, my inspiration, next to me, and my ever-present cup o' caffeinated it's coffee. To my left out the window, are two busy bird feeders, with a squabbling array of small birds chirping and pecking at each other. They remind me a bit of my children...

In other news, Matt built me a new raised garden bed in the kid's no-longer-used sand box last weekend that we filled with a whole truckload of organic soil/compost today. The seeds and seedlings will be put in tomorrow morning. It was an unbelievable amount of work, and with all this heat, it's a wonder we were able to do so much. It only took him one afternoon to build it...of course he had some helpers. It's very exciting and the kids and I are itching to get our hands dirty. I think the weather will hold and we should have a nice harvest by Thanksgiving time. How appropriate.

Like our wheel barrels? An empty recycling bin-or two-did the job. And there's nothing quite like shoveling piles of steaming compost in 100 degree temperatures. Now that's some hot...well, it was very hot (and aromatic), let's just leave it at that. Whew!

And finally, I've got a big project due at the end of September, which is super exciting, and kind of terrifying too. So much of my creative energies will be temporarily diverted. But I hope to still be able to post here at least once a week. And maybe I'll try a giveaway too. Would anyone like some homemade jam?

Friday, August 21, 2009

At Market...Peaches

This summer, on our journey eastward, I felt as if I was traveling back in time, at least as far as farm-fresh produce goes. In June at our farmers’ market, summer had arrived. Fresh herbs and stone fruits abounded, as did tomatoes and squash. But the farther east we traveled, the deeper into spring we were plunged. Local produce on the Cape was limited to baby lettuces, peas and strawberries, with other crops being hampered by a long, cold and wet spring. I missed the fresh fruits and veggies that are almost always available in southern California and came to the realization that, for as much as I complain that we don’t have seasons here as they do back east, we do have one very long, very important one—the growing season.

The day after we got home, I headed out to our farmers’ market to see what I’d been missing. The bounty absolutely astounded me. There were tomatoes, not just the red kind, but also the beautiful heirloom varieties. There was squash of all shapes and sizes, sweet corn, grapes, plums and most exciting for me, freestone peaches.

Peaches of any sort are wonderful. But freestones are special in that when they are sliced in half, the stone just pops out, leaving all the flesh behind. They are the best kind for canning because the halves stay intact, no pit excavation required. They make tasty baked desserts like crisps, crumbles, cobblers and pies, but that requires that the oven is turned on, and here in southern California, it’s really too hot to do that until, oh say, November or so.

But believe it or not, peaches are great on the grill. For a savory treat, I put them on a hot and greased grill, just until they are striped with slight char marks, and serve them sliced over a lightly-dressed salad of baby arugula with some rich, salty prosciutto or braesaola and shaved parmesan cheese.

If savory peaches aren’t your thing, it’s simple to make dessert on the grill too. By cooking them in a pouch made of parchment paper and foil, they essentially bake in their juices and become incredibly sweet and succulent. The best part is that you don’t need to heat up the kitchen. These saucy and fragrant vanilla peaches, served straight from the grill, are delicious spooned on top of vanilla ice cream or with a dollop of whipped cream. I only wish I could have captured their incredible aroma with my camera...

Grilled Vanilla Peaches
Serves 8

8 freestone peaches, peeled and halved
Juice from 1 lemon
1 tablespoon melted butter
2 tablespoons light brown sugar
2 teaspoons water
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract or vanilla bean paste (available at specialty food stores)
Pinch of ground cinnamon
Pinch of kosher salt

Toss peaches with lemon juice and butter in a bowl and place on a large piece of parchment-lined foil. In another small bowl, combine sugar, water, vanilla cinnamon and salt. Drizzle over peaches. Fold foil to form a packet, sealing all seams to make sure no juices escape. Grill over medium-high heat, covered, for 15 minutes. Carefully open packet, slice peaches and serve over ice cream, along with the juices.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Back to School!

So yesterday was the first day of school, which is bittersweet for me. On the plus side, I have my mornings back, with more time to do all the things I scrubbing toilets and folding laundry. Oh wait, I mean going to yoga class and having lunch dates with my girlfriends (and husband on occasion). But on the other hand, I miss my kids when they are gone, and miss the freedom that comes with the carefree days of summer vacation. We are officially back is on, music lessons are on, homework is most definitely on....

But with each school year, comes a new beginning, a fresh start, a reason to get organized and an excuse to celebrate, especially when the kids all end up with great teachers and are excited to be back at school.

And what better way to celebrate than with a good cocktail? (Love that segue there?) This one is light and refreshing and as cool as a cucumber. In fact, cucumbers infuse the vodka that is then spiked with a bit of fresh ginger juice, sweetened with simple syrup and topped with club soda. By the way, if you don't know how to make simple syrup (or are too lazy to do it, like me) Trader Joe's now sells it in a bottle!! It would be a great addition to an Asian-inspired meal...or just on its own. Be careful, though, it's a little too thirst quenching, if you know what I mean, and very easy to drink...ahem.

So here's to a great school year, to much learning and growth, and lots of fun too. Cheers!

Cucumber Ginger Spritzer (makes 6)

At least one hour before serving, chop up one English cucumber and place in a large measuring cup with 1 1/2 C of vodka. Chill. When ready to mix the drinks, fill each low-ball glass with crushed ice, 2 oz. of the infused vodka, 1 oz of simple syrup (which is quite easy to make), a squeeze of lime and 1 t of fresh ginger juice (grate some ginger into a paper towel and squeeze out the juice). Top with club soda and garnish with thin, long slices of cucumbers. Mix and drink. Slowly. Just sayin'...

Monday, August 17, 2009

At Market...Chiles

These lovely green beauties are New Mexico's pride and joy. Coming to market only in the late summer, they are snapped up in 50 pound boxes by those who call this arid desert home. The so-called Hatch Chile, or New Mexican green chile is celebrated each year, with a huge festival, drawing thousands to sample its heat.

Technically, these chiles can only be called "Hatch" chiles, if they are grown in or very near to Hatch, New Mexico, not unlike the sparkling wine grown in Champagne, France, that is the only kind that is properly dubbed "Champagne." They resemble the Anaheim chile, and taste kind of like the dark green poblano chile (which many around here use for chiles rellenos), but New Mexicans swear that those other chiles don't even come close to the flavor and texture of their native ones.

I personally, had never tried a Hatch chile...not even when we were in Santa Fe earlier in the summer. They weren't ripe yet, so we had to "settle" for the dried red New Mexican chiles, which are delicious of their own accord, by the way. So I was beyond thrilled when I saw that our local Bristol Farms was not only selling them, but also roasting them for no additional cost. Afraid to commit to a 25 pound case, I went in on Sunday morning after the farmers' market, and bought just 5 pounds. Because they weren't roasting them at the store right then, I took them home and roasted them myself on our gas grill, which was a piece of cake. 5 pounds of chiles fit our gas grill perfectly.

Chiles, like all peppers, are easily roasted and can be done outside (which I recommend) or under your broiler. Get the grill good and hot, toss on the chiles, and turn occasionally until they are blackened and blistered on all sides. Remove and cover with a dishcloth until cool enough to handle. The skin will then rub off easily. Naturally, we had to partake in the traditional lunch of a chile roaster....a hot, thick corn tortilla, topped with melted Mexican cheese (queso fresco) and a freshly roasted chile.

You should know that the smell of the roasting chiles was intoxicating and I was drooling well before my first bite. But the taste is completely out of this world. Though we were planning on only eating one taco, we had to make another, they were so good.

The chiles come in hot and mild, though we seemed to end up with a mixed batch. The heat that they generate comes on slowly, kind of like falling in love with that someone who's "just a friend." At first, the two of you are just palling around, having a good time, then suddenly, out of nowhere, you are all hot and bothered and there is a catch in your throat and you're breaking out in a sweat. That's exactly how it is with these chiles. It's a thrill, really. An incredibly delicious thrill.

After our lunch, we proceeded to tackle peeling, seeding and deveining the rest of the chiles. Though I thought a 5 pound bag would be enough, after they were cooked and prepared, the pile shrunk considerably.

To prep them for recipes first peel off the skin, once the chiles have cooled. Then cut off the stem, slice open one side and open the chile up. Scrape off the seeds and veins with the side of your knife, and set the chile aside.

I used about half of the chiles to make a traditional Chile Verde sauce, the gravy of New Mexico, based on the recipe from the renowned Pasqual's Restaurant in Santa Fe. It can be used as a topping for quesadillas, omelets, enchiladas, huevos rancheros, tacos and to slow simmer cubes of pork. I'll post the recipe below, which I thought was quite rich and spicy.

I suppose you're wondering what I'm planning on doing with the rest of my chiles? Well, the prepped chiles can be frozen and used any time a recipe calls for diced green chiles or roasted chile peppers, like this one. But I have so few left, I'll probably just eat them wrapped in a corn tortilla for lunch for the next few days. Of course, I'm going to head back out to Bristol Farms and get some more, now that I understand what all the fuss is about. If you can find these chiles at your market, you should won't regret it.

For our dinner, I made carnitas, Mexican rice, and refried beans, and served it with that delicious and spicy Chile Verde Sauce. It was a perfect foil to the rich pork and added plenty of heat to an otherwise pleasantly cool summer evening.

Green Chile Sauce
makes 3 1/2 C

If New Mexico chiles aren't available in your area you can substitute the more widely available poblano chiles.

1 1/2 pounds of fresh mild green New Mexico chiles, roasted, peeled, seeded, deveined, and chopped to measure 2 C
3/4 pound of fresh hot green Nex Mexico chiles, roasted, peeled, seeded, deveined and chopped to measure 1 C
4 C water
1/2 white onion, cut into medium dice
2 t dried Mexican oregano or marjoram leaves
6 cloves garlic, finely minced
1 1/2 t kosher salt

2 T vegetable oil
3 T flour

Place all the ingredients, except for the oil and flour, into a large saucepan and simmer, over medium heat, until juice is thick and opaque, about 20-30 minutes. Stir occasionally, to make sure that the chiles don't stick to the bottom of the pan.

In a small bowl, whisk together the oil and flour, then place in a medium non-stick skillet, over medium heat, to make a base for the roux. When hot and bubbling, stir frequently, until mixture becomes a golden brown color and has a nutty flavor.

Add 1/2 C of the chile mixture to the roux and stir well, then add the roux mixture to the pot with the rest of the chile mixture. Stir to mix well. Simmer for about 15 minutes more to get rid of the flour taste. Taste for seasoning. Remove from heat, let cool, cover and store in a non-reactive container in the fridge for up to 4 days, or freeze for 2 months.

Friday, August 14, 2009

A Breakfast Treat...With Some Heat

On my front porch, in a little cast-iron pot, lives a straggly jalapeno plant, that was entrusted to our neighbor for the summer while we were gone. I was pleased to see that it not only survived in our absence, but also managed to grow lovely fruits that look like glowing red bulbs on a Christmas tree. I harvested a few this morning, mostly to add to my scrambled eggs. But I had some left over, so I tossed them with some tomatoes, cilantro and onion, lime juice and a little salt to make a quick pico de gallo for an afternoon snack.

I love that the chiles have sweet and tender flesh, like most mature peppers do (think red bells or even better, the lipstick pepper), but underlying it all, is a warmth that gradually washes over you, like when more hot water is added to a bath that's cooled. Mine aren't particularly spicy, and I didn't even need to remove the veins or seeds. But they added just the right amount of heat to otherwise bland scrambled eggs. Of course, once I was headed in that direction, I decided to go all out and make a breakfast taco, not unlike the ones I ate as a student in Mexico.

One of the beautiful things about eggs, is that they are a blank slate of sorts, and can be enhanced by a wide variety of herbs and spices. These, nestled in a thick corn tortilla blanket, really hit the spot.

Mexican Breakfast Taco

Scramble 1 egg, seasoned with a pinch of salt and pepper. Meanwhile, warm a thick corn tortilla over an open flame on a gas stove (or in a skillet). Place egg in tortilla, and top with chopped cilantro and onion, diced tomatoes and avocado, grated cheese and minced jalapeno peppers. Sprinkle top with a little more salt or a squeeze of lime juice, fold and eat.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Tomato Time!

So since our return, I've become a little obsessive about tomatoes, and I think I'll blame my mother for that....on two counts--her own uncontrollable urges to eat them and the fact that, not only had she completely restocked my fridge (after a meltdown catastrophe..but that's another story entirely), but she went to Lombardi Ranch for some local produce, which, of course, included a tell-tale brown bag stuffed with the juicy, red orbs. I apologize for that Sarah Palin-esque sentence, but can't you see how pure, unadulterated enthusiasm for something can render one unintelligible? I think I understand her so much better now...but I digress...

We've been having tomatoes every night, sliced plain with a little salt or in salads mostly, until we ran out, which caused some considerable grief on my part. Though my mouth is raw and slightly peeling inside, I could not be hampered in my efforts to obtain some more of the the sweet/tart fruit, so off to Lombardi's I went yesterday, with two bewildered children who somehow thought that we were going to Target...I think not!

As we pulled up to the dusty farm stand, Mrs. Lombardi herself, and several of her pint-sized redheaded grandchildren were there to greet us. Though I was tempted to buy a "lug", I'm not quite ready to begin canning them, so I just stuck to a large bucket of so-called seconds, which are the ugly ones...split or misshapen in some way...but I like them because they look exactly like the ones we grow at home, and they are inexpensive. Their somewhat unsightly appearance, does not affect their flavor at all, however, as they are worlds away (literally) from those lovely, yet watery and mealy tomatoes available at the grocery store. It's true, folks, you can't judge a book by its cover.

We were rung up by a sweet six-year-old boy, who counted my change perfectly by the way, and headed towards home, my head swimming with ideas on how I could continue to sneak in some tomatoes for dinner without total mutiny. For some reason, I kept thinking about tomato pie, which wouldn't exactly be sneaking in the tomatoes, but rather making them star in their very own dish.

Once the idea caught hold, it could not be pushed aside. I absolutely had to make tomato pie. I envisioned one, piled high with sliced tomatoes, seasoned with fresh herbs I'd bought at the farmers' market, and topped with copious amounts of grated cheese. I researched many versions online, and came up with one I think was pretty darn terrific.

I hope you'll agree. Even my pickiest kid ate it, though he suggested I add sausage next time. Sigh. So much for a meatless main...

Tomato Pie
serves 4-6

pie dough for single-crust pie (if you are buying the dough, I like the Trader Joe's brand, otherwise I always make Martha's Pate Brisee)
4 large beefsteak tomatoes
salt and pepper
2 T chopped fresh herbs (I used thyme and lemon basil)
1 C mixed grated cheese (I used cheddar, fontina and parmesan)
2 T mayonnaise (or more if desired)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Roll out pie crust into 9-inch pie plate and crimp edges as desired. Place in freezer for 10 minutes to cool. Meanwhile, core then halve tomatoes around their middle (equator line) and dig your fingers into the chambers to squish out the seeds. Do this over the sink and wear an me on this one....Then slice the tomatoes in 1/4 inch slices. Sprinkle with salt and let drain in a colander while you pre-bake the crust.

Remove the crust from the freezer and poke the inside all over with the tines of a fork. Line with foil and pie weights (or rice or dry beans) and bake for about 10 minutes, or until crust just begins to firm up and get a tad golden. Remove from the oven.

Remove the weights, and layer in the tomatoes and season again with some salt and pepper to taste. Sprinkle over the fresh herbs. Mix the grated cheese with the mayo, and spread over the top of the pie. If there are any holes in the topping, some additional grated parmesan covers them up perfectly.

Return the pie to the oven and bake for about 25-30 minutes more, until filling is bubbling and cheese is melted and browned. You may need to cover the edge of the crust so it doesn't get too dark.

Letting it cool for at least 15 minutes will allow the pie to set a bit, but if you can't wait, it's still really good super's just a little bit runny.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

At Market...Corn

Fresh corn is the sure sign that summer has arrived. Though we try to rush it, there really isn't much point because the best corn is the stuff that is grown right around the corner, not states (or countries away).

It was fun to watch the progress of the corn crops as we made our way across the country and back. In June, the rows were still small, with no visible ears. But by August, the corn was high and the silks were turning brown, a true indicator of ripeness. On the Cape, just towards the end of our visit, the so-called "native" corn was ready, and boy was it delicious. The kernels were tiny and sweet, just bursting with flavor. We hadn't quite gotten our fill by the time we had to leave, but fortunately for us, we have a local farm stand that grows fine corn too. And it opened just in time for our return to California.

Corn is best eaten within a day or two of being picked. And by now, you should know what that experience corn at its very best, you need to buy it at the farmers' market or at a farm stand. Though eating it straight off the cob is wonderful, sometimes it's fun to mix it up a bit too. When I saw a recipe for risotto with fresh corn and arugula in Food and Wine Magazine, I knew it would be a hit and a great way to make use of abundant corn. Though it is a pretty standard risotto recipe, it has quite a few (easy) steps, so it would be a perfect meal for a leisurely weekend evening, when you have some time to devote to meal preparation.

Corn Risotto
serves 4-6 as a main course

4 ears of corn, shucked, and cut in half
8 C chicken broth
2 T olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
5 oz bag of baby arugula
salt and pepper
1T butter
1/2 yellow onion
1/4 pound raw, spicy Italian turkey sausage, removed from casing
2 C arborio rice
1/4 C dry white wine
grated Parmesan cheese

Bring stock to a boil in a large stockpot. Place halved ears (8 pieces total) in the broth to boil for 3-4 minutes, or until crisp tender. Remove to a cutting board to cool and keep broth simmering on low heat. Meanwhile, heat olive oil and garlic over medium low in another large stockpot. When fragrant, drop in arugula and stir frequently until barely wilted, just a couple of minutes. Season with salt and pepper and remove from pan.

When cool enough to handle, grate 2 pieces of the corn on the large holes of a box grater and set aside. Cut the remaining kernels from the cob with a sharp knife and set aside.

Wipe out arugula pan and add butter. Heat over medium low and add onion. Saute for 5 minutes, or until onion is soft. Add sausage to pot and break apart with a spatula. Cook until browned through, about 5 minutes. Stir in rice and grated corn, taking care to coat each grain with fat. Add wine and stir until absorbed. Then, over medium low heat, add broth, 1 cup at a time, stirring frequently after each addition, waiting until broth is absorbed before adding more. Continue in this way, adding broth in intervals and stirring, for about 20 minutes, or until rice is tender and most of the broth has been absorbed. It should be creamy and moist. Stir in corn kernels and arugula to reheat.
Taste for seasoning, sprinkle with grated Parmesan cheese and serve hot.

Home Sweet Home

After a total of 14 days of driving (with a 6 week interlude in Cape Cod), twenty-six states, and 7162 miles, I am happy to report that we are home. These photos, taken moments before we pulled into the driveway, indicate how happy (and completely crazed) the kids are too! (By the way, I'm not really sure why Ben has a band-aid on his nose).

I will, perhaps, sum it all up later, but I just want to say that we all gained a deeper appreciation for this incredible country...and each other...on this trek. Though I brought so many books and magazines to read, I spent most of my time gazing out the window at the varied landscapes, amazed at the beauty and uniqueness of each state we passed through. The kids (and dog) are absolute road warriors and spent hours upon end entertaining themselves, without much fuss. The things we saw, ate and experienced will never be forgotten. This certainly was a summer, and a road trip, to remember.

That's so good to be home!

Friday, August 7, 2009

Great American Road Trip: Part 13

8:17 a.m. 50 Degrees, Sun and Clouds

Depart our massive room in West Yellowstone. The dog spent a cold and rather lonely night in the car, but seems okay. I, on the other hand, am freezing, as I am wearing only shorts, a t-shirt and thin cardigan.

8:45 a.m.

We are through the park gates after gassing up at the gas station and McDonald's. Yum.

9:00 a.m.

The kids are in a heated argument over whether the terms "bison" and "buffalo" are interchangeable...I'm raising nerds, I think. FYI, the correct term is "bison" but they were misnamed by settlers who thought they looked like the African buffalo. (The apple doesn't fall far, does it?)

9:13 a.m. Fire Hole Falls

It is brisk and lovely here and smells of pine. The little falls here are full and loud.

9:30 a.m.

We get stuck in a bit of traffic and realize that a herd of bison are blocking the road. Yes, I am THAT close to this guy, who is right outside my window (and looking none too pleased at my photography)...they are snorting in a rather intimidating way and are about 10 in number, including a juvenile and two babies. Just awesome!

9:45 a.m.

We stop in for a short hike around Painted Hole, which is a series of burbling mud holes and geysers. The kids are thrilled with the little ones, I can only imagine what will happen when they see Old Faithful! Willa thinks that the Paint Pots looked like the surface of the moon. I agree.

11:48 a.m. 57 Degrees, Cloudy

We leave Old Faithful and head towards the park exit. During our hour and a half here we saw a Jr. Ranger program (thus fulfilling one of the lengthy requirements to become a jr. ranger here), got hailed on, finished the jr. ranger workbooks and took the jr. ranger oath. We had just enough time to make it outside to watch Old Faithful erupt, one minute ahead of the predicted time. It erupted for 3 minutes and 45 seconds. During our visit, we learned that if the spout lasts more than two minutes, it should go off about 90 minutes later. If it is less than 2 minutes, it will erupt 65 minutes later. Give or take 10 minutes. Very interesting!

We head out towards the Grand Tetons. The kids are playing "Go Fish" with their new Yellowstone National Park Cards.

1:37 p.m. 60 Degrees, Sun and Clouds

We exit the park and have a quick picnic lunch at the lodge near the southern entrance to the park. Currently we're stopped do to road construction (our recovery $$ at work, evidently). I believe there are some 20 miles of dirt roads ahead of us....should be interesting. Willa is reading to us from her new book, "Who Pooped in the Park."

2:47 p.m.

To further torture the kids with National Parks, we briefly stopped into the Grand Teton visitors' center to get a stamp in our passport and take some pictures. Back on the road, the kids are sketching and we're discussing how mountains are formed. And it looks like we are driving right into another storm.

3:40 p.m.

Exiting Teton National Park

3:57 p.m., Wet snow, hail and lightening, 49 Degrees

A harrowing drive through the steep, yet beautiful Teton Pass

4:05 p.m. Clouds and blue sky, 50 Degrees

Welcome to Idaho! We drive through the Targhee National Forest in sun, but currently are heading straight back into black sky. This part of the foothills are so gorgeous with rolling green and golden wheat fields that are undulating in the wind. There is also an amazing lightening show...

5:23 p.m. Idaho Falls

We are finally back on the interstate after crossing the scenic Idaho Falls. It's still 250 miles to Provo...

7:29 p.m. Welcome to Utah!

9:32 p.m.

We pull into the hotel in Provo, UT. A long day, especially for the poor dog who has been locked in her crate for most of the last 36 hours. Yellowstone isn't particularly "pet friendly" and she sat in my lap for the better part of the last hour getting some love.

We're planning our route home...and are really looking forward to sleeping in our own beds.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Great American Road Trip: Part 12

It was a wonderful thing to leave that nasty motel and hit the road again this morning. The kids are total troopers and we are all still suffering from a serious lack of sleep. But all things considered, it's going well. We're excited to see Yellowstone National Park today and hoping to have better luck with our accommodations.

9:15 a.m. 66 Degrees, cloudy

Depart Buffalo, WY (thank God!) We head out of town on a 2 lane highway towards snowy mountains. We will be on this highway for 190 miles...I hope we like it! Out the window are ranches and horses.

9:32 a.m.

We spotted a bison grazing on the hill!

10:25 a.m.

We stop at an overlook to take in the incredible 10 Sleep Canyon in Big Horn National Forest. The mountains we just drove through were lush with pine and wildflowers, then we descend
into an incredibly steep and rocky river gorge. Spectacular!

We leave the gorge and enter an almost desert-like environment on the other side with arid plains and striped rocks. It's all scrubby and sagey and if I didn't know better, I'd say we were in New Mexico.

1:13 p.m.

It's getting mountainous again. All the houses out the window are log cabins.

1:47 p.m., 79 degrees, Sun and Clouds

Approaching the gate to Yellowstone

2:15 p.m.

Quick picnic lunch at a small lake. Many of the trees on the way in look like they are dying of disease and/or have been burnt. It's pretty devastating to see.

3:40 p.m.

Quick stop into Fishing Bridge Center for a stamp in our passport and Junior Ranger books (which cost $3!). It's now pouring rain as we head towards the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone.

We spot some more bison!

3:56 p.m. 55 Degrees, Pouring Rain

We pull into the Mud Volcano Area under heavy fire from rain and lightening. We jump out of the car quickly to take in the sulphurous gasses billowing out of the ground. It is really something to see (and smell). We race back to the car, to avoid being struck by lightening.

4:05 p.m.

We pull into the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone and see the gorgeous lower falls. The river is running strong and the falls are thundering over the cliff.

5:27 p.m. Barrel Springs

The water is crystal clear blue and literally boiling hot. The kids in this picture are standing in the sulphurous steam. Stinky...but warm. It's now 49 degrees outside. Brrr.....But at least it's stopped raining!

6:08 p.m. 66 Degrees, Partly Sunny

Welcome to Montana!

We decided to skip Mammoth Hot Springs due to rain and lightening. It was a wise choice as it took us quite awhile to navigate our way out of the park. The kids are itching to swim in the motel's indoor pool, which evidently has a water slide. I'm hoping our room is nicer than last night's.

It is! The kids have fun for an hour or so in the pool, then we head out to dinner and back to our spacious "honeymoon sweet" with KING bed and enough extra beds (and pillows) for everyone.

***the internet connection at this hotel is terrible and so I will have to add more pictures later***