Y*mmy: Pumpkin Streusel Muffins with Maple Glaze

You guys…we started our morning at the office with mimosas and these amazing Pumpkin Streusel Muffins! Seriously. Yum. There are definite perks to working in a small office with very laid back “bosses!” I thought it was only fair to immediately share the recipe with any of you guys that may be in the throes of must-have-pumpkin-everything-right-now like me (smile).

As so often is the case, I came across this recipe on Pinterest. No biggie. But here’s what makes these babies special – I made almost no adaptations to this recipe. For someone who is always changing something, that’s pretty major! I just added a bit more spice (I like the “pumpkin spice flavors” a lot) and changed the glaze a bit. The original recipe can be found over at DamnDelicious. Not only do I absolutely love these muffins, I adore that name! I can’t wait to check out more of her recipes!

Pumpkin Streusel Muffins with Maple Glaze

Cinnamon Streusel Topping

  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup light brown sugar
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 2 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into cubes

Combine flour, light brown sugar, and cinnamon in a small bowl. Add in cubed butter. You can either “cut” the butter in with a pastry cutter or just use your hands. Work the butter into the dry ingredients until you have a coarse crumb mixture.

Pumpkin Muffins

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 15oz can pumpkin puree
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract

In a large bowl combine flour, sugar, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Mix well (I recommend a sifter if you have one).

In a medium bowl, whisk together the melted butter, pumpkin puree, eggs, and vanilla. Pour the wet ingredients over the top of the dry ingredients and fold mixture together until just combined (just until there’s no more flour hiding at the bottom).

Evenly distribute the mixture into a standard muffin tray with liners. Unlike cupcakes, I filled these almost to the top and they puffed up nicely! The original recipe says it makes 12 muffins, but my batch made 16. Bake at 350 degrees for 16-20 minutes, or until a tester inserted in the center of the muffin comes out clean. Allow to cool.

Maple Glaze

  • 2/3 cup confectioners’ sugar
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 tablespoon maple syrup (the good stuff)
  • 1-2 tablespoons milk

In a small bowl whisk together sugar, butter, and syrup. Add milk a little at a time until mixture reaches desired consistency. Drizzle over the top of the cooled muffins. Allow glaze to set before serving or storing.

pumpkin streusel muffin recipe, baking

I feel like this should be one of those “Ahhhhhh….” moments :)

Travel Tuesday: Finding a Good Ghost Tour

A client was telling me about his recent trip to Edinburgh and London (via York) this morning and aside from being slightly jealous was also a bit inspired! I’d highly recommended the ghost tours in Edinburgh as a great way to see different parts of the city and to learn some history (if there are a few “thrilling moments” along the way even better, right/). He and his wife chose the City of the Dead tour and it sounds like they were definitely not disappointed!

I’ve been thinking – how do you find a good ghost tour? What really makes a ghost tour good?? It seemed like the perfect topic for a Travel Tuesday discussion so here we are!

New Orleans StreetWhat makes a good ghost tour?

  1. Location. Not all locations are appropriate for setting the necessary ambiance. Generally speaking, the older cities or more remote locales make for the best experiences. Older cities have simply had more time to acquire stories and tend to have a special ambiance about them. The same can be said with remote locations – the feeling of isolation automatically triggers the feelings of unease necessary to really get you into the proper mood (smile). So when you visit a location look around and listen to your instincts. If you’re in a happy place with zero creepy vibes, it may be better to save the experience for another time.
  1. History. This again goes back to age. Older places tend to have more stories – and really any good ghost story is just a well told historical tale. Learning something about the location and how these stories evolved ensure that you leave somewhat satisfied, even if you don’t encounter any spirits. This may also be the best way to sell an adventure to any non-believers in the party!
  1. Options. I really like companies that give you options to choose from. If you have kids, mobility impairments, or just a tight schedule, being able to choose different options is really helpful in creating the relaxed and open mood best suited for these sorts of things.
  1. Tour guide. Like pretty much any tour, your guide can truly make or break your experience. A good storyteller can make even the most stalwart skeptic second guess themselves – even if just for a moment. It’s difficult to control how talented your tour guide is, but sometimes the companies have guide bios on their website. It’s worth skimming through to see if there’s any one person that sounds more like your type of storyteller. I generally just like being surprised (smile).

CemeteryHow do you find a good ghost tour?

  1. Friends. The absolute best method is through your friends. If you have friends that have been to a city before, just ask their opinion on things to do. Whether or not they’ve participated in a ghost tour themselves, they may have seen signs or groups roaming around. Or maybe they have friends who know. Chances are your friends will also understand you well enough to know what to recommend – or not. Direct channels are almost always the best bet!
  1. TripAdvisor. As a Plan B, head on over to TripAdvisor and read the reviews. It’ll give you an opportunity to check out other local options and gather several opinions about tours in one place!
  1. Hotel or local. I always check the brochure stands in hotel lobbies (when available). You never know what kind of random happenings you may find and usually the hotel staff can be counted on for reliable advice in terms of trusting those flyers. This isn’t always the case though, as some hotels get kick backs from referrals. If you feel like this may be the case, it never hurts to double check with #2 before you head out.
    Likewise, locals may be able to recommend a ghost tour or other sites. If you’re really lucky, the locals might just share a few of their own tales with you for the cost of a drink! This experience, in my opinion, is a bit like winning the ghost tour lottery – especially if you’re in a pub full of locals who enjoy sharing their local knowledge with the visitors (smile).
  1. Fate. I’ve been on ghost tours around the US and in Europe, and if I’m being honest, I’ve stumbled across most of them by happenstance. I maybe see a tour walking around after dark or a sign outside a pub and just go for it. Unless it’s an impromptu go-right-then kind of tour, I do usually try to check it out prior to booking. And booking, my friends, is a priority if you’re looking for a ghost tour in a popular spot (e.g., Savannah, GA; New Orleans, LA; Edinburgh, Scotland; etc). Just like interacting with a spirit, sometimes it just takes being in the right place…

 What are your tips for finding a “good” ghost tour??


Come join Bonnie, Camila, Jessi, and Amy for more adventures!!

Travel Tuesday

Ghost Stories (Vol. II)

Since I was quite small, I’ve always been able to sense “others.” But I’ve never actually seen one – nor do I wish to do so. Feeling them – the bone deep knowledge that they are there – is more than enough for me. Like all forms of beings in the universe, spirits run the spectrum between good and evil. My first true interaction was, luckily, with a relatively “good ghost.” It wasn’t until many years later that I met a spirit on the opposite end of that spectrum…

In the 6+ years that I’ve been in Phoenix, I’ve lived in many areas of the city. My current lodging actually overlooks a rather large cemetery – a fact that is oddly comforting (but I have a strange relationship with such places). Several years ago, my friend and I lived together in downtown Phoenix, just across from the baseball stadium and literally right along the lightrail line. A less likely place for a spirit encounter I would’ve thought difficult to find, but I suppose we can’t all be right all of the time.

stairs to townhouse

We had the middle unit up the stairs.

The place was a townhouse of sorts with two floors situated above a communal garage. It was an absolute ideal location and the guy who rented it to us was the perfect landlord – only around as needed. We lived there for just over two years in total and celebrated a lot of wonderful memories (smile). I can’t remember when I first felt something a bit off, but I don’t think we’d been there long. We moved in around February and she took off for a summer abroad – I remember distinctly not being nearly as happy to be living there on my own as I thought I would be. I never left all of the lights off and I always made sure everything was locked up tight. I just chalked it up to being in a downtown setting even though that setting was the reason we lived there. I was so relieved when she got back!

I think it was some months still before she mentioned feeling the same way that I did – as though there was just something a bit “off” in the mood of the place. Admitting it to one another seemed to be exactly what the spirit was waiting for. The cats (we each had one) went completely out of character. They would either both sleep with me or wake my friend up in the middle of the night staring at one particular corner of the room and periodically hissing. We were both beyond perplexed but determined not to admit that we might actually have a not-so-friendly ghost. I was relating some of these happenings to my colleagues one day when one of them – the least likely one I might add – suggested that she contact a friend of hers who performed “cleansings.” After the Alabama experience I figured it couldn’t hurt to have a professional take charge, so we got in contact and set the date.

The very nice lady came over early one Sunday morning. She was a full Native American who was related to someone high up in the tribal spiritual arena, as well as a celebrated archaeologist. We made small talk around the reason of her visit and then finally she asked us to take the cats and wait out on the patio. We never told her what exactly was going on – she said she didn’t want to know. Just as we were beginning to get a bit concerned, she came out and informed us that yes, we did have a spirit in the place. She explained where it liked to reside (that bedroom corner), why it was likely there, and how best to cleanse the space. Even after the Alabama experience, I was the skeptic. Until she showed me the old maps of Phoenix and the proximity of our townhouse to a cemetery razed in the name of progress. I had a new understanding for the hostility of the spirit, but was even less inclined to let it remain after hearing her description of the force it put out into the world. On the good – evil spectrum, it veered strongly toward evil.

So we all went back inside, cats included, and walked behind the lady with the smudge stick, repeating the incantations after her – some in English, some not. After we had cleansed the living area, she wanted to go to the communal garage as well. Of course the neighbors chose that moment to run errands…they thought we were odd anyway but I’m sure that sealed the deal. After the garage was properly smudged, we went out back and had to forcefully “cast the spirit away.” Then the lady blessed us with a proprietary mixture of herbs, cornmeal, and turquoise while we each made our peace with the sun. Shortly after, we all parted ways. As she was leaving, the lady informed us that to speak of the spirit, especially while inside those quarters, would only entice it back in. She also indicated that although we had sent it back to its resting place, it would likely creep back in again to the first abandoned space it could find. Good to know….??

My friend and I spoke of the experience only in broad terms while we were home and told few people. We smudged all of rooms annually, and I kept the smudge stick for use in each new place until I finally finished it at my current residence. One can never be too careful after all, especially when there’s a cemetery in your “backyard.”

carved pumpkins

Read in order, these guys pretty much sum it all up!!

Weekly Photo Challenge: Refractions

This week’s photo challenge is all about light refraction. I love this particular challenge because it required a bit of extra thought and I’ve really enjoyed seeing the interpretations posted thus far! I originally had an entirely different direction in mind until I came across this guy – he blends in well (smile).

Mexico, beach, crab, water refraction

The Crab Refraction

Happy weekend everyone!

Around Town: Hotel San Carlos Ghost Tour

Well, I made it back to Phoenix! (And, sadly, straight back into work…) I came in to a fully decked-out office with spiderwebs galore (thanks to the person that “decorated” my desk – smile). Much like any area, Phoenix is no stranger to resident spirits. The Hotel San Carlos in downtown Phoenix is thought to be one of the more popular spirit hangouts in the city! They used to offer special ghost tours around Halloween and I was lucky enough to “hunt along” before they stopped!

San Carlos Hotel

Hotel San Carlos, Phoenix, AZ

The Hotel San Carlos claims to be the only historic boutique hotel in Phoenix and has been in continuous operation since 1928. The hotel has boasted a number of famous guests over the years including Clark Gable, Marilyn Monroe and Mae West. The French Cafe at the San Carlos was considered the place to be seen during the early 20th century and many stars that couldn’t get a room at the hotel made it a point to at least come to the Cafe for a meal while in Phoenix.

Perhaps one of the most famous guests at the San Carlos is a young lady named Leone Johnson. Most accounts agree that although she had traveled across the country to marry her love, he spurned her on arrival for another. Ms. Johnson, being considerable upset, jumped from the rooftop of the hotel – some say in her never-to-be-worn wedding dress. Several witnesses have seen the specter of a young girl in white standing at the end of their bed or up on the rooftop. Her spirit appears to friendly, but never speaks.

San Carlos Hotel, ghost tour

Those spots are reportedly “spirits” of the children…

There are also stories of three children who laugh and play down in the basement of the San Carlos. Exact accounts of their death differs, but the spirits, at the very least, sound friendly. Some witnesses claim to see Marilyn Monroe taking advantage of the pool from time to time. According to our lovely tour guide, there are quite a few other spirits in residence as well, each with their own story.

Today the San Carlos is a bustling hotel and tourist attraction. However, there are still guests to this day who check out in the middle of the night after encountering “something.” Whether this is a product of stories and the excellent refreshments down at the bar or truth…who knows? But having walked those halls, I can certainly believe it would make for an excellent spiritual hangout (smile). It is certainly a beautiful historic building with unique rooms, bars, and restaurants – a perfectly fun place to hang out whether you believe in ghosts or not!

San Carlos Hotel, ghost tourHave you ever stayed at a haunted hotel??

Travel Tuesday: Southern Cemeteries

Happy Travel Tuesday everyone!! I’m wrapping up my final day here in Alabama and keeping my fingers crossed that the weather clears out in time for tonight’s flight back west. If you haven’t caught on yet, I’ve decided to make this month’s “theme” all about the supernatural and slightly creepy places – it is almost Halloween after all! (smile)

I’ve mentioned before that I’ve a recent fascination with cemeteries – especially the old ones. Here in the south there are no shortage of old – and incredibly interesting – cemeteries to explore. My initial fascination began with reading the epitaphs. I feel like they each tell a story – whether about the person who inspired the words or the people left behind to pick them out according to their own preference (smile). But as the exploration continued, I began to pay more attention to the symbology, placement of headstones, etc. and a whole new (only slightly macabre) world opened up!

Oakwood Cemetery – Montgomery, Alabama

One of the larger homes to some of Alabama’s most well-known sons and daughters is Oakwood Cemetery near downtown Montgomery. Home to the rich and not-so-rich, slaves, free blacks, Protestants, Jews, Catholics, and solders alike, the cemetery has been called a museum. In a lot of ways, it really does feel just like an open air museum. It’s a large place with surprises around every corner. Some of the epitaphs are amusing, some somber. There’s even a family dog laid to rest alongside its beloved owners!

Oakwood Cemetery, Montgomery Alabama

A peaceful view

Perhaps one of the more famous “celebrities” laid to rest in Oakwood Cemetery is Hank Williams, Sr. Williams passed at the peak of his career in the back of his Cadillac on his way to perform a New Year’s show up north. The exact events surrounding his death still remain a mystery, but his contribution to country music and his haunting voice live on eternally. There have been many accounts of – and songs about – seeing Williams’ ghost at different locations from his graveside and along highways up to the Grand Ol’ Opry in Tennessee.

If you’re ever in the area, Oakwood is a great place to pass an afternoon. Yes, I know that sounds like a strange thing to say; but it’s a remarkable testament to the local history. There are several historical markers and I believe there are tours you can take as well (not officially through the cemetery though). It’s a peaceful place and has no reported unkind spirits. As for curious spirits…

Carr’s Chapel Cemetery

cemetery

Carr’s Chapel (Pike County, AL)

I only recently came across this cemetery while out riding with my dad. The associated church burned some time ago and all that remains is the cemetery itself. The sign indicates that the cemetery was established in 1879 and I saw several new graves as well so it’s clearly still in use. As with Oakwood, Carr’s Chapel is full of interesting epitaphs and symbology.

One of the things that you will inevitably notice if you spend any amount of time in cemeteries in the south is that most are contained by fencing – and often there are sites within and without this fence.  Some cultures say that those buried outside the gates lie in unconsecrated ground. Here in the south, it was purely racial. In over 135 years, no one has bothered to surround those resting on the outside with their own fence. There are even some new(ish) graves in that un-fenced section. It’s a tradition that stands as an incredibly sad testament to the history of this part of the country. Most cemeteries today no longer make any distinction, but it’s almost inevitable to see the divide in older ones. May they all have peace…

cemetery

Can you spot the “oopsie?”

Carr’s Chapel is definitely one of those cemeteries I wouldn’t want to find myself in at night. Depending on which grandparent I asked, there are any number of mysterious circumstances associated with the place – including the mysterious fire that took the church. The area certainly had a “feeling” about it. Perhaps it has something to do with the segregated tombs or perhaps there’s an unhappy spirit or two that lurk behind the trees. Either way, it’s a eerie place.

cemetery

Former site of the church


Come join Bonnie, Camila, Jessi, and Amy for more adventures!!

Travel Tuesday

Weekly Photo Challenge: Dreamy [Days]

This week’s photo challenge is all about setting the mood to dreamy. I’ve already used my all time favorite dreamy photo on here, so I’ll go with something a bit different today. Since I’m currently in Alabama, I thought I would draw my inspiration from what, in truth, feels like dreamy days. It’s so nice to be somewhere you feel safe and quiet.

Alabama, foggy morning, horse

A dreamy, foggy morning

I left you in the morning
And in the morning glow
You walked a way beside me
To make me sad to go.
Do you know me in the gloaming,
Gaunt and dusty grey with roaming?
Are you dumb because you know me not,
Or dumb because you know?

All for me? And not a question
For the faded flowers gay
That could take me from beside you
For the ages of a day?
They are yours, and be the measure
Of their worth for you to treasure,
The measure of the little while
That I’ve been long away.
(Flower-gathering / Frost)

Alabama, wooded path

This path is where I set all my fairy tales; and where I walk in my dreams…

Happy weekend everyone!!

Travel Tuesday: 12 Seoul-Searching Hours

You guys! I am on a roll with these post titles lately (smile). Sometimes I just can’t resist a little corny to brighten up the day. When I can do so on a Travel Tuesday it’s just the proverbial cherry on top! Okay, I’ll try to stop now…

This week’s themed prompt is all about layovers. I’ve only really experienced one layover that allowed adequate time and sunlight to justify leaving the airport for true exploration. When we took our Asian adventure a few years ago, my travel buddy and I decided to purposefully schedule a 12-hour layover in South Korea so we could explore Seoul. After a short nap (we had arrived at around 4am), we found a place to store our backpacks and headed towards the bus area. One of the key things we didn’t know – and later failed to properly respect – is that the Incheon airport is a good hour outside of Seoul!

Seoul, South Korea

I was a little skeptical of my less than detailed map

We found the express bus to our desired stop and decided to take one of those hop on/hop off tours in order to see as much as we could in a short amount of time. We did get to see a lot of the city and, I imagine, we would’ve been fine had we not decided to venture forth on our own vs waiting for the next bus. I broke one of my cardinal travel rules – never travel without a good street map handy. We didn’t wander into any trouble – Seoul seems to be a very pleasant city on the whole – but when time is finite, it’s best to stick with the plan.

We wandered through gardens, toured the National Museum of Korea, and even fit in some shopping. By the time we found caught up with the hop on/off bus, we were cutting it awfully close to finish the loop back to the airport bus. My friend is one of those incredibly lucky people born under a special star. She’s incredibly, ridiculously type B and perpetually late. Even so, she’s somehow never missed a plane, train, bus, etc. because of it. I just try to stay in her orbit and hope for the best when these things come up (smile). Needless to say, she insisted we finish the tourist loop instead of trying to find a taxi back to the airport. So we did.

Knowing how it all turned out, I’m really glad we made the decision to see those final few places. Seoul has a personality all its own- trendy and classic all at once. I’m happy we saw what we did, but I would love to return some day and really explore without such a time crunch. As it was, once we got back to our starting point, we couldn’t find the bus stop for the airport bus. And we couldn’t find anyone else who knew either – we saw the bus drive by, but never where it stopped. After many frantic pantomimed conversations, we finally found an incredibly nice older businessman who helped us into a cab. He told us what we should pay (so we wouldn’t be completely taken advantage of) and wished us well. We only had half an hour in rush hour traffic to make an hour long trip. That taxi driver was one of the kindest and most efficient drivers I’ve ever known. He offered us oranges, music, and as much reassurance as he could manage – and miraculously got us to the airport with zero time to spare. The fact that there were no lines – anywhere – and that we reached the gate just as our zone was called is nothing short of a miracle. My companion’s special star at work (smile).


Come join Bonnie, Camila, Jessi, and Amy for more adventures!!

Travel Tuesday

Ghost Stories (Vol. I)

The belief – or lack thereof – in supernatural beings is a very personal thing. Call them ghosts, spirits, angels, demons, or whatever, but there has been talk of these things for centuries. You almost can’t help but wonder if there’s something to it when you think about how long the stories have persisted. After all, where there’s smoke…

I guess I’ve always believed in ghosts. We moved into my dad’s house when I was 5 years old. From the beginning I knew there was something there. 25 years later, I still wake up in the middle of the night with the feeling of someone sitting at the end of the bed. I still refuse to walk outdoors after dark alone – it is literally the only place where I am afraid of the night (which is a travesty given how amazing the stars are out there in the middle of nowhere…). What am I afraid of? I truly don’t know. It’s not the ghost – he’s a friendly spirit…for the most part.

black and white, houseThe house my dad grew up in is just down the drive from his current house. It’s been used as storage for years now. I used to scare my friends by telling them about the ghost that lived there – it’s a creepy looking place, which helped fuel the fire (smile). Whether I was simply acknowledging a truth I already knew or I finally convinced myself, I believed in that ghost. I’d woken up for years feeling someone sitting on the end of my bed – or getting up from there. Sometimes I would feel like someone was watching me and oftentimes I would awake with mysterious bruises on my legs, near the same spot. After some years of hearing these stories, it made sense that my friends would want to investigate further. With age comes curiosity…and a certain disregard for wise decision making.

black and white, swingI had gotten a Ouija Board somewhere along the way (from a Toys R Us no less). I don’t know who decided it would be a good idea to use it at the old house, but there we were, my two best friends and I. We locked all the doors and made sure no one could see in (my dad would’ve had a field day had he known what we were up to); we lit candles and settled into business. Question #1: “Can you hear us?” A slow, hesitant “yes.” Cue a round of accusatory stares as we all desperately wanted to believe it was one of the others that had moved the piece across the board. Question #2 – the question they say you’re never supposed to ask – “How did you die?” My friend, she was a rebel. Nothing happened at first. Then she passed out. Cold. The doors that we’d made such a point to lock slammed open. The candles were dark. Then, from somewhere deep within a house too small for such depth, “OUT.” You didn’t have to tell us twice! We grabbed everything we’d brought and unceremoniously drug our friend outside. She didn’t stir until she was out in the sunshine (yes, we were too scared to do this at night). Of course we were all absolutely terrified!! We quickly vowed to never tell an adult (a vow we kept for some years anyway) and dispersed. I bound the Ouija Board in its box and tucked it away deep in my bedroom closet. I never knew what happened to that thing….

black and white, chimney, moonIs this a real memory or just an elaborate story made up by a bunch of teenage girls? Had I not been one of those girls, I don’t know if I would have believed us. It was some time before we discovered the glass plate photos of the ancestor soldier who had lived there all those years ago. But once I had the photo, I had a name – and I wasn’t afraid anymore. At least not of the ghost in the old house, the one who sat at the end of my bed some nights. I’m still terrified of being outside after dark, but I believe that’s for a totally unrelated reason. Toby is a friendly being who’s just lonely, and perhaps a little sensitive. I still say a silent greeting every time I go back. It’s only respectful.