Butternut Squash Muffins with Maple Cream Cheese Icing

A couple weeks ago I had a serious craving for butternut squash risotto. No idea where it came from, but it demanded to be answered so I tried my hand at making it myself. It was…okay. Perhaps something I should really leave to the professionals (smile). But then I still had half a butternut squash left. What to do, what to do?? Well, I cooked half; why not try baking the other? Thanks to the how-did-I-ever-live-without-this awesomeness of Pinterest, I came across a recipe for these butternut squash cupcakes with maple cream cheese frosting. One bite of these babies and I totally remembered why I much prefer baking! (blissful smile)

I ended up making these as more of a muffin than a cupcake (semantics really, but it makes me feel better about having them for breakfast!). I also cut the frosting in half, which still made plenty (for breakfast anyway). If you like pumpkin or zucchini bread, you’re gonna really love these bites of goodness!

The original cupcake recipe can be found here on GimmeSomeOven. This site has some truly amazing recipes, so be sure to check it out!

butternut squash muffins, cupcakes, recipe

In all their un-frosted glory

Cupcakes/Muffins

1 cup butternut squash puree* (see below)
1/3 cup vegetable or canola oil
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup milk (or soymilk)
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. pumpkin pie spice (because this is what I happened to have on hand – see original for alt version)
1/4 tsp. salt

*To make butternut squash puree, roughly chop up approximately half a medium butternut squash. Cover with plastic wrap in a microwave safe bowl and cook for approximately 5-6 minutes until squash is soft. Transfer to a blender/food processor and puree until smooth. You can also mash it up with a fork.

Preheat oven to 350F degrees. Line or butter muffin tins (makes 8-12 depending on how big you make them).

In a medium bowl, combine the butternut squash puree, oil, sugars, milk, and vanilla. In a small bowl, sift together flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and spices. Gently whisk dry ingredients into wet until just combined. Careful not to over mix!

Fill muffin cups approximately 2/3 – 3/4 full. Bake for 22-24 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. If frosting, allow to cool completely before icing.**

Maple Cream Cheese Frosting

4 oz cream cheese, room temperature
1/2 stick (1/4 cup) butter, room temperature
2 Tbsp. real maple syrup (use the good stuff)
1/2 lb. powdered sugar (or more/less to achieve desired consistency)

Cream together cream cheese, butter, and maple syrup until smooth and well-combined. Slowly add in the powdered sugar, mixing until it’s all incorporated. Spread on cooled cupcakes/muffins.

**I actually took these to work for breakfast the next morning (because I’m nice like that). I left the frosting to the side and also took some whipped cream and berries so people could choose their own topping. Definitely a huge hit! (Sorry there are no proper frosted photos – I’m afraid my desire to eat override my need to document properly!)

Life Lately Update

You know, I always like reading the more random life lately posts. Something about that glimpse of real life appeals to me and it’s comforting to know that even the most “perfect” blogger has those real/relatable moments. It’s something I’d like to do more around here, but for me they’re the type of post that happens organically or not at all. So I guess today is just our lucky day, because random is definitely on the menu. (smile)

Cowboy statue, Old Town Scottsdale, Arizona

Found on wanderings

Blogging

Even thought the tagline for this blog is travel, photos, life, I haven’t much felt like writing about the last subject very much lately. For one, I prefer to try to keep a positive space here; for another, the words just haven’t been there. I’ve decided to shift my posting schedule a bit in an effort to find my mojo again, so we’ll see how that goes.

This recent lack of voice (so to speak – ha!) has shown me just how important photography has become to me. I’ve always liked taking pictures, but when I decided to get more “serious” about the hobby it was kind of on a whim. I had no idea that it would grow into such a major part of my life. I love sharing photos on here, participating in the photo challenges each week, and seeing the work of others. It’s expanded my perspective in so many ways – and continues to do so every week. I’m so grateful that a photograph truly can be the thousand words I can’t always write.

To that end, I’ve even decided to finally sign up for a formal photography course this fall at a local community college. I figure it’ll be a good way to expand my skills and to have someone point out all the ways I’ve been “doing it wrong!” (smile) Truly, I’m mostly in it for the Photoshop lessons, but I’m hopeful it’ll be enlightening and fun all around.

By the way, did you check out this guest post over at Ilmantar earlier this week?

Work

As you may have inferred from Monday’s post, things have stalled a bit on the job front. My current job is one of those that tends to either be really busy or really slow; unfortunately we’re in one of those really slow slumps right now. I enjoy having time to draft blog posts, edit photos, and play online for hours at a time, but truthfully it gets boring after a while (at least the last part does). And I would much rather be busy than bored…

One of my favorite employees also left the firm this week for another job. I’m super happy for her and wish her all the best, but I definitely miss her. In a small office (of only 8 most days) a lost presence is certainly felt. Right now it’s easy to pretend she’s just out on vacation, but I imagine it’ll be a rude wake up call when we need her particular skill set for a project. The most frustrating thing is that I knew she was looking to leave and tried to warn the other partners. As usual, no one listened. Now here we are without a graphic artist with contracts to be fulfilled. *sigh* Thankfully she’s agreed to freelance a bit until we can find a replacement.

I’ve been toying around a bit with the idea of my own business vs. a larger firm. My biggest barrier in both scenarios is my uncertainty of what I want to do. I was actually one of the founding members of my current firm, so I understand the struggles of starting your own business and all that it entails all too well. I also have a much greater understanding of the importance of choosing your partners – very carefully! My student loan payments also play a major role in my decision-making process. I know that I can’t change the past, but boy do I ever wish that I could on that one! All I can do for the moment is remain open-minded and positive; I know a great epiphany awaits! (smile)

Indian School Park, Phoenix, Arizona

Why did the gaggle of geese cross the sidewalk??

Travel

I have a few local trips coming up but nothing major. It’s still a bit…warm here in the desert for too many local adventures. I’m looking to check off my remaining Arizona bucket list by the end of this year though – I’m pretty sure I can do it! As for the big adventure I had planned for the fall… that’s still totally up in the air even though it’s definitely coming down to decision time! Oh the burden of having too many options… (smile)

Random

So dating…While I have little interest in actively pursuing it, I think I may be open to the idea of trying again. I’ve taken some much needed me time but I’m noticing an interest again here and there. Who knows? Maybe I’ll actually get the hang of dating without falling into a relationship I’m not really interested in. They do say you learn from your past and that miracles happen…

I’ve been cooking a lot more lately with seriously mixed results. I can cook, I just don’t really enjoy it. I would much prefer to bake something. Odd as it may seem, I can (and do) spend hours in the kitchen creating a baked goods masterpiece, but I resent every minute over 10 that I spend cooking regular food. All I can say is thank goodness for crock pots and leftovers!

I’ve also been spending a great deal of time researching/experimenting with essential oils. I know it’s a fad right now, but for my FM I seem to have 2 major options – western medicine or natural medicine. I’ve decided to try natural as long as possible, which leaves me with herbs, oils, or a combo of both. I’ve tried a bit of both so far and it seems like I react better to the oils, so that’s the path I’m pursuing most seriously. The good and bad part of this is that there are so many options! I’ve spent tons of time doing research on various companies and I’ve decided on a couple to try more seriously. If/when I ever get the hang of things, maybe I can share some insight with you guys. I’m also totally open to any recommendations anyone else may have to offer!

Well, I think that’s all I’ve got for today! Hope everyone’s having a fabulous almost Friday!!

 

The Bridges of Union County

Here’s a confession for you: I totally have a thing for covered bridges. I have no idea why I’m so attracted to them (maybe it’s the movie), but if there’s one in the area I have to check it out. So while in Ohio (home to well over 100 covered bridges), visiting a few of these bad boys was definitely on my list. There’s this awesome website that shows you where to find them should anyone else be interested. As crazy as this sounds, I would love to go back and photograph these in the snow…or maybe just the fall. (smile)

Covered bridges can be found throughout the U.S., but primarily seem to be back east. The bridges were covered in order to protect the wooden trusses of bridges so they would last longer and/or to provide a refuge for animals and people from the elements. Some of these bridges have been around for over a hundred years, others for less than a decade. It wasn’t until this little adventure that I realized that new covered bridges are still being built! I’ve included a few of my favorites from this visit below.

Big Darby Bridge (2006)

Bigelow Bridge (1873) (aka Axe Handle Road bridge)

Culbertson Bridge (1868)

 Pottersburg Bridge (1868) (relocated in 2006)

Spain Creek Bridge (1870s) (aka my personal favorite)

Have you ever seen a covered bridge? Where’s your favorite??

A Working Goldilocks

Coral Castle, Florida, Black and White Photography

This desk is too hard…

I have just reached that point in the day when I’ve exhausted my usual forums of online distraction and now have no other option but to do work. Some would probably say I have it good here at my job – and I would agree to a certain extent – but generally I just find it to be…well, boring.

While staring at a screen full of notes just waiting to be edited into shape, I realized that I’ve never had a job where I’m comfortable with my level of responsibility. I either have jobs, sort of like this one, where I feel like most of my skills and education are completely wasted under-utilitized or I feel completely lost with no clue what I’m actually supposed to be doing (e.g., most of my formal legal career). Much like the proverbial Goldilocks, I so want to find that job that’s “just right” for me.

This is – just fyi – a totally new consideration for me. Shocking, I know. I suppose I finally have enough experience to know the differences and my comfort levels. Hopefully it’ll give me a good sense of where I want to be when I start looking for other positions in earnest. And so no, I have not really been serious about finding a new job. Part of it is procrastination, but a part of it is also taking the time to get a feel for what (and where) exactly “just right” may be for me. I want to find something I enjoy and that I can be good at; an activity that allows for space in my life outside of the office. As a quote I recently saw put it, “I want a career I don’t need a vacation from.” My next position may not be perfect either; maybe not even the one after that. But at least I’ll know I’m moving in the right direction.


By the way, I had the awesome opportunity to write a guest post for Ken over at Ilmantar. It’s up today – be sure to check it out!!

Solstice at the Serpent Mound

I realize I’m likely going against popular opinion here, but the summer solstice has become my favorite day of summer – simply because it marks the descent back into darkness. A decade ago I would have given you the look if you’d dared to suggest I would ever write that sentence, but that’s what 7+ year in the desert will do for ya! I happened to be in Ohio for the summer solstice this year (June 21st) and thought it’d be interesting to see if there were any local celebrations for the event. It’s a big deal in some areas of Arizona (e.g., Sedona) so I figured it was worth a shot. I was a bit disappointed in the options until I came across the celebration at the Serpent Mound in Adams County, Ohio.

serpent mound ohio

The Serpent Mound is 1,348 foot prehistoric effigy mound in the shape of a (you guessed it) serpent that appears to be swallowing a round object (argued to be an egg, the sun, the world, etc. depending on who’s talking). Designated as a National Historic Landmark, the site is maintained by the Ohio Historical Society. The dating of the design, the original construction, and the identity of the builders are all debated as hotly as the identification of the round object. One speculation is that the Serpent Mound is a type of astronomical site, with the head corresponding to the summer solstice sunset and the coils of the tail to the winter solstice sunrise. Another is that the figure mimics the stars composing the constellation Draco.

There are many interesting theories surrounding the site, but none have been proven beyond a reasonable doubt. As we were to learn, one of the majors reasons for this is historical disturbance. As part of the solstice festivities, there were a couple of different guided tour options – one historic, one new age. Seeing as how he’d been a good sport about the whole thing up til this point, I decided to cut my brother a bit of slack and went for the historic tour. It was both fascinating and appalling to hear how much the site was changed through various uses – including farming and archaeology.

serpent mound ohio

Head

Coming from the west where the tribes hold so much power over sacred sites, I was floored to think that this site was largely unprotected and unclaimed for so long. This is especially true given that the one point everyone can agree on is that it is most definitely a sacred site. Luckily, recent archaeological interests at the Serpent Mound have trended more towards preservation and conservative ground investigations. However, the Serpent Mound itself has been largely altered by previous archaeological efforts, so it’s up to old photos and speculation to aid “mound theories.”

serpent mound ohio

Tail

I actually found the historical tour to be surprisingly engaging. However, I overheard a bit of the new age tour as the two groups converged at the head of the serpent and I must say, that the other option sounded equally fascinating! There were several people scattered throughout the grounds meditating, praying, etc. and I noticed a few people had left offerings along the mound. If you’re deeply interested in the solstice celebrations, I would say there’s no reason you should be shy about fully indulging if you make it out during these festivities (except any nude fire-dancing maybe).

The Serpent Mound is free to visit, but there is a fee for parking ($8). In addition to the serpent shaped mound, there are also surrounding burial mounds, hiking trails, and a small museum dedicated to the history of the site and surrounding area. We found all of the park employees to be incredibly friendly and knowledgeable, so don’t hesitate to ask if you have questions! For the solstice, there was a faire of sorts with local vendors, historical speakers, and even various workshops for attendees. It’s a 3-day event and the park stays open until sunset for the summer solstice. However, the park has several special events scheduled throughout the year, and I highly recommend you check one of these out if possible. I think they lend a little extra something to an otherwise small – albeit mysterious – park.

panoramic view of Great Serpent Mound, Ohio

Panoramic viewpoint

 

Telephonophobia: A Fear of Phone Calls

Here’s a fact about me – I hate making phone calls. Despite the fact that my cell phone is rarely out of reach, I almost never use it for its original purpose. I call my family now and again, a friend once in a while, other miscellaneous calls as rarely as possible.

black and white office phone

Hi! My name’s Meredith and I’m telephonophobic. Telephonophobia is defined as a reluctance or fear of making or taking phone calls; literally “fear of telephone.” I was reading an article the other day about how common this is amongst millennials. In an age of texting and email, phone calls have become the exception instead of the norm. The funny thing is, I have always felt this way. Even as a child – before the age of text communication – I would rather starve than call to order a pizza. Sure I spent my fair share of teenage time on the phone with boyfriends and BFFs, but I always preferred speaking in person whenever possible.

After much thought and reflection, I’ve narrowed my anxiety down to three major points:

1) Lack of physical cues. I feel much more comfortable being able to read a person’s body language so that I can react appropriately. I also feel that with my sense of humor, it’s to my benefit for the other person to see my face.

2) I’m subconsciously self-conscious about my voice. I don’t ever really think about how I sound until someone mentions my accent or I hear myself on a recording. Then a part of me goes “oh yeah…” It’s silly I know, but there it is.

3) Sometimes I have issues “using my words.” I find text communication easier in part because it gives me time to work out the best phrasing. There’s nothing worse than being in the middle of a conversation and not being able to find the right word. Sadly, as I find it happening more lately (damn you fibrofog) this has only gotten worse. And I feel like there’s only so many times it can happen before people start questioning your position.

Slinky, desk collection

It’s slinky, It’s slinky…

Unfortunately, a lot of the work I do is done remotely – we work with other companies all over the western U.S. – which means that a there is a great deal of telephonic communication. The conference calls don’t bother me quite so much since I’m rarely in the spotlight, but the one-on-one calls have me cringing every time the phone rings. And oh those truly regrettable instances where a phone call is the only way to explain a complicated matter…sigh.

So, as a matter of survival, I’ve come up with a few tips to help me minimize the pain of phone calls:

1) Create a script. Even if it’s just an opening line and a list of questions to be answered, it keeps me focused and ensures I get all the answers I need before I rush to end the call. (Not that I do that…)

2) Small talk cheat sheet. It always seems to me that everyone – at least in a business setting – wants to make some sort of small talk. I try to equip myself with a little background on the person I’m calling, trivia about the subject we’re speaking on, and a few personal tidbits I don’t mind sharing. If I don’t have to use it that’s fine; better prepared than awkward silence!

3) Use body language. As frustrating as it is to be unable to read the other person’s body language, I find that using my own often helps convey my meaning in the intended way. I try to remember to smile when I’m speaking in hopes of conveying an upbeat and confident attitude. And, when I’m especially nervous, I try to remember my power positions and I find this really helps.

4) Use the slinky. I find that if I keep my hands busy while I’m talking, it gives the anxiety an alternative outlet while allowing my mind to focus on the conversation. I keep an odd assortment of things at hand but my favorite by far is the mini-slinky.

5) Reward yourself. I find that taking a few minutes to do something fun (including a little happy dance that it’s over) really helps work off any remaining nervous energy. It’s also good conditioning to see the phone as a positive rather than a negative and a good way to avoid dwelling on anything ridiculous I probably managed to say. (smile)

Do you enjoy talking on the phone?
Any other tips or tricks??

Weekly Photo Challenge: Everlasting Symbols

tombstone with flower, black and white

Meterarie cemetery, New Orleans, Louisiana, Angels

I’ve always found the study of symbology to be particularly interesting. When you really think about it, practically everything is a symbol for something – numbers, letters, objects, etc. My favorite place (of late) to study symbols is in cemeteries (yes, I’m an admitted taphophile). Headstones in and of themselves are symbolic – a marker for the world – but then we take it a bit further adding “decorative” symbols such as doves, cherubs, urns, etc. all of which have their own meaning.

Once you break the code of (roughly) what each of these means, you begin to see a dedication beyond any obvious words, which I’ve always found to be even more interesting. Because sometimes, when words fail, we must fall back upon those symbols with which we imbue all of our unspoken sentiments and hope that the world will understand.

This week’s photo challenge is “symbol.”