Ride America’s Rails to Trails And Never Say “Car Back!”

When I became interested in bicycling again a few years back, I started reading up on old railroad beds that had been converted to bike trails.

No car traffic. Small towns, rural scenery, city waterfronts. Rest stops and water fountains along the away.  Sounded great.

And it is.

My first rails-to-trails ride was on the Tammany Trace on an old Illinois Central corridor in South Louisiana. I rode the entire 27.6-mile trail and back during my 55th birthday weekend. It’s a beauty. Since that ride about four years ago, I’ve been to others, including the Katy Trail in Missouri, a 238-mile trail that stretches  across most of the state. (For the record, my husband and I rode sections not the entire Katy Trail).

There are new trails to ride almost every day thanks to The Rails to Trails Conservancy,  a nonprofit organization dedicated to creating  a more bikeable and walkable America. Their website TrailLink.com contains a wealth of information on these trails–not only on rails-to-trails conversions but all traffic-free bicycle and pedestrian paths. You can find out about surface types, towns and things to do along the routes, user reviews and more. Most trails also have their own websites independent of TrailLink.com.

Rails-Trails
There are plenty of tools available to research rails-trails.

I have the TrailLink app on my phone that points me to nearby trails while I am traveling. A few like the Katy are crushed limestone, and we were glad we had hybrid bikes with wider tires when we rode. The trail was smooth but we couldn’t manage much more than 8 mph in places. I prefer the paved trails (either asphalt or concrete) with small towns to explore along the way.

There are plenty of rail-trails with all types of surfaces. According to TrailLink.com, there are now 1,997 miles of rail-trails comprising 22, 470 of miles in the United States. Another 777 trails are under construction.

Most rail-trails have speed limits of 15 mph or so, You aren’t competing with racing cyclists, but you are sharing the trail with pedestrians and, in some cases, equestrians and skateboarders.

There are some exciting rail-trails/greenways under development. The East Coast Greenway is a 3,000-mile project that will connect Maine to Key West, Florida and many Atlantic Coast cities between them.  Closer to home, a 132-mile Northeast Texas Trail is being developed between surburban Dallas and the outskirts of Texarkana. Some sections are already open, but it’s a mix of gravel, crushed stone and asphalt. Study the map and read the comments on road conditions carefully before you head out.

One of my favorites to ride was the High Trestle Trail in Iowa, so named because it includes a 13-story converted railroad bridge over the Des Moines River. The bridge lights up at night giving the experience of  riding through a tunnel. My current favorite is the one I rode most recently: Tanglefoot Trail in Mississippi down the path of a railroad built by William Faulkner’s great grandfather.  The fun is experiencing small towns along the route. You can read about my experience here.

High Trestle Trail bridge
Sunset on the High Trestle Trail bridge near Des Moines, Iowa

Next month I’m going on vacation to Washington and Oregon, and I’ll be trying a couple more rail-trails.

The Rails to Trails Conservancy also has a Rail-Trail Hall of Fame–currently at 30 trails. They are recognized for such things as scenery, maintenance and community support. Here’s a few from that list:

Elroy-Sparta State Bike Trail in Wisconsin. This is the original rail-trail, opening in the 1960s. Wisconsin has a vast network of rail-trails, and we are just going to have to go back to Wisconsin to explore them all. We did enjoy the Hank Aaron State Trail along Milwaukee’s lakefront and the rural Ahnapee State Trail in Door County, Wisconsin. The Elroy-Sparta is crushed limetone and features three tunnels. The 32.5-mile Elroy-Sparta connects with three other trails to form 101 miles.

But I’m partial to the paved trails, so I’ll be exploring these Hall of Fame trails soon:

Georgia’s Silver Comet Trail and Alabama’s Chief Ladiga Trail: These  trails join together for 95 continuous miles. The Silver Comet, named for a popular passenger train that traversed the route during the 1940s and 1950s, is the longest at 62 miles beginning on the east at Smyrna  just outside Atlanta. At the Alabama line, it joins the 33-mile Chief Ladiga and proceeds to its western end at Anniston.

Longleaf Trace. This is one in my home state that I keep intending to try, but I have just not made it there yet. The route is mostly a rural 41 miles through fields and the trail’s namesake longleaf pine forests.

Seeing Longleaf Trace on the list makes me want to plan a trip tomorrow. Anybody want to ride with me?

 

 

 

….

 

Roasted Jalapeno Hummus From Minimalist Baker

I’m finally getting some jalapenos on the one plant in my garden. Last year I planted half a dozen jalapeno plants, and I had 127,661 jalapenos. Or so it seemed.

How many jalapeno poppers can I eat?

“Plenty” is really the answer, But since I’m cutting back on cheese-stuffed anything, that includes poppers. I scaled back on the jalapeno plants and looked for healthier ways to use the ones on my lone plant.

There’s nothing really special about backyard jalapenos.  Supermarket ones are totally fine. But jalapenos are easy to grow. That gives a novice gardener like me more confidence.

Really, I like just about anything with jalapenos. When I scarfed down the green jalapeno peanut brittle I bought in the Texas Hill Country a few years ago, my eyes were opened to the possibilities jalapenos could bring to many other things.

Here’s a good selection of jalapeno recipes assembled by The Huffington Post a few years ago. I’m interested in trying the Grilled Mascarpone and Roasted Jalapeno Pistachio Pesto Cheese Sandwich–now that’s a mouthful!

I was over at the Minimalist Baker blog one day and noticed this roasted jalapeno hummus recipe. Since tubs of Sabra’s hummus are becoming almost as common as ketchup bottles at our house, I figured I would try making my own with my backyard jalapenos.

This was easy as Minimalist Baker usually has recipes of 10 ingredients or less. The only baking here is roasting the jalapenos and garlic. At first, that intimidated me, but I forged ahead and loved the smell of both jalapenos and garlic roasting in my oven.

Recipe: Roasted Jalapeno Hummus from The Minimalist Baker

Weight Watchers SmartPoints: 2 per two Tablespoon serving

You can easily adjust the heat in the recipe by adjusting the amount of jalapenos. I used two and left just a few seeds in because I like a little kick.

Saturday Morning Drive to Mahaffey Farms

On a clear Saturday in the hiatus between the summer and fall Shreveport Farmers Market, I drove to Mahaffey Farms east of Haughton to buy some meat. When you visit, farmer Evan McCommon will let you wander around his pastures as he wants you to get a close view of how his cattle, pigs and chickens are raised.

“If all agriculture was transparent, it would change the way people eat,” says McCommon, who is doing his part in “being the change” in Shreveport-Bossier City. Mahaffey Farms, is at the forefront of  the farm-to-table culture in North Louisiana.

Mahaffey Farms family heirloom tractor
Mahaffey Farms family heirloom tractor

Mahaffey Farms uses no chemicals, no pesticides, no hormones. The farm’s practices go beyond sustainable.   As McCommon says, sustainable implies keeping things as they are. Regenerative agriculture makes things better — the soil, the environment and the way a community eats.

Those principles will be explored during a Food for Thought program on Oct. 5 at the Robinson Film Center in downtown Shreveport. The event will include a viewing of Polyfaces, a documentary on an Shenandoah Valley Virginia farm that has inspired Mahaffey Farms. Food from Mahaffey will be served at dinner, followed by the film and then a post screening discussion led by McCommon.

The family farm dates back to the 1920s. McCommon’s great uncle developed a large farming  and timber operation that flourished there until the 1950s. McCommon began taking steps to revitalize farming there about five years ago.  Visit Mahaffey Farms website to read, watch and listen as McCommon tells about the evolution of the farm.

The farm store is a modest converted garage but the freezers are well-stocked with grass-fed beef and pasture-raised pork and chicken products. Fresh produce is slim this time of year, but at other seasons you may find heirloom tomatoes, pinto beans, collard greens, etc. And there’s lard — cooking lard and soap. Lard is, after all, fat rendered from pork, and Mahaffey Farms doesn’t waste much of the pigs it raises.

I came away with some pork chops, pork tenderloin, andouille, bratwurst and eggs. I also came away with a greater resolve to eat more local food. (Pork tenderloin has already been prepared in a farmer’s market pepper jelly glaze and declared a hit at our house).

Getting There: From Louisiana Downs, drive five miles east on Highway 80 and turn left at East 80 Paint & Body. You’ll actually be on Mahaffey Road. Drive about a half mile down, and the road will bend left toward the farm. You’ll know you’re there when you see a rusty heirloom tractor with the simple stenciled Mahaffey Farms sign.

Saturday hours are 8 am to 1 pm until the Shreveport Farmers Market opens again on Oct. 22. Weekdays, it’s open from 9 am to 5 pm Monday. (You may want to call 318-949-6249 to make sure someone is available to give a free tour). McCommon’s mother, Sandra Evans, has a bed and breakfast at the farmhouse, which can be booked on airbnb.com. Reviews are great for the farm fresh breakfast!

Late summer pond scene
Late summer pond scene

Bicycling Trip: Big Bridge, Big Rock in Little Rock

Hubby and I were new to  bicycling when one of the first trips we made was to Little Rock, Arkansas.

I had read that the longest bridge in North America specifically built for bicyclists and pedestrians was the Big Dam Bridge (name explanation to come later). So we loaded up our bikes and headed to Arkansas to check it out.

We made a day trip of it then and just piddled around riding along the Arkansas River Trail on both sides of the Big Dam Bridge. But we’ve been back since for a weekend and will go back again to this bicycling jewel just three hours away from our home in Shreveport, Louisiana.

The Big Dam Bridge, which celebrates its 10th birthday today, spans 4,226 linear feet across the Arkansas River seven miles west of downtown.  As for the name: The story  goes that when funding was an issue, a county judge said “we are going to build the dam bridge” and declared he was talking about its location over the Murray Lock and Dam. Others took it another away.

Whatever the name origin, the Big Dam Bridge has been a beacon of health and fitness activities in a southern state better known for rice and gravy.

Big Dam Bridge
Big Dam Bridge-Photo Courtesy Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism

Big Dam Bridge is a climax of the 16-mile Arkansas River Trail that connects Little Rock and North Little Rock. Most, but not all, of the trail is a dedicated path with no car traffic. There’s two other downtown Little Rock bridges where you can bicycle over the Arkansas River, including one right by the Clinton Presidential Library. Yet another bridge, west of Big Dam Bridge, is at the confluence of the Arkansas and Little Maumelle rivers and takes you to the 1,000-acre Two Rivers Park. More on the four bridges here.

Riding over the bridges may be entertainment enough, but we discovered there’s lots to see within a stone’s throw of the bicycle trail.  The trail connects to 38 parks and six museums. On the south bank of the river (or Little Rock side), you have the state capitol, River Market (farmers market, shops and restaurants) and the Clinton Presidential Library. On the North Little Rock side, you pass the USS Razorback WWII-era submarine and get a glimpse of the scenery that earns Arkansas the nickname “the Natural State.”

One North Little Rock natural spot is an area known as Big Rock, where the river Delta meets Ouachita (pronounced Wash-i- taw)Mountains just a bit off the trail. There once was a quarry there that made railway ballast for 100 years. A smaller rock outcropping on the south side was named “Le Petit Rocher” or “the Little Rock” by a French explorer.

Checking out the Big Rock on a 2012 ride
Checking out the Big Rock on a 2012 ride

What impressed me on my visits was the mix of people using the trail — overweight individuals  struggling a bit but pushing forward on the Big Dam Bridge incline; families with children in bicycles with training wheels and one or even two in baby strollers; old folks, couples and singles walking dogs (and availing themselves of the dog waste bags provided); and serious cyclists/runners in mesh jerseys or no shirt at all.

The Big Dam Bridge 100, the largest bicycling event in Arkansas, will draw crowds to Little Rock Sept. 24.  (There are shorter distances in addition to a century ride). I’m not participating that day, but I look forward to enjoying bicycling in Little Rock again soon.

Big Dam Bridge cycling tour attracts thousands
Big Dam Bridge cycling tour attracts thousands. Photo courtesy Little Rock Convention and Visitors Bureau

Arkansas River Trail website. If you want more than 16 miles, you’ll find extended rides that go out to scenic Pinnacle Mountain State Park or the 88.5-mile Grand Loop traversing  several Arkansas counties on a mix of paved paths, on-road bicycle lanes and rural roads.

Little Rock’s Arkansas River Trail is one of the bicycling spots featured in a new 45-page glossy Arkansas Road Cycle Guide.  It’s a wonderful publication with routes segmented by easy, moderate and difficult. You can download it here or have it mailed to you.(There’s a separate guide for mountain cycling enthusiasts).

Arkansas Road Cycling Guide
Arkansas Road Cycling Guide

Little Rock Convention & Visitors Bureau

North Little Rock Convention & Visitors Bureau

Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism

Bobby’s Bike Hike in the River Market rents bicycles and offers family-friendly bicycle tours around the city.

Magnolia, Arkansas Day Trip Ends With a Bicycle Wreck

Magnolia, Arkansas, 75 miles north of Shreveport, is an appealing town of 12,000 with retail still going on around the courthouse square.

Today when many  downtowns have turned to payday loan centers and junk stores to fill space, it’s refreshing to see clothing stores, local pharmacies, a jewelry store, bakery and even a boutique hotel on the square.

Central Baptist Church tower as seen from gardens
Cecil Traylor Wilson Gardens and Central Baptist Church tower make a nice addition to downtown Magnolia

I spent a few hours bicycling around town last Saturday, and I’ll just go ahead and say that part did not go well. Hubby David accompanied me but decided it was too hot and better to enjoy the shade of the magnolia trees around the courthouse and the lush pine grove at Southern Arkansas University. A wise choice that day.

I  wrecked and tumbled over the handlebars while riding my bicycle on the path on the campus of Southern Arkansas University.  The path was very smooth and well-maintained, an asset to the campus and town. Purely cyclist error on my part.

Bicycling in Magnolia before the fall
Bicycling in Magnolia

I’m OK now — still nursing a few bruises and considering how this all will affect my cycling. It’s sobering, particularly as this fall came within a few days of billionaire tycoon Richard Branson’s near-fatal crash as his bicycle hit a speed bump.

My thoughts vacillate between “everybody falls now and then, I just need to be more careful next time” to “no, that attitude is too flippant. I could have really hurt myself. I need to find a safer activity to enjoy.” 

Before the fall, I cruised around the side streets of downtown Magnolia.

Magnolia is known for its murals painted on the sides of corner buildings. They are charming and colorful and depict Magnolia’s agricultural and oil and gas roots.  One of the murals pays tribute to the cinema. It’s painted on the side of what was once the  Macco Theater, one of six local theaters plus two drive-ins that once were in Magnolia. Sadly, there are none today since The Cameo closed in 2012.

I enjoyed popping  into the Magnolia Bake Shop, which has been in operation since 1928.  The building looked bland, but there was a line inside, which I figured was a good sign. The pig and blanket and strawberry cupcake that I got were both delicious. I liked the small town prices–$1.19 for the cupcake!

Next door was Stephens Olde Tyme Country Store in the former Macco Theater building. Only the painted palm trees on the front window gave a clue to the store’s bread and butter business–swimming pool maintenance and supplies. I had a nice chat with owners Leesa & Eddie Stephens, who are doing their part in making downtown interesting by adding a large selection of unique toys that you won’t find at the local Wal-Mart, their own brand of jellies and store displays that are worth stepping inside to see–including a large refinished card catalog, a 100-year-old pea thrasher (Emerson, Arksansas just l4 miles away is home to the annual Purplehull Pea Festival)

I didn’t make it to Lois Gean’s, the  store that Magnolia is best known for. The shop carries lines from leading women’s fashion designers and has been written up in Women’s Wear Daily and other publications.  I didn’t figure the store’s owners would appreciate a sweaty cyclist mingling with the haute couture.

Earlier in the summer, there’s a farmer’s market, Le Marche des Lois Gean’s right in the Lois Gean’s parking lot. I’ll come back for that! David and I did wander over to the Fred’s parking lot, where a man was peddling watermelons. We bought one because we have had some good ones from southwest Arkansas before, but this one was a bust.

Magnolia wasn’t its liveliest on a Saturday in late August, although just days before downtown was abuzz with activity when Blue and Gold Day, a new tradition, brought SAU’s 4,000 or so students to a square for a good time of school spirit and community pride building.

Another busy time downtown is the annual Magnolia Blossom Festival each May with a  steak cook-off  that is so competitive that it has been on the Food Network.

Magnolia is proud of its small university as it should be. The campus  is shaded by a lovely pine grove. There’s the aforementioned pedestrian/bike path, a duck pond, outdoor Greek style amphitheater, spacious rodeo arena and new buildings in a day when many strapped small colleges show no construction going on at all. SAU was recently named by BestValueSchools.com as the 6th most affordable small college in the country. And its mascot, the Mulerider, is  unique, right up there with TCU’s Horned Frogs and Penn State’s Nittany Lions.

The downtown area and side streets are really not conducive to cycling so the best bet is the path and farm road (a little over a two-mile loop) around SAU. You can extend the ride by cycling through the residential neighborhoods on the east side of campus and wind up behind the Flyer Burger Restaurant, which has good reviews on Yelp for its burgers and seafood.

Also, going north from SAU is Columbia County Road 13 to McNeil. It’s part of a 65-mile “Tour of Columbia County” loop around Magnolia included in the Arkansas Road Cycling Guide recently published by the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism. You can view it here.

I’d have to be in a large group and fully recovered from my fall to try that. The route, which extends to Highway 98 east of Magnolia, is a bit hilly and curvy in places, and I’m not sure too many rural Arkansans are used to seeing bicycles on the road.

 

Farmers Market SuperPhotos

A few months ago someone told me about SuperPhoto, an app to add an artistic look to photos.  I have no training in art, so I love the ease of this app.

I’ve been playing around with some of the photos I have taken at farmstands this summer. SuperPhoto has 324 effects in its free version, but I almost exclusively apply the “Painting” one.

The header above includes the feature image for this blog taken from a photo I took at Ed Lester Farms in Coushatta in early June.

Click on the images in this gallery and you can see some samples I’ve done using SuperPhoto’s Painting setting. (Click anywhere on black space to return to blog post).

Here’s a photograph I took of a cut watermelon at the Shreveport Farmers Market and examples of how the image turned out using three different SuperPhoto settings below it.

Watermelon original photo

I’ve also applied the app to some people photographs that I have taken and have ordered copies on canvas that have turned out nicely. Here are two Superphotoed images of my daughters.

Claire
Claire
Mary Grace
Mary Grace

So that’s my favorite photo app. Do you have one you would like to share?

Information about SuperPhoto here

 

Pickles, Jams, Relishes and Stuff: Last Days at the Farmers Market

I usually pick up a jar or two of something pickled or jellied at the Shreveport Farmers Market.

The next two Saturdays are great opportunities to load up the pantry with those items as the fresh vegetables wane and the market winds down for the year  on Aug. 27. The Bossier City Farmers Market continues each Saturday through Nov. 19. The Shreveport Farmers Market will be back for a fall run beginning Oct. 22.

Last week, I spent a few minutes visiting with Ben and Dorothy Pratt of Natchitoches at their Sugarmakers booth at the Shreveport Farmers Market. The Pratts just may  have the biggest variety of canned items for sale at any farmers market any where in the country: 86 different kinds.

“Not all varieties are available all the time,”  Ben quickly points out.

Still, there is plenty to choose from each week. Most popular: things like mayhaw jelly, muscadine jelly, fig preserves. If you’ve been around North Louisiana long enough, you’re familiar with those. But I bet you’ll find some new ones at Sugarmakers.

Possum grape jelly? Possum grapes are tiny little berries that grow wild , says Dorothy, a retired licensed practical nurse, who has been  canning since she was a little girl.

Or how about cinnamon basil jelly, cantaloupe jam, onion and bacon marmalade., white Zinfandel wine jelly. The list goes on and on including jelly made from obscure berries such as loquats and pyracantha.

And, perhaps, the most interesting according to the Pratts? Monkey butter, a sweet jam made from bananas, coconut and pineapple — from a recipe their niece got in the Phillipines.

The Pratts get up each Saturday at 3 am to come to the market, and they plan to be there for the final two Saturdays. Dorothy and Ben, a retired schoolteacher, have been selling at farmers markets since 2001. They also sell at Cane River Green Market in Natchitoches and have racked up quite a few county and Louisiana State Fair blue ribbons.

I came away with jars of spicy marinated green beans, fig jam and hot jalapeno pepper jelly from Sugarmakers. Over the summer I’ve also stocked up on squash pickles from Angel Farms, spicy zucchini relish from Gethsemane Gardens (they’ve got lots of hummus too) and some lemon basil caponata (eggplant) relish from Cindy Sue’s.

So there are plenty of reasons to head to downtown Shreveport during the last two weekends in August.

Let Us Talk About Lettuce

I’ve become so interested in growing lettuce that I recently took a trip to Doodley Dee’s, a USDA certified organic aquaponics produce farm in Harrison County, Texas, just over the state line from Shreveport.

You can find their romaine lettuce in salads at Shreveport’s Wine Country, but most all of their produce goes to public school cafeterias in a Texas Farms to School program. Doodley Dee’s does not  operate a farm stand, but they expect to sell their lettuce to Whole Foods when it opens in Shreveport this fall. I intend to buy some.

Farmer Kevin Schmidt explains aquaponics farming
Farmer Kevin Schmidt explains aquaponics farming

Aquaponics is a system of raising fish  — koi in the case of Doodley Dee’s — and using its waste to fertilize the plants, which are grown in water rather than in the field. Farmer Kevin Schmidt, who operates Doodley Dee’s, says aquaponics is eight times more efficient than growing produce in the field.

I’m not getting into aquaponics or commercial production, but I was looking for ideas on growing more lettuce and creating a small rain barrel system. (Doodley Dee’s has an elaborate setup of water wheels, ponds, canals and barrels to capture just about every inch of rain that falls on its property).

Romaine lettuce at Doodley Dee's
Romaine lettuce at Doodley Dee’s

You don’t see much lettuce at the farmer’s market (doesn’t grow well in the summer around here). But with the cooler weather this week, I’m getting itchy to plant the organic lettuce seeds that I bought recently. After consulting with the LSU AgCenter, I’ll wait until next month.

My seeds are ready for planting, but I'll wait until September
My seeds are ready for planting, but I’ll wait until September

We removed our withered tomato plants over the weekend, and the garden spot is bare save for a few herbs and pepper plants. Last winter, I had good luck growing arugula and butter crunch lettuce, so I’m going to give them a try again this fall.

We eat a lot of salads so I’ll use all of what I grow in the garden, buy more at the store and get some Doodley Dee’s when Whole Foods opens (a Mississippi company called Salad Days has a nice assortment of lettuce in the Jackson WF).

I’m glad to discover that lettuce can be grown locally, in a commercial operation like Doodley Dee’s or even in my own backyard garden.

Doodley Dee’s Farm website.  Tomatoes and other vegetables are also grown on the farm, and a food forest with fruit trees is also under development.  There’s an event venue for meetings, weddings, etc. Check out his YouTube videos on the aquaponics process.

Want to grow your own lettuce? Here’s some helpful information.

LSU AgCenter article on growing lettuce

LSU AgCenter video on growing and how to harvest lettuce

Southern Living article on growing lettuce

 

 

 

Refreshing Watermelon Any Way You Slice (Or Ice) It

We have been eating a lot of watermelon this summer. David and I have already gone through about a dozen. At 92 percent water, watermelon is helping us stay hydrated.

Truth be told, I have just as much luck with seedless watermelons I get at the supermarket as the ones I pick up at farmstands. Luckily, most of the stores in Shreveport get their melons from Texas, so that’s local, depending on what part of Texas they come from.

Still,  it is hard for me to pass by a farmer sitting on the tailgate of a 40-year-old truck  in the 97-degree heat with a load of them.  Sometimes I get a real winner, sweeter than the supermarket ones–like the giant one I got from Ryan Farms in Dixie, Louisiana, earlier this summer and another one we purchased along a  south Arkansas back road.

Earlier this week my refrigerator was full, and I had another watermelon on deck (the floorboard of my car). So, I thought it would be fun to experiment with some refreshing watermelon frozen novelties. Surprisingly, there aren’t many watermelon-flavored treats in the supermarket freezer section other than a few made by the Popsicle brand. So I consulted Pinterest and found a few healthy ones to try .

My husband is a watermelon purist and believes eating it any other way but straight is gilding the lily.  I sort of agree, but I love ice cream novelties and frozen treats. I’m glad to have some new ones to add to my stash of Push Ups, Nutty Buddies and multiple flavors of Outshine bars.

Refreshing Watermelon Treats
Refreshing Watermelon Treats

In the photo above, the treats are as follows going clockwise from the the Watermelon Greek Yogurt Ice Cream cone with links to the recipes.

Watermelon Greek Yogurt Ice Cream-eating Greek yogurt is perhaps the most significant diet change I have made during the past three years. Multiple blending repeats made this recipe a bit cumbersome for me, but I liked the taste. I used banana to make it creamier as suggested.

Watermelon Ice Pops-these were my favorite. I substituted Splenda for the sugar. Adding lime sherbet for the rind and chocolate chips for the seeds was so much fun! (Why can’t you find lime sherbet in pint containers?  Does anybody know?) This recipe says 12 servings, but I only got 6 using the five-ounce cups.

Watermelon ice pops
Chocolate chips are the seeds in this watermelon ice pop

Watermelon Lemon-Limeade Pops With a Jalapeno Kick. I did as one of the commenters suggested and added some jalapeno to give it a little kick.

Creamy Coconut Watermelon Pop. This was supposed to be a milkshake but didn’t turn out thick enough for me. I poured it in a mold, and, voila, another frozen treat variation.

 

 

Regional Bicycle Tours Showcase Small Towns, Rural Countryside

I was scared to try another organized bike event since my embarrassing debut at the Tour de Fire Ant a couple of years ago. But small town hospitality and a history-rich flat stretch of road wooed me to Bikes, Blues and Bayous in Greenwood, Mississippi last Saturday.

I did a leisurely 20 miles. About half of the 900 riders were going for the metric century (62 miles), but I wasn’t intimidated. Well, maybe a little.

But, if you are like me and enjoy seeing the countryside up close on a bicycle, you may want to check out some of the scenic rides coming up during the next few weeks.  Flat or rolling hills, rural routes or a rural/city combination-take your pick.

Bikes, Blues & Bayous started on a bridge over the Yazoo River and went onto Grand Boulevard shaded by 300 oak trees planted 100 years ago.  The movie The Help was filmed there. Then, it was over the Tallahatchie Bridge (of Bobbie Gentry’s Ode to Billie Joe fame) and into the rural Mississippi Delta past shacks turned into a hotel and historical sites tied to the blues and the civil rights movement.

Tallahatchie Flats
Bikes, Blues & Bayous route passed Tallahatchie Flats, shacks you can rent for overnight stays

Most bike events, like the Greenwood ride, have a family-friendly fun ride of 10 to 12 miles, another in the 20 to 30 mile range,  another 40 to 50-mile ride on up to metric century and century rides. The great thing about these rides is most have police escorts at major intersections and sag wagons to pick you up if you break down–physically or mechanically.

You can check out the routes online beforehand and even see which ones have the best rest stops and after parties.

It would be hard to beat Greenwood’s  setup with one stop complete with jazz music and refreshments served in vintage country store containers. If you biked further on down the road, you were rewarded with a church spread  more typical of a Delta bridal shower.

Some tour routes are loops. Others are out and backs, great if you are like me and want to stop to take pictures. You can note your photo ops going out and actually stop to take them on the return trip.

When you’re leisurely riding like me, who’s in a hurry?

Here’s a partial list of some upcoming rides within a three hours drive from where I live in Shreveport, Louisiana. You may want to plan early as hotel rooms fill during the most popular events.

Tyler, Texas. Beauty and the Beast, Aug. 13: This has moved from March to August, and it’s coming up fast. It begins  just south of Tyler through rolling hills and up “The Beast,” a .7-mile hill with a 13 percent gradient — that’s steep! Another popular one later this month is the legendary Hotter Than Hell 100 on Aug. 27, a little farther away in Wichita Falls, Texas.   You can just about count on 100-degree heat.

Alexandria, Louisiana, Le Tour de Bayou, Sept. 17: This ride begins and ends at the 216-year-old Kent Plantation,  the oldest structure still standing in Central Louisiana. There will be living history demonstrations and free tours of the house and grounds, which includes several interesting buildings such as a blacksmith shop and sugar mill.  This is mostly flat, especially on the shorter distances.

Little Rock, Arkansas. Big Dam Bridge 100, Sept. 24. This is the largest ride in Arkansas. The Big Dam Bridge spans 4,226 feet over the Arkansas River, making it the longest bridge in North America specifically built for bicyclists and pedestrians.  The rides provide beautiful hill and river scenery.

Benton, Louisiana, Seize the Road, Oct. 1. This begins at the Bossier Parish Courthouse and goes by scenic Bossier Parish horse farms. The ride benefits the Epilepsy Foundation and was cancelled last year because of stormy weather. Hopefully, there’ll be clear crisp fall weather this year.

Vicksburg, Mississippi, Bricks & Spokes, Oct. 1. The cool thing about this one is it’s the only time of year bicyclists are allowed on the old Mississippi River Bridge. The route crosses the bridge into the flat delta in Louisiana and (if you are adventurous) back into hilly Vicksburg and through Vicksburg National Military Park.

Marshall, Texas, Tour de Fireant, Oct. 8. Who knows, I may give this another go. The good thing is the ride doesn’t start until 9 a.m. so you can sleep in. Or come early for the 8 a.m. 5K run or do a run/ride combo.

Greenwood, Mississippi is an interesting town to visit. It has a rough past like many Mississippi Delta towns, but has some bright spots downtown including the Viking Cooking School, a boutique hotel and shops, and independent bookstore.