Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Eggnog Pie

One of my family's Holiday traditions is Eggnog Pie.  The typical response I get whenever I ask fellow RV'ers if they have ever had it is "What is that?".  Then after I describe it the almost unanimous response is "Mmmmmm....that sounds good!"  So, instead of the usual life on the road/ campground review stuff I thought I'd list the recipe that's been handed down within my family for generations and take some photos of my progress making it (somehow I am the only person in my immediate family who can manage to make this recipe...go figure!)


2 cups eggnog                                                          1 cup whipped cream
1 envelope plain gelatin                                             1 1/2 tsp. vanilla flavoring
1/4 cup sugar                                                           1/4 tsp. almond extract
1/4 tsp. salt                                                              1 - 9 inch graham cracker pie shell
1 can fruit cocktail, well drained

Ingredients in  my sister's kitchen in Austin.  Pie shell not pictured.

1) In a pan mix together the gelatin, sugar and salt.  Slowly stir in the eggnog.  Warm the eggnog mixture over LOW heat until the gelatin is completely dissolved occasionally stirring.  You will initially see little bubbles of gelatin in the mixture, then, as the temperature slowly rises there will be  fewer and fewer gelatin bubbles till they are dissolved.  Do not let the mixture come to a boil.  Chill the mixture in the refrigerator until it will "mound" slightly when dropped from a spoon.

No boiling and no gelatin bubbles!
2) After removing the now "mounding" eggnog mixture from the refrigerator fold in the almond and vanilla flavorings along with the fruit cocktail.  Then carefully fold in the whipped whip cream being careful to maintain the "fluffiness" of the whipped cream.  (I always add 1/4 cup of sugar to the whip cream while whipping it but this is up to you). 

3) Pour the final eggnog / whipped cream mixture into a 9 inch pie shell and chill in the refrigerator for 3 - 4 hours prior to serving.

I'm lazy, I buy the shell but you can make it if you want.
4)  Enjoy!

Not long for this world!
 One year I think I got some expired gelatin and the pie never "hardened".  Rather than trying to serve soupy pie I placed the pie in the freezer overnight and served it as kind of like an ice cream was non-traditional but still delicious!

Good luck with your pie and Happy Thanksgiving, everybody!

Thanks for reading!

Monday, November 18, 2013

Vicksburg National Military Park

My daughter was scheduled to be inducted into the Phi Theta Kappa honors society on November 18th in Hurst, TX so I pointed the Tank west through Mississippi so I could be at this "must attend."   I-20 took me through Vicksburg, MS and afforded the opportunity to visit the Vicksburg National Military Park which commemorates the 1863 siege of Vicksburg by Union forces.  I'm a total history buff so this stop was a given.

Vicksburg's 300 ft bluffs controlled the Mississippi for the Confederacy
From the beginning of the Civil War it was obvious to both sides that navigational control of the Mississippi River was vitally important.  If the Union controlled it the Confederacy would be cut in two with Texas, Arkansas and most of Louisiana - a region crucial to the Confederates for supplies and recruits - isolated.  Set atop 300 ft bluffs overlooking the river Vicksburg was defended by riverfront artillery and a ring of forts on the land side containing 172 cannon.  President Lincoln called Vicksburg "the key".  He believed "the war can never be brought to a close until that key is in our pocket".  In May and June of 1863 Union Major General U.S. Grant marched his 50,000 troops towards Lt. General John Pemberton's 33,000 Confederate Army of Vicksburg troops.  After two of Grants initial attacks were repulsed by the Confederates he decided to conduct a siege of the city and after receiving 20,000 additional Union troops the 45 day Siege of Vicksburg began.  A good accounting of the battle can be found here:  Vicksburg Seige   .

I paid the $8.00 admission to the park on an overcast / drizzling morning and headed for the Welcome Center Museum.  The museum contains about a dozen different scenes from the battle and siege.

Museum exhibit depicting Confederate troops in their trenches.
The Park is designed to drive through providing pull off parking at important locations.  The initial road in follows the Union trench system that ran outside the Confederate trenches.  A park map provides details about the 15 tour stops so that it's feasible to conduct a self-guided tour and foregoing the commercial tour groups that are available.  Despite the rain, which kept crowds away, I stopped at least 15 times.

A US trench marker along the tour road.
There were lots of Civil War cannon set up on both sides of the battlefield. I checked out the majority.

A Confederate 30 pounder, the biggest cannon they had.
Stop 6 on the tour is Thayer's Approach.  Union troops under General John Thayer stormed up this hill before getting repulsed.

Thayer's Approach offered one of the few cleared avenues.

One of the striking terrain features of the battlefield is how densely overgrown the vast majority of the battlefield is.  You literally could not force your way forward through most of it.  That's probably why most of the direct fighting and attacks took place in the few clearings.

Confederate positions were by the white tower.
The U.S.S. Cairo Museum, a part of the Park, exhibits an actual rebuilt Union gunboat that was used to shell the city from the Mississippi.  The U.S.S. Cairo was sunk while on a mission and was raised in the 1960's and rebuilt and placed in it's museum.

You get to walk right through the inside of the Cairo.
Coinciding with the July 3, 1863 Union victory at Gettysburg the July 3 surrender of the city of Vicksburg and the 30,000 man Confederate army there marked what most historians call the turning point of the Civil War.  I really enjoyed my tour of the park despite the rain.  I seriously recommend anyone driving through the area to reserve a half day or more to tour it.

Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Campground Review: Joe Wheeler State Park Rogersville, AL

Slipping further south from Tennessee to try to avoid the cold weather (unsuccessfully) I pulled into Joe Wheeler State Park just west of Rogersville, AL off US 72 in northwest Alabama.

Alabama parks have BIG signs.
General Joesph "Fighting Joe" Wheeler (September 10, 1836 – January 25, 1906)  was a Confederate cavalry commander during the Civil War.  For most of the war he served in the Confederate Army of the Tennessee and fought mostly in the Western Theater.  During his career in the Confederate States Army, Wheeler was wounded three times and had a total of 16 horses shot from under him.  The state of Alabama created the 2400 acre park along Wheeler Lake in 1978 and named it after the General. 

Lake Wheeler from one of the hiking paths.
The park has 116 full service campsites set up in three loops (I stayed in B loop) among 100 foot pine trees most with views of the lake.  Each loop has a bath/shower house and the one in my loop was very clean.  Unlike most parks here they take your money and then let you go pick out whatever campsite you want that is unoccupied.

View from site B-22.
I couldn't experience everything in the two days I stayed but the park offers a resort lodge, an 18 hole championship golf course, a 140 slip full service marina, a restaurant, a small country store with laundromat, lakeside rental cottages, 7.5 miles of hiking trails, tennis and basketball courts and a partridge in a pear tree.

Most of the trails keep the lake in view.
Verizon cell service came in at 1 bar of 4g and Millenicom  internet came in at 3 out of 4 bars where I camped.  Being chock full of groceries I didn't visit the restaurant but campers near me said it was pretty good food.   

A trail through the trees.
The park was huge and my two days were inadequate to get the full experience (where was the dang kayak when I needed it?).  I'll have to come back some time and bring my golf clubs, tennis racquet, basketball, kayak, fishing gear.....

Thanks for reading! 

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Campground Review: Davy Crockett State Park Lawrenceburg, TN

Leaving Indiana after staying one night at the RV park at the Indiana State Fair ($30 for a tiny strip alongside the parking lot fence -- don't bother) my plans had been to find a Kentucky state park but after looking online I learned that Kentucky closes it's state parks for the season November 1.  Fortunately, Kentucky is a narrow state north to south so with colder weather pushing me south I drove into Tennessee to Davy Crockett State Park just outside of Lawrenceburg.

It says DAVID Crockett but he'll always be Davy to me.
While I prefer boondocking or staying in free campsites with the onset of night temperatures in the 30's I need to run my electric space heater that draws about 1000 watts and is way too power hungry for the Tank's solar setup.  Campgrounds cost money ($22/night at Crockett SP) but they provide 30 amp electric hookups.  The tank has it's own furnace but it's fan is shockingly loud and it wakes you up when it comes on at night.  The space heater is silent in comparison.  I got a nice waterfront site along Shoal Creek that runs through the park, the water was amazingly clear.

Shoal Creek behind my site.
I don't think there were any fish in the creek because the bottom showed through the crystal clear water and I'd have seen them.  There are two campgrounds in the park consisting of 115 campsites, I stayed in campground 1 with only one other RV besides the Tank in it.  You can also rent cabins there if you are sans RV.

Bathroom/showers were heated and very clean. 
Verizon 4g came in at two bars and Millenicom internet came in a 4 bars, Verizon must have a cell tower very near the park.

Foot bridge in a picnic area crossing a creek tributary.
The park was dedicated in 1959 and consists of 1100 acres of mostly hardwood forest.  My first site was under a giant oak tree that was dropping it's acorns.  When they hit the top of the Tank it sounded like someone was throwing golf balls at me.  I got moved to a site without the oak tree overhang and all was well.

Some more sites, note the hardwood trees.
It seems the further south I go the nicer and more open people get.  The park employees at the office were really friendly and helpful.  It's a great park and I'd definitely camp there again.

Thanks for reading!

Thursday, November 7, 2013

October Catch Up

Let me catch you up with the last part of October and early November.  From Austin I traveled north to make a meet-up November 2 with three college buddies in East Lansing, MI.  All of us are Michigan State University Spartans and MSU had a huge football game vs. University of Michigan.  The short version of the rivalry is that Spartans really don't like the U of M.  I traveled to Michigan by way of Chicago, stopping off to see my brother Jerry and his family. 

From: Austin, TX To: Lake in the Hills, IL
This leg added 1145 miles to the Tank's odometer.
 So from the west suburbs of Chicago I went up to Midland, MI, my birthplace and home of my father, step-mother and brother Jim.  Jim was kind enough to put me up in his driveway for three days (yay electric space heater!)

From: Lake in the Hills, IL To: Midland, MI
350 more miles!

 After a nice visit with the family finally, on November 1 I traveled to my friend Steve's house in Okemos, MI (just outside East Lansing) to get situated for the next day's BIG game! Sitting through 5 hours of cold and rain was well worth seeing the result:  MSU 27, UM 6.  We went out to a great celebratory dinner in East Lansing afterward.  1600 miles of Tank travel and man was it worth it!

From: Midland, MI To: Okemos, Meridian Charter Township, MI 
Only 87 more miles.
Thanks for reading!

Friday, November 1, 2013

Campground Review: Buescher State Park, Smithville, TX

Created in 1933 from a land donation from the estate of Emil and Elizabeth Buescher, Buescher State Park is made up of 1014 acres of land and water a few miles north of Smithville, TX.  After dropping the kayak off at my storage locker in West Houston my camping buddy Becky and I drove up Texas Highway 71 to the park.

We stayed in the heavily wooded Oak Haven section of the park.
Compared to most of the other Texas parks Buescher SP is on the smaller side.  Of more importance was the fact that, unlike Bastrop State Park 11 miles up the road towards Austin, Buescher dodged the huge forest fire that swept the area a couple years ago.  There's a nice little stocked fishing lake that the campsites surround, due to being walk-ins with no reservation ours was not one of those campsites but it was still very satisfactory.

I was unable to learn if this lake had a name or not.
The weather upon our arrival was threatening rain so we put the tarp shelter over the picnic table and grilling area.

The spacious paved sites were all heavily wooded.
Buescher and Bastrop SP's are somewhat associated with each other and there's a 12 mile scenic camp trail (bikeable or walkable) that links them together.

22 miles round trip sounds better via bike than foot.
Verizon barely came in at our campsite and Millenicom wireless data only registered 1 bar although our site was in a sort of gully type area so reception might be better at higher elevations.  Being only about 25 miles southeast of Austin this marginal reception was surprising.

Past readers of this blog know I grade parks down when they contain navigable bodies of water but don't offer canoe rentals but this wasn't a problem at Buescher.

Buescher has canoe and kayak rentals. 

If you are looking for non-fire damaged campgrounds in the Austin area that is reasonably priced ($17/night) Buescher SP is a very decent candidate.  During my stay the weather consisted of rain and then more rain so I didn't get around to all the things to do (these photos were all taken in a 1 hour weather "window") but I'd definitely go back.

Thanks for reading!