Cooking & Eating a Ghost Pepper

The ghost pepper, or the bhut jolokia, is insanely hot. In fact, it is one of the hottest peppers in the world. At 1 million Scoville heat units, the ghost pepper is 400 times hotter than Tabasco sauce. It is so hot it has been weaponized for use in pepper spray and it is even used as elephant repellent in India. Yes, elephant repellent. As a spice lover, this intrigued me. I have always loved spicy food and I am a firm believer that if I am not physically uncomfortable eating then the food isn’t hot enough.

Ghost Peppers

This weekend, while visiting Nashville’s farmer’s market, I discovered Swafford Farms selling a variety of fresh peppers with beautiful ghost peppers front and center. I remembered I saved a ghost pepper recipe for just such an occasion and pulled it up on my phone to see what else I needed.

Ghost Pepper Recipe Ingredients

Fortunately, Fresh and Local Produce at the farmer’s market was able to provide me with the rest of the vegetables. The recipe called for:

  • 6 ghost peppers
  • 1 small red bell pepper, diced
  • 1 28-ounce can whole tomatoes, pureed
  • ½ medium onion, diced
  • 2 garlic cloves, cut in half
  • 2 tablespoons cider vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon organic sugar

Ghost Pepper Copped Ingredients

I prepared all of the ingredients and saved the ghost peppers for last. Before I chopped them I had to taste one for myself.

At first, it tasted like every other pepper I’d had and was a pretty mellow experience. Then, I bit into the inside of the pepper and and one of the seeds. The heat had a delayed reaction. Initially there was nothing, and then the heat slowly took over my entire mouth. It was not nearly as bad as I excepted, but I cannot deny that the peppers had some serious heat. No tears were elicited, but I did turn to a large glass of milk for relief.

Ghost Pepper After Effect

Here is your science tip for the day boys and girls: The chemical that causes the heat in peppers (capsaicin) is not water soluble so drinking a glass of ice water will not soothe your tongue. In fact, water will only spread the heat. Instead, you need something that will break down the capsaicin. Casein, the protein in milk, helps break the bonds capsaicin forms on nerve receptors.

Bonus science tip: Vegetable oils will also break down the capsaicin. If you deal with peppers with your bare hands (which is not advisable) be sure to wash your hands with oil a few times. Soap and water alone will not do the trick and will leave you pretty miserable if you rub your eyes with even trace amounts of the capsaicin still on your fingers.

Ghost Pepper Chopping Gloves

When I began cutting the peppers I followed the rules and used gloves to protect my hands.

Ghost Pepper Chopping

However, I quickly realized that the gloves made dicing nearly impossible and decided to risk it. The peppers definitely made my fingers burn a little, and even a day later, after washing my hands with oil several times, I have not attempted to take out my contacts. Ghost peppers are powerful stuff.

Ghost Pepper Salsa Making

Finally, it was time to combine all of the ingredients to make the salsa.

Ghost Pepper Salsa Ingredients

You just throw everything in a pot, bring it to a boil, and then reduce the heat and simmer for 20 minutes.

Ghost Pepper Salsa Ingredients Stove

The salsa made the house smell amazing. The fragrance still hung in the air when I got home from work the following day.

Safety tip: Do not put your face over the pot while you are cooking. It is essentially steamy pepper spray. (Fortunately, I did not have to learn this the hard way.)

Ghost Pepper Salsa

I varied the recipe slightly. The recipe calls for the ghost pepper seeds to be removed. This is because the capsaicin is very prominent in the pepper’s seeds. I, however, love spice so I left them in. The recipe also called for the salsa to be blended until it becomes a smooth sauce, but I preferred to to be chunky so I could enjoy it with chips. If I were to make it again, I would definitely add more ghost peppers, more bell peppers, chunkier tomatoes, a heavy dose of cilantro, and a little bit of chopped garlic.

Ghost Pepper Salsa Spicey

The salsa had some kick, but after the first bite (captured above) I got pretty used to it. In fact, I haven’t been able to stop eating it. My friend Tina, however, had a different reaction. She took one bite, shouted “THAT IS UNACCEPTABLE,” and then ran for a drink to cool her mouth.

So, in the end, the ghost pepper experiment went well and just confirmed my love of all things spicy. Plus, now that I know that making salsa is a simple as a quick trip to the farmer’s market, I am not sure I’ll ever buy it from the store again.

Volunteering with Habitat for Humanity

Last weekend I volunteered with Habitat for Humanity for the first time. On my quest to try something new every week, this has by far been the most rewarding experience.

Habitat has helped more than 5 million people construct, rehabilitate, or preserve more than 1 million homes. Habitat builds affordable homes through volunteer labor and donations. However, it is not a giveaway program. The homes are actually sold to families at no profit, financed with 0% interest loans. The revenue received from the mortgage payments is then used to support Habitat. Additionally, the homeowners work alongside Habitat staff and volunteers and are required to invest up to 500 hours of their own “sweat equity” into building their home and and those of their neighbors. Habitat also requires that families go through background checks and attend homeownership classes on budgeting, savings, landscaping, home maintenance, and safety. 

Habitat for Humanity Day 1

My friend Kimi (from the polar bear plunge adventure) asked me if I would like to accompany her church, West End United Methodist, to a build. This is the 12th year the church has helped to sponsor and build a Habitat home in Nashville. I, of course, jumped at the opportunity. Working with Habitat has been on my To Do List since the very beginning. We showed up on the first day of the build which meant the only thing set up was a concrete slab to get us started.

Habitat for Humanity Pose

Fortunately, previous construction experience or knowledge is not necessary. The Habitat staff and volunteers will teach you everything you need and provide supervision and they will find you appropriate tasks based on your skill and comfort level. What you do depends on that stage of the build. On the day you volunteer you could be assisting with anything that helps get the house built and ready for occupancy, including framing, siding, painting, carpeting, and landscaping. All you need is a willingness to learn.

Habitat for Humanity Walls

Because it was the first day of the build, most of the tasks were related to the general construction of the house. We started with prefabricated walls, the placement for which was already marked out on the concrete. It was merely a matter of putting the right piece in the right place. Kind of like a 3D paint by numbers.

Habitat for Humanity Glue

As the walls were put up, construction glue was used to secure the walls together. After the walls were slid into place, in went the nails. Apparently, glue carries the load across a larger area while nails or screws carry the load in a focused area.

Habitat for Humanity Hammering

I loved how many female volunteers were present and taking active roles in the construction. Habitat runs a “Women Build” training program in which they teach women how to construct housing. Last year, Women Build crews built more than 2,300 homes.

Habitat for Humanity Lifting a Wall

Everything was a group effort and everyone lent an extra set of hands when it was needed. You can’t exactly put up the walls to a house willy nilly, so getting each wall exactly into place took some work.

Habitat for Humanity Internal Walls

By lunch, we had all of the external and internal walls up. We’d come a long way from a concrete slab.

Habitat for Humanity Pose 2

We took a nice break from lunch to enjoy some Southern home cooking and conversation. The weather was great and it was even chilly at times. Fall is finally in the air and temperatures dropped approximately 30 degrees from the previous weekend. It was a lovely day to spend 8 hours outside.

Habitat for Humanity Moving Wood

After lunch, it was back to work. Despite being small and inexperienced, there was plenty I could do on site.

Habitat for Humanity Insulation

My next task was to assist with installing the insulation. Making the homes energy efficient goes a long way towards keeping costs down for the families (the blue board insulation apparently saves about $200 a year). The boards were lined up and then nailed into place. We used plastic cap nails which prevented me from hammering nails into the insulation board.

Habitat for Humanity Insulation Installation

By the end of the day, the house was substantially further along than when we started. I wasn’t able to go back the next day because I had a full day in the office in store for me. This was one of my favorite New Things yet for multiple reasons: (1) it felt good to do something for someone else; (2) I learned a lot about construction, something I knew nothing about; (3) I met a lot of really cool people who made the day fly by with fascinating stories and conversations; (4) the work was actually fun to do; and (5) I got to wear an awesome pink hardhat.

Habitat for Humanity End of Day 1

Habitat for Humanity is a nonprofit, grass-roots organization and does not receive funding from the government or any other agencies. Instead, Habitat accepts financial and material contributions to build the homes. There are many ways to support Habitat for Humanity or get involved. Certainly, the most entertaining way is to give is to spend a weekend (or more) helping construct a new home for a family in need. However, if you, like me, have limited time to give, you can donate money, supplies, or even gently used furniture.

If you are in the Nashville area and want to support Habitat, you can learn more here.

Ropes Course

It has been a while since I did anything athletic on my To Do List. Generally, athletic activities are my favorite type of New Thing because they have a good mix of adventure, excitement, and hilarious embarrassment. Recently, the Soar Adventure Tower opened near Nashville so I figured it would be a good opportunity to try a ropes course for the first time.


The tower has 4 levels with several individual platforms. Each platform connects you to 3 different elements, for a total of over 110 climbing adventures. The elements range from rock walls to monkey bars to swinging planks you have to cross.

My friend Amy, who has accompanied me on at least 6 prior adventures (the most of which recent being zorbing), drove in from Knoxville to spend the weekend with me. Almost every adventure we’ve had together has required some sort of liability waiver. Amy is good at basically everything, and took to the ropes course much more naturally than I did. (See her exuding awesomeness below).


We started when they opened at 10:00, partly because it was supposed to be close to 100 degrees that day (yes, in September) and partly because we had a full day of football watching planned afterwards. This is a fairly typical girls weekend for us.

One of the first obstacles I attacked was a surfboard. You could either push off the platform and awesomely “surf” to the other side, or, you could do as I did, and awkwardly pull yourself to the other side with a rope.

Amy took to things pretty naturally. Despite a back injury, she handled the rock wall like a pro. (Amy actually joined me on my very first rock climbing adventure).

Soar Adventure Tower has a special “fallstop” belay system that keeps you locked in and ensures that the climber is never detached from the safety line. You are attached to the safety line by two carabiners and, once attached, the interconnected carabiners can only be opened one at a time. To unhook and go from element to element you had to push a carabiner into a “Tweezle,” which allowed you to detach the other carabiner and move it to a different line. Being short, I had to get creative about this process and hang on to the polls like a monkey to reach the wires.

I didn’t really get the hang of things until we reached the top level, 45 feet above the ground. But once I warmed up I really enjoyed it.

While some of the elements looked simple, they required strength and stretching that left me sore for days. It definitely fell into the category of “it’s harder than it looks.”

In fact, some elements I definitely would have fallen off of if I was not harnessed in.

My favorite element was a cargo net on the top of the tower.

There was one element I could not complete. It involved disks that you stood on and you jumped from one pole to the next. Despite some helpful instructions from the staff, I just could not maneuver my way across. However, spinning back and forth on the poll was both fun and hilarious.

Now that I know what to expect I’d really love to go back and attempt it again. However, next time I will come equipped with a bottle of water attached to me to stay hydrated. Even just a short time there wiped us out and we couldn’t make it down fast enough to get rehydrated. However, fall is coming and the weather will (hopefully) cool down eventually.

Jewelry Making & Metal Stamping

This weekend, much to my surprise, I experienced one of my favorite New Things yet. I signed up for a jewelry making class because it seemed like an interesting way to kill a Saturday morning. However, I did not expect to enjoy it so much. Paige Barbee, a local jewelry artisan, held a class on metal stamping jewelry in which we made a bracelet and necklace.

Jewelry Making Supplies

Everything we needed was set up for us when we arrived. Among the supplies set out were a practice metal plate, a letter punch set, a hammer, a steel bench block, pliers, alcohol wipes, and the brass we’d use to create the jewelry.

Metal Stamping Letters

We started by practicing with the stamps. This was definitely necessary. It took me a few tries to really get the method down. My first few attempts were not only sideways, but the stamp kept bouncing around with every hit of the hammer. Paige mentioned that it helped to press the letter stamp into the metal plate, which netted much better results. It also took a few tries to hit the stamp so that the full letter appeared on the plate. If you hit the stamp at an angle, only part of the letter would appear. Practicing also made me realize I really needed to focus on what I was doing because I picked up the letter “T” instead of “L” twice.

Metal Stamping Practice

I sent my best friend photos after the class; she is always very uplifting and encouraging. This was our exchange:

Jill: Whoa!!! Bad ass!!!!!! I thought it was going to be something with beads like a child could make!
Me: Well, that would be appropriate for my motor skill level. Look at the 4th row of letters on the practice plate. That is how I started out.
Jill: The practice ones look like they were done drunk.

Making a Braclet

Once I got the hang of the stamps, and did a practice run with the phrase I wanted on the bracelet, I taped the brass down and marked out the spacing of the letters.

Stamped Braclet

I chose the phrase “Wild as a Mink,” which if you are a Tennessee fan, you know it is a line from the song Rocky Top. Rocky Top is played incessantly at UT sporting events and is the bane of everyone else in the SEC.

Necklace and Braclet

We also made necklaces using the same procedures. Because I had less room to work with I just used my initials, but others used their anniversary date or created gifts for their friends. I was really happy how they both turned out.

Wild as a Mink Braclet

To make the letters dark, we used black sharpies to scribble over the letters and then wiped the excess ink away with the alcohol wipe. It really made the letters pop. Once the letters were finished, it was time to bend the bracelet into shape with a bracelet bending bar.

Necklace Making

All that was left was to put the o-rings on a necklace, which Paige helped with.

Initial Necklace

As much as I enjoyed the class, I thought it would be a one time thing and I did not foresee myself making jewelry on my own. However, after writing this post, I am seriously considering buying some supplies to make gifts for my friends. If nothing else, I will definitely take more classes in the future.

At the end of class, Paige mentioned that it was her first time teaching. I was blown away because it was so well set up and her instructions were so clear. I hope she does more so she can continue to share her gift. (Hint hint Paige, have more awesome classes, please! I’ll bring friends next time.)

Perseid Meteor Shower

When I was little, my mom would take me outside to lie in the driveway and stare at the stars. But, as kids tend to do, eventually I would get bored and want to go inside. Recently we got to experience the beauty of the Perseid Meteor Shower which was lauded as one of the best of the year. I used this as an excuse to throw a blanket and snacks in the car and head out to the country to watch some shooting stars.

Photo Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls

We drove about 30 miles outside of Nashville, down the Natchez Trace Parkway, to an open grassy area. Team Green Adventures, a local outdoor group, planned an outing so fortunately there were a lot of people there camped out star gazing as well. This was comforting because having others there generally reduced my fear of being murdered on the side of the road in the middle of the night.

Milky Way

It really struck me just how bright the stars are when you get away from the city lights. I grew up away from town in an area that was half farm land and half rural neighborhoods, so I was always able to see a lot more twinkling lights in the sky than you could downtown. However, it was not until this experience that i actually got to see the Milky Way! I was blown away. The band of stars across the sky was phenomenal and incapable of being put into words. I can only imagine just how amazing it must look out in the desert, far away from civilization.

Perseus Stars

Back to the meteors. The shower gets its name from their galactic origin, the constellation Perseus. (See the outline above, which of course screams “dude carrying a sword, a shield, and Medusa’s head,” as depicted below.). We got to see some really beautiful meteors streak across the sky. However, I admit I missed several because I was busy running my mouth or looking in the wrong direction. The frequency of the meteors picked up as it got later, but we couldn’t stay as it was a Wednesday night and the law does not stop for celestial events.

Perseus Constellation

Even though I failed to dress appropriately for the cool evening air, and thus spent most of the night attempting to wrap myself in the blanket I brought to lie on, it was a wonderful experience. I hope that this is just the beginning of my nocternal outdoor adventures. I’d love to really see the stars (with or without meteors) surrounded by nothingness or even one day even see the Aurora Borealis. I guess I should add that to the list.

Vintage Base Ball (A Day in 1864)

Across the country vintage base ball teams (yes, base ball, not baseball) play using the rules, terms, customs, and uniforms that players used in 1864. Little did I know, Nashville is home to its very own vintage base ball league. So, much to my surprise, somehow baseball (however you want to spell it) now makes its third appearance on this blog after chronicling my first MLB game and my first time hitting a baseball.

Vintage Baseball Pitch

The game was between the Phoenix of East Nashville and the Lightfoot Club of Chattanooga. We showed up a few minutes after it began and the festivities were in full swing. People were walking around in period costumes, the fans were lined up behind the home team, music was playing, and, most importantly, there was a guy there selling popcorn and snow cones. Ok, the snow cones were not historically accurate, but they were delicious.

Vintage Base Ball Hit

While 1864 base ball looked similar to today’s version of the game, there were a few notable differences. First, the terms are quite different from today. For example, a batter was a striker, a player was a ballist, an umpire was an arbiter, and the outfield was the garden. There were also shouts of “Huzzah” for particularly good plays and “striker to the line” instead of “batter up.”

Vintage Base Ball Run

The rules and atmosphere were different too. Instead of the manicured lawn of the iconic fields we have today, the games were played in yard or cleared farm land. The match (not game) we watched was at the Sam Davis home, a plantation south of Nashville.

Vintage Base Ball Team

The differences in the rules made it more of an every-man’s game. For example, in modern baseball a ball, has to be caught before it hits the ground in order for the batter to be out. However, under the 1864 rules, it may bounce once. This apparently was due to the fact that there were no gloves in use until 1870. Additionally, there were no balls used to advance the batter, there were only strikes. Therefore, if a pitcher (also called a bowler then) continuously threw outside of the strike zone, the batter would have to wait it out until the pitcher got his act together.

Vintage Base Ball Teams

I was told that women even played co-ed base ball until they had their own teams in 1866 and eventually a league of their own (pun intended). I was both impressed and shocked by this. I didn’t think women would have been allowed to participate in sports back then, so I definitely had my perspective changed. Plenty of women play in the vintage leagues and there are even several women’s vintage teams.

Vintage Baseball Music

The entire experience was pretty unique. There was even period music being played. The Travellin’ Caudells provided lively entertainment between innings and performed music from the 1700s and 1800s.

Vintage Base Ball Crowd

I was really surprised just now many people turned out for the game. Since I had never heard of vintage base ball, I mistakenly assumed that only a few people would attend. I was definitely wrong, the field was lined with spectators cheering for their favorite team or just enjoying a historic afternoon. I see why baseball became America’s pastime. We had a great afternoon of just hanging out and watching the game.

Seeing Rock City and Ruby Falls

If you have ever been on a road trip in the Southeast, there is a good chance you have seen the painted barns inviting you to “See Rock City” or “See Ruby Falls” on Lookout Mountain. Well, they were as enticing to me as they have been to millions of others over the last 80 years. So, after 12 years of living in Tennessee, I finally made it to Chattanooga to take in the sights. Although I visited Lookout Mountain last year for hang gliding, there was sadly no sightseeing on that trip. For a little weekend getaway, I hopped in the car with a friend and trekked down to see Ruby Falls, see Rock City, and ride the Incline Railway

Photo by Scott & Sherry Moore

Photo by Scott & Sherry Moore

Ruby Falls

Our first stop was at Ruby Falls. We showed up at 9:00am after a failed attempt the day before (as in we showed up too late in the first day and didn’t want to wait 90 minutes in 100 degree heat). Luckily, at Ruby Falls the early bird gets to walk right on to the tour.

The tour started with a 260-foot elevator ride down into Lookout Mountain. Despite it being a hot Tennessee summer outside, it was only about 60 degrees inside the cave. Luckily, I brought a sweater. I remembered visiting Luray Caverns in Virginia as a child and that caves stay cool year round. I might be the only person who carries a sweater everywhere in the summer, but I am always prepared.

Ruby Falls Stalagtite

The tour lasted a little over an hour and winded about a mile through the cavern. There were your typical stalactites and stalagmites, but also other formations that looked like fish, a leaning towner, chandeliers, and steak and eggs. Of course, there where other parts that just looked like a cave.

Ruby Falls Cave

The main attraction, and where Ruby Falls gets its name, a 145-foot underground waterfall located more than 1,120 feet beneath the mountain’s surface. The exact origin of the waterfall is apparently a bit of a mystery, but it is fed both by rainwater and natural springs. In fact, if it rains too much, it can flood the cave.

It was absolutely beautiful and definitely worth the trip and the tour. When I saw it, all I could think about was what Leo Lambert, the guy who discovered it, thought the first time he saw the waterfall. I tried to imagine what it sounded like as he got closer and closer to the falls during his first trip into the cave. I tried to picture what it was like to see America’s largest underground waterfall by lantern light. I might not be able to put myself into his shoes, but I could definitely appreciate it as a modern day tourist.

Ruby Falls Waterfall

When we emerged from the cave, we climbed to the top of the Ruby Falls Castle to see the view of Chattanooga. It really made me miss the hills of East Tennessee. There are no mountains in Nashville.

View from Ruby Falls

Rock City Gardens

Our next stop was at Rock City. I’m really glad we made this our second stop because your tour is self-guided which meant, again, no lines! However, the heat made me long for the coolness of the cave.

Rock City See Seven States

The journey winds though the Rock City Gardens, comprised of unique rock formations and local flora, up to Lovers Leap for beautiful scenic views of the valley below. Supposedly you are able to see 7 states, though the veracity of that is questionable. (Regardless, it was a good excuse to use the iPhone panorama feature. You can click the pictures to enlarge them.)

Rock City Panorama

Rock City also has a large waterfall which gives the view a little life. I imagine it is absolutely gorgeous in autumn.

Rock City Lovers Leap

There are also a few narrow passages on the trip which have very fitting names like “fat man’s squeeze” and “needle’s eye.”

Rock City Narrow Passage

During our tour of Ruby Falls a woman in front of us said that she didn’t take her young son to Rock City because they have “creepy gnomes” there. Frankly, at the time, I thought her son looked too old be scared of gnomes . . . until i saw them. At the end of the Rock City trial is Fairyland Caverns. It was like Walt Disney on acid. It is filled with disturbing blacklight gnomes and scenes from classic fairytales. Perhaps her description tainted my view of the experience, but I have to say that she was spot on.

Rock City Fairyland

Lookout Mountain Incline Railway

Our last stop was the Incline Railway. It is one of the steepest incline railways in the world (it has a 73% grade) and takes you a mile up and down the mountain.

Lookout Mountain Incline Railway

The ride lasts about 15 minutes each way, though it feels much faster than that (in a good way). There is an audio track played on the trip up an down. One direction plays the history of the incline and the area, and in the other direction you learn about the incline itself. The Incline opened in 1895. Which seems like a miraculous feat of engineering. At least to me.

Lookout Mountain Incline Look Down

The bottom of the incline had cute little stores and restaurants, including an ice-cream shop. But, due to the heat, we basically just turned around and when right back up the hill.

Incline Railway Base

Once again, the sights were utterly breathtaking. There does not seem to be a bad view from the mountain.

Incline Railway View

I’m glad I finally gave in to the beckoning roadsigns and barns and went to see the attractions on Lookout Mountain. They definitely out lived the hype. One piece of advice though: Get there early, it will made a big difference in your day.