Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Salted Caramel Dark Chocolate Strawberries

I saved this recipe ages ago and have been dying to make them. Can you believe I've never made dipped strawberries?  I especially loved the little bit of sea salt on them.  It was so pretty and they tasted wonderful!  It was a warm day when I made them and the caramel did melt a bit but that didn't stop people from eating them and scooping up all the delicious caramel. 

Salted Caramel Dark Chocolate Strawberries
Adaped from Crazy Daisy

20 - 25 strawberries, depending on size
40 caramels, unwrapped (put the kids to work)
3 tbsp. whipping cream
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 cups dark chocolate chips
Sea Salt

Spread wax paper over the counter or on cookie sheets and spray with cooking spray.  Rinse strawberries. Pat them dry with peper towels.  The caramel will not stick to wet strawberries.

Microwave the caramels, cream and salt in the microwave for 2 1/2 - 3 1/2 minutes until smooth, stirring every minute.  Dip strawberries half way into caramel mixture.  Place on prepared wax paper. 

Place chocolate chips into a zip loc bag. Microwave for 30 seconds.  Take bag from microwave and use fingers to knead chips.  Repear until chocolate is melted. Cut a small piece of the corner of the bag and drizzle chocolate over strawberries.  Sprinkle with just a touch of sea salt. 

Let stand about 10 - 15 minutes until set.  Serve immediately or cover and chill. 

Monday, August 20, 2012

BBQ, Bacon & Cheddar Smokehouse Chicken Melt

I was excited when I saw this recipe. It looked super good and very simple.   I was expecting company one evening and needed a quick, tasty dinner to serve.  This was perfect! 

This has everything I could want in a chicken meal. I made the bacon earlier in the day so it came together for dinner really quickly.

I do need to apologize for my horrible pictures. The cheese melted a lot and it just didn't come out looking good in the picture. The taste made up for it, I promise! The bbq sauce, cheese and bacon was an awesome combination with the chicken. I made more for lunch the next day and the picture didn't turn out any better but it was still wonderful!  

BBQ, Bacon, & Cheddar Smokehouse Melt Recipe
Adapted from The Big Bears Wife

Boneless chicken breasts
Bacon, whole pieces & crumbled
BBQ Sauce
Tomatoes, sliced
Cheddar cheese slices

Cook chicken. We cooked ours in a pan with bacon grease. You can grill them too.  Then I spread with BBQ sauce, topped with tomato, layed bacon over it, spread with cheese, then crumbled bacon and heated until cheese was melty.  You can also do this in the broiler.  Yummy!

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Vacation - New York City

I gotta say, I was so, so scared about driving in New York City. Well, actually, it wouldn't be me driving. I'm leaving the driving up to my husband.  I'll be the one in the passenger seat white knuckling the map!   Up until now it's been smaller towns and easy directions via  GPS and Mapquest.  Now it gets tough.  We drove down to Brooklyn to take in the tour of the world headquarters. It was supposed to be about a 2 hours drive. After a late start and many rain storms, we arrived much later than desired.  It took forever to get over the Brooklyn Bridge.  How cool is it that we were ON the Brooklyn Bridge!  But we made it! I swear, as soon as we parked, both my husband and I sighed in relief.

The tour of the headquarters was fantastic of course and we were able to go with a special group and see some behind the scenes things that we normally would have missed.  I guess it paid to be late because these extra things were awesome!  This is the World Headquarters but what I loved is how simple the place is.  These are people who help this huge organization that still are humble enough to hold their meetings in dignified but simple conference rooms.  Nothing fancy all.  These buildings in Brooklyn have been the World Headquarters for about 100 years (I think).  They are right on the river and many of the offices have spectacular views of the Statue of Liberty and the city.

After the tour, we walked around a bit and then waited for my husband to pick us up. It was hot and we were too lazy to walk to the parking garage.  Right in front of us, a cop pulls up and starts to write out a ticket on a car for parking.  I thought it was kinda cool to see a New York cop writing a ticket. Yes, we're tourists! Better yet when the guy came running up to try to get OUT of the ticket.  Here I am, in New York City, snapping pictures of this guy and the cop.  I thought it was pretty funny!

We stayed in New Jersey, just across the river. The America's Best seemed kinda scummy and the lobby and elevator were very stinky but the rooms were awesome!  Biggest room we've had and we had a pull out couch.  It was very clean too.  Don't judge a book by it's cover!

The next morning we were off to the Metropolitan Museum of Art for a tour, The Woman and the Seed.  It was about how the bible prophecies and history, through art, confirm findings and teachings in the bible.  This was an amazing tour.  Chris, our tour guide was wonderful and we learned so much.  There were things in this ancient Egyptian art that I never would have caught if it wasn't for this tour.  Then of course, we all posed for a picture in front of a pagan temple. Nothing like getting your picture taken in front of a pagan temple!!  They did ask that we not post any pictures though so I'll have to keep all the art pictures for myself.

Right at the front of the museum, there was a large room with a bunch of Roman statues.  Most were heads and nude statues. Our tour didn't discuss this room but as it was in front, we ended up walking through it several times.  My son at one point finally asked, "Mom, why do we keep having to go through the hall of naked people?!"

We ate lunch at The Met cafe.  We spent $83!  It was almost funny! We couldn't bring drinks in there so we were all very thirsty and dry.  So 3 sandwiches, 5 fruits, 1 order of chicken tenders and fries, 5 drinks and a cupcake from Crumbs was $83. Only in New York! 

We walked around Central Park for awhile after The Met. It was super hot and humid but we weren't going to miss the opportunity to see Central Park!  We thought about walking across the The Museum of Natural History but it was getting late and the kids were tired, hot and hungry.

While we didn't go to the Museum of Natural History, I still snapped a picture from the car. 

Tomorrow?  Back towards home through Pennsylvania!

Monday, August 13, 2012

Vacation - Touring Wallkill and Patterson

The reason we came on this trip was to tour the world headquarters and the United States Bethel facilities in Brooklyn, Patterson and Wallkill, New York. Thousands come each year to visit.  Not only is it a fun place to visit but it is faith strengthening to observe the immense organization.

The Wallkill facility is only about 10 minutes from our hotel.  We were able to see how Bible literature is printed, bound and shipped to congregations in the US, the Caribbean and other parts of the world. The people who work here are volunteers.  They live on site and volunteer their time and energy to the work of Jehovah God.  It is so incredibly wonderful to see these people work together.  My kids all said they would love to apply to Bethel when they are old enough!

The grounds are beautiful!  Wonderfully landscaped and well taken care of by the bethel volunteers.

We stopped for lunch at Burger King on the way to the Patterson branch.  This Burger King had the most awesome Coke dispenser.  It had a touch screen and about 97 flavors of pop!  You could touch COKE - and it would let you chose Raspberry Coke, Cherry Vanilla Coke, Orange Coke, Lime Coke, Lemon Coke and a bunch more.  Similar flavors for Sprite, Diet Coke, Dr. Pepper and a bunch of punches, lemonades and more!  It was pretty sad how many different soda's we tried!  We're such tourists!!

We arrived at the Patterson branch. This is known as the Education Center.  They have different schools for different groups of people.  They also also are responsible for much of the art and audio/video services, legal, service and translating services.  There are many important things being done but it was agreed by many that one of the most important and urgent jobs is to increase the work with the translating of the bible and bible literature into different languages.  Jehovah's Witness try to bring the same message all around the world and have the bible translated into hundreds of languages as well as the publications translated into hundreds of languages. 

We visited the immense dining rooms at each of these places.  We did not have the privilege of eating here but I have heard they have the best food!  They are serving about 1500 people but still make everything fresh and delicious! We listened to some of the cooking staff talk about what they did and it is amazing to hear how organized they are and how much time and planning they take in preparing the food.  To top it all off, they LOVE their jobs.  Remember, these are volunteers. How many of us find so much purpose and meaning in our jobs that we would volunteer? 

These are the headquarters in the United States but on other continents, similar branches are printing and distributing the same literature.  All the branches work together in unity and all have the same goal.  To get the message of God to everyone.  What other organization in world do you know that has such global unity?

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Vacation - Trip across New York

Today we had a little over 6 hours of driving.  We were continuing on through New York to the eastern side. 

I woke up sluggish and tired.  This was the first day that I missed my bed.  I get the privilege of sleeping with Jory, my 10 year old.  He likes to cuddle which is nice but can sometimes make for not a good night sleep.  I didn't want to go home, but I missed my bed.  I ended up taking a short nap in the car soon after starting out our trip across New York. It helped a lot. The Mountain Dew and Diet Coke helped perk me up too!

The kids were watching movies in the van and I had my book along with my MP3 player listening to the Dixie Chicks, Christina Aguilera, Amy Grant and Kelly Clarkson.  Yup that's right, chick music.  Mixed in with a bit of Bon Jovi, Meatloaf and Barry Manillow made for some awesome tunes driving through the mountains!

I couldn't believe the gorgeous drive across New York.  The mountains and the trees were breathtaking.  We have a lot of green trees in Minnesota, but no mountains.  For some reason I just forgot that we'd be going through the mountains on this trip.  I kept seeing miles and miles of green trees and thought how even more gorgeous they would be in the fall when the leaves changed colors!

This is the farthest east I've ever been.  I didn't realize how dumb I was about US geography until I wasn't sure what mountains these were.  I THOUGHT they were the Appalachian Mountains but for some reason, I didn't think that they came up this far north so I wondered if they were called something else.  So I did the stupid tourist move and asked someone, "Uh, are these the Appalachian Mountains?"  They looked at me like I was an idiot and said, "Yes."  Stop laughing, I'm 1500 miles away from home!

I expected to find more scenic overlooks along the highway.  In Minnesota, there seems to be a scenic overlook just about everywhere. So we kept our eyes peeled but didn't see any. I managed to get some decent shots from the car though. 

As we went on through New York, it just kept getting more and more beautiful.  Beautiful but for the cell towers and power lines that lined the streets and ran into the mountains.  I realize that we need these but I couldn't help but feel like an intruder in these massive green giant mountains.

Again, I was reminded of all the time and thought that God put into creating this earth for us.  He didn't have to make such pretty things.  We certainly don't need it to survive.  But clearly he appreciates beauty and so generously gave us these mountains to enjoy.

We made it to the hotel, The Harvest Inn.  The hotel is in Pine Bush, NY.  This is the cutest little town.  I feel right at home here and declared at once that I want to live there!  The Harvest Inn is an amazing motel.  It is run by Jehovah's Witnesses and just is the happiest little place.  There is a piano in the lobby and a cute waterfall.  They have a gift shop with meeting items and service bags.  They have a little library with current publications and I just felt right at home there.  When you're so far from home, this is a wonderful feeling.

Tomorrow we're touring the Wallkill and Patterson buildings for Jehovah's Witnesses.  These are said to be spiritually uplifting and just fantastic! I'll share more tomorrow!

I love this last photo.  It shows this gorgeous mountain with the Wrong Way sign obscuring the gorgeous view.  Yes, this is the wrong way to be viewing these spectacular mountains! 

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Vacation - Niagara Falls

We slept in late today!  We've been up late every night and clearly this was the morning to catch up on sleep.  We had a 4 1/2 hour drive to Niagara Falls so it wasn't a big day for driving.  But it still would have been nice to get there earlier. 

We arrived in the late afternoon and then drove to the Falls to check it out.  I had already bought a package online that included The Maid of the Mist and Cave of the Winds that we were planning to do the next day. 

I have to share this experience and advice people who may be planning to visit Niagara Falls.  We bought a package online and the tickets printed said to redeem at a "Visitor Center".  We found out that there are Visitor Centers all over Niagara Falls, In fact, they even have them an hour before you even get in the city.  So we go into the Visitor Center and were promptly told that there was a different Visitor Center where we needed to redeem these.  Or they said we could redeem them AT Niagara Falls.  OK. Here's the problem.  This guy at the Visitor Center told us that the package that we bought was horrible and that they were so "cheap" because we'd have to stand longer in line and pay a "ton" for parking.  He even told me that we could sell the tickets for like $28 (I paid $33) and then come back and buy his tour tickets at The Visitor Center for $84 a piece. His tickets tour would include a ride to the Falls, a guide and shorter lines. 

I'm like you want me to sell my tickets AT A LOSS - come back and pay you $50 more a ticket ($250 more for the family) for a ride and a guide?  I may have been a dumb tourist but this didn't sound logical.  I politely left and we headed to the falls.

Here's the deal people - Do NOT go to this Visitor Center, unless you want a map.  They have them everywhere, there are many, many of them.  Clearly they pay for them all with their super high fees.  Please just go to the falls, find parking on Goat Island, pay the $10 for the whole day.  Then buy the Discovery Package. You'll get The Maid of Mist boat ride, the Cave of the Winds, free trolley rides all day, a Niagara movie a Discovery Center place, and the Aquarium for $33.  Less for kids. It's easy to find and not a hassle at all.  It's totally worth it, trust me!!


Just walking along the river is an extraordinary sight.  The river is so strong and the rapids are powerful yet beautiful. 

It's always nice to get a family photo.  Rarely can I get everyone together!  The background is gorgeous but I think there was a huge spray of mist as the picture was shot.  After all, there was a waterfall right behind us!

My favorite was the Cave of the Winds.  I guess there used to be a cavern behind the falls that you could walk under.  They cavern is no longer there but you can still walk right up to the falls.  This is indescribable.  It was the most amazing thing I've ever seen.  Seeing the falls from the top is a magnificent sight but to be right under it is a completely different perspective. I couldn't possibly take a picture that would be even close to showing you how it was.  I chose this one with my husband as you can see the huge waves behind him.

I could have stood there for an hour.  I just kept thinking about Gods power and his wonderful creations.

I took this from the Maid of the Mist.  The boat takes you amazingly close to the falls.  I was on the wrong side of the boat so it was hard to get a good photo.  So here is a photo of everyone else trying to get photos of the falls.  The only thing I didn't like about The Maid of the Mist was that there were too many people on the boat.  We were packed way too closely and it was hard to even find a place along the railing to hold onto.  I would recommend if you go, go in the morning and do this tour first before the crowds come.

After Maid of the Mist, we got to go up to the Gorge which was a walking trail right under the falls.  This one got you really, really wet! I opted to sit out on this one. Here is my husband and Danielle with their awesome waterproof ponchos after getting doused from the falls.

We didn't go into Canada as we were only here for a day and a half.  Plus, we didn't get passports. I've heard that the view is better from Canada.  Here is our shot of Canada across the river.  We all waved to Canada!

At 9 they turn the lights on and they are just beautiful!  Then there is a great fireworks show as well. 

We loved to people watch.  There were people from all around the world.  My youngest son, Jory, asked at one point, "Mom, what's with all the people and the costumes?"  There were Amish and many, many other cultures that were dressed different. All over you could hear different languages.

Jory wasn't familiar with passports and why they are needed. So I explained that governments need them so they know who is coming into their country.  He wanted to know why people couldn't just go where ever they wanted to.  He asked if God wanted all these countries to have passports.  I told him that God's purpose was to have a unified world with no borders and passports and boundaries.  We had learned about Pangaea at the Aquarium where the continents were all unified and stuck together millions of years ago.  After explaining that the governments all feel they need to control their borders and know who is coming and going he said the most awesome thing. 

He said, "Mom, I liked Pangaea better." 

He is so right. How awesome would it be if we didn't need passports or have borders?  Do you think we'll ever have a world like that? 

Friday, August 10, 2012

Vacation - Cedar Point

Today is the day for Cedar Point!  Woohoo!  The kids were so excited, they had checked out the website and knew exactly what they wanted to ride on.  We wake up, jump out of bed, only to discover that it is raining.  Not just raining - pouring.  Buckets.  Clearly not Cedar Point weather.  We had storms the previous evening but was hopeful that the rain would end. 

We brought the laptop but the internet wasn't working in the room much to our frustration.  So we were unable to check the weather the night earlier.  No, we don't have internet on our phones.  We're such hicks. 

Fortunately, the rain subsided around the noon hour and after a delicious lunch at Perkins, we were ready for Cedar Point. 

The excitement grew as we found Lake Erie and the bridge to Cedar Point.  The kids loved seeing the park from the distance!

The rain was gone but it was hot.  And humid.  Very, very hot and humid.  We were barely in the park and were already downing our waters and sweating.  Not far into the park, they had a water play area that refreshed us right up.  The kids rode a bunch of roller coasters and were having a blast.  We were heading toward the water park, Soak City but needed refreshment first.

My kids love snow cones so were excited to see these ginormous snow cones.  I'm not a fan at all but needed the ice to cool down so even I had some!

The kids had a blast on the slides. I'm always amazed how many times they can climb up and down those stairs!  I enjoyed my book while watching them slide.  

I did enjoy the wave pool and the pool with the floating things.  My kids love climbing on the snakes and alligators.  With it so hot, this was quite refreshing!

Both the boys got souvenir balls to play with. 

After Soak City, the heat had subsided and the humidity went away and it was much more comfortable.  Amazing what a change it was from a few hours earlier. 

It was time for more roller coasters!

See that roller coaster train, way, way up there?  Yea, that's my family up there.  Top Thrill Dragster shoots you like 120 mph up about 420 feet and then lets you drop straight down.  No way was I going to go on that. I was fine, safe on the ground, taking pictures while my family plummeted down this roller coaster.  They waited in line for about 45 minutes and I think the whole ride lasted about 45 seconds. Or less.

We finished off the night with a show called Luminosity.  My daughter loves amusement park shows and was excited to see this.  I wasn't sure about the boys but it turned out to be a great show.  They played a lot of songs they knew (like every Katy Perry song in existence).  There were bright lights, flames and dancers all over the place.  It ended with a fantastic fireworks show (can you guess which Katy Perry song was playing?)  I really recommend this show if you are able to make it.

Back to the hotel and off to a new location tomorrow!

Thursday, August 9, 2012


I haven't been posting too many new recipes.  Have you noticed? It's been a crazy busy summer and with all the parties, family reunions and barbeque's, I really haven't been up to cooking.  Plus, we decided to go on a huge summer vacation this year.  We decided to trek all the way from Minnesota to New York. 

So I'm taking over my food blog and am giving you some highlights on our trip.  It gives me something to do at night at the hotel plus this way I can record some of the memories. If you're not interested, you can come back in a week or so and I'll start cooking again.  Maybe.

We usually go on vacation during the summer but stick relatively close to home.  We've visited Wisconsin Dells for several years in a row.  Last year we took a trip up the North Shore.  Still, only a few hours from the house though.  This year, we made the commitment to drive to New York.  I have several friends who have traveled to New York and usually do it in a week or 10 days.  That requires a LOT of driving and some very long days in the car.  It was doable but we decided to make it 2 weeks instead and make several stops along the way.  Yup, that's 16 days of travel.  That really is a long time to be away from home!  The most we've done before was 7 days I think. 

So plans were made, hotel reservations booked and we were all set to go.  We ended up booking hotels at mostly America's Best Value Inn.  They have decent hotels and have a value card membership that is free that saves you 15% on hotel stays. 

Several days before the trip, we offered to bring a couple of the kids' friends to Illinois to see their grandmother.  The timing was perfect, they wanted to spend 2 weeks with grandma and we were going right through Illinois anyways.  But could we get them into an already packed van?  Well, it took some careful packing but everyone and everything fit perfect.  It was a tight squeeze but everyone was happy and I was happy that we could help our friends. 

Friday night we took off for Madison.  The kids had a blast partially due to Mad Libs and Perplexis.  Though I think that most of the adjectives and verbs for the Mad Libs were words like "poop", and "fart".  Yea, we were the same way when we were that age weren't we!

About half way to Madison, we stopped for dinner at Subway.  Somehow I had the feeling that this wouldn't be the first trip to Subway on our 2 week journey. 

We made it to the America's Best in Madison.  They let us have extra kids in the room as we had blow up beds for them.  Holy cow, this room was the smallest hotel room I have ever seen.  Two double beds right up against 2 walls with a small walking space inbetween.  No room on the edges. It was almost comical to have 7 people in that room.  We all fit and despite freezing the 2 kids on the floor, all slept fine.  The room may have been small but the breakfast the next day was awesome. I should have taken pictures, sorry.  They not only had waffle makers, but a pancake station and an omelet station.  Fried potatoes, sausage and gravy.  Fruit and whipped cream for the waffles along with the usual cereal, toast and  bagels. It was impressive and we left the next morning stuffed. 

Our next stop was The Jelly Belly factory in Pleasant Prairie, Wisconsin.  This place was a hoot!  They give a free tour of the warehouse.  You get to wear a cute paper hat, unflattering but still cute.  They we rode around in a little train and heard details about the history of Jelly Bellys and how to make those delicious little sweet beans!

We then enjoyed the gift shop, eating samples that included the flavors; Sausage, Grass, Toothpaste and Rotten Egg.  My son, Jacob, tried the Rotten Egg flavor.  Why, I asked.  Why?? 

We bought a whole bunch of candy for the road and a few gifts as well.  We even bought their package of Beanboozled Jelly Bellys.  They have all the funky weird flavors that I will let my kids enjoy.  You might get a normal flavor or you might get stuck with flavors like earwax, pencil shavings or boogers. I'll stick with flavors that I recognize.

Next it was off to drop off the extra kids with Grandma.  We were meeting her at a McDonald's about 40 minutes from where she lived in Illinois so we wouldn't be going too much out of our way.  We followed the Mapquest but then it got all wonky on us.  We ended up finding 2 McD's before we found the one that we needed.  No worries, it turns out that we pulled in exactly the same time as grandma.  We ate lunch and the kids all said goodbye.  We'd be picking them up in 2 weeks!

After repacking the van, now that we had more room, we were off to Sandusky, Ohio.  The trip was going fine until we ran into some weather.  We thought at one point that we were outrunning the storm but it quickly enveloped us and started pouring buckets all over.  We even pulled over under a bridge at one point it was raining so hard.  The weather was hot and humid - VERY hot and humid.  You know what that often means in the midwest, don't you?  Tornado weather.  My kids were already freaked out by the storm so I didn't mention this but both my husband and I were watching the sky and a little freaked out ourselves by the storm. 

It all turned out well and we made it to the hotel.  I tried to check in but was told by a very nervous man in the front that there was a problem with cleaning several of the rooms and he was waiting to hear from the other employee if the rooms were ready.  It didn't seem like it would be a long wait so I told him it was okay.  Another woman was not so patient. She was on the phone with a whole bunch of people trying to get some answers to why she didn't have a room.  She used up so much energy and was so angry yet there was nothing she could do about the situation.  Why do people do that?  It doesn't help to get angry.  It was a slightly frustrating situation but there was no reason to yell and make such a fuss.  At least I was able to turn it into a teaching lesson for my kids.  I reminded my kids that there is no sense getting all worked up and complaining when there is nothing you can do about the situation.  Just go with it and make the best of it.  After all, we were on vacation!  I was not about to get upset!  We ended up waiting a whole 10 minutes and then got a room. 

You know what I forgot about though?  The time change.  We were now on eastern time.  When did that happen?