Activities, featured, Parenting

Pumpkin Potion

Pumpkin (2)

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It’s no secret that I’m OBSESSED with the holidays. This time of year, I look for any excuse to merge my every day life with the upcoming holidays. I also find myself being insanely busy! I try to squeeze in so many fun fall activities (because it IS my favorite time of year) that I literally would fall apart without my google calendar to keep me straight!

This week, for our “science experiment Tuesday,” I merged Science with fall for this super fun pumpkin potion experiment. This is a classic experiment with a fun fall twist that is entertaining for all age groups. I did this activity with a few kiddos of different ages this week, and all were pretty thrilled with it.

The good news? You probably have most of this stuff hanging around your house already. Simplicity is definitely a plus for busy Mamas! So what do you need?

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Step 1

You’re going to channel all of your inner fall energy and carve your adorable baby pumpkin! You can carve any design that you like. I chose to put a traditional face on our pumpkin, but I would say that any design that features many small shapes or holes would be super fun. We also used this time to play in pumpkin guts….because it just has to be done, and sort out all the pumpkin seeds for baking!

I used a cleaning pan to do this entire experiment in to contain the mess. I would HIGHLY recommend that you do the same!

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A happy little pumpkin face!

Step 2

Now that your pumpkin is carved, it’s time to get to work on the potion. The potion is a super simple science experiment that involves a bubbling reaction when you combine vinegar and baking soda. To make it more visually exciting for the kiddos, here is what I recommend.

Get a small/clear plastic cup that can be cut to fit into the pumpkin. This cup will hold the ingredients for the reaction….ya know, since our pumpkin has face holes.

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Make sure that it can fit inside without much extra space, but ensure that the lid of the pumpkin can still fit on as well.

Step 3

Fill the cup 3/4 way full with the vinegar and set it down inside the pumpkin.

Step 4

This is the time where you can really be creative with your potion. We want to add a good squirt of dish soap so that it will get REALLY bubbly. I also add some food coloring at this point. We generally run this experiment through a few times, so there will be an opportunity to do more than one color. I generally let each kiddo pick one color, or a combination of colors to add. You can also add glitter or confetti stars to make your potion super special. Once you have all your “add ins” in the cup, use one of the spoons (from this point forward, this will be your “wet spoon”) and gently stir the vinegar mixture.

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Step 5

This step is when all the magic happens. I let my little one take control of the “wet spoon” so that she can stir the potion as I add the “secret ingredient” aka baking soda. I use the “dry spoon” and add a heaping spoonful of baking soda to the vinegar mixture and allow Neyland to stir it up for a few seconds before putting the lid on the pumpkin and watching potion gush out of it’s mouth and eyes!

We hope you and your kiddos have as much fun as we did with this! Have any other fun fall activities or ideas?? Drop them in the comments!

 

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Activities, attractions, Food

GreekFest 2018

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So a few weeks ago, we got to take part in one of my favorite yearly activities- GREEKFEST! If you’ve never been, add this to your yearly calendar! It is a good time for all ages!

I am always down for some delicious Greek food and dancing! This year, we tried a few new food items. Pastichio is a pasta dish that was somewhat similar to lasagna, and quite tasty. We also enjoyed some stuffed grape leaves (Dolmades) and Saganaki! The saganaki ended up being my new favorite. It is basically cheese that has been fried in Brandy so that it has a golden crispy exterior, while the inside remains gooey and delicious. They then slide this on a piece of crusty bread, and hit it with a little squeeze of lemon juice. YUM!

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If it looks like I was sitting in a random patch of grass close to the dumpsters, it’s only because I was. It was so crowded, there was NO PLACE to sit. We enjoyed our delicious food picnic style.

After eating, we watched all the dancing shows. I seriously don’t know how all those kids do that all day long. What a work out!

As soon as the shows were done, Neyland had to get in on the action and hit the dance floor.

Last year, I purchased Neyland one of the “jingle skirt” wraps that all the dancers wear. She was stoked to wear it to the festival this year, and has even worn it to dance class quite a few times. She felt quite “authentic” on the dance floor.

After trying out our Greek dancing skills, we hit up my personal favorite area- “The Wall-o- Baklava.” Ok, it’s really more than just baklava. It’s an entire wall of delicious Greek baked goodies. We got a lovely assorted box for the road.

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If you’ve never been to Greekfest, I highly recommend that you visit next year!

Check out their website HERE

You can thank me later! ūüėÄ

Food, Uncategorized

Busy Busy

It feels like the past week or so has been one giant whirlwind! We have had so many things going on, I feel that I can’t keep it all straight! We have had some company, an adorable little orphan to care for, some great food experiences, and made a lot of memories! Here are a few of the highlights…

A few short months ago, a friend introduced me to Indian cuisine. I had this crazy notion that I hated curry, and therefore I would hate all Indian food. HAVE I EVER BEEN MISSING OUT!!! It turns out that I actually love Indian food, and even curry dishes! The first thing that I tried was a pretty “safe” chicken dish called Tikka Masala. It was fabulous! Pair that with some garlic naan….I’m not sure that it gets much better than that!

Last weekend, I was able to go back to Sitar for their lunch buffet. I would HIGHLY recommend it. I was able to try a wide variety of dishes, all of which were fantastic. As an added bonus, the cost of the lunch buffet is cheaper than ordering a single dish off the menu. Even Neyland was thrilled with her lunch! Check out the pics below.

Check out their website HERE

*Only downside- they don’t have a menu that offers kid meals or kid portions.*

 

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That same afternoon, I received an urgent text during church from a co-worker who’s friend had found an orphaned chipmunk. It needed immediate care, so after lunch we were off to go pick up an new orphaned baby to care for.

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Neyland LOVES that we occasionally are tasked with the care of injured or orphaned animals. She has such a big heart for these guys just like her Mama. I am so pleased to be able to show her how hard work and compassion can help even the smallest of God’s creatures.

She quickly got down to the important business of “naming” our little friend. For whatever reason, she was determined to name her “Coconut Honey.” I’ve just been referring to her as “coco” for short. I am happy to report that with some nursing care and bottle feeding, Coco is doing GREAT! She should be ready to release in a week or so! Check out this recent image of her munching on a grape…

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Some other highlights this week included one of Neyland’s all time favorite activities:

MAKING SLIME.

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This “Rainbow unicorn slime” came from a kit that she got for her birthday. I personally think that the DIY slime has a better texture than this stuff did, but it was still fun for both of us!

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We ended the week with another rainbow colored treat! French Macaroons!

Would you believe that I had never tried a French macaroon before? I see really delicious looking recipe videos for these things all the time, and I’ve really been wanting to try some! We stopped by the French Market & Creperie, and got a little baggie of imported authentic macaroons. They were deeeeeelicious! I would also like to give them a big shout-out for their amazing strawberry & creme Crepes. (We didn’t get crepes during this visit, but I included an image from the last time we got them.)

Check out their menu & locations HERE

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The lemon & the raspberry were our favorites!

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featured, Food

German Night

GermanJagerschnitzel (1)

I don’t know if any of you guys have done much digging into your family name & origins, but it is something that is a HUGE interest to me. I’ve traced my family tree back REALLY far. I’m fortunate that my family kept a LOT of papers and diaries. I’ve been able to research using sites like Ancestry to corroborate a lot of my family history that has been passed down, and fill in any gaps. One thing that I always knew growing up, was that our family was originally from Germany. My family immigrated to New York very early on, and many of my relatives remain there today! This simple connection has always left me eager to learn more about my German roots.

Earlier this year, I was fortunate enough to visit a German restaurant here in Knoxville. Linderhof Restaurant was my first real exposure to German food. I was advised by a friend about what to get beforehand. I did end up trying the j√§gerschnitzel with fried potatoes, and had a variety of different “salad” type options which mainly consisted of cabbage & vinegar. All of this is perfect for me because I LOVE vinegar! Before going, I didn’t even know what j√§gerschnitzel was. If you’re unsure, let me give you the low down. Schnitzel is the main dish. It is a type of meat (usually pork), that is pounded thin, breaded, and fried. The type of “sauce” that is served with it, describes the type of schnitzel. In this case, “j√§ger” sauce, is a brown mushroom gravy. J√§ger actually means “hunter” in German. It is supposed to be a sauce made with ingredients that a hunter might have at his disposal. Also, don’t let me fool you into thinking that I knew any of this. My friend educated me during dinner.

Dinner at Linderhof was amazing and I highly recommend it! It also has a pretty cool atmosphere! I’ve heard from more than one person that occasionally the owner will even come out an play accordion music while people eat. You can check out their website¬†here.¬†It has been under construction for a while, so following them on facebook may be a better option.

So that was my first and only dabble into German cuisine….until I hit the jackpot at Aldi last week. If you were unaware, Aldi is actually a German chain, so you can find a lot of cool German food there from time to time. Last week, their freezer section had a ton of options that I had seen on the menu at Linderhof. I decided to get a box of schnitzel and a spinach & feta strudel, and plan a German dinner for myself and the little one. Later in the week, it hit me that I had failed to consider the sauce for the schnitzel. Thankfully, the box includes a simple recipe for j√§ger sauce if you’re in a pinch. I wanted something a bit more authentic, so I held off until I could get back to the store. During a quick trip yesterday, I acquired a lovely carton of mushrooms and I quickly decided that J√§gerschnitzel was in my immediate future! For the schnitzel, I just followed the directions on the box, and fried it to a lovely golden brown. The j√§ger sauce I made from scratch and it turned out AMAZING! (I’ll share the recipe below) The strudel, was just an easy “pop in the oven” type side, but it was quite good too! I don’t think it would be difficult to make your own schnitzel, and I’ll probably try that next time. This was an easy “first time” experience.

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Yum! Schnitzel!

Start your sauce first: It takes the longest, and allowing it to simmer a bit while you fry your schnitzel will only make it better! Start off with butter and onions. Cook until they start to brown. Then add garlic.

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Speaking of awesome Aldi finds: This bagged garlic is amazing! I HATE peeling garlic!

Add in those mushrooms and cook until the liquid from the mushrooms is gone! It smells SO GOOD!

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This is what you’re looking for. Next add in your flour. We are basically making a gravy. When you add this, it will get kind of sticky- that’s normal. Let it cook for a couple minutes before adding in your beef broth, vinegar, and spices. Be sure to scrape up all those yummy brown bits on the bottom of the pan! When you add in the liquids, you’ll begin to whisk until the mixture thickens, then allow it to simmer (covered) on low.

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The finished product should look something like this.

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Even the tiny human was impressed! She requested the leftovers for her lunch at school tomorrow!

Jägerschnitzel

Ingredients

  • Cooked schnitzel (See post)
  • 2 Tbsp butter
  • 1 yellow onion, finely chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 16 oz. fresh mushrooms, cleaned and sliced (I used baby bellas)
  • 4 Tbsp unsalted butter
  • 4 Tbsp all purpose flour
  • 2 cups beef broth
  • 2 tsp balsamic vinegar
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt
  • 1/2 tsp sugar
  • 1/4 tsp dried thyme
  • 1/4 tsp black pepper
  • +/- 1-2 Tbsp of heavy cream

 

Instructions

  1. Melt the butter (or bacon grease this will yield the most flavor) in a pan over medium-high heat and fry the onions until beginning to brown.  Add the garlic and cook another minute.

  2. Add the mushrooms and cook 5-7 minutes or until golden and the liquid from the mushrooms has evaporated.

  3. Add the butter and melt.  Add the flour, stir to combine and cook for about 2 minutes, stirring continually.

  4. Add the beef broth, vinegar, thyme, sugar, salt and pepper.  Whisk continually until the gravy is thickened.  Cover and simmer on low, stirring occasionally, for 5-10 minutes.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  If you prefer the gravy thinner add a little more water (or heavy cream if using)

    Serve the schnitzel hot and covered in the jäger sauce! Enjoy!

     

featured, Food, Parenting

Spaghetti Ice Cream

Spaghetti Ice Cream

Months ago, a picture scrolled across my newsfeed of what appeared to be spaghetti….upon examining the post closer, I was surprised to learn that it was actually ice cream! I thought it was such a cute idea, and I made a mental note that I wanted to try it sometime. Fast forward to this past weekend, when another image of alluring spaghetti ice cream scrolls across my phone screen. I decided to do some research about this dish, and try to make my own!

Cool things I learned: This ice cream dish is actually German! I wouldn’t have guessed that, but it worked out well for me since I decided to try it out on a friend who spent several years in Germany! If it isn’t obvious, this is a GREAT dessert option for kids! They are pretty stoked about ice cream that looks like spaghetti! Let’s get down to the details about how to pull this off in your own home so that you too can impress German friends and children alike!

Items You’ll Need:

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This crazy looking tool is a “potato ricer.” I got this bad boy from my Grandmother many years ago. I pushed it to the back of a drawer with no intentions of ever using it. I could not foresee a recipe that I would ever make that would require such a tool. I’m thankful for once, for my inability to part with things. I will say that it is preferred for this recipe, to have a ricer that has holes only on the bottom, but I was able to place a layer of packing tape around the sides to prevent leakage. It worked well, and got the job done. If you don’t have an ancient potato ricer that your Grandmother left to you, these guys are also available on Amazon. There are a lot of options out there, but¬†HERE is a fairly cheap one.

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The “meatballs” in this recipe are optional. There are also a variety of options that you can use to make them. I baked a batch of brownies the night before. Once they were cooled completely, I shaped them into small balls with my hands. I’ve also seen people use Ferrero Rocher candies, and even small scoops of chocolate ice cream.

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You’ll also need some frozen whipped topping. Use a small to medium sized scoop in the middle of your plate FIRST. This creates height & some extra flavor. I have been advised that an unsweetened cream version is the most authentic.

A bar of white chocolate can be grated using a standard cheese grater to give the appearance of “Parmesan cheese.”

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This was our finished product. It doesn’t take much, but adds a great visual detail to the dish.

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You’ll also want to have a strawberry sauce to use as the “marinara” for the spaghetti. I made a homemade sauce that was super easy and really good. I’ll include the recipe below. If you don’t want to make your own, you can purchase a pre-made version, or even warm up strawberry jam if you’re in a pinch!

Strawberry Sauce

  • 1 lb fresh strawberries (De-stemmed and chopped)
  • 1/3 cup Sugar
  • Fresh lemon juice (juice from 1/2 a lemon)

Combine all ingredients in a medium sauce pan over medium heat. Allow it to come to a boil. Reduce heat and allow to simmer for ~20-30 minutes. Let it cool in the refrigerator for a few hours or overnight. It will continue to thicken as it cools.

*I also used my immersion blender briefly to make it less chunky.*

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Finally, you’ll need some delicious vanilla ice cream or gelato. The most important things here are to get an ice cream free from chunky additives. Chocolate chips aren’t going to squeeze through that ricer. Additives also take away from the visual that we are going for here. The other important thing is to allow your ice cream to sit at room temperature to soften a bit. If it is fully frozen, it does not squeeze through the ricer well. The soft ice cream actually holds it’s shape better

 

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Now that we have everything we need, let’s discuss putting it together!

Directions

  • The number one tip I have is to freeze the plate that you will be making your spaghetti on. I placed my plate in a few hours before so it would be nice and cold.
  • After your plate is cold, scoop a small to medium size scoop of frozen whipped topping onto the frozen plate.
  • Next (using a separate plate) place the ricer on this plate so you can scoop the softened ice cream into it. You will certainly get some leaking and melting (hence the extra plate to catch the mess.) You’ll want to put a pretty large amount of ice cream in there.
  • Now that the ricer is full, pick it up and squeeze it out over top of your frozen whipped topping on the frozen plate.
  • Use a knife or spoon to scrape the bottom of the ricer and release the end of the “noodles.”
  • Next, cover the “noodles” in your strawberry sauce
  • If you are using “meatballs,” place them now
  • Finally, sprinkle the white chocolate “Parmesan cheese” over the top to complete your dish!
  • Get some pics and enjoy immediately!

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I still plan to visit the restaurant that was featured in the original post!

You can check out their menu HERE.

I hope you and your kiddos enjoy this as much as we did!

Activities, featured, Parenting

Leaf Rubbings

LeafRubbings

It’s officially September! What does that mean??? It means that I can now shamelessly put up all my fall and Halloween decor without feeling guilty or embarrassing my neighbors! It means that I am now in full fledged “fall mode” despite the fact that it is still sweltering outside! Check out this little sneak peak of our fall mantle this year…

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I think it’s interesting that as a child, fall was my least favorite season. I’m certain this had something to do with school starting, and summer being over. As an adult, I simply adore the chilly air, the beautiful colors, fun recipes, and tons of holiday activities. As an adult, fall is now my absolute favorite time of year. I LOVE any excuse to decorate, and fall marks the beginning of “decorating season.” A mantle is a blank slate just waiting to be transformed. I used to be a purist when it came to fall decor. I never decorated with anything “Halloween themed.”I stuck with pumpkins, corn stalks, and hay bales.¬† I’ve always been under the opinion that Halloween decor was fake looking and somewhat “trashy.”¬† In the past few years, I’ve grown to appreciate the addition of a few Halloween pieces to my own decor. I think i prefer simple and more classic looking Halloween decor for my own home, but I’m open to anything that’s done up right! Here I utilized dried birch branches offset at different heights on the left. I also purchased some cut out bats a few years ago from Big Lots. I always stick them to the walls and decor on the mantle to add some depth. They are also waterproof and I use them outside on my porch as well. I have a few old windows and pictures that I rotate on the mantle throughout the year. I generally pick the oldest & spookiest looking window for this time of year. The rest of the decor was picked up during yard sales, and post holiday sales. I always keep an eye out for things even out of season to score a great price!

After decorating, I let Neyland chose our project this week. She chose to do leaf rubbings! This is one of our favorite fall activities, although we actually do it several times throughout the year. It’s also a nice way to get some “fall artwork” up in your home!

We started out by venturing out in our yard to collect some cool looking leaves. You’ll want to take the time to pick ones that have super cool patterns and shapes. Here are the ones that we chose.

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If you can’t tell from the picture, she was pretty excited about this!

After you get your leaves, you’ll need a few sheets of white paper, some crayons, and a smooth surface. Let your little one pick a few leaves and place them on a sheet of paper. Next, place another sheet on top of the leaves and use a crayon to “rub” the pattern of the leaf onto the paper.

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You may want to help your kiddos hold the paper nice and still. Mine has a tendency to move the top paper around and lose her place on her leaf.

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Check out our finished products!

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We also took the time to identify and label what types of leaves we had collected and colored. She enjoyed learning that maple syrup actually comes from maple trees! Now we have some nice fall themed artwork to hang up in our home! Yay fall!!!

Activities, attractions, Parenting, Trips

The Lost Sea

 

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Photo Cred: http://www.guideoftravels.com/the-lost-sea/

I don’t know if you guys have noticed, but it’s been pretty hot outside as of late. Whenever it gets like this, I have a hard time getting motivated to go outside and find fun activities for us to do. In these temps, a cool 58 degrees sounds heavenly to this gal. Thankfully, we have some AMAZING natural attractions right in our own backyard that offer these steady year round temps!

Recently, Neyland and I visited The Lost Sea. It has been years since I visited this cave, and it seemed like a great time to take Neyland! A big cave system offers a great place to “hike” in cool temps, and provides a ton of educational experiences for little ones. The Lost Sea has a great history that includes use by local Native Americans, soldiers during the civil war, and even a prehistoric lion! It is the largest underground body of water in the US, and the second largest in the world! The “sea” itself hasn’t even been fully explored! The tour includes a guided trip through the cave, lots of history and info about the cave, and a boat ride on the sea! If you live in the area, I highly recommend this little day trip! It’s a perfect activity when it’s really hot OR really cold!

Check their website for hours and prices here: The Lost Sea Adventure

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The entrance to the cave looks daunting! The temperature drops pretty rapidly! (I would recommend a jacket.)

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Some of the rock pools heading down toward the room where the sea is located in. It is really interesting that there is only ONE visible source of incoming water in the cave, though there must be many. The water in the sea empties out into multiple surrounding bodies of water, but those passages have never been located or explored!

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The “main room” of the cave is absolutely massive. Pictures don’t do it justice.

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This formation is known as “the bear’s paw.” If you hug it, you’re supposed to have good luck! Neyland didn’t care much about “good luck,” she just wanted to hug the paw!

Her favorite parts were:

-Hearing about the prehistoric lion

-The boat ride

-Feeling the water

-Seeing the HUGE trout in the lake

I thought I would also point out that the last time that I was at The Lost Sea, I did one of the wild cave tours. That is where they take you on a much longer “behind the scenes” tour through the cave. There are a BUNCH of cool areas within the cave to explore. Most notably, I remember “The Meat Grinder.” As it’s name suggests, it’s a tiny space you have to crawl through. I will advise you to wear old clothes and shoes as you will be COVERED in clay and mud, but it is absolutely worth it! I highly recommend this tour for older kids!

What cool attractions have you visited lately?