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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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 jägerschnitzel 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 jägerschnitzel 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, “jäger” sauce, is a brown mushroom gravy. Jäger 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 jäger 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 Jägerschnitzel 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 jäger 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, featured, Parenting

What Makes Leaves Green?

What Makes

Our Science Experiment Tuesday was postponed this week due to some pressing engagements. We were both pretty bummed about missing our weekly activity, so we held our first ever Science Experiment *Thursday* at my Grandmother’s house! This wasn’t an experiment that I planned on, so I didn’t bring any supplies…Thankfully Grandmas are ALWAYS prepared for any emergency, including scientific experimentation! (Seriously though- My Grandma could probably set a broken bone, mend some pants, lend you a toothbrush, and provide you a coupon to any restaurant, simply with the supplies in her purse!)

We’ve been focusing on plants a lot lately since summer is drawing to a close, and we’ll soon see the leaves beginning to change. I decided to focus this experiment on what exactly makes plants green. As adults, we know that this is chlorophyll. But how can we extract the chlorophyll from the leaf so that curious eyes can see it?

I remember doing this activity as a kid. If I’m not mistaken, I learned about it on a children’s science program on tv. It must have been pretty cool to stick with me all these years! It is fairly easy, and uses supplies that you probably already have at home! If you can’t already tell, it’s great for a quick unplanned activity.

Supplies(1)

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Step 1

Take your little one outside and collect your leaves. (Please don’t skip this step!) It is great to let them look at all the different shapes and textures of leaves in their very own yard! As you can see, Neyland chose a variety of shapes and sizes. We even found a “lamb’s ear” leaf (See title photo) that was fuzzy and super soft!

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Step 2

Use the scissors and cut a long thin strip of your napkin/toilet paper. It needs to be taller than the glass that you are using, and about twice the width of the pencil. The most important thing is that you are using a WHITE piece of toilet paper or napkin. We need it to be nice and white for the green chlorophyll to stand out.

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Step 3

Snip up the leaves into tiny pieces and place them into the clear glass. If your little one is old enough to use scissors, this is also a GREAT fine motor skill for them! We basically need to get to the inside of the leaf where the chlorophyll is contained. The more of the “inside of the leaf” you expose, the easier this will be. I chose to grind up the leaf bits with the flat handle of a screwdriver after Neyland cut them up, just to make sure we wouldn’t have any trouble.

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Step 4

Add enough finger nail polish remover to barely cover the leaves. We want enough to mix the leaves up into a little “leaf soup.”

*Remember that nail polish remover is highly flammable – do this in a safe location*

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Step 5

Lay out your strip of napkin/TP. Place your pencil at the top of the strip. Use a tiny piece of tape to secure the strip to the middle of the pencil, and roll up the strip around the pencil a few times. The pencil will sit across the top of the glass allowing the paper to dangle down into the “leaf soup.” Use the pencil to shorten or lengthen the paper to the appropriate length for your glass. It should look like…..

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Step 6

The paper should be touching the “leaf soup.” The nail polish remover will draw the chlorophyll out of the smashed leaves and it will “wick” up the white paper. While you can see some movement & color change right away, it is far more dramatic if you let it sit for a few hours.

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The finished product is pictured above.

We discussed how the chlorophyll uses the sun to make energy for the plant. This is why a plant’s leaves are wide and stretched out toward the sun. We also discussed that the leaves will soon be changing and eventually fall off of the trees because the days will be shorter & there won’t be much sun for energy.

I can’t wait to take this line of learning full circle as we continue to watch what happens to the trees and plants this fall and winter!

Activities, featured, Parenting

Candy Cooking

Candy Cooking

Backup plans. They are important things to have. You probably never thought you would need them as a parent, but they are ever so helpful. We all know that parenting doesn’t always go as planned. You can plan events and activities with the utmost precision, but things happen & inevitably something will go awry. I like to keep a “mental list” of contingency plans for such situations. If I’ve specifically promised my daughter an exciting activity and the weather doesn’t cooperate, I can quickly pull out an appropriate substitute plan. One gadget that I keep around for tons of fun at the drop of a hat is the Poppin’ cookin’ Japanese candy cooking sets. These little kits don’t take up much space, they have a crazy long shelf life, and only require water to get started!

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Neyland mixing the “dough” for the dumplings and spring rolls

Each set comes with a little plastic tray with a variety of different sections for mixing and shaping the different parts of the dish you’re making. It also comes with a bunch of packets of different colored powder. The directions are pretty simple- Add water to the different packets. The amount and location you should mix them are all found on the directions. Depending on your kit, you may then take the resulting “dough” or liquid and place it in a separate area to shape it. The “ramen” kit we were making here, also had accompanying “spring rolls” and “dumplings.” The packaging even doubles as an area to roll out dough and place the “food” for cool photo ops.

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Our “dumplings and spring rolls” are complete!

One of our previous kits involved making candy “sushi.” We had fruit roll up “seaweed” and even had to make salmon roe! As different as all the dough and liquids looked (at least in that previous kit) I was amazed that all the elements tasted the exact same! This time, the “broth” in the ramen did have a different flavor.

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Dropping in our “ramen noodles”

I’m always transfixed at the chemical reactions that obviously take place when you make these kits. I will be the first to say that I don’t understand how they work, but they’re pretty cool to watch!

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Victory!
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Trying out the noodles

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The first time I saw these kits, I believe it was on youtube. I happened across them in a local Asian market here in Knoxville, and decided to give one a try. I’ve even ordered them off Amazon. They are generally pretty reasonable at around $3-4 per kit. Here is the link to the Sushi Kit on Amazon. So far, we have made the sushi kit, an ice cream kit, a doughnut kit, and this ramen kit. The Sushi and Ramen kits were our favorites by far. They were more intricate and took longer to make. I will say that some of the parts are small and therefore not for tiny kids. As always, watch your kiddos closely while they do this. I read the instructions and let Neyland mix the water and powder. We form the shapes together, but I’m sure that an older kid would have no problems with doing that part alone.

*Disclaimer* I am SURE the nutritional value in these kits is zero. Keep in mind that they are candy, and should be used as an occasional treat.

Have you made a Poppin’ Cookin’ set before? Which is your favorite?

 

Activities, featured, Food

Sunday Sundaes

How is the weekend already over??? We had such an awesome weekend, it just doesn’t seem fair that tomorrow is already Monday. Well, here’s to starting this week off right!

This weekend, my friends and family were kind enough to throw me a surprise birthday party for the big 3-0. Thankfully, someone decided it was a good idea to tell me about it since they planned it at MY HOUSE. Pretty sure full blown panic would have set in if 20-30 people had just randomly shown up at my place on Saturday. It was a great time full of food and lots of laughs! Thanks to everyone who came and celebrated! (Unfortunately we were all having such a blast, we totally failed to take any pictures!)

This morning we enjoyed an absolutely fantastic church service! I love when service just “happens” to be on things that I’ve been studying privately! Our service today was on worship. We discussed the different examples of worship in the bible and the specific kinds of worship God specifically asks for! There are many terms for types of worship in Hebrew. It was really interesting and eye opening!

After service, we enjoyed a nice relaxing day out by the pool, followed by homework for Neyland, and most importantly…..the post homework treat! ICE CREAM!

We discussed taking a trip downtown to try the new Cruze Farm location…but as with most new places, IT WAS PACKED. We elected to give it a few more weeks to let the “newness” die down. We decided instead to visit one of my favorite ice cream spots of all time. It is also conveniently, right across the street.

Phoenix Pharmacy & Fountain is everything you could possibly want with a super authentic “old time” feel. This place has a HUGE menu of sundaes, malts, floats, and seasonal specials. They make everything from scratch. All the toppings, whipped cream, you name it. All their ice cream is served in old fashioned glass dishes, and the staff even dresses in classic attire! The pharmacy is still in operation too! Bottom line: This place is the FULL experience. Amazing treats and a full authentic soda shop experience. Check out what we got this time!

 

Check out their website & menu HERE.

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Neyland’s Sidecar – Classic Sundae, only smaller for kids
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I had the “All American.” It was mixed berry cobbler with homemade vanilla ice cream!
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My brother had “The Great Smoky Mountains.” A fudge soaked vanilla cake  & a fudge brownie topped with vanilla ice cream, homemade brittle, and homemade caramel sauce!
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My Mom had the “Twixy.” Scoops of vanilla on top of homemade shortbread crumbles with milk chocolate & caramel drizzle.
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Neyland was happy to help finish off any leftovers.

We enjoyed a nice stroll through Market Square and Gay Street before calling it a night!

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If you’re into an authentic experience, don’t pass this place up! After all, Sundays are for Jesus and Sundaes!