Friday, April 20, 2018

Broccoli Blueberry Chopped Salad with Herb Dressing

Spring, where are you!?! Groundhog day was forever ago, and here we are still dressing like it's winter most days. Spring is usually my energizer after a long winter, but day after day, week after week, I sit staring at gray, rainy (sometimes snowy) sky. Our meteorologist says that spring weather is coming. Could it actually be? I only dare to hope.

In the meantime, I'm trying to do my part and make it at least feel like spring around here. Springy wreath on the front door, lavender candles, spring cleaning and purging... anything to make it feel like someday the clouds with give in to the sun and we can open the windows once again.

As for meals, even though it seems like we should be making hearty, soul warming meals, my mind has already shifted over to spring like foods. Salads, veggies, and fish dinners have taken over our menu and the recipe I'm sharing with you today is going on our regular rotation of salads for this spring/summer. I made it first a few weeks ago, and immediately wished that I had taken pictures for the blog.

I have mentioned it before on this blog, but it's worth repeating - I cannot get enough of chopped salads. Lettuce is not typically my favorite part of salads, especially when it's served in big chunks that you have to cut up. I much prefer a salad that has just as much vegetables/cheese/nuts/toppings as the lettuce itself. Enter this chopped salad. Blueberries, broccoli, sunflower seeds, feta! Every single bite it full of spring loving flavors.

Let's proceed, shall we?

Here's what you need.

Salad Ingredients
4 cups lettuce of your choice, chopped into bite sized chunks
3-4 cups broccoli, chopped into bite sized chunks
1 cup fresh blueberries
4 (or 5) ounces feta cheese
1/2 cup diced red onion
1/2 cup sesame seeds (more for topping if you want)

Dressing Ingredients
1 1/2 cups plain Greek yogurt
1/2 cup milk (more or less to get desired consistency)
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp onion powder
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp dill, dried
1 tsp parsley, dried
1/4 tsp paprika

The good thing about a chopped salad? All the ingredients are "give and take." If you want (or have) more of one thing, and less of another, switch it up! The flavors of the ingredients blend together, so it's your call. For example, I love, love, love feta, so when I have extra, I throw it in too. So take those salad ingredients and throw them all together.

 Now for the dressing. I've been making up this dressing as a cleaner version of ranch dressing. It is so yummy, versatile, and tastes so much fresher (obviously) than the bottled version.

Mix together your Greek yogurt and milk, until you get your desired consistency.

Throw in your herbs and spices, and adjust to suit your flavor preference. I tend to always throw in a little extra salt, and maybe a little garlic powder (or real garlic) too. It just depends on what you're in the mood for. If you have any of this leftover, it would be good as a veggie dip, or whatever. There is no reason for this to go to waste.

 Serve it up and enjoy!

I served it on the side of a grilled salmon with garlic, lemon, butter sauce that was seriously the best fish I have ever made at home. The salad was the perfect side!

Saturday, March 31, 2018

DIY Bubble Wands

Spring Equinox has passed which means that spring schedules are in full swing around here. There is just something about spring that gives me the final push of adrenaline to finish the school year. At school, I start thinking about next year, and make my list of all the things I hope to do differently to make the year run more efficiently. At home, it's all about getting ready for summer. The more I clean and organize in the spring, the less I will have to do during summer vacation. So even if I have to get up early and stay up late, I will get spring cleaning done (don't get me wrong, I do have a list of summer projects to complete, but I don't want to have to wait until I get the house spring cleaned to start them!). We are also working outside and cleaning up the yard, which seems to have gotten really beaten up by the winter this year. 

We always have bubbles around our house in the spring. They are so cheap and forever entertaining for kids and adults alike. And I recently learned that bubbles are a great mindful activity, meaning they're good for your mental health! 

I always like a good reason to celebrate, so to welcome in spring, I looked up some crafts on Pinterest and was inspired by others who have created some crafty bubble wands. Off to Michael's we went to pick up some beads for this project. We had some copper wire at home already, but if you need that, you can get it at Michaels as well, right beside the beads. A pair of needle nose pliers also is helpful. 

I got an assortment pack of beads - lots of different colors and shapes. We cut the wire down to 12 inches, although in retrospect, we probably could have done it a little bit shorter (9 or 10 inches). 

I started by sorting out some possible color combinations of beads. 

And then let the assembly begin. Start by making a loop at the top, about an inch in diameter. After the first one, I found a small bottle to use to wrap the wire around. Twist the excess around the handle, and use the pliers to make sure the end is pressed down (sharp pointy edges of wire are not ideal for bubble blowing). 

Once the beads were all on, I made a little curly cue at the end to keep the beads on. And for that part, that's it! The wands are ready for blowing! 

To go along with the bubble wands, I hoped to offer a tutorial on homemade bubbles as well. I once again went to my source (Pinterest) and found loads of bubble recipes, all claiming to have big, bouncy, good quality bubbles. I found one that I liked, and collected the materials... Dawn dishwashing liquid (because ALL the recipes said this was the best), corn syrup, and glycerin (found at Michaels in the cake decorating section). I collected some cute jars to put the bubbles in and voila, I was ready to start.

So where is the recipe you ask? Well, I can't exactly post it, because none of the recipes I tried actually worked (without a little tweaking). Eli and I actually made not 1, not 2, but 3 different batches of bubbles, and each of them turned out differently. So I can't give you a recipe, but I can give you some useful tips. I learned that glycerin and corn syrup serve the same purpose (at least I think), so it's okay to use more of one instead of the other. I also learned that if it's Dawn Ultra (like what I used), you need a lot more glycerin and/or corn syrup (I didn't figure that out myself. After several fails, I finally found a recipe that explained this). Finally, it's worth letting the bubbles sit overnight. In almost all cases, our bubbles worked far better the next day. We did get some bubbles that were super, super strong. We could even bounce them around a little bit. But I kept adding so much of everything, that I probably couldn't duplicate that batch even if I tried.

If nothing else, we ended up with a pretty final product. If you want to duplicate the craft, but without the hassle of figuring out a bubble recipe, just pour some store bought bubbles in a jar and tie a homemade bubble wand to it (Shhhhhhh!!!)

I gave them out for Spring Equinox gifts to some friends.

And that's my latest round of craftiness! Until next time!

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Gans Creek Winter Hike

Finally, finally,  I can write about hiking again. Which means the cold snap has passed, at least for now. We are creeping out of our state of hibernation. I lie. We are running out of hibernation and heading straight for the woods. Missouri weather has spoiled us the past few years because we have been able to hike straight through the winter. But not this year. When the windchill is below 10, or even 25, we prefer movie watching, game playing, puzzle solving, and staying indoors in general. But watch out when the thermometer peaks above 30, because we are out of here, and on the trail.

My New Years Resolution was all about being outdoors more, so I was sad to watch day after day pass by without logging a single mile on the trail. We've hiked at least partial trails at pretty much every trail system in our county. But there are still loops and connectors within those trail systems that we have yet to venture, so last weekend, we headed back to Gans Creek (Shooting Star Trailhead) to  complete another loop.

Christmas brought us all some new hiking gear including these hydration packs for the boys from their grandparents. They absolutely loved having their own water source and we absolutely loved not having to stop every half mile for a water break. The packs are small enough that the boys can manage them without issue, but surprisingly, there is also room for them to carry their own snacks and a couple of other small things (like Eli's new compass).

The other new addition to our hiking game was action cameras for each of the boys. I thought they came with head and chest straps but they didn't, so for this hike, they just each wore them on their wrist. I'll be getting the chest/head straps soon though, because having a camera strapped to your wrist is not conducive to climbing, falling, etc. That being said, the boys absolutely loved recording the hike from their viewpoint. Perhaps on another post, I'll share more about these cameras, but the truth is we haven't even downloaded the videos yet and I don't really know that much about them. It was sweet to watch them narrate the hike though. I can't wait to see what they recorded.

As for the trail conditions on this beautiful day, muddy just about sums it up. For nearly half of the hike, we walked on the edge of the trail instead of down the middle, because the mud was deep. I got some new hiking boots for Christmas, and getting them covered with mud was the perfect way to break them in.

Eli took a couple of spills on this hike. Maybe because his feet were covered with mud, or maybe because sometimes he just takes the most difficult path he can take. Little adventurer.

 The entire trail has been recently reblazed and it made it so easy to follow! There are trail maps at every trail head and the blaze marks are bright and frequent. We have been known to miss our turn off on the trail system before, but that almost seems impossible now with how clearly they've marked it. The loops are blazed with different colors, and the connectors are marked with white blazes with numbers. The boys lead the way the whole time.

We saw several fallen trees close to the trail. They are really good at maintaining the trail and removing any fallen trees that fall on the trail (or at least a section of the tree).

 One of the things we love about this trail is the change in elevation. You can be on the top of the bluff overlooking the creek bed, and then a few minutes later, you're at the creek bed and hiking back up. Here are the boys on the incline.

Looking down over the valley.

The sky...Sigh. We all started shedding layers early on because it was just so nice.

The boys up high on the bluff.

And an incredible Missouri view. One of many reasons we hike. #Missourilove

Overlooking the river. We'll be down there in about 30 minutes.

This actually is a pretty popular trail system, but because it's so expansive, you can go quite a ways without seeing anyone else.

Heading back downhill. The boys with their hydration packs and cameras barely talked to us throughout much of the hike.

Finally, we spotted some water, er, I mean ice. That's a really cool thing about winter hikes. Instead of throwing rocks into the water, we throw rocks at the ice and predict if it will break or not. Even though there was a thin layer of water on the top of the ice, the ice itself was surprisingly thick. We couldn't break it.

But we tried.

More fallen trees. I also wonder what caused it to fall. Lightening? Old age? The wind?

This moss covered rocky ledge was interesting, and somewhat eerie. 

 Every once in a while, they let me be the leader. So kind. Here are the boys all clearly dodging the muddy trail.

And finally we came to the main creek bed. This rocky path is actually part of the trail, and this part of the trail is actually the convergence of several paths in the trail system. Which means lots of people stop here to rest or play. It looks as if the creek is melted, but under that water is ice thick enough that adults were out walking on it.

The boys remembered being here once before when they sent leaves floating down that little stream over the rock. They did it again and again. 

The icy creek that was probably completely melted just a few days later.

 And then the loop we were completing merged with a path we have hiked before, taking us back up to our car.

 With more beautiful overlooks of the creek bed.

 This path is one of my favorites. Walking into it feels like you're walking into a different world.

And finally we rounded the corner to the parking lot, where we took off our muddy shoes before climbing into the van.

Here are some stats from Geotracker, although they are a little off. See those gaps in the blue line? That's where we lost cell service, which means the app assumes we stopped hiking. So the final hike was actually a bit longer than what it says here.

First hike of the year is in the books!