Sunday, January 31, 2016

Gans Creek Hike


Last weekend, we initiated the 2016 hiking season. We had snow on the Wednesday before. Not much, but a ground covering at least. By Saturday and Sunday, most of the snow had melted and the weather slowly creeped into the 40 degree range. Perfect hiking weather! There was just enough snow on the ground to make it interesting, but sunny and bright enough for it to be refreshing to be outdoors.


We hike all the time, which you probably know if you read this blog. We have our favorite spots for sure (Three Creeks, anyone?), but we are constantly scouting out new spots. We first stepped foot on this trail a couple of years ago when we were out for a drive and a dead ended up at this trail head. Excited to have found a new trail, we had to get out and see it. But because we had not intended on hiking that day, we weren't prepared for a long hike. If I remember correctly, I was still wearing dress shoes from school. We went in about 50 yards or so then turned around and made a mental note to return. Two years later, here we are in the dead of winter!

Gans Creek is very close to the Rock Bridge trails which we have hiked many times. They are not our favorite because they are also a tourist attraction and always crowded. We like more primitive trails where there aren't many people, and this one was perfect! We only saw one other person on our way out.

 

The ground was slushy in spots. And thank goodness for us, we all brought a change of clothes, because we had a concert to go to right after our hike.

I should note here that Eli is wearing a Colts sweatshirt, even though they didn't make it to the playoffs at all. But later on this very day we hiked, the Broncos clenched the AFC Championship, sending Peyton Manning to what will most likely be his last Superbowl. Enough about that.



Eli loves to be the leader, or as he calls it, the "conductor."


Winter hikes are so restful. There were very little signs of life. Some little animal tracks (a squirrel maybe?) and a few birds in the distance were about all we saw. The boys pointed out some acorns and wondered why the squirrels hadn't gathered them up yet.




I love this picture (above) so much that I might blow it up and hang it in my house. The light is just perfect behind the trees.


The boys were so happy to be out of the house for a while. They could have hiked all day if we had not had other plans.


A family selfie.


Trekking ahead.

 
 We weren't out for long since we had somewhere else to be, but we did get in about 45 minutes of good hiking. We got back to our car with about 10 minutes to spare, so we did head down another trail (pictured below) just for a while and determined that we would be back to finish that trail another day.


Happy hiking!

Monday, January 18, 2016

Cincinnati Chili


 


Baby, it's cold outside! We have had sub-zero windchill temps which made this Martin Luther King holiday a welcomed reason to stay indoors. It was one of those days when we didn't get out of our pajamas the whole day. I did manage to shower, but then I put my fuzzy pajamas back on to enjoy the rest of our cozy day inside.

Lex and Eli transformed our entire living room into a fort made of couch cushions, pillows, and blankets which entertained them for at least 2 hours. Lex worked on computer coding, which I plan to write more about in a future blog. I found several really good games, videos, and apps that teach kids how write code. And since Lex loves nothing more than being on the computer, I thought this was a productive way to use his screen time today.

And since it's so cold that we're pretty much trapped indoors, we found comfort in food. Yummy, yummy food, which brings us to this classic recipe. We make it a couple of times a year, and there are a few spices we always keep in our pantry just in case we are in the mood for this. If you've never had this style of chili, please don't be fooled by the name "chili." This is not your traditional soup. It has a Mediterranean flare which comes from an incredible spice blend. Oh, and also.... It has chocolate in it! I hope I haven't scared you off now. Because although the chocolate part is fun, it really isn't a sweet chili. It actually really packs some heat.

Of course if you're from Southern Ohio or Northern Kentucky, this needs no explanation. You probably visit Skyline Chili at least a couple of times a year. So you know the drill. But did you know that this recipe was thought up by Macedonian Immigrants who were looking for an ethnic topping for their spaghetti? It really is something, I promise. It is earthy, spicy, and hearty, and great for a "chilly" day outside.

So now I have to tell you that this is NOT a throw together recipe. Well it kind of is in that you just throw together everything in one pot except the spaghetti and toppings. But there are a LOT of ingredients. Spices mainly. If you're like me, you recognize that (usually) more spices means more depth of flavor and that little extra prep pays off in the end. Don't run from the challenge! Embrace it!

Here's your full list of ingredients:
2 T. vegetable oil
1 small onion finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 T. chili powder
2 T. paprika
2 tsp. cumin
1 tsp. ground allspice
1/2 tsp. ground coriander
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp. ground cloves
1 1/2 lbs. ground beef
1 12 ounce can diced tomatoes, drained
 6 ounce can tomato sauce
1 bay leaf
2 T. chopped unsweetened chocolate
1 T. red wine vinegar
2 T. Worcestershire sauce

1 pound cooked spaghetti

Optional toppings: kidney beans, shredded cheese (optional but HIGHLY recommended), and onions.

Here we go. I like to start with the spice blend.




Oh my goodness. Just looking at this makes my mouth water. There are 4 Tablespoons alone just in chili powder and paprika. 4 Tablespoons! Also, cumin, allspice, coriander, cinnamon, cayenne pepper, and ground cloves. Quite a combination, right?!?


Here's my sous chef, Eli. This kid, I am telling you. If he doesn't grow up to be a chef, I will be completely shocked. He practically lives in the kitchen, climbing on counters, and rummaging through cabinets for "secret ingredients." One time, he combined some ground coffee in with the sugar canister on the counter so he could "practice stirring." I could not bear to throw it out since it would be literally throwing food down the drain, so I left it just the way he had it in the canister so he could stir it whenever he wanted.

So what Eli is doing in that picture is sauteing 1 finely diced onion and 2 cloves minced garlic in a couple of tablespoons of vegetable oil.


Once the onions are soft (4-5) minutes, dump in the entire spice blend, and stir it together. It will turn into a beautiful, dark, rich paste.


I am telling you, there is so much flavor in that pasty mixture, it's ridiculous. Again, mouth watering.



After a couple of minutes of stirring the paste in with the onions, add 1 1/2 pounds of ground beef and stir to combine all the flavors. Continue cooking until the beef is no longer pink.


Next, stir in 1 1/2 cups of water.


Then a 12 ounce can of diced tomatoes, drained.


And 6 ounces of tomato sauce. Stir it together.


And then you add 2 Tablespoons of chopped, unsweetened chocolate. I was so excited about this step that I couldn't even hold my hand still for the picture! AND, true story, I was going to take a picture of the first tablespoon but accidentally dumped it in before I snapped the picture. Are you kidding me?! Come on people. I hope you're feeling this as much as I am. It's chocolate. In chili!



1 Bay leaf. Check.


And you top it all off with 1 tablespoon of red wine vinegar and 1 tablespoons of Worcestershire.

Stir it all together and let it simmer. uncovered for about 20 minutes to thicken up a little bit. But it's important to note that it is meant to be soupy. Not thick. A little bit of this goes a long way. It's not meant to be eaten by the bowl. It's meant to be a "topper" for spaghetti (or hot dogs - but that's for another day).

Okay, now for the serving suggestions. There are many "ways" to order this if you were actually in a restaurant in Cincinnati.


It starts with spaghetti....


This is a "2 Way." Spaghetti with the chili sauce only.


This is a "3 Way." Spaghetti, chili, and cheese.


This is a "4-way." Spaghetti, chili, cheese, and onions. Another variation is the "4 way beans" which replaces the onions with kidney beans. And then there's the "5 Way" which has chili, cheese, onions, AND beans. Of course, when you make it at home you can try every variation! My favorite is the 4 way (with onions) as pictured above.
 
If you like earthy flavors or Mediterranean food, try this. I think you'll like it. 


Saturday, January 16, 2016

750 Words

I love writing. I always have. When I was younger, I faithfully kept journals, wrote letters and stories, and loved completing writing assignments at school. Now that I'm older, I still do all those things (not so much with the stories), but now I journal much more and also have somewhat of an obsession with turning events into Haiku. For the last several Christmases, I've written a Haiku about each of the boys' perceived experience during the day. Those 17 syllables can be so informative!

Writing is a family thing really. Recently, my grandma turned 90, and my aunt compiled many of her written memoirs, poems, and memories and turned them into a book to give out at her birthday celebration. It is one of the most precious things I own. You can read about her memories and thoughts from a very young age. And 90 years ago was a long time ago, so in many of her stories, it feels like you're reading about a completely different world.

I started this blog for one because I wanted a place to log our family's memories and adventures. I wanted a journal of things we did and something that the boys could look back on. But I also started this blog so I could keep in the habit of writing.

A few years ago, I started following Moorea Seal's 52 list writing project. Basically, every week, she posted a new list for you to write, like "List the Things You are Thankful For," and "List Things You Want to Make." I was a faithful follower, and completed every list. Then, at week 20 the project ended. That's right. Thirty-two weeks short of the 52 weeks. And I felt like the rug had been pulled out from under me mid-challenge. So my response was to make my own list of lists, which I put on this blog in its very early stages.  I've periodically checked back with Moorea Seal to see if the rest of her list was ever published on her blog, and you know what? Instead of finishing the list publicly, she made her list of lists into a book that you can now buy on Etsy. I wonder if anyone would pay money for my list of lists. Oh well.

The second year I had my blog, I wrote a review on Theo Pauline Nestor's Writing is My Drink.  I love(d) that book. I've checked it out from the library several times since then and have completed many of the writing tasks that I included in my original post. For example, one of the suggested posts is to keep a collection of "This is What I Think" writings and keep them close to your writing area. I consistently do this and love it. All of the writing tasks in this book are short, fun, and easy, and keep you in the habit of writing.

I say all that to say that I have found a new writing challenge for this year that I am really excited about. You can find it at 750 words.com.  I love it. It's basically a website that encourages you to write every.single.day.  It includes a monthly challenge to write 750 words each day that month. Literally. You don't have to accept the challenge, but if you do, and then complete the challenge, you get your name on the Wall of Fame. If you don't, it's the "Wall of Shame." Nobody is checking for sentences or punctuation. You just write every day. You can also earn "awards" and "badges" when you've consecutively completed so many days of writing. Additional awards are given if you can write without getting distracted. That's right. The website keeps track of how long it takes you to complete your 750 words each day and notes how often you are distracted while writing. It's not as much pressure as you think. It's a fun community of writers. When you're done writing, a computer program generates a compilation of stats including your most frequently used words, the rating of your post (I got a PG-13 today), your mindset (pulled from words in your post), your time orientation and feeling while writing. So I took the challenge for January. It's a fun way to either start or end my day and 750 words isn't nearly as much as you think. It usually takes me less than 20 minutes. I'm going on 19 straight days (I actually started a few days before January) and I've already earned 5 badges. The first 30 days are free, but after that you have to pay $5 per month for membership. Ridiculously reasonable. You can also upload everything you write on the website to your computer. I highly recommend it to anyone who is interested in a writing challenge.

Happy penning!