September 24, 2014

The Devil's Footprint - Munich, Germany

One place I take all my family and friends when they visit us is Munich. I love the hustle and bustle, I love the history, and I love the free walking tour! I've actually taken this tour three times now.

I know what you're thinking… why would I take the same tour three times???

Well, it's never been the same twice! Some of the stops have repeated, of course. But my guide has always been different, and they each have a unique perspective and various stories. Plus people really like that it's free (you should tip your guide at the end, however).

On this last visit to Munich, our guide took us somewhere I'd never been before, and told the coolest story about a time when Satan visited Munich… and he left behind a footprint!

Devil's footprint!! 
Do you wanna hear the story? If you don't, then stop reading, ha!

So, for those of you still here…

Legend says that when the Frauenkirche was being built (the large church where this footprint is contained), the devil did not want any more churches built in Munich. He went to see this new church, and mistakenly thought there were not any windows inside of it. He found the interior to be so dark and dreary, he thought it would be easy to lure souls away from the church.

Rather than destroy the church (which was his original intention), the devil instead made a deal with the builder. If no more windows were added to the church, he would add speed for the church to be built and not destroy it. Years later, the devil returned to see the completed church….

… Imagine his surprise to find windows along the entire outside of the church!! He called for the builder, and was quite angry with him. He demanded the builder's soul for breaking their deal. BUT, the builder hadn't actually welched on their agreement. You see, the windows had always been there. They were blocked by columns that line the church, so the devil had not seen them from the inside.

The builder told Satan to come look inside, and he would see that the windows were hidden and he had been tricked. Sure enough, the windows were not visible from the inside. The devil was so angry, he stamped his foot into the ground and turned into an angry whirlwind. To this day, the footprint remains and Munich is said to have an evil wind that blows around and causes headaches in the people.

Grandma and Auntie at the Hofbrauhaus

I doubt the availability of beer has anything to do with those headaches, what do you think?? (I better say, so I don't get fussed at, that beer isn't my grandma's… I stuck mine in front of her and told her I wanted a pic! She doesn't really drink).

So, the next time you're in Munich, check out the devil's footprint and perhaps the free walking tour. Our day was loads of fun! I'll be back soon, I only have a week left to visit with my grandma before she returns to the States. Until then, happy travels!


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September 23, 2014

Not Yo' Mama's Spaghetti Sauce

Ok, so your mom could totally make a spaghetti sauce like this. But mine doesn't, so hence the title! One day I'll post my recipe for a basic tomato sauce (from actual tomatoes), but I know that most of you will find this recipe more in your comfort zone.


Top three reasons why I love this recipe?

1. The Hubs likes lots of meat in his spaghetti sauce.
2. The house smells ah-maze-ing while this is simmering!
3. This sauce freezes easy for later use.

I make this and freeze in advance whenever we have family visiting. This way, I look awesome for making my own spaghetti sauce, but I don't have to waste precious visit time with cooking. Win win!

Freezing the sauce


Here's what you need to get started:


You also need 1 pound each of ground beef and ground, mild Italian sausage (somehow, they didn't make it into the picture).

I'm going to tell you all my secrets for making awesome spaghetti sauce… simmer, simmer, simmer and always allow your sauce to rest overnight before using. Seriously, my friends, trust me! These two things alone can make or break your sauce. Really wonderful sauce allows plenty of time for those delicious flavors to meld.

Let's get busy!

Add your ground beef and sausage to a large pot, along with ½ of a diced onion and 2 cloves of minced garlic. Brown the meat, and then drain the fat from this mix.


Next, we add in all our tomato products - 28 ounces of crushed tomatoes, 16 ounces of tomato sauce, and 12 ounces of tomato paste. Also add in a ½ cup of warm water (this keeps the sauce moist during all the simmering). Combine well with the meat, and let the mixture warm up a bit because we're going to add in all the yummy spices next.

For the seasoning mix, I use: 1 teaspoon of fennel seed, 1 tablespoon of fresh basil (chopped), 2 tablespoons of fresh parsley (chopped), 1 teaspoon of oregano, 1 teaspoon salt, ½ teaspoon fresh ground black pepper, and… 2-3 tablespoons of white sugar.

Yep, you heard me right! SUGAR. This is of major importance, peeps. The sugar helps reduce the sharp acidic flavor of the tomatoes. You can add as much or as little as you like, but taste as you go. The sauce will become sweeter as it simmers, so don't add too much. Then, you just wait for the magic to happen! Let your sauce bubble and blend over low heat for at least 90 minutes. Stir it occasionally. Once in a while, sneak a taste. Relish in the joy that is spaghetti sauce.

At the end of 90 minutes, turn off the burner and allow your sauce to come to room temperature before you refrigerate it. This prevents too much condensation on your finished product. Cover and refrigerate overnight before using.

I particularly like to use this sauce in my lasagna recipe, which will hopefully be coming to the blog soon! But it's just as awesome on plain old spaghetti noodles with some garlic bread on the side.


Nom!

I'll be back soon, my friends. I've missed you during this family visit, and I can't wait to be back to blogging. As always, the standard recipe is below.

Until next time, happy cooking!


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The Standard Form:

Not Yo’ Mama’s Spaghetti Sauce
Ingredients:

1 lb. Italian sausage
1 lb. ground beef
½ - 1 cup chopped onions
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 can (28 oz) crushed tomatoes
2 cans (8 oz. each) tomato sauce
2 cans (6 oz. each) tomato paste
½ cup water
2 - 3 tablespoons white granulated sugar
1 teaspoon fennel seed
1 tablespoon fresh basil, chopped
2 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon oregano
½ teaspoon fresh ground black pepper

Directions:

Begin by browning the sausage, ground beef, onion, and garlic together in a large skillet or pot over medium heat until the meat is no longer pink. Drain the fat.

To the cooked meat, add the crushed tomatoes, tomato sauce, tomato paste, and the water. Stir well to combine. Stir all of the seasonings into the mixture. Simmer at least 90 minutes over low heat.


Remove sauce from heat and cool to room temperature. Cover and refrigerate overnight before using. Perfect for lasagna recipes or a spaghetti dinner.  



September 10, 2014

Visitors En Route

Good morning, my friends! The next few weeks in my life are going to be pretty busy. The Hubs and I have more company arriving, for a several week visit. I know what you're thinking, 'Didn't you just have company?' Yep, we did…  but everyone wants to visit now that we're living in beautiful Germany. The B&B that is my house is fully booked all the way through 2015!

This means that our regular schedule has been tossed out the window. We're now in a cycle of prepare for visitors, have visitors, take a few days off, then start preparing for visitors again. Rinse and repeat. 

This time, my grandma and my aunt are coming to tour around the country a bit. We'll mostly be staying within Germany, but I have hopes we'll also visit Salzburg and Prague. I'll try to keep up as best I can with new posts and travel pics.



But don't get mad if I take a few days off, ok? 

Of course, if anyone wants to volunteer to clean my house and cook our meals, I'd have a lot more time for blogging. Any takers??? I didn't think so, but it never hurts to ask, ha. 

I'll be back soon, peeps. Until next time! 



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September 8, 2014

Happy 7th Anniversary!

Whew, the Hubs and I have made it through 7 years of married life! Like, without killing each other. Lucky number seven…

We've certainly come a long way from where we started. We've got a deployment, several moves, and basic army life junk under our belts now. We made it through infertility, health issues, and a whole host of other things. So after seven years I gotta say, I'm so happy I married this man!

Our wedding day :)

Sure, marriage is a lot of work. Yep, it's not always wonderful. And yes, occasionally I want to hog tie and gag my husband just to get five minutes of peace.

And I know he has all those same feelings too. But we're still there for each other. We're a team, and we promised to be one until one of us croaks. That is serious business, peeps.

So today I want to celebrate some of those things that make the Hubs, the Hubs. What do you think? Let's do this!



1. For the past couple of months, the Hubs has been trying really hard learning to cook. It's actually pretty funny, and he does some wild stuff (like boiling frozen chicken), but he's actually getting better now.

2. He always supports what I'm excited about (like blogging!), even if it makes no sense to him whatsoever. I'm pretty positive he only reads this blog once every six months. But he supports it anyway. All the new recipes don't hurt anything either, ha!

3. Hubs has an amazing sense of adventure, so we're always trying out new things… like swimming with sharks, on purpose!

Swimming with sharks, Virgin Islands


4. He takes care of me when I'm sick. He brings me juice, sets up the tv, and doesn't get annoyed when I call him up three flights of stairs to help me find the remote... usually this is what happens. But sometimes he yells that I'm sick and need to sleep, and why can't I just listen to sense?? But mostly it's the other thing.

5. Hubs bought me football paraphernalia for the first birthday we celebrated together… it was so lame, I couldn't help but love it.

6. Hubs is almost always willing to work at our relationship. This is HUGE, and probably the reason we're still married. Of course, I practically have to bash him on the head sometimes to get a point across, and sometimes we "work" on our relationship at the top of our lungs… but nobody's perfect.

7. He tries to listen, even though he's totally ADHD. Like, I'll be asking what he wants for dinner and he'll answer me with, "I don't know, what color is it?". What??? Makes no sense whatsoever, I know. I should record him one of these days, just so people will believe me.

8. Hubs got a wee bit tipsy this one time and sang me Christmas carols while I drove him home. His rendition of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer was particularly inspiring.



9.  Once, I finally got fed up with the Hubs leaving his stuff all over the house. So I packed up everything that was in the wrong place (in big black trash bags) and set it on the stairs to our attic. I thought he would eventually ask where his stuff was, and I could tell him (in a very superior way) where it all was.  INSTEAD, the Hubs decided to be proactive, and took all the trash bags in the house to the dump.

Without looking inside of them.

This is now a family legend.

10. Hubs can be silly. This might not seem like a big deal, but it's so important to me. You've really got to be able to laugh at yourself, have a good time, and not worry what other people think of you.


Even when your wife takes a picture of you with pink hair. This also requires enormous amounts of patience on his part.



So, those are just ten of the things that I love about my Hubs! I figure I better save some for next year, right? So happy anniversary to the best guy I know… I love you more today than I did when we were first married, and I am confident that trend will continue. Kisses!

Until next time, my friends…


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September 7, 2014

Italian Cream Soda

After visiting Italy so much this summer, I've been inspired by their cooking (and their wine!). One thing I've always wanted to make at home is Italian cream sodas. I'm not a soda drinker at all, so this may seem a little weird. But the cream sodas always look so pretty and refreshing. I couldn't wait to try it out myself.
Strawberry vanilla cream soda

The basic recipe is so simple, even the Hubs could do it! All you need is a bit of sparkling water (or club soda, but I found I like the water best. Club soda has a bitter aftertaste), your favorite flavored syrups, and a splash of cream. There are all kinds of syrups to choose from, but two popular brands are Monin and Torani

Ingredients


The cool thing about these syrups is that you can pick from a huge variety of flavors. And, you can mix flavors to make your own yummy combinations! I've included a list at the bottom of some possible flavor combos to help inspire you. I stuck with fruity flavors because that's what I tend to like. But I'd love to hear from you about other combos, maybe involving chocolate and caramel??? 

On this night, I especially wanted to try a raspberry vanilla soda. The Kid wanted to test out pina colada. We got down to business...

I began by adding the syrup to an empty glass. I often see people adding ice first, but I think the soda mixes better if you add the ice after. Whatever floats your boat, my friends! The amount of syrup really depends on you, your taste, and the sweetness level of the syrup. 3 tablespoons is a good average. For example, The Kid's pina colada mix was much sweeter than expected, so we added a little less. Using raspberry alone was a bit tart, so we added a splash more.



You got that so far? Good.

 Next, add your sparkling water, around ¾ cup. The syrup and water will blend a little naturally, but give it a little stir too before adding your ice. Add enough ice to fill the cup, but leave a small gap at the top to add 1 tablespoon of cream.

Syrup plus sparkling water


A word about cream: I made an interesting discovery with my pal Michelle one day as I made these (for like the 10th time, they're so good!). Never, ever use the fat free junk you see in my pic. I used this because it's what the Hubs brought me home, instead of the full fat organic kind I normally like.

Boys never get the right stuff at the grocery store, do they?

Anyway. Not only is organic better, but the full fat is pretty important. The no fat does ok for some flavor combinations, but if you add it to anything acidic… the cream breaks.  You know, that chunky ooky grossness that happens when you spoil your cream? Yeah, not pleasant. So the moral of the story is, always buy the half&half with the fat!


Pouring in the cream 

Gently stir in your fatty cream (I use my straw, no sense dirtying up another utensil), then top with whipped cream if you want. Note: You should always want to top your Italian cream soda with whipped cream.

Add a cherry, strawberry, or other garnish, and you're done!




I'm curious to hear what flavor combinations you come up with, so be sure to comment below peeps. I've included some possibilities to get your brain juices flowing. And, of course, the standard recipe is below.

Until next time my friends, happy cooking!



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The Standard Form:


Italian Cream Soda

Ingredients:

3 tablespoons of your favorite syrup, or combination of syrups (Torani or Monin are good brands)
¾ cup sparkling mineral water
1 tablespoon cream or half n half (full fat, no reduced fat)
Whipped cream, optional
Garnishes, if desired

Directions:

Add your choice of syrups to the bottom of a glass. Stir in the sparkling mineral water. Add ice to glass, stopping one inch below rim. Stir in the cream. Top with whipped cream and garnish with fresh fruit, if desired.

Flavor suggestions:

Blackberry Cucumber, Cherry Vanilla, Cherry Lime, Cranberry Lime, Cucumber Melon, Cucumber Watermelon, Guava Mango, Mango Coconut, Peach Vanilla, Pina Colada, Raspberry Lime, Raspberry Mango, Raspberry Mint, Raspberry Peach, Raspberry Pineapple, Raspberry Vanilla, Strawberry Coconut, Strawberry Kiwi, Strawberry Lemon, Strawberry Mango, Strawberry Peach, Strawberry Tangerine, Strawberry Watermelon, Tangerine Peach, Watermelon Kiwi, Watermelon Lime, Watermelon Mint

Garnish suggestions:


Whipped cream, maraschino cherries, wedges of fresh fruit, lemon and lime slices, raspberries, blueberries, blackberries, coconut flakes






September 5, 2014

Biscuits and Sausage Gravy

When we're both home on the weekends, the Hubs and I love to cook breakfast together. It's my favorite Saturday morning routine. We sleep in a bit, wake up lazy, wander downstairs in our pjs, and see what we feel like cooking. One of our favorite dishes is biscuits topped with yummy sausage gravy.


I made this for The Kid whilst she was here… can you believe she'd never had it before??? Total insanity. This is a ridiculously simple dish to prepare. You can even make it the night before, and then just warm the gravy up in the morning. I've frozen this too. You simply thaw and heat, and you're ready to go again. This is perfect when I have company visiting, because I don't have to spend as much time in the kitchen when I already have frozen meals prepared.

The ingredients


The ingredients are simple (and of course, I forgot one in the picture! Mentally add 2 tablespoons of butter to that picture). You need 1lb. of ground sausage to get started. I've always used the Jimmy Dean sage flavored one, but lately I like using the organic sausages and just adding a tiny bit of sage to the pan.

Brown your sausage in a deep skillet, because this makes a whole bunch of gravy. Once brown, add two tablespoons of butter to the pan and melt. Then, stir in ⅔ cup of flour. At first, the flour won't absorb. Keep stirring it around until you can't see the whiteness of the flour anymore. Then, let it cook for 3 or 4 minutes. This additional cooking time helps reduce the flour-y flavor later on. We don't want that taste in our gravy.

Cooking the sausage, step by step

Once the flour is totally incorporated, and you've cooked it down a bit, it's time to add the milk. Slowly drizzle in 5 cups of whole milk (organic if you want, it's the best). You can you use a lower fat milk, but it's not as good. Seriously. Plus, it doesn't thicken as well.

Th gravy takes a while to thicken, so just keep stirring it over medium-low heat. Ten to fifteen minutes later, you'll have deliciously thick gravy.



Once thick, stir in a generous amount of fresh cracked black pepper (about 1 tablespoon). Pour over warm biscuits, then get on your knees and thank the cooking gods that someone invented sausage gravy!



Also, don't be like the Hubs and add too much pepper. Add a little, taste, then add more if you need it. You can always put more in it, but you can't take it out once it's in there. The Hubs learned this lesson the hard way.

Do you make sausage gravy at home? If you've got any tips, feel free to add them in the comments. Until next time, happy cooking!


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The Standard Form:


Country Sausage Gravy

Ingredients:

1 pound sage sausage (or your favorite sausage)
⅔ cup flour
5 cups whole milk
1 tablespoon fresh cracked black pepper, to taste
2 tablespoons butter

Directions:

Crumble and cook the sausage in a large skillet over medium heat until browned. Add the butter and stir to melt. Stir in the flour until dissolved, then cook an additional 3-4 minutes.


Slowly drizzle in the milk. Cook, stirring often, over medium-low heat until the gravy is thick and bubbly, about 15 minutes. Generously season with the pepper, to taste. Serve over biscuits. Refrigerate or freeze leftovers.


September 4, 2014

Man Crates: What's in Your Box?

I was contacted recently with an intriguing proposition. A company called Man Crates wanted to know what my top five, must-have, do or die items are…. interesting, yes? The name captured me right away. What exactly is a man crate? I was intrigued enough to find out.

Peeps, you have no idea how cool these are.

The bacon crate


Not only are these boy-friendly, but they come with a personalized crowbar for breaking into the crate. You heard me! A crowbar… because, and I quote, "unwrapping gifts is half the fun".

The Hubs would go nuts over this. Especially the Bacon Crate. And the NFL Barware Crate. And the Golfer's Crate… and don't forget the Snack Pack Crate! Since the company also ships to APO, I am totally sold. I love supporting companies that support our soldiers (at this point I should probably add that I'm not getting paid or compensated for this review, haha. These opinions are all my own. I hope you check out the website and decide for yourself what you think).

So, the big question is… what would be my essentials? What could I not survive without? What makes my heart flutter?

That is not as easy to answer as you think. But I've thought it over, and I think I know. I'm totally discounting the basic essentials like food and water, because what fun would that be?! Let's do this.

1. My Camera - Anyone who knows me well, knows that I hardly go anywhere without my camera. I document everything. I doubt being stuck on a stranded island would stop me!




2. Books, books, and more books - You can have your TV and reality shows. What I need in life are books! Everything from Shakespeare to Harry Potter, I want it all. So load me up an iPad with all my favorites, and I'll be happy.

Well, except for the whole I'd be stuck on an island thing.




3. I really wanted to say coconut oil, but I'm hoping my island comes equipped with coconuts. So instead, I'm gonna go with my vitamins! I totally feel the difference when I don't get my daily dose. A definite must-have.



4. My Food Processor - Yep. I'll def need this for whatever random food I find on my island. Could you maybe include the electricity to run it too? Awesome, thanks. Since I'm asking, maybe we could just move my whole kitchen. Yes, that's a better idea. I promise to cook for anyone else stranded with me!





5. The Hubs - Or maybe the dog. Or the Hubs. Or my Lucy dog…

Agh, decisions, decisions!!

Yes, I know this is not a material object. But I never want to do without my Hubs! Or my Lucy dog. If I'm gonna be stranded, then he is dang well going to be stranded with me. And so is the dog.

You feel what I'm saying here? I'll give them some air holes in the crate until I can open it…




So, what is your top five? What would be in your crate? Comment below, my friends! This was fun, I might need to do a top five more often. Until next time, happy shopping (you know you're gonna be checking out Man Crates now)!


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September 3, 2014

Keep Calm and Go To Paris, Part 5

This is the last part of my Keep Calm and Go To Paris series. And I'm kind of sad about it. I really loved visiting this beautiful city. The food, the art, the company… it was fantastic. I'll be going back again this winter with one of my other sisters, so I'll get a chance to see some of the things we couldn't get to on this trip. Naturally, I'll keep you updated!

In the meantime, you can catch up on this series by reading Part 1 (Montmartre and Moulin Rouge), Part 2 (walking tour and the Eiffel Tower), Part 3 (Versailles and Notre Dame), and Part 4 (Giverny and Monet's gardens).

For our last day, our only plans were to visit the Louvre, eat a nice lunch, and do a little shopping before catching the train home. If you're an art fan, the Louvre is an absolute must see. There is no way to see it all in a single visit, or even a dozen visits. I suppose you could run through each gallery and technically "see" everything, but if you want to appreciate what you're seeing it takes much more time.

Yes, we are "those" people,
outside the Louvre at the Invisible Pyramid entrance 

(Hint: To take pictures like the one above, it is a lot easier to move the camera versus the person! Have your subject place their hand in position, and then you move around them to get the picture lined up just right)

Of course, everyone wants to see the Mona Lisa. The largest crowds will be around this painting, and everyone will be pushing. Your best bet is to arrive as early as possible, make a beeline for the Mona Lisa, see her, and get the heck out of there.

That's what we did.



And yes… we totally selfied in front of her too. Don't judge me!

Our museum pass helped us skip the lines at the Louvre entrance, and we arrived just as they opened. This was perfect timing. Even in the few minutes it took us to see the Mona Lisa, crowds had started to form.

Since we knew we couldn't see everything, we each picked an area we wanted to walk through. Here's a look at some of the art we saw:

Winged Victory of Samothrace



Venus de Milo

After several hours, the Hubs and The Kid were really tired of art. If you're married or have kids, you know what I'm talking about. Their heads were down, feet were dragging, and the whining had begun.

Ugh.

We left around lunchtime, before anyone got too hangry (hungry + angry). We desperately wanted to eat at the Angelina's near the Louvre, but sadly it was under renovations. Next time! Instead, we found a great cafe, enjoyed a meal together, and wandered our way to the train station (shopping the whole way!)


The Kid made a new friend while waiting for the train, it was pretty funny. This gentleman was selling trinkets (candy, etc) to make money for his upcoming wedding. It was a great ending to a wonderful trip to Paris.

Until next time my friends, happy travels!


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September 1, 2014

Living Overseas: The Little Things

Sometimes living overseas can make normal things seem much more difficult. And yes, you may have to take an extra step or two to accomplish some tasks. For example, this morning I wanted to re-order a few boxes of contacts from 1800Contacts. Back in the States, I just hit "re-order". You know? But now that we've moved, my doctor is different. And they aren't in the massive database of 1800Contacts.

Uh oh. No need to panic!

My face when I couldn't order my contacts!
(Pay no attention to my morning hair, ha)


I know these little inconveniences can feel like a massive pain in the behind. You just want life to be simple. You really want to feel like you know what you're doing. You don't wanna take all these extra steps when it used to be so simple.

I know. I really, really do. But it can't be helped. Living overseas adds complications. BUT, it also adds so much more to your life! Take these little inconveniences in stride, and keep on swimming (anyone else out there a Nemo fan??). Here's my tip for your contact lens ordering: Call. The help line is conveniently open 24 hours. The nice lady who answered was extremely helpful and friendly. All I need to do is email them my prescription, and I'll be good to go for the rest of our stay here in Germany.  See, easy peasy.

And if that doesn't work, you can always go to my fall back method: ice cream.

Happy Monday, my friends! I hope your week is starting off right, and you don't let those little things drag you down. I'll be back later with some more great posts, full of travel, and fun, and food.



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