Thursday, June 27, 2013

Summit Lake State Park Nature Scavenger Hunt

I didn't sign the boys up for any day camps this week and my husband has been away for work all week, so the boys and I are continuing to make progress with our Summer Fun List.  Today, we headed down to Summit Lake State Park to take a 2-mile hike and then play on the beach and in the lake.

In an attempt to make the hike more interesting, I created a nature scavenger hunt (see below) so we would have specific things to look for as we hiked.  It didn't quite work out as planned.  The boys kept fighting over who would get to carry the clipboard and who would get to mark each item off.  For future reference don't expect a group effort: bring a separate checklist, clipboard, and pen for each child!

Another problem we encountered was that when we left the house I forgot to grab the bug spray... and boy did we need it!  More whining than I thought possible went on and on and on about how annoying the bugs.  

Luckily for me, I finally caught a break when the boys realized there were ripe black raspberries all along the edges of the trail and they began to pick and eat as we hiked.

We were lucky enough to see a baby deer very close to the trail and counted that as our four-legged wild animal!

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

A Trip to Pine Lake Waterpark

This afternoon, I decided the boys and I just needed to get out and do something fun, make some progress on our Summer Fun List!  Even though the weather was a bit iffy, we decided to head to Pine Lake Waterpark.  

I first heard about this waterpark last summer and have been wanting to visit every since.  The park is located out in the middle of the countryside, a few miles west of Berne, Indiana.  The drive took us about 55 minutes from our home near Ball State.  It cost $20 for the three of us to get in.

We all had a blast for two hours despite the fact that it kept raining on and off.  Finally, the fun came to an end when a storm came in and lightening was spotted.  We changed out of our suits and made it to our car just in time to avoid getting downpoured on!  We will definitely visit again and hopefully for longer.  

Double slide!  

Beach area - bring your own sand toys, the sand is very soft and great for digging

A crowd gathers every time the 30-foot high platform is opened for really brave jumpers

Robby on the teeter totter 
Andrew on the platform

How many waterparks include a rooster that keeps crowing?

Robby on the 20-foot platform and Andrew on the 12-foot diving board

Robby on the zip line 
Andrew jumping off the zip line
Storm clouds that ended our good time

Our Visit to Barn Brasserie in Muncie for Lunch

Yesterday a new local restaurant opened in downtown Muncie, Barn Brasserie.  Being the curious diners that we are, the boys and I hurried down today to check it out.  We love non-chain restaurants and this one sounded pretty intriguing.  The menu is described as American style food with French influences.  Many of the ingredients are locally sourced and everything is made from scratch.  

The restaurant is located in the spot where White River Landing used to be.  The new restaurant is quite a bit different from the former fishing/outdoor theme.  The wood paneling on the walls is about the only aspect of the old decor that remains the same.  Even the layout is a bit different.  

Our verdict is that all really LOVED the food and can't wait to go back again!  

Andrew tries out some mandarin key lime soda.  When he finished that one, he chose strawberry rhubarb soda for the refill.

Robby decides to start with a watermelon cream soda

While waiting for our food, I grabbed a crayon and started drawing on the butcher paper coving the table.  The kids freaked out at first - they've never eaten anywhere that had coloring paper covering the tables.  I'm a terrible artist, but this is my attempt at drawing the meal I ordered 

Robby ordered the special of the day, gyro panini with tzatziki and fries.  Included with each meal is choice of one house-made sauce.  Robby selects the ketchup.

Andrew ordered the kids' fish fingers plate.  He refused to wait until I photographed his meal before he started eating.  His fish was all gone faster than I could believe!  He also selected the ketchup for his sauce.

I ordered the brasserie burger and fries.  For my sauce, I chose the ranch.

For dessert, we shared a slice of lemon chess pie.

Robby says this is the "best pie in the world!"

I attempted to take some photos of the menu, but I see now that they didn't turn out very clear.  I recommend visiting and seeing the menu in person.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

From-Scratch Strawberry Cake with Strawberry Cream Cheese Frosting

A few years ago, I wanted to make a strawberry cake with some of the strawberries we picked at Landess Farm.  I had a very hard time finding a completely from-scratch strawberry cake recipe anywhere.  All the recipes I found involved adding strawberries to a cake mix or using strawberry Jello for the strawberry flavor.  Those were not the type of recipes I was interested in making with my precious fresh local strawberries!

This round two layer cake is what I finally came up with and boy is it delicious!  It has plenty of strawberry flavor in both the cake and the cream cheese frosting.  It is moist and fabulous and the family now demands I make it annually.
Strawberry cake with a side of chemistry test grading.
From-Scratch Strawberry Cake

1 pound fresh strawberries, sliced
2 tablespoons sugar
1/4 cup milk, room temperature
6 large egg whites, room temperature
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2 ¼ cup all purpose flour
1 2/3 cup sugar
4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 ½ sticks unsalted butter, room temperature (12 tablespoons)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Butter and flour two 9 inch round cake pans and set aside.

Mix the sliced strawberries in a small bowl with the 2 tablespoons of sugar and set aside to let the juices come out while you prepare the rest of the cake.

In a glass measuring cup, whisk milk, eggs and vanilla. 

In a large bowl fit for a stand mixer, add the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt and whisk to combine.  Put the bowl on the mixer and add the butter.  Beat on low until the mixture is moist and crumbs form.  Add the wet ingredients and mix until fully combined.  Be careful not to over mix.  Add the strawberries, with the juices, and beat for about a minute until the batter turns a faint shade of pink and the berries start to break up (do not beat over a minute).

Evenly divide the batter between the two pans and smooth the tops with a spatula.  Bake for about 25-28 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean.  Run a knife around the outside of the pans, let the cakes cool for about 10 minutes in the pan, then turn them out onto wire racks to cool completely.

Strawberry Cream Cheese Frosting
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
¼ cup butter, softened
3 to 3 ½ cups powdered sugar
½ cup mashed drained fresh strawberries

Mash the strawberries in a small bowl with a fork.  Then, use a fine mesh strainer to drain the juice off.  Save the juice to drink or for another use.  Blend together the cream cheese and butter using an electric mixer on low speed until combined, about 30 seconds. Add 3 cups powdered sugar, gradually, and the mashed strawberries; blend frosting again on low speed until the sugar is incorporated. Increase mixer speed to medium and blend frosting until fluffy, adding up to 1/2 cup more sugar to make desired spreading consistency. 

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Fruit Fly Trap

This small glass spice jar from Penzey's makes a perfect fruit fly trap. 
Fruit flies in the kitchen (and sometimes even the bathrooms) seems to be a major plague of summer here in Indiana.  The plague starts as soon as the weather gets hot.  I've found it completely impossible to totally get rid of them... until they all just disappear after the first freeze of the fall.

I try as hard as possible to keep everything as clean and tidy as possible, but it is just not practical to never have a single dirty dish in the sink or a ripe tomato on the counter.

One thing I've found that helps is to set traps in every room where they've been spotted.  I use empty spice jars that have holes in the lid that are big enough for the pests to fly through, but not too easy for them to just fly right out again.  

Fill the jar with about 1/2 inch of cider vinegar and then add one drop of dish soap.  Gently swirl it around a bit so the dish soap covers the entire top of the cider vinegar.  The fruit flies will be attracted to the scent of the cider vinegar, and the soap will break the surface tension making it impossible for them to stay up on top of it.  Thus when they attempt to drink the cider vinegar, those buggers will drown!

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Pasta with Zucchini and Easy 5-Minute Sauce

Ingredients for our favorite easy meal
One of my family's favorite meals for nights when I need to get supper on the table fast is pasta.  Throw in a vegetable or two, perhaps some meat, and we can even make it a complete meal if there is no time to make side dishes.

A couple years ago, I noticed that almost all of the jarred sauces available at the store came with high fructose corn syrup and a bunch of other ingredients I didn't want or need in pasta sauce.  I tried a few different recipes to make my own sauce, but most of them required a long time to simmer.  Then, I discovered 5-minute sauce.  Not only is it fast, we all like it better than any other sauce we have ever tried!  (My 10-year old regularly tries to lick his plate clean when I make this sauce.)  I regularly send leftovers of this pasta dish in Thermoses with my kids in their school lunch.

On this day, I diced up two leftover grilled Italian sausages and added them as well

Pasta with Zucchini and Easy 5-Minute Sauce

1 lb pasta
1 medium-large zucchini/yellow squash, cut in into 1/2 inch cubes
2 TBS extra virgin olive oil
1/8-1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
1/2 tsp kosher salt
3 medium cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1 28-ounce can of crushed tomatoes
1/2 tsp. dried basil or 1 TBS chopped fresh basil
1/2 tsp. dried oregano or 1/2 TBS chopped fresh oregano

Put a large pot of water over high heat for the pasta.  Then, chop up the garlic and get the ingredients ready.  When the water is boiling, add the pasta and cook according to package directions.  Add the diced zucchini to the pasta pot during the last 4-5 minutes of cooking.

While the pasta is cooking, combine the olive oil, red pepper flakes, salt, and garlic in a medium (3 qt) saucepan.  Stir while you heat up the saucepan over medium-high heat. Saute for a minute or so until everything is fragrant.  [If you are using dried herbs, stir them in at this point.]  

Mix in the tomatoes and heat to a gentle simmer. [If you are using fresh herbs, add them at this point.]  Turn burner to low and keep the sauce hot until the pasta is finished.

Drain the pasta and zucchini and toss with the sauce in a large serving bowl.

*Note:  If you use the Trader Joes Tortellini pictured, it only needs 12 minutes to cook (not the 16-18 minutes listed on the instructions.  I really wish they would get that fixed.  If you cook it for 16 minutes, you will have pasta mush.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

XFC Extreme Flight Championships

Today we went out to the Academy of Model Aeronautics, near Muncie, for the XFC Extreme Flight Championships. This is an international competition that attracts radio control pilots from all over the world.  The competition was very impressive.  We saw the 17 best airplane pilots and the 12 best helicopter pilots fly their routines in an "unknown" round of the competition.

Each competitor flies their aircraft, while doing amazing stunts, all choreographed to music.  I liked the airplane category the best and took a bunch of photos of them and didn't take any of the helicopters.  Oops!  Anyway, we had a great time!

The competition continues tonight with a night competition and fireworks and then finals tomorrow with the top 7 competitors in each category.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Cherry Chocolate Muffins with Almond Cream Glaze

These bunches of two cherries look just like the cherries on Pac Man!
Two days ago, I took the boys to pick sweet cherries at Hidden Acres Fruit Farm in Wilkinson, Indiana.  This was a completely new experience for us as we had never picked cherries before.  The farm is a bit of a drive from Muncie, but was worth it to us just for the experience and fun we had. (Plus we used the outing an excuse to go get waffle cones at Good's Candy Shop in Anderson.  They have by far the best ice cream I have ever tasted in my life and I love the extra yummy surprise in the bottom of the waffle cones!  If you go, be sure to ask to walk through their viewing area so you can see the candy-makers at work.)

The picking experience at Hidden Acres started with a hay wagon ride to the orchard.  On the way, one of the older kids from the family that owns the farm told us some of the history of the farm and a bit about their operation.  After a few minutes, we arrived at the cherry-laden trees.  They really have an excellent crop this year.  The boys and I started by tasting both varieties of cherries they grow and since both were equally fantastic we decided to pick a mix.  As we picked, we talked a bit with a couple of the younger kids from the family that owns the farm.  They were quite happy to chat (especially since my boys were close to their ages) and seemed quite proud of their farm and the work they do.

Since we've indulged in far too many desserts lately, I decided to bake some of the cherries into muffins for the boys to snack on after they get home from Cardinal Kids Camp and they can also take some in their lunches the rest of the week.  I love the flavors of almond and cherries together, but since we aren't particularly fond of nuts in muffins I decided to get the almond flavor with almond extract.  If, unlike me, you don't have a block of cream cheese you've been trying to use up, feel free to skip the glaze.

Cherry Chocolate Muffins with Almond Cream Glaze

Makes 18 muffins

Muffin Ingredients
• 1 cup milk
• 2/3 cup plain greek yogurt
• 2 large eggs beaten
• ¼ tsp almond extract

• ½ cup brown sugar
• 1 cup all-purpose flour
• 1 cup whole wheat flour
• 2 tsp baking powder
• ¼ teaspoon salt
• 2 cups pitted fresh sweet cherries, halved
• ½ cup chocolate chips 

• 1 tablespoon milk
• 1 oz softened cream cheese
• 1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar

• 1/8-1/4 teaspoon almond extract (according to taste)

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.  Coat muffin pans with cooking spray.  Toss the cherries with one tablespoon of the flour to prevent them from sinking to the bottom of the muffins.  

Mix the first 5 ingredients in a mixing bowl.  Add the flour, baking powder, and salt and mix just until wet.  Do not overmix.  Fold in the cherries and chocolate chips.  

Use a levered ice cream scoop to divide the batter into 18 muffins.  Bake for 20 minutes or until a tester comes out clean.   

Let muffins cool in pan for 10-15 minutes and then remove to a cooling rack.  Use a fork to whisk the milk, cream cheese, powdered sugar, and almond extract in a small bowl and then top each muffin with a bit of the glaze.

Adapted from Whole Grain Cherry Muffins with Light Cream Cheese Glaze 

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Anna's Summer Fun Ideas in the Muncie Area

Every summer, I get about a million ideas in my head of all the fun things I want to go try to do with the kids.  I decided to make a list of some of the ideas floating around in my head so we could easily reference the list and try to do as many as possible.  Robby pointed out to me that the list I made is exactly 25 items long.  Please excuse the fact that I don't have pretty handwriting.  I got all the organizing genes and none of the artistic genes in my family!

Since this list was written we have added, "canoeing on the river" and "check out some of the adventure bags at Minnetrista".

Friday, June 7, 2013

Brown Bag Lunch Fridays in Downtown Muncie

The weather today was perfect for the first of a summer-long weekly line-up of Friday brown bag lunches at Canan Commons in Downtown Muncie.  So, I packed up some picnic lunches for the boys and myself and headed down there.  I had been wanting to check out this music/entertainment series last year, but the weather proved to be stifling hot pretty much every week.  

The event is advertised as lasting from 11:00-1:00 each week, but other than the bounce house there wasn't much going on before noon on this first day.  My kids had a blast with the whole bounce house all to themselves though!  The organizers of the series plan to have a bounce house and/or other activities for kids every week this year, so hopefully more parents or caretakers will take advantage of this great free activity.

I really enjoyed the music provided by Barry Banks.  He was pretty humorous with his between-song commentary too.  My favorite song was one of his originals about how much he loves green beans fresh from the garden!  I can't wait to attend this event again soon on another Friday, and if Andrew gets his wish we'll be dining on hot dogs from the Big Ed's Dogs cart instead of bringing our own food.

Bounce House provided by HD Superent

Barry Banks singing one of his great songs in the Canon Commons ampitheater

Food vendors this week were Big Ed's Dogs and Slop on Top