Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Our First Camping Trip

Last weekend, we went on our first camping trip in Northern Minnesota. We registered for some camping equipment for our wedding so it was fun to break some of our gifts in. Phil and I both camped a lot as kids but our families mostly stayed in campers so this was our first experience of camping in a tent. We ended up loving it! Here's a picture-heavy recap of our weekend!

We left Minneapolis on Friday morning, which was Phil's birthday! We dropped his mom off at her cousin's house for the weekend, got lunch at a brewery (the birthday boy LOVES beer) and headed to our first destination - Gooseberry Falls State Park. I know my parents took me here when I was a kid, but I was so young that I do not have any memories of it. We hiked a couple of trails and took in the sites.



After hiking for a couple of hours, we stopped at an area called Palisades Head, which was pretty.


Then we headed to our "home" for the weekend - Temperance River State Park. My aunt and uncle (also known as my Julia Child aunt and uncle as they are the brains behind that annual event) camp here each September and rave about it so I knew we were in for a fun weekend!

Phil and I and our friend Amber set up our tents and got the fire going so we could cook our dinner. It was great to camp with a veteran camper as she knew what all to bring.

Our home for the weekend
Dinner on Friday night was "hobo meals." I grew up eating these, although my parents cooked them on a grill. It's a slice of onion, with a hamburger on top if it, topped with carrots and potatoes. They tasted so good!

After dinner, we sat around the fire...


And of course we had to have s'mores with gluten free graham crackers.


I was exhausted from all the fresh air and activity so headed to bed before 10 pm (which isn't all that unusual for me on a Friday night).

On Saturday morning, we were up bright and early and enjoyed a meal of breakfast burritos. Amber made these ahead of time and froze them so we just had to heat them up over the fire.

A delicious start to the day - with a generous amount of salsa on top!
We started the day by hiking out of the campground to Carleton Peak. It was about 7 miles round trip.
The Temperance River draining into Lake Supeior



The view from the top of Carleton Peak.
After that hike, we re-fueled with some snacks and headed out to do the Oberg Mountain loop, which was highly recommended by my aunt and uncle. The views did not disappoint!


I would love to do this hike in the fall sometimes as I am sure it's extra beautiful with the fall colors!


Our next stop was Grand Marais, MN which was about 45 minutes north of the Oberg Mountain hike. It was my first time in this town (or if I've been with my parents, I have no memory). It is such a cute area. We were pretty worn out from all the hiking so we spent a lot of time on this beach, which was perfect for rock skipping - one of Phil's favorite things to do!

After walking around the town and taking in the sights, we had dinner at Angry Trout. We were told to go here by several people and it lived up to the rave reviews.

We look pretty good for not having showered in almost 2 days. Ha.
I ended up getting the fish of the day in a sandwich. They had a gluten free bun which I don't see often! The side salad was very impressive as it had so many different veggies on it plus fresh wild blueberries.


After dinner we headed back and had another fire + s'mores.

On Sunday morning, we packed up, had another meal of breakfast burritos, and headed to Tettegouche State Park for a couple more hikes. We did a waterfall out-and-back hike, which was beautiful.


There was a cool suspension bridge that you could cross at the top of the waterfall.



The second hike was a short 1.5 mile out-and-back hike to Shovel Point. Palisade head is in the far point of the photo below, so we saw this stretch of the coast of Superior from two different perspectives.


After that, we headed back to Duluth to pick up Phil's mom and then headed back to Minneapolis. We packed a lot of activity into 2.5 days but I am glad that we saw and did so much. Luckily my RA flare did not interfere with this trip as the 2nd steroid injection did the trick. I'm so glad I felt well enough to do all of these hikes!

We loved camping so much that we are going to try to go another time this fall - hopefully in September or October.

Have you ever gone camping?

Friday, August 18, 2017

Currently: August Edition

This week has not been my week. I started to come down with an RA flare on Saturday night and it was one of the most painful ones I've had in quite some time - plus it's my second one in the last 3 weeks. Today is the first day that I can type without pain. I worked from home on Monday because I was in too much pain to get ready and sit at a desk all day. Luckily 2 steroid injections into my impacted joints has me on the road to recovery. 

I'm in a frustrating place with my RA right now as I've had so many flares since changing my meds so that we can safely start a family.  But the bright side is that I have a very responsive and capable rheumatologist and I'm trusting that we'll figure out a better solution eventually. 

But it's not all doom and gloom in my world! Here's what's currently happening in my life, RA complaints aside...

Reading:  No One Can Pronounce My Name by Rakesh Satyal. It's my book club's September pick. I always enjoy reading stories about the immigrant experience and this one has been enjoyable so far. It's told from multiple points of view and the characters are loosely interrelated. It should make for an interesting discussion.

Loving:  all the fresh produce from my garden! We are a bit zucchini'd out. Luckily a woman in our community garden group has a donation bin that she takes to a local food shelf so I've been putting all of my zucchini in there recently. But my heirloom tomatoes are starting to ripen so I've been eating lots of sliced tomatoes with salt and pepper - YUM. I love tomatoes so so so much. I don't think I am going to have enough heirloom tomatoes to can marinara, but my tomatillos are growing like crazy so I am going to can lots and lots of salsa verde!

Feeling:  tired. I don't want to dwell on my RA flare but it really wipes me out when I get a flare. 

Thinking:  about the projects we need to do around our house to get it ready to list. Our goal is to get it ready to list in the next couple of months so we can put it on the market as soon as we find the right house. Granted, we might not find the right house until sometime in 2018 but we want to be able to move fast when we find the right place. 

Anticipating: our camping trip this weekend! We head north this morning!  Today is Phil's birthday and this is the perfect way to celebrate it as we both love the great outdoors! I can't wait to be out in nature and unplug for a few days. We did a trial run of setting up our tent last weekend (shout out to Kyria for getting it for us for our wedding!) and it went pretty smoothly.  I'm looking forward to getting lots of fresh air and eating s'mores (plus other yummy meals we have planned).

Watching:  Suits. I'm on Season 5 right now. I've watched more in the last couple of weeks than usual since I was pretty tired between my 2 RA flares. I didn't love Season 4 but Season 5 is off to a pretty good start so far.

Grateful:  for all the rain we've had lately!  June and July were so dry and our lawn looked so sad! I'm glad we've had more rain this month! I've barely had to water my garden!

Working: on launching a Women's Networking group at my company's Minneapolis location. We have a national chapter but they decided to establish a local chapter in Minneapolis and I'm the chapter chair. We have a lot of work to do to prepare for our kick-off events in September but it's a fun project to work on!

Listening:  to my body when it tells me to take it easy. I'm going to bed earlier than usual and resting more than usual. But after 4 years of having RA, I've learned that I can't ignore the signs my body is giving me. I sometimes feel lazy because my exercise these days has been really limited as I'm mostly just going for walks but I know it's what my body needs.

Wishing:  for a rain-free weekend of camping! The forecast looks great so hopefully it doesn't change!

What are you anticipating, loving and grateful for these days?

Friday, August 11, 2017

Looking Forward

So 2017 has been a pretty banner year for us with the wedding and all. And while I like to look back at pictures from that amazing day and our honeymoon, my sights are mostly set on the exciting things we have to look forward to in the final 5 months of the year (but seriously, how are there only 5 months left??). Here's what I'm looking forward to!

This month I am looking forward to our first camping trip! We registered for some camping equipment for our wedding and I can't wait to break it in on our first trip. We are going to a state park off the shores of Lake Superior. There are lots of beautiful hikes in the area so it will be an active vacation for us. We are going with our good friend Amber who is a veteran camper. It's nice to go with someone who knows what she's doing! We met last week to plan out the meals and what all we will do. It's going to be so much fun! Fingers crossed it does not rain!! This trip also coincides with Phil's birthday so it will be a fun way to celebrate his birthday!

In September I'm looking forward to the 9th annual Julia Child Night! It's kind of mind-boggling that we've kept this tradition alive for all these years. And if anything, it's grown and become an even bigger event through the years. This year Julia is going to Asia! I got together with my aunt and uncle last weekend and we tested 4 different recipes (spring rolls, Korean short ribs in a lettuce wrap, a zucchini salad and pork & shrimp fried rice). It's going to be such a fun event!

In October I am looking forward to our trip to Asheville! Phil has never been so I can't wait to show him an area that I absolutely adore. I traveled to a lot of beautiful places when I lived in Charlotte, but Asheville stands out as my favorite. Phil and I love to hike so it will be an active vacation for  us as there are so many great hikes in the area. Plus it should be a gorgeous time to visit as the leaves should be turning. I'm also excited about ALL THE FOOD!  I have so many favorite restaurants in Asheville. I am glad we'll have about 3 days to check them out! We'll also be spending a night in Charlotte at the end of the trip so I can see some of the friends I made when I lived in Charlotte for a year in 2013/2014.

This fall I'm looking forward to starting to look for our next home. While we love where we live, it's a bit small (~1,100 square feet). There is extremely low inventory in the area where we want to buy. We want to stay in the same area of the city and are very particular about which neighborhood we want to be in so we are going into this understanding that it could take over a year for us to a find a home. But I'm hopeful that the right house will come on the market within the next year or so. In the meantime, we'll be doing a couple of things around our house (some painting and replacing the carpet upstairs) so it's ready to put on the market as soon as we find a house we want to buy. Phil bought his house 3.5 years ago so it feels like 'his' place. He's definitely made me very welcome there and people comment on how different it looks now that I live there (like there are actually things on the walls!). But I'm looking forward to picking out something together that feels like "ours."

What are you looking forward to these days?

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Canning Salsa Verde!

Since this is my second garden-related post of the week, you can tell what is on my mind and consuming my time these days! This year my heirloom tomato plants are not doing well. I think they got blight. :( So I likely won't be canning any marinara unless I buy some tomatoes in bulk. Womp womp. But fortunately, my tomatillos are doing great! I guess I must have beginners luck with gardening because my first year of growing heirloom tomatoes went great and now my first year of growing tomatillos has gone great.

Last week I picked all of these tomatillos plus a few more on Saturday.


I had about 4 pounds of them so needed to come up with something to make so they could be put to use! Since chips and salsa is practically a food group for me (seriously, is there a better snack?), I decided to make roasted tomatillo salsa. After googling around, I decided to make this recipe. Spoiler alert: this recipe calls for WAY too many serrano chiles - more on that later in this post.

I started off by roasting the tomatillos, garlic and serrano chiles under the broiler.

The start of awesome salsa verde

It took quite awhile to do this. But I was able to blend batches of roasted veggies while roasting the other veggies, so multi-tasking made feel like it went fairly fast.

Roasted goodness
When I got to the half way point, I tasted what I had blended so far, which was about 2 pounds of tomatillos, 4 serrano chiles, and 1/2 of the cilantro, onion and garlic. Thank God I tasted it before blending the rest of the  serranos because it was HOT HOT HOT. I thought the ratio of 1.5 pounds of tomatillos to 5 serrano chiles seemed a bit off - and I should have trusted that judgment! So I left out the other 6 serranos, added the rest of the tomatillos, onion, garlic, and cilantro and it tasted perfect. It still has a kick but an appropriate amount of kick.

So if you ever decide to make this recipe, unless you want a 5-alarm-burn-your-mouth salsa, halve the amount of serranos the recipe calls for!  I also added the juice of one lime to balance things out. I will also note that when I looked at other recipes, they called for about 1/2 of the amount of chiles that this recipe called for, so it's not just me thinking it was overkill to include 5 serranos.

~11 cups of salsa, ready to be canned!

Next it was time to can! I made 2 1.5 pint jars and 5 1/2 pint jars. A 1/2 pint (1 cup) of this is like a serving size for me (ha!) but I figure we can gift the smaller jars to friends this summer and fall.


I feel such a sense of pride when I can things I've grown. I feel like I am channeling the spirit of my maternal grandma Val. She did LOTS of canning. She passed that knowledge onto her daughter, my mom. And now I'm canning. It's pretty cool to keep a vintage skill like this alive!

There are lots more tomatillos that will be ready to be picked later this month so I am planning to make this recipe again!

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Zucchini for Daaaaaays

I changed up what I planted in my garden a bit this year, and one vegetable I added was zucchini. I only planted one hill, but that hill is producing like CRAZY!!  I've lost count of how many zucchini I've picked, but it's a lot. I feel like I could sit by my garden and literally watch it grow! Luckily I was able to off-load some on my siblings and parents when I was at the lake, I gave another bag to a friend, and there is also a donation bin at our community garden that a member takes to a local food shelf (love this!).

While I've given quite a bit away, I've also used quite a bit of it. I thought I'd share some of the recipes I've made in case you or someone you know has a ton of zucchini and needs ideas about how to use it!

First up - sausage stuffed zucchini boats. This is one of my favorite dishes to make with zucchini. It's perfect for garden zucchini because you need a bigger zucchini to make these boats (the dinky ones they sell in the grocery store aren't big enough to stuff). The blog this recipe came from has a bunch of other ideas for stuffed zucchini but I've always stuck to this version because I love it so much!


Last Monday I made zucchini "meatballs" which I served on a bed of GF spaghetti. The recipe calls for bread crumbs but I was able to find some at the grocery store so it was easy to make a GF version of this. Next time I would either make them smaller or bake them for longer as they weren't quite as done in the middle as I would have liked. But they were still good!


I've made Creamy Parmesan Zucchini Rice twice this month when we've either hosted or went to another couple's house for dinner.  It's really yummy and a very easy recipe. I also think it would be kid friendly as the zucchini blends in really well and you mostly just taste the cheesy, creamy rice!


This past weekend I made a batch of Flourless Chocolate Chip Zucchini Banana Muffins. Since they are flourless, they are naturally GF. I didn't have almond flour so used peanut butter instead and they came out great.  If I made these again, I would use my food processor instead of a blender, though, as the batter is quite thick before you add in the banana and zucchini so it was a lot of work to get it out of my blender!


On Saturday night, we hosted my Julia Child aunt and uncle for a recipe testing night as Julia Child is just over a month away (we are having it early this year). This year, Julia Child is going to Southeast Asia. I wanted to make a salad or side that would use up some zucchini so I googled Asian zucchini salad, and found this recipe. We liked it so much that we decided to use it for the salad course for Julia Child Night! It's a really light, bright, delicious salad.


I've also made Gluten-Free Zucchini Coffee Cake and Zucchini Casserole (this uses 4 cups of zucchini so is a great recipe if you have lots of zucchini to use up!), but I don't have pictures of either. I've made the coffee cake recipe many times (it's soooo good!) and will make the casserole dish again.

Do you like zucchini? Do you have any favorite recipes to share?

Monday, July 31, 2017

July Reads

Instead of my usual monthly recap, I'm going to do an abbreviated recap and just focus on the books I read in July!





July was a pretty good reading month for me! I read 5 books, but one of them was over 700 pages so it felt like I read 6+ books! My favorite read was Eligible!  Here's what I read along with my thoughts about each book:

The Leavers by Lisa Ko - 2 stars - I had high hopes for this book as it was raved about on a couple of book podcasts I listen to. But it fell flat for me. The pace of the book was slow and I struggled to relate to or feel compassion for the characters as they were sort of unlikable.

Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld - 5 stars - I loved this book! It's a modern-day re-telling of Pride and Prejudice. It was a delightful read and is the perfect summer read in my opinion!

A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara - 4 stars - I had heard how emotionally devastating this book is so had avoided reading it for the last couple of years but I decided to read it in July. It is not for the faint of heart. The writing is amazing and you really get to know the characters in the book. It is very much a character-driven story instead of being plot driven. I can't say I 'enjoyed it' because it is such a sad story, and I wouldn't necessarily recommend it to anyone because it's just so heartbreaking. The kind of heartbreaking where you wonder how the author came up with the atrocities she wrote about. But I am glad I read it.

The Dry by Jane Harper - 3 stars - This is my pick for my book club for the month of August. It's been raved about on Modern Mrs Darcy's blog. It was a fast-paced, engaging murder mystery but it probably won't make for the best book club discussion, aside from talking about whether anyone guessed who the murderer was. But we've read some heavier books lately so I thought it would be a good change of pass. Although, I do want to give a trigger warner as violence against a child is part of the plotline.

I See You by Clare Mackintosh - 4 stars - I loved this author's first book so was excited to check this out. It didn't quite live up to her first novel, which was a tough act to follow, but I still enjoyed it and read it in a matter of days.

What have you been reading lately?

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Currently: July Edition

And just like that, it's the last week of July! Time seems to fly especially fast in the summer, even though the days are longer (at least in terms of # of hours of daylight). Here's what's currently up in my world!

Reading:  I See You by Clare Mackintosh. I loved her last book, I Let You Go, last summer and loved it, so I was excited to see she wrote a new book! The author used to work in the police force in the UK so her real-life experience lends more credibility to her stories. I Let You Go was so page turny and this one has been engaging so far!

Loving:  All the fresh produce I've been eating from my garden! I've been eating lots of zucchini, green beans, cucumbers, and cherry tomatoes. I can't wait for my big tomatoes to ripen! I'm planning to can marinara and salsa again this year but this time I am going to use the pressure cooker we got for our wedding so I'll be able to can any kind of salsa I want (with the hot water bath canning method, you are limited on what you can safely can as you have to make sure the acidity level is high enough to offset the risk of botulism!).

Feeling:  like I still have work to do in figuring out how to not over-schedule myself. I guess this is always going to be a work in progress. I've decided that I will not make any more plans in August besides what we have on the calendar as we need some open weekends to do whatever we feel like doing versus having set plans for each weekend. July has been fun but it's just been so scheduled!

Thinking:  about our fall vacation plans. We are tentatively planning to go to Asheville at the end of October. We haven't booked the trip yet as we both need to make sure we can get the time off. Asheville is one my favorite places to visit so I can't wait to show it to Phil! There's so much great hiking and great food in the area so I know he'll love it.

Anticipating: my getaway to the lake. I'm heading to the lake this morning for 4 days! Phil can't join me as he can't get the time off from work but it will still be a fun getaway. My Chicago brother and his family are there this week so I can't wait to get extra time with them - especially my nephew and niece who are 10 and almost-6!

Watching:  very little TV these days. I pretty much just watch a bit of the news in the morning and that's about it!

Grateful:  that the forecast looks wonderful for my lake getaway! Temps will be in the 80s so it's going to be a great week to be by the water!

Listening:  to all the podcasts as usual. I'm not excited to drive to and from the lake by myself as Phil is usually my chauffeur (lucky him!). But driving by myself has it's perks as I can listen to podcasts that wouldn't interesting him (like, the many book-related ones!).

Wishing:  for a nice long summer that stretches into fall!  I just love the sunshine and warm temps and would like them to stick around as long as possible! I know not every likes summer, but if you had winters like we do, you'd understand why us Midwesterners LOVE summer.

What are you reading, anticipating, and wishing for these days?