Tuesday, March 28, 2017

When to Splurge?

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A little bit ago Mr. Awesome shared a post about budgeting, which is an endeavor we've undertaken and then failed many times. This year we're doing great overall (and I have the empty crisper drawer to prove it), having banked money more months than we haven't. But then comes the temptation...

The normal temptations I can resist; I am not much of a shopper and just stay away from the places that can lead to spending (I'm talking about you, thrift stores), but there's another temptation pulling at me - the temptation to take an outrageous trip. 



I am celebrating a landmark birthday this year. For some an adequate birthday celebration is going to dinner, but birthday's are a big deal in the Awesome household. No matter the birthday it's a least a day long celebration, but landmark birthdays are even bigger. We celebrated one overnight in a castle in Scotland and another listening to fado in Lisbon, Portugal. 

My birthday trip started out as a cruise to Alaska. What I didn't realize was just how expensive Alaskan cruises are. Cha-ching! And they book up quick! Even before we started considering shore excursions we were at the top of our travel budget for the year. The cost was disproportionate to my level of interest. 

Abandoning Alaska, we started an exploration of other travel destinations. Where else could we go for the same price tag as Alaska? Peru? Costa Rica? Chile?  There are Groupon and Living Social deals to consider, but many of those tour conductors have dubious reviews at best (I guess it just goes to the old adage, you get what you pay for). We could definitely plan a cheaper trip if we were willing to piece things together instead of looking for a package, but I also wanted to be realistic about how much time I had to dedicate to research and reservations. Your time is definitely worth something. So, I decided to take a step back and wait for a while before diving back in to the adventure planning. 

Yesterday I dove back in and fell in love with a South African safari that included a helicopter flight, vineyard tour, and days exploring a nature preserve where the "Big Five" roam free. The one problem... I forgot what our budget for the trip really was and was looking at a per person cost instead of per couple cost. Mr. Awesome is as much up for an adventure as I am and this one would be epic, but the question is, when is it worth it to splurge? What would you do? 

Friday, March 24, 2017

Off-Road Adventures in Northern Utah- Five Mile Pass

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Off-roading, 4-wheeling, wheeling, rock crawling, I don't care what you might call it, but Utah is a fantastic state to enjoy when it comes to it! This past weekend, Mrs. Awesome and I loaded into Heathen and headed with our off-road club, The Wasatch Outlaw Wheelers to Five Mile Pass near Camp Floyd State Park and Cedar Fort, Utah. It was our first run in our 2010 Wrangler JK Rubicon Unlimited, and I was eager to see how much different Heathen would wheel compared to our previous Jeep, "Mean Green", a 1999 Wrangler TJ SE. 

The club meets at a predetermined location and caravans to wherever we're off-roading. One of the best parts of being in a club is that we don't wheel alone. You should always go with at least another vehicle, just in case something goes wrong or you break down. It can make for a very long walk back to the main road in a lot of places in Utah. For this run we had around 14 rigs, predominantly Jeeps, but there was also a Hummer H3 and even a Chrysler Alpine!  Our club is an off-road club and not a Jeep club, so all are welcome. In fact the last time we'd gone to 5 mile with the club a few years earlier, one of the members brought his Subaru Justy... seriously- a Subaru Justy! We don't judge... unless you're driving a Hummer, then us Jeepers are going to rib you a little...

Driving to a run is always a lot of fun- full of anticipation and there's something great about rolling down the interstate with a dozen or more other off-road vehicles. Stopping at the Chevron in Saratoga Springs to "top up" fuel and get any last minute snacks and drinks before heading into Five Mile. Conversations are struck up with passers-by who watched us descend upon the gas station and convenience store, parking in neat rows four abreast and three deep, bumper to bumper. "I want to go with the Jeeps!" I overheard one of the employees of the station say as we were there. Before long we were back on the road and pulling into the trail head at Five Mile Pass.

"Airing down" is the first order of business at the trail head, so I hopped out and proceeded to drop each tire to around 15 psi. Dropping the tire pressure allows them to mushroom and flatten out on the bottom which gives each tire more surface area to grip rocks, and it also take the teeth rattling out of washboard roads! The first set of obstacles we encountered was the "Rock Garden" which in Utah is often a term used to describe a jumble of rocks which only an off-road capable vehicle would be able to traverse. Each driver could chose their line and Heathen crawled like a champ up and over each of the stones and ledges we encountered. 

After traversing the rock garden we continued deeper into Five Mile Pass through an area known as the "Ant Hills." It's a bit surreal climbing through them- the feeling of some lunar landscape as we passed through the old pile of tailings. 

The Ant Hills

View from the mines
We headed further up the trail to get a look at some covered mine shafts, at the bottom of one resides an old Jeep. The driver, unaware of the shaft entrance, drove into it in the dark and had to climb out and go for help. They have been covered with steel grating and it's a lot of fun and a little daunting to walk out across the rebar and glance down into the hole. Then it was on to an area called "Wayne's World." Our run didn't take us over that particular obstacle, the trail leader choosing instead to climb to the top of an adjacent hill so we could break for lunch. The climb is about 500', and a 30% grade or so with a ledge at the top to add to the challenge. Heathen and I sat about sixth or seventh back and waited our turn as we watched each vehicle attempt to get up and over on their first run at the hill. Most powered up to the ledge and lost momentum before getting up and over it, requiring them to back down a bit and try again, and sometimes again before getting over the top. Sitting at the bottom, I studied the line each rig took, and as it neared my turn, I switched on the front and rear e-lockers and eased forward biding my time. It appeared daunting from the bottom, I'm not going to lie, but I trusted my rig and i trusted the line I'd chosen. 

As I mentioned, this was the first time I'd wheeled Heathen, and the differences between our old rig, a '99 TJ SE named "Mean Green," were astronomical. It had a 2.4L four cylinder engine, and 33" tires on a 2.5" Rough Country suspension lift. Other than that, it was pretty much bone stock- Dana 30 front axle and a Dana 35 rear with a "lunchbox" locker. It was a great Jeep to learn on because as it was geared, it didn't have the torque to break anything. If an obstacle was too much, Mean Green just wouldn't budge- like an obstinate mule, and we'd have to go around or find a bypass. This hill climb in that short wheelbase would also have made for some white knuckle moments had it been the rig I was driving that day.

"Heathen", by contrast, is a warhorse. Sitting on a 3" Teraflex lift and 35" tires, he sit's nearly two feet off the ground. He's equipped with an electronic sway bar disconnect and electric front and rear locking differentials (lockers) and rock rails straight from the factory. The 3.8L six-cylinder engine has ample power to push highway speeds with ease and more than enough torque to rock crawl. Heathen also has an automatic transmission, which means my days of feathering the clutch all day are behind me!  

I knew I had the clearance to climb the shelf- the biggest challenge was to stay on the accelerator in order to keep momentum and climb onto the ledge and then continue on up over it. Heathen performed like a champ, and the lockers did exactly as they are designed to, maintaining torque to the driver side front wheel when the passenger side broke contact.

Five Mile Pass is a great day trip in the Salt Lake Valley that I highly recommend. There's miles of trails, a scrambling and rock crawling area known as "Little Moab" that's a blast and obstacles for every experience level. Head on out, take plenty of water and a bag lunch and share the photos and memories you make- and always remember, Tread Lightly!






Thursday, March 23, 2017

Pressure Cooker Brown Bread Recipe

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It doesn't get much more traditional American dining than Boston Brown Bread. Steamed Brown Bread or Boston Brown Bread is a dense, molassesy bread that's traditionally steamed for three hours in a repurposed food can. We created this Pressure Cooker Brown Bread recipe to cook in about an hour in an electric pressure cooker (Instant Pot). Given all the warnings about BPA in the lining of canned food, we also switched to a mason jar for the cooking. 



INGREDIENTS: 

2 1-pint widemouth mason jars (It needs to have flat sides or you won't be able to get it out)
1/4 c. Rye flour
1/4 c. All purpose flour
1/2 c. Cornmeal
1/2 c. Whole wheat flour
1 t. Baking soda
1/2 t. Salt
2/3 c. Sour cream (you can substitute 1 c. buttermilk for sour cream and milk)
1/3 c. Milk
1/3 c. Molasses
1/2 c. Raisins

1 1/2 c. Water for steaming in pressure cooker
Butter for greasing the jars and slathering on the cooked bread

DIRECTIONS:

1. In a large mixing bowl, mix together dry ingredients
2. Mix milk and the sour cream in a one cup measuring cup
The pressure caused the cooked bread to
scoot up the jar. Kind of wild. 
3. Add wet ingredients to dry in the mixing bowl, beat 30 seconds, scraping down bowl
4. Grease two mason jars
5. Fill jars 2/3 full with batter, cover tightly with aluminum foil
6. Place steamer insert in pressure cooker insert, add water. Place jars on steamer rack, set electric pressure cooker to 65 minutes on high pressure. Dump pressure. (Your cooking time might be slightly less than ours - we live at 4,500 feet and higher elevations requires a 15% increased cooking time. Guidelines are an extra 5% cooking time for every 1,000 feet above 2,000 feet. If you live at sea level, decrease cooking time 13%.)

Remove the jars with tongs or oven mitt (unless you have fingers of steel) and the bread should slide right out when inverted. Cut slices, slather in butter, and enjoy!

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Irish Cream Cheese Brownies

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March holds St. Patrick's Day and Mrs. Awesome's Irish roots demand some recognition of her heritage. Hanging out with friends followed by an off-roading adventure meant some sweet treat, enter Irish Cream Cheese Brownies. These decadent treats combine the dulcet notes of Bailey's Irish Cream, the tang of cream cheese, and the rich gooeyness of brownies. Mrs. Awesome was pressed for time, so the brownie base is brownie mix. This recipe is good for a party, so you can easily halve it for a smaller crowd. 




Ingredients:

For the brownies:
2 boxes of brownie mix (yep, I'm cheating)
4 eggs
4 oz or 1/2 c. applesauce (I'm trying to limit the caloric damage, you can also just double the amount of oil and omit this)
1/2 c. oil
1/2 c. Irish cream

For the Irish cream cheese:
2 8 oz blocks of cream cheese
3/4 c. Irish cream
2 eggs
1/4 c. Flour
3/4 c. Sugar

Directions: 

Preheat oven to 350F. 

Allow cream cheese to come to room temperature, then mix the Irish Cream Cheese ingredients together using a stand or hand mixer. 

Mix the brownies in a separate bowl. 

Generously grease two 9x9 pans. 

Pour 1/4 of the brownie mix into the bottom of the greased pans, spread out. Pour the cream cheese mixture over the brownie batter in pan. Top with the remaining brownie batter. Swirl layers together with a butter knife. 

Bake in a 350 oven for an hour or until the top cracks (This is a very moist brownie, so we never had a toothpick come out clean). 

Allow to cool to room temperature and enjoy. 

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Effectively budgeting for our lives (a work in progress)

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Creating a budget that you can stick to is achievable for all of us; it just takes a little time to establish (and some commitment), but free or inexpensive budgeting apps available for your smart phone make it pretty easy to track your expenses in real time. It's a goal that Mrs. Awesome and I set for ourselves this year, because having money for the things that are important to us is part of what creates our loved, lived life, and by spending a little time, you can too.

Budgets suck. There, I've said it. But they really are helpful to keep you on track and the spending under control. We are bombarded every day by new products and services, and advertising does a great job of convincing us to run out and buy things we don't really need. "Of course life will be perfect and I will finally be happy if I have _____." I'm guilty. I see some cool gadget or upgrade for our Jeep, Heathen and I immediately try to figure out how I'm going to get it. Do I really need that 4 person tent that attaches to the back of the Jeep? It looks SO cool and we want to go back country camping this summer... totally ignoring that we already own three other tents of various sizes... so I totally fall for it.


So there we were just after the New Year, getting ready to put together our budget. But how to create a budget and actually stick to it? We've been making budgets for years and haven't really stuck to them. It seemed like we were standing at the foot of Mt. Everest in flip flops and cargo shorts and our goal was to summit. But this year is going to be different. Why? Because we knew that we needed to change our spending habits and stop living like the grasshopper in the old fable. So that would be my step one.

1. Be HONEST with yourself: Are you really committed? Creating the budget is the easy part (and it's not even that easy) sticking to it... that's the challenge. Are you committed to making your best effort to stick to the budget you make? Because, I can tell you from experience, if you aren't, then you won't. Mrs. Awesome and I sat down and had an honest and open conversation about our income and expenses, and what our goals were for savings and retirement, travel and all the other things which are important to us. Once we knew we were both on the same page, we were able to move forward with building our budget.

2. Figure out your income: This is your budget, so you can set it up however you like, but we figured out our annual take home income after taxes, etc. and divided it by 12 to get our total monthly budget amount. 

3. Figure out your monthly fixed costs: Fixed costs are those expenses like rent, mortgage, auto or student loan payments which don't change every month. Our fixed expenses are set up to auto pay, so we subtracted that amount straight off the top of our monthly budget. We also factored some savings and retirement contributions under our fixed costs to ensure that we were setting that money aside before it had a chance to be siphoned off. The amount we have left is what we have to work with for everything else for the month- our variable costs.

I'm going to take a short break here to talk about Toshl. We've used their free app for years to track our expenses, but this year, with the new version, we decided to purchase it in order to take advantage of the Budgets feature. This feature allows the user to create a "master" budget and then for each category we created a sub budget, like entertainment, gas, groceries, etc. which is linked to the master. That way, when we log an expense, the category budget is decreased as well as the total amount in the master, which shows you both how much is remaining in each category as well as how much remains total. There are a lot of other apps in the market, some like Mint can be linked to your accounts and every time you swipe your credit or debit card it updates your budget automatically. I know folks who love the convenience, but I like taking the moment to manually enter each purpose because I get the immediate feedback on the device in my hand showing me how much remains in each category. We've been using the new app for the past couple months now and I'm really happy with it. In the end, if you choose to use an app, it needs to be one you like and fits your needs.

4. Establish your monthly budget categories and determine how much you need for each: Do you eat out 5 days a week? Like retail therapy? Drive a gas guzzling Jeep (I do)? No judging here, we all have our "latte factors" and establishing the categories you need to have is a very personal decision. Mrs. Awesome and I have a slew of categories such as:

          a. Groceries
          b. Dining
          c. Medical/Dental
          d. Entertainment
          e. Gas
          f.  Automotive
          g. Personal Care
          h. Household
           i. Home Improvement
           j. Travel
          k. Charity
           l. Gifts
You get the idea. Once you've established your categories, you get to decide how you're going to divide up disposable income you have remaining however you see fit. This is a bit of a choose your own adventure, but take the time to develop a good forecast of what your monthly expenditures actually are. 

5. Do it!: Commit to keeping to your budget- you may need to make small changes and tweaks along the way, but you can do it! There's a bit of fun to be had in challenging yourself to stick to a budget and I can tell you, when you do, it feels great!

6. Yeah, but I just got crushed by an expense I didn't anticipate...: Well, your budget is like the ballast in the bottom of your ship- it will help right you when you get hit by that rogue wave. You can look at the expense you hadn't anticipated and make educated decisions on how you'll cut back in the weeks or months ahead in other areas so that you can mitigate that expense. Again, you've covered all of your "must-pays" and fixed expenses, so it might be a few weeks or months of cutting back in some areas, but that's a mindset too. Challenge yourself to face those budget reductions and find creative ways to maximize your spending. Can't buy a latte every morning for a while? Well, learn how you might make one at home, or cut back to just a couple a week. you can do it!

Budgeting is rewarding. You can plan and save for the things you want without frittering away your hard earned income. Imagine being free of credit card debt, of living within or below your means. It's possible, if you're willing to take the first steps.  Please let me know if you have any questions, or leave a comment below!

We'll give you an update at the end of the year about how we did! 

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Southwestern Lobster Poutine

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Mrs. Awesome has a goal to see all 50 states before she turns 50. (See the symmetry?) Last year, only four remained - Florida, Vermont, Michigan, and Alaska. In the fall we knocked Florida off the list, flying into Fort Lauderdale, renting a convertible Mustang, and traveling down the Keys. Our first night in balmy Florida we were in Miami Beach, enjoying the sunset, sangria, and lobster poutine. Traditional poutine is a Canadian dish of french fries, cheese curds, and gravy. Our Southwestern Lobster Poutine recipe is a fusion of that delicious poutine and Mrs. Awesome's heritage as a Southwestern girl.

As you may have noticed from the photo, this dish is not for the calorically frightened, combining french fries, fried cheese curds, and cheese sauce. Mrs. Awesome showed some restraint by not adding bacon crumbles, which were considered.  The flavors are brightened with a quick salsa. We hope you'll enjoy this decadent take on the classic poutine. Leave us a comment and let us know what you think.

Ingredients:

(Serves 4)
For the salsa:
1 bell pepper
2 tomatoes
2 T. minced fresh cilantro
1/2 Red onion
1 lime
1/8 t. cumin
Salt and pepper to taste

For the fries:

Large order of fries from Five Guys -  two if you really love fries (We love their skin-on fries. You can also buy frozen or make your own from scratch.)

For the cheese sauce:
4 T. butter
4 T. flour
2 c.milk
6 oz. pepper jack cheese, grated
1/4 t. garlic powder
3 shakes of Tabasco, or other pepper sauce
Salt and pepper to taste
3  lobster tails, meat removed and coarse chopped

For the cheese curds:
16 oz cheese curds (we really like our local producer Beehive Cheese Squeaky Bee Curds), broken
     into 1" pieces
1/2 c. light beer (it doesn't have to be a "lite" beer- just a pale ale or lager)
2 T. milk
2/3 c. flour
1 egg
1/4 t. smoked salt
32 oz. frying oil of your preference

Directions:

This recipe will take a little organization in order to pull off, but don't worry, we've got you covered! Work through each component in the order listed, and it will all come together! Of course the more people you enlist/conscript/cajole into helping cook, the easier it will be! 

For the Salsa: 

1. Scoop the disgusting guts out of two tomatoes (Mister Awesome, being all cheffy and stuff would say concasse the tomatoes, but whatevs... and leave the skin on) and the seeds from the bell pepper.

2. Chop the tomatoes, peppers, and red onion into bite-sized pieces

3. Mix in a bowl with the remainder of the ingredients and adjust seasoning to taste. Set aside to allow the flavors to marry while you prepare the rest of the dish.
For the Fries:
1. If you bought already cooked fries, keep them warm in a 200° F oven. Otherwise prepare according to packaging or get to chopping your potatoes and make those fries happen.


For the Pepper Jack Lobster Sauce:

1.  Make a roux by melting the butter in a medium sauce pan over medium-high heat and then whisk in the flour. Cook the roux for about 10 minutes, you don't want it to brown- just cook the raw taste out of the flour.

2. Slowly add the milk, about a quarter of a cup at a time and whisk it until the roux is smooth again before adding more. If not, you'll have a lumpy bechamel (bet you didn't know you were making one of the six "mother sauces").

3. Once you've whisked in all of the milk, add the cheese and continue to whisk until it is also melted and incorporated, add the garlic powder, salt and pepper, Tabasco, and then taste

4. Add the chopped lobster. Keep the lobster sauce on a medium-low heat, just below a simmer. You're poaching the lobster which will both cook it and infuse its flavor into the sauce. Stir occasionally and add a little more milk if the sauce becomes too thick. It should be about the consistency of a thick gravy.

5. While this is happening, move on to the cheese curds

For the Cheese Curds:
1. Put 32 ounces of canola oil a saucpan pan on medium high heat and let it heat to 375° F.

2. While the oil heats make the batter by whisking together everything but the curds in a big enough bowl that you can drench the curds in it. 

3. The curds will be fried in 4-5 batches, if you try to fry them all at once, the oil will get too cold and you'll end up with a greasy mess... trust Mr. Awesome on this... he fought the oil and the oil won one round, as you can see in the pictures. (We ate them anyway.)
What cheese curds look like when
the oil isn't proper temperature.
Properly cooked cheese curds





















4. Drop about 1/4 of the curds in the batter, and using a slotted spoon, stir them to coat. Scoop them up and shake some of the excess batter off before carefully dropping them into the hot oil. Pay attention to the temperature, turning up the heat on the stove top if you don't have  a fryer to minimize the temperature drop.

5. They'll cook in about 30 seconds or so, look for desired level of brownness, use another slotted spoon or a strainer to scoop them out and place the curds on a paper towel lined plate.

6. Wait for the oil to come back to temperature, then repeat. Place each batch of the finished curds in the oven to keep warm.

Assembly

1. Fries- a good handful sized portion is plenty

2. Cheese Curds- roughly a quarter of them piled right on top of the fries

3. Add a couple ladles of that Pepper Jack Lobster cheese sauce over it all

4. Complete with a few beautiful tablespoons of the delicious salsa.



Serve immediately and devour!



Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Central Texas Bieroux

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Bieroux (pronounced Beer-Rocks), The Central Texas Way


























Mrs. Awesome's people are from Texas... central Texas, and in central Texas, they take the recipes brought over by forebearers and give them the Texas twist. Bieroux are a traditionally German recipe, but now it's a Texas German recipe. These hot, stuffed buns are filled with ground beef, sauerkraut, herbs and spices. Using the bread dough you have in the fridge, all you need do is fry up the filling, stuff and bake them. Serve them piping hot out of the oven with mustard, and it's a meal you're going to love! And they are versatile too. You can fill them with just about anything, sauteed vegetables, BBQ, or ham and Gruyere cheese, to give you some ideas.

INGREDIENTS: Makes 16- serves 4-5
1/2 batch Easiest Home Baked Bread-EVER (2 lbs.) or get some dough from the store
flour for dusting
1 lb. ground beef 
1 white or yellow onion, chopped 
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
1/2 tsp. onion powder
1/4 tsp paprika
1/4 tsp. ground black pepper
1/4 tsp. celery seed
2 tsp. caraway seed
1 tsp. beef bouillon (we prefer Better then Bouillon) or 1 bouillon cube crushed
2 tbsp. fresh minced parsley
12 oz. sauerkraut- rinse under cold water if it's really salty
1 egg + 1 tbsp. water, beaten for egg wash (optional)

DIRECTIONS:
1. Remove the dough from the refrigerator and allow it to warm on the counter.
2. Mix the spices and set aside.
3. Add the ground beef and onion to a large skillet over medium-high heat, saute until the meat is nearly cooked through, then add the herbs and spices. Add the sauerkraut and allow the meat to finish cooking. Set the pan off the heat and allow it to cool while you portion the dough. Preheat the oven to 350F.

4. Using a kitchen scale, measure out 2 ounce portions of dough. If you haven't a scale, halve and halve again the balls of dough until you have a total of 16 pieces (We ended up with 17, which is a nice, even number, because Mr. Awesome guesstimated what 2 lbs. of dough looked like). Roll each piece into a tight ball and allow them to rest for 5 minutes before rolling them out.

5. Using a rolling pin, dusted with flour, roll the 2 oz. dough ball out into a 6" circle, roughly a 1/4 inch thick. 

6. Scoop about 1/4 cup of the meat mixture into the center of the dough, draw up the edges and pinch them together tightly. Flip the bieroux over, round it with your hands, and place on a parchment paper lined sheet pan. 
7. Repeat the process for the remainder of your bieroux, leaving an inch or so between them to bake. 
8. Once you've made all your bieroux, brush the egg wash over the tops and sides of the bieroux. The egg wash will give them that beautiful glossy finish. 
9. Place in the 350F oven and allow them to bake for 35-40 minutes until golden brown and a thermometer reads an internal temperature of 180 degrees Fahrenheit. 
10. Remove from oven and allow to cool on a rack for 5 minutes before serving.
Mustard and horseradish are excellent condiments. 

Bon Apetit y'all! Leave a comment and let us know how they turned out. 


Thursday, March 9, 2017

Gray Cliff Lodge Restaurant

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Gray Cliff Lodge Restaurant in Ogden Canyon is a little local treasure perfect for a date night outing. Mr. Awesome and I like to drive through the winding Ogden Canyon to one of the trail heads and go for a hike before going to dinner at Gray Cliff Lodge Restaurant. They've been a restaurant since 1945 and you can feel the history in the beautiful building, built in 1912, and in the traditional fare.  


You  might have seen our post about the Ogden Canyon Cinnamon Rolls and wondered where these cinnamon rolls exist outside of a recipe? Perhaps you're not a baker and would like to partake without having to bust out the stand mixer? Well, if you live in Utah or have plans to visit in the near future, you're in luck. The Gray Cliff Lodge Restaurant serves these delightful dinner cinnamon rolls as an accompaniment to any meal.

A dimly lit cinnamon roll.

Gray Cliff Lodge Restaurant might not be to everyone's taste - they are vintage dining from top to bottom. First of all, come hungry, because your dinner includes your choice of fruit cocktail or tomato juice, followed by soup or salad, the famous cinnamon dinner rolls (I think there are other rolls, but I was too enamored of the cinnamon rolls to notice), then the entree, and finally dessert. That's right, dessert is free with dinner! Try the oatmeal pie. It sounds weird, but it's awesome! 

Second of all, because this is vintage dining, don't expect haute cuisine or farm to table sourcing. When they say traditional American cuisine, that's what they mean. This is tasty, filling fare that's heavy on the gravy and frying. The trout is superb if you're looking for a lighter option.

Finally, the service is amazing. The water is refilled before it has a chance to dip below 2/3rds full. And the waitress we've had the last few times took our orders by memory, a dying art. I can barely remember where I parked my car. 

That's right, it's fruit cocktail right from a can with a scoop of sherbet and a maraschino cherry. This goes against all the modern food trends, but I don't care! I loved it! 1950s dining at it's finest. 
Cream of brocolli soup with a club cracker. Catch me as I swoon. 
The entrance to the dining room. 
I won't say that Gray Cliff serves the best of everything I've ever had, but for a fun dining experience, it's definitely worth a trip. Also, if you're frugally minded like myself, you can get a deal at restaurants.com. They also have a Sunday brunch, which is refreshing in a community where Sunday dining options are sparse. 


Update: 

We went to Sunday brunch with a group of friends and I can't recommend it. The setting is lovely, the service is good, but the brunch was meh. It's a buffet and the eggs were really soggy and not very warm, there was no bacon, the rolls were tough, and the sausage wasn't warm either. It also isn't an extensive spread. Stick to the dinner experience. 

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Three Easy Gratitude Practices to Increase Joy

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Got Five Minutes? Time for a Gratitude Practice


You've probably read the research that talks about gratitude increasing happiness. If not, check it out - Harvard says so, as does Psychology Today, and even Forbes, just to name a few. Of course, there is also the religious grounding in gratitude that should not be overlooked. But, maybe you're wondering how to make gratitude a daily practice. Here are three easy techniques that Mr. Awesome and I use to practice gratitude every day.

1) Top Three. Every night before bed, Mr. Awesome and I ask each other what three things we were most grateful for that day or our "Top Three". This practice helps get the mind focused on positive things as we head into sleep. Top Three also offers a chance to connect in a more meaningful way about what's happened in your day without grousing at each other about the things that made you crazy. No matter how bad the day is, there are always three things you can find to be grateful for, even if it's just that you have indoor plumbing or there was food to eat or that the sun rose that day. Once we get started, we often share seven to ten things we were grateful for in the day. My insomnia has definitely reduced since we started this practice and I am more mindful of positive things happening throughout the day. If you don't have a significant other to share this practice with, don't despair! Perhaps you can set up this practice via text with a friend, or share this ritual with your kids at their bedtime, or write down the three things you're grateful for on a piece of paper and place them in a Joy Jar that you can peruse on New Year's Eve. Time commitment: 5 minutes

2) Gratitude Journal. I am on Year Five of my five-year gratitude journal. Each night before bed, I write down a quick paragraph about what I am grateful for that day - sometimes this restates things I shared with Mr. Awesome, sometimes it's something different, and sometimes it's an in depth exploration of one of the things I shared. Being in the last year of the journal, it's wonderful to look back at all the things I was grateful for on that day in the past five years. Time commitment: 5 minutes


3) Set an Intention. This is my newest effort. I love reflecting on my day and being grateful, but I wanted to infuse gratitude throughout my day. I also had this gorgeous Joy Jar that a lovely friend gave me that I wanted to use, so I decided to start each day by setting an intention. For a few minutes each morning I contemplate - 'What am I anticipating today? What have I been struggling with? What am I worried about? What do I need to make this day great?' Whatever it is, I will set an intention to help focus my day. I write the date and my intention and then put it in a picture holder where I can see it at my desk. At the end of the day, I fold it up and put it in my Joy Jar. This intention can help me refocus when I struggle, be mindful, and be my best self. Time commitment: 5 minutes


Joy Jar - good for gratitude or setting intentions.
What do you do to increase gratitude in your life? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below. 

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Garlic Basil Pepperoni Stromboli Recipe

Yum

Growing up in northwest New Jersey, pizzerias were as ubiquitous as churches. Every town it seemed, no matter how small, had at least one and they were pretty much all fantastic. But it wasn't just the pizza... no, calzones and stromboli were always an option. Now you may have never heard of stromboli before, but it's essentially a rolled pizza. You roll out your dough, put in your toppings, roll and seal it up and bake it until it's done. We're using the dough from the "easiest home baked bread dough" recipe, so you likely have some in your fridge already! If not, you can pick up a dough ball from many grocery stores or pizza places or whip some up, it only takes 15 minutes or so. This stromboli recipe is easy, delicious and you can fill it with just about anything you'd put on top of a pizza. We made ours with Garlic, Basil, and Pepperoni. Let's get started!

Ingredients
Dough fresh from the refrigerator (estimate 6 oz. dough per person)
Pepperoni (as much as your heart desires)
Fresh Basil
Five cloves of garlic (unless you're not really a fan of garlic in which case you probably shouldn't be reading this recipe)
Grated mozzarella
Pasta sauce of some variety or just sauce as Mr. awesome likes to call it, we used marinara
Grated Parmesan (because it's awesome)

Rolling out the Stromboli
If everyone wants to make their own stromboli, and stuff it with the fillings of their choice, weigh out 6 oz. dough balls and form into rounds. A 12 oz. dough ball will feed two. You may need to dust with flour so that the dough remains soft, but not sticky. Let them rest at room temperature and rise for 30 minutes.


Preheat the oven to 500° or hotter if your stove is amazing, ours is only semi-amazing. Set the racks on the middle and lower levels. Most of a pizza oven's heat is coming from below, and if the racks are set too high, you'll over bake the outer crust before the inside bakes through.

While the dough is resting and rising, finely chop or mince the garlic. Sauté the garlic in a couple teaspoons of olive oil to give a caramelized flavor and take the bite off. Remove from heat and allow to cool. 


Now, back to the dough... roll out with a rolling pin until a 12 oz. patty measures 6" x 12" approximately and is a 1/4 inch thick. If you're going with 6 oz. dough balls, they'll be about 6" x 6" square. I like easy math...


Layer ingredients,  leaving a quarter to half inch around the edges to seal.  

Starting at the long edge begin to roll down until about halfway then fold in your sides,  finish rolling and pinch the seams closed.  Place seam side down on a sheet of parchment paper on a baking sheet.


Bake for approximately 30-40 minutes until golden brown and the internal temperature is 180 degrees Fahrenheit.

Is that a baguette? No, it's stromboli, filled with a delicious surprise.

Slice, cover in marinara, and enjoy!