OH HI! So, getting back into the swing of things after vacation--how 'bout them apples? This week was a little rough, but I'm so excited to get back to my routine, including blogging and cooking and livin' the life. The vacation though. So good. We spent a few days in the Black Hills and a few days in Denver, after our first day in the Badlands. I'm going to split those stops into two different posts because you're already going to be sick of me by the end of this one, but let me just start with this: if you live in the Twin Cities, you've gotta get yourself to the Black Hills. It's beautiful there, and it's only seven hours away. Seriously. Grab your calendar, and block some time. Preferably in the summer. And this is what you should do. Ready? Here we go.
I. Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse
Super novel ideas I have so far, right? You never would have thought to include these on your trip? Ok, it just has to be said. Everyone should see Mount Rushmore at least once. And Crazy Horse, too--although, I have to be honest, Dan and I were both excited to see how much progress they'd made at Crazy Horse because we were both there about twenty years ago, when just the face was finished...and it's still basically just the face that's finished. So you've probably got plenty of time to catch the "in progress" version of that one.
We did Mount Rushmore right away when we got to The Black Hills, and we did Crazy Horse the next day. They don't take long, and you've just gotta go. And it's fun. Ok, next.
II. Sylvan Lake
This is where the worthwhile tips start--I got this one from a coworker whose family lives in the area, and I hadn't read about it on any travel sites. Sylvan Lake was one of our favorite parts of this whole trip--the lake itself is beautiful and Kelly loved swimming in it, but the 4-mile hike on the Sunday Gulch loop was the star of the show. It starts at the lake, which is surrounded by walking trails you could enjoy in flip flops.
Super instagram-able. If you decide to do the Sunday Gulch hike, you need some good shoes and preferably some athletic wear. We did it in tennis shoes and normal clothes, and I was wishing I had switched into something more sweat-friendly about halfway through.
The hike starts going down hill over some huge boulders, with hand rails built into the rock to help avoid falls. This was really fun, and something I hadn't seen before--no trail, just hand rails over a big rocky descent. From there, it went through the woods for a while, and then up, up, up to some pretty spectacular views (and burning quads).
We did this hike in an hour and a half at a pretty good clip, but we ran into several groups who said they'd been at it around three hours. Plan some time for it, but don't miss it.
III. The Wildlife Loop (Custer State Park)
This little drive through Custer State Park is one of your best chances to see buffalo (and prairie dogs, and wild donkeys) just roamin' around. We read to go in the morning or evening, and we did the loop first thing one day. We saw tons of buffalo (there's a herd that hangs out in this area, and they're often close enough to the road to see them) and some donkeys that were standing in the middle of the road and weren't interested in moving. Kelly loved the baby buffalo and the prairie dogs.
IV. Jewel Cave National Monument
If you've never done a cave tour, you need to include this on your itinerary. It's a cool experience, and this one is big and interesting and the tour is pretty accessible for family members of any age. You need to stop by early to get your tickets (the tours go all day but they sell out before noon). We grabbed tickets for our tour and then went to Crazy Horse while we waited for our tour to start. It's cold in the cave, so you need to bring a sweater (Kelly's helpfully illustrating that for you in this picture) and photos really don't do the cave justice, but Kelly thought it was "SO cool" and the ceilings were mostly tall enough for Dan to fit through, so we gave this two thumbs up.
V. Reptile Gardens
There are a lot of hokey tourist traps in the Black Hills, and it can be hard to guess what will be worth your while, but luckily we heard from several people that Reptile Gardens was worth the trip, and it definitely did not disappoint. If you've got kids with you who are even remotely interested in animals, you've gotta stop here. They do three shows--a gator show, a snake show, and a bird show--each at several times throughout the day, and they have exhibits you can walk around in between the shows. The shows are entertaining and informative--I mean, this guy jumped on an alligator's back.
They also had enormous snakes and a giant tortoise that you could touch. The tortoise was pretty motionless until Dan came--I think it recognized another giant in its presence and lifted its head pretty excitedly (for a tortoise).
Kell also got to touch a snake, and a baby alligator. My only tip is to plan about half a day here--I thought this was going to be more of an hour-long activity, but the shows are cool and you won't want to miss them, so you need at least an hour and a half for those and another hour or two to walk around and see everything.
There you have it--the fab five of the Black Hills. Next up is a Denver recap, and then a return to our regularly-scheduled programming, including Ragnar training! The race is in less than two weeks. I'm a little bit in denial, but still super excited. Plus, I ran hills on vacation...so that cancels out the fact that I barely ran this week, right? Yeah, I think so too.
Greetings from Wall, South Dakota! Might I suggest that if you’re ever in need of a laugh, you read Yelp reviews for the restaurants in Wall? Tears of laughter were shed in the process of choosing a dinner locale. A barbecue spot that sounded promising included a review that recounted flies swarming so thickly inside the restaurant that the diner was unable to eat her meal simply because her hands were too occupied as fly swatters. Another diner gave up and left after an hour and a half because his dinner never arrived and his server mysteriously disappeared (presumably because he was carried off by flies). Another restaurant had a review that reported finding maggots in the food. That's not funny, that's repulsive, but thanks for sharing. Not that one, sweetie. We chose Dairy Queen. It was the right choice.
Someone needs to make a coffee table book of the many incredible billboards of rural America. My favorite today heralded a mechanic who offers “24 hour toe service.” I might also humbly offer that if you are going to the trouble of creating a billboard you could consider having a friend or two proofread it for you. My only regret of the day is not calling that gentleman to ask about what sort of service he offers to toes. No, I have two regrets: the Chinese restaurant we chose for lunch, and not chatting with the man about the toe service.
Bust mostly today was lovely. We made it to the Badlands and scrambled over rock formations to our hearts' content, and we’ve started an awesome selfie trend that I dearly hope continues throughout this trip because we are not very good at selfies and I find them all hilarious. Actually, my favorite photos of my family are the odd ones. Where Kelly’s all squinty because he can't deal with sunlight or Dan realizes afterwards that he “must have forgotten” to smile. Yes, we’re all having the most fun. Why do you ask? OH! But we learned at lunch that our Chinese Zodiac animals are very compatible with one another. So there’s that.
But seriously, it's beautiful here. And there's only more beauty to come as we head on to the Black Hills and Denver. And we're getting very in touch with our American roots. When we were hiking through the Badlands, we passed a group with a 20-something guy who had climbed up onto a tall rock formation, and I looked up at him and thought "wow, that would be a really beautiful photo" (with the blue sky, and the clouds, and the rocks stretching out all around). And then he arched his back and launched a wad of spit into the canyon below him. AMERICA!
And that's a wrap for today. Now we're climbing into bed, stuffed full of french fries and root beer floats. Sleep tight, friends.
Well hello there, stranger. Fancy meeting you here. Welcome back from the unplanned hiatus that has been the past ten days...here's what happened. I planned to write a Fueled Up Friday post last week like normal, but then Friday arrived. And there was just no way on God's Green Earth to be fueled up last Friday, guys. Do you watch the news? I'm thinking about just stopping with the whole news thing. It's been too rough. So I was not fueled up, and I didn't want to pretend, so I just stayed silent. And then, this week.
Ok, so, we're leaving on vacation tomorrow (which I'm going to talk so much about in two shakes, hold tight) but this week a thing happened to me that happens a LOT before vacation. And the thing is, I spend the week preparing my home/job/self to leave for vacation, and that causes me to pretty much hate everything about my life. I like my job, and I liked the last job I had, but the week before I'm going to be out on vacation I am consistently convinced that my job is torture (and even more melodramatic than that, like, what am I even doing with my life!?) It's dumb. I can recognize and admit that it's dumb. But it happens, and no one would want to read a blog post that comes out of that head space. You're welcome, for not posting any of those.
But TODAY. Today I woke up and finished all of the work items, and bought the things that we need for our vacation, and put together all of the plans, and packed a bag, and now I am totally fueled up. And all I want to talk about today is vacation, so this is going to be a uni-topic post. Here we go.
We are leaving on a road trip tomorrow morning and I am PSYCHED. Here's the plan: we're heading to the Badlands and the Black Hills, and then on to Denver. The boy child is coming with, but the fur child is not. It's going to be awesome, I've decided. (I'll admit to waffling between "this is going to be awesome" and "I wonder how Dan and Kelly will do in the car for that many hours" but I'm off the fence. On the awesome side.) Don't worry, you'll hear a lot more about this vacation (maybe this week, maybe next week, you never can tell) but one of the things I'm particularly fueled up about is the snacks. Snacks are the BEST part of road trips, amiright?? I'm not alone in this in my family, because Kell dug through the bags from my shopping trip this afternoon and exclaimed, "S'mores Goldfish?! THIS IS THE BEST VACATION EVER!" Maybe I don't buy him enough fun food. But I digress. Check out these healthy snack options (S'mores Goldfish not pictured, but packed.)
So another thing that happened this week is I had an episode of stomach issues for a few days. This isn't out of the ordinary for me, but I usually know why/saw it coming (because I tried to eat cheese curds, or whatever). This time the reaction was set off by a big bowl of quinoa, which was unexpected. I eat gluten free grains pretty regularly without issue, but I don't usually eat a TON of them (like, a small side-dish serving is normal) and I went out for lunch this week and ordered a salad that turned out to be a pretty huge bowl of quinoa. I've ordered this salad before, even, but I think this time the restaurant was running low on greens/the other ingredients, and they were like, "Just put all that quinoa in there. Good. Send it out." And I guess it was just too much.
So a weird thing that happens when my body is throwing a temper tantrum is that my stomach swells up a LOT. I was texting a bff about that this week and decided to take some pictures, because this is weird and weirdness should be shared. So preface to these photos--I look pregnant in the first one, and I am not pregnant (but I'm smirking because I'm doing the preggo belly hold, and what's in there is QUINOA). I am also not pushing out or sucking in my stomach in either of these photos--this is just the difference in how my belly looks (when my muscles are relaxed) from the beginning of an episode to the middle/end. The photos were taken about five hours apart.
Isn't that ridiculous?! I have to hide in my office with my arms crossed over my belly in the first state so my coworkers don't ask when I'm due. Also, stomach, quinoa is healthy. Let's relax about the healthy, gluten-free, dairy-free foods, mmmmk? If you get any pickier, I'm going to have you fired.
The unfortunate part about having a fascist for a stomach (aside from the obvious parts about not being able to eat delicious gluten and dairy-rich foods) is that I get a little nervous about needing to eat out when I'm away from home for a long stretch. Even if I avoid the stuff that I know will set me off, cooking oils are different, and you never know ingredients (and I don't ask, because I'm painfully uncomfortable with inconveniencing people) so it's just likely that I'll eat something that doesn't agree with me. Also, I like french fries and road trip foods and so I'm for sure going to eat those (or the dairy-free, gluten-free ones, anyway). One way to navigate that obstacle course is to pack lots of good foods that I know I'll have along if nothing else is available--RX bars, Lara bars, nuts, dried fruit, etc. And, you know, potato chips. But no S'mores Goldfish for me.
I just think vacation time is so crucial. Taking an entire week to really unplug from life, and change your surroundings, and spend annoying amounts of time with your family--that's the glue for us. It recharges my batteries (sorry, I can't think of a better phrase so just go with it) and it provides memories that we squeeze for everything they're worth. Not kidding, Kelly still talks about a bowl of soup he had on our trip to Alaska like it was one of the defining moments of his short life. Kid's got a very healthy appreciation of food. One of his many stellar qualities.
So, we're setting out for the wild, wild West with some real fancy snacks and our trusty Jeep. I can't wait to tell you all about it.
I spent most of the time making these meatballs brainstorming ideas for what to call them--I tried for an acronym to explain that they have turkey, beef, and sweet potato, but tbst bbq meatballs looks like a typo. "Best meatballs ever" was pretty lame (and also taken, I'm sure) and "OMG BBQ Meatballs" was just a little...much. I need an intern, folks. We're hiring (free labor, that is). These meatballs are the bomb. Are people still saying that? I'm saying that. I made them for some friends last weekend and they were delicious, crowd-pleasing, and easy to throw together, and they're even better leftover. Which is good, because this recipe makes a ton. But they only last about three days in our house, company or not. And they even have a vegetable in them! What more can I say. They win all the things. Except the pretty prize, because meatballs just aren't that good looking. Sorry, meatballs, you can't win 'em all.
Ingredients (makes about 50 ping-pong-ball-sized meatballs)
1.3 lbs of ground beef
1.2 lbs of ground turkey
1 large sweet potato, cooked with skin removed (I cooked mine in the microwave)
heaping 1/2 cup almond meal
3 tbs onion flakes
2 tbs dried parsley
about a bottle of your favorite Whole 30 bbq sauce (see below for mine)
1. Preheat your oven to to 350F. Mix almond meal, parsley, and onion flakes together in a large bowl, breaking up any clumps in the almond meal.
2. Add all of the other ingredients, except for the barbecue sauce, to the bowl. Take off your rings, if you wear them, because picking raw meat out of the crevices of your jewelry is not great.
3. Mash everything up really well with your hands, turning and folding and mixing until it's all evenly mixed together. If you have any big chunks of sweet potato, break those up with your fingers.
Raw meat is just....not photogenic. But it should look like that.
4. Put some tin foil down on a large baking sheet, and start rollin' meatballs. Shoot for meatballs that are about the size of a ping pong ball, and try to keep them all about the same size so they cook evenly.
5. Drizzle your favorite compliant barbecue sauce over the top. You can make your own Whole 30 barbecue sauce, but if you're like me ("thx-but-no-thx to making my own anything sauce") you can buy Tessemae's barbecue sauce on Amazon and call it a day.
6. Bake the meatballs for 25 minutes. Eat one bajillion of them. Lay on couch with meatball belly.
If you don't want to take my word for it, Chewy would also like to vouch for these meatballs--one fell on the floor when I was moving them to a plate and he inhaled it, and then spent the rest of the evening like this begging for more.
I mean, balls of meat--amiright??
I hope you all had the most wonderful holiday weekends. I'm sorry it's over. Allow me to comfort you with about twenty of these meatballs.
When it comes to travel, I am constantly torn between visiting new places and returning to places that I've already seen and loved. This strife is probably strongest for European destinations, because I deeply love spending time in Europe, but it's also the place where we've spent the most time (Dan lived there for the better part of six years playing basketball, so he is understandably not dying to return). But I am always dying to return. I absolutely loved living in Portugal and France in between college and law school (truly one of the best decisions I've ever made) and each destination holds a special place in my heart. My family visited cinque terre in Italy when I was 13, I haven't been back since then, and I still think about it all the time. Truly. A few facebook friends and folks I follow on Instagram are in Europe right now, and seeing their photos ignites such a powerful wanderlust that I find myself scheming about when I could squeeze in a few days in Paris or a week in Florence, even though we have great trips planned for this summer and fall. There's just something special about that continent. So, I'm closing my browsing window with fare alerts set to every major European hub airport, and channeling that energy into a blog post instead. Like a responsible adult, or something.
A huge part of my love for travel definitely comes from my parents, and I am so grateful to them for teaching us how to be good travelers growing up. I vividly remember the firs time I flew to Europe by myself--it was my last semester of college and I was going to Portugal for the week of my fall break to visit Dan. He'd left to start his first season in early September, and I was coming to visit in October before joining him over there in December, after I graduated. Dan hadn't really known what to expect when he arrived in Portugal, and had packed all the wrong things and not a lot of the right ones. So, I left in October with two fifty-pound duffel bags full of his belongings, plus a carry-on of my things (and everything I could think of to make Portugal feel a little more like home to him--including about ten pounds of Snickers bars, which he couldn't find over there). Because I was traveling with my body weight's worth of luggage (literally. my actual body weight in luggage. just imagine that for a hot second before we move on here.) getting to the airport was not the easiest. But, I made it from Madison to Chicago on the Megabus, checked those enormous duffel bags, and got on my flight. Well, actually, first I was stopped at security because king-sized Snickers bars look a lot like sticks of dynamite on x-ray. But then I got on my flight. And then I started to feel a little uneasy--yes, I'd been to Europe twice and traveled internationally a handful more times, but always with a parent or teacher who took my passport and handled navigating customs and transportation. Plus, when I got to Portugal I needed to find the train station, and buy a ticket to get to Dan's town...and I didn't have a cell phone that would work to call him if I didn't get there at the right time, and I didn't speak the language...the eight-hour flight to Amsterdam gave me plenty of time to think about all of the things that could go wrong. Lots, and lots of things. But when I landed at Schiphol for my layover I got through the customs line easily, and when I stepped into the international terminal and saw the duty free stores with European chocolates, and recognized the odd furniture and European symbols for pharmacy and restrooms, I literally breathed a sigh of relief. It felt familiar, and comfortable, and exciting all at the same time. This continent gives me butterflies.
I hope that our future includes travel to lots of interesting places--there's still so much that we haven't seen or explored, and entire regions we haven't even scratched the surface of. But Europe is one that I'll always want to come back to, no matter how much time we've spent there. And, until next time, I'll keep eyeing everyone else's pictures and searching for plane tickets just for fun.
Happy Fourth of July weekend, readers! I love this weekend. It's really the sweet spot of the summer--you've acclimated to summer living, but there's still so much out in front of you to enjoy. I know this FUF is technically coming on a Saturday--it's a Fueled Up Friday that's just a little tardy for the party. But, that happens, because I was busy livin' the life on Friday (i.e. doing all the things we're about to discuss--boating, eating fresh figs, and Ragnar training).
Last night, we went out on the St. Croix river with Dan's cousin and his wife, and it was AWESOME. We talk a lot about wanting a cabin when we're grownups, because getting away from the city for a weekend does amazing things for our sanity--we relax so much more deeply in the woods, and always feel refreshed after a day or two. Boating does the same thing--there's something about getting out on the water that just rejuvenates you. The St. Croix is beautiful, and wasn't too crowded (because everyone leaves the cities for their cabins the weekend of the 4th! It's sort of magical to stay, really.) It was a gorgeous night and I'm still smiling about it.
II. Fresh Figs
Are you guys eating these?! I'd never eaten fresh figs before last year, but I'll never miss out on them again. They're delicious--slightly sweet with a really mild flavor, soft, delicious with prosciutto or on their own. They're only available for a month or two mid-late summer, so you need to seize the day and stock up on these. If you shop at Trader Joe's, they always have flats of them for really cheap later in the summer. I slice them in half and layer a slice of prosciutto on top, or just eat them plain. They're not super nutritionally-dense but there's great fiber in there along with some potassium, and their subtle sweetness is just perfect for a summer day. Plus, they're the prettiest food there is.
III. Ragnar Training
I think it's safe to say at this point that I just do not run if I'm not training for a race. Basically at all. I need the motivation of a deadline to get my butt out there and do it. Luckily for me, the Ragnar is coming up mid-August and it's getting me out to log those miles. I had a truly terrible run yesterday (five miles of side aches and concrete legs) but it actually didn't bother me at all--I know hard runs are part of the deal, and I know that pushing through them gets me to the easy, fun, "how'd I breeze through that?" runs. So I soldiered through, took some walking breaks, and told myself I'd do another 5 on Sunday and beat my Friday time. Which should be easy to do, knock on all of the wood. Setting the bar low, ya know? It's not a bad idea.
One thing I'm doing a little differently for this race is doing a lot more cross training, and maybe a little less running. Typically when I'm race training I pretty much exclusively run, but lately I've gotten really into some workout classes at my company gym and I don't want to give those up (spin class, and a boot camp class that is BRUTAL) plus I'm still doing this Beachbody challenge and trying out Beachbody workouts at home. I think running twice a week plus doing other exercise another 3ish days will keep me in good fighting shape for the Ragnar, and for the trail half marathon I'm doing in September. Fun things ahead, guys.
Have an incredible holiday weekend! Seize the summer. Seriously--go buy some figs.