Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Summer Vacation 2014 : Chi-Ca-Ca-Go! (Part 1)

Bryan only had one week between graduating CGSOC and the start of SAMS so we had to quickly squeeze in a summer vacation.  We really wanted to go to the beach, but living in the middle of the country makes that a little difficult.  We were indecisive for a while, but we finally opted to go to Chicago for the week.  
Since we spent most of Monday driving, we decided to save a little money and spend the night in Aurora (a suburb of Chicago) rather than paying for our room downtown just to sleep in.  We made it to Hampton Inn & Suites just before dinner.  We checked in and went to grab something to eat at Panera Bread.  After dinner we made our way over to Oberweis Dairy Store to try their ice cream!  I hate that ice cream shops are so hard to find these days, so we all loved this place!

Once our bellies were full, we decided it was time for some fun in the hotel pool since we had been sitting in the car all day.  This Hampton had an awesome pool area!  There was a shallow kiddie pool with water spraying everywhere and the frog slide pictured below.  This pool was gated because there was another deeper pool right beside it, along with a hot tub.  This was one of the best indoor hotel pool areas I've ever been to and the girls loved it.    

On Tuesday morning we had the complimentary breakfast at the hotel before driving into the city.  The breakfast itself was pretty standard but I really appreciated the little touches for kids.  They had small kids plastic cups with lids and straws, along with coloring pages and crayons.    

After breakfast, we loaded back up in the car and drove to Chicago's Museum of Science + Industry.  MSI is a Blue Star Museum so we loved that they allowed us free admission.  Bryan & I found the museum very interesting and there was enough to keep Marlie intrigued.  

As for the 2 year old, she was mostly content walking around and pushing buttons.  And sometimes just lying down...  
After a few hours at MSI, we got back into the car and drove to our hotel to check in.  We let Em take a nap and my parents came to meet up with us.  Later that afternoon, we all went on a Chicago River Architecture Tour with Wendella Boats.  A few different companies offer the river cruises and we chose Wendella because their time was most convenient for us.  We ended up very pleased that we chose them.  When Bryan went to purchase our tickets, the lady working at the booth noticed his military ID.  She allowed him to ride for free and since Emma was free due to her age, we only had to pay for Marlie & I.  Originally we had second thoughts about taking the cruise because it had the potential to be so expensive for the four of us.  We really appreciate that Wendella made it affordable for our littlest one and our soldier.  Our group ranged in age from our 2 year old to my "senior" parents and we all loved the cruise!

We closed out our first day in Chicago by eating dinner at Pizzeria Uno.  I'm typically a plain cheese pizza girl, but we ordered two Numero Uno pizzas.  That was my first time having an authentic deep dish pizza and they were so good.  We all stuffed ourselves but still had plenty of pizza leftover to eat throughout the week.  

That was a quick recap of our first full day in Chicago.  The rest of our trip will be coming soon! 

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Romaine Salad with Blue Cheese, Pecans & Maple Vinaigrette

For my spring Bible study this year, I selected Nehemiah by Kelly Minter.  One interesting thing about this study was that it had recipes throughout the book.  I wasn't expecting much from these recipes but a few of them were really good.  This salad was one of those.  Bryan has said that from now on when he asks for salad for dinner he means this one.  There are only a few ingredients, but the dressing is SO good.  We now try to keep it on hand at all times.  Try this salad out and try not to drink the vinaigrette!   

Romaine Salad with Blue Cheese, Pecans & Maple Vinaigrette

Serves 6

For The Pecans: 
oil for the pan
1 cup pecan halves
3 tbsp real maple syrup
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Lightly oil 2 baking sheets.
In small bowl, combine the pecans and maple syrup and toss gently to combine.
Spread pecans in single layer on one of the sheets.
Roast in preheated oven, stirring once, until syrup is bubbling, about 5 minutes.
Immediately scrape the pecans onto the other prepared sheet, spreading them out to cool.

Vinaigrette Ingredients:
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
1 tbsp finely chopped shallots
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp fresh ground black pepper
2 tbsp real maple syrup
2 tsp Dijon mustard
2 tbsp red wine vinegar
6 tbsp vegetable oil
In small bowl, whisk together the garlic, shallots, salt, pepper, maple syrup, mustard, and vinegar.  Whisking constantly, slowly add the oil in a steady stream.  Set aside.

Salad Ingredients:
10 cups romaine lettuce torn into small pieces (2 small heads)
3 oz blue cheese, crumbled

Place romaine in a large bowl, drizzle with about half of the vinaigrette and toss to combine.  Add as much of the remaining vinaigrette as desired and toss again.  Divide among plates, sprinkle with the cheese and the pecans and serve immediately.