Monday, August 27, 2012

Wisconsin Dells

Day 1

So Travis and I finally get to take a vacation that does not involve family. Our first one in five years. The first part of this trip involved a six and a half hour drive. This was Travis's first experience with toll roads. He was ranting about how many tolls we had to pay in Illinois. First to get on and then five more before we got off the toll road (totaling $10.90). Not to mention the rant about going between 45 and 55 on a road that we had to pay to drive on. Then when the road is reduced to two lanes, the speed limit jumps up to 65. Travis said that he loves the Blackhawks but hates Illinois. I may have annoyed him with my three pit stops too.

I don't know who was in this room last but 60 is cold.

For our first night we didn't want to do much so we went to dinner before a trip to Walgreens. Crabby's was across the street and lots of advertising. Plus Travis wanted crab legs. It was definitely a tourist place. Bad food and really high prices. Never again. I did try crab legs for the first time. Not bad. I will probably never eat more then a few bites though. After a trip to Walgreens we went back to the hotel and just relaxed.
Our room, really this and a bathroom were just about it.

Day 2

After listening to a little squabble outside our door (it sounded like security got involved), we slept well for being in a smaller bed then we are used to. Then it was up early for a time share presentation. We got several different free tickets to local attractions. So we decided to use the tickets quick.
First up, a tour of the lake on a double decker boat. The free ticket was only for the upper dells and the ticket lady wouldn't let us upgrade to the full dells. We decided to just stick with the upper dells and do the lower dells later this week if we had time. Just as well, the boat ride was two hours long.

Lots of animal life in the river.

The jumping dog.
The ride took us up the river showing us several rock formations. Some of them were a little bit of a stretch, but it was all really pretty. We made two stops along the river. The first stop was Witch's Gulch. Several cool little features. At one part of the trail, which was a walk through the canyon between the sandstone, it got incredibly narrow. Thank goodness we both fit. At the end of the walk there was a concession stand and gift shop. The second stop was to see the famous standing rock and jumping dog. The rock is where H.H. Bennett took his famous picture of his son jumping between the rocks. It was the first time stop action photography ever used. That was pretty cool. There was another concession stand and gift shop. Then back to the dock.

We had three hours to kill before the Tommy Bartlett show started so we went to have dinner. We were a little apprehensive about this since our previous experience was so bad. Travis had seen a billboard with a giant hamburger on it so we followed the signs to Ravina Bar and Grill. This was good and overlooking the river. Yummy food with reasonable prices. A hit! If you ever come to the Dells, this is a place for your list.

Since there was still time to kill we decided to go into Mt. Olympus and have a GoKart race. We picked the one with the big Trojan horse, which meant lots of tight circles up and down. Travis was so sure he was going to beat me that he let me in the first car. Travis neglected two things. First, the fact that "I feel a need for speed" as my dad would say. Yes, I said that as the attendant pulled the cone away and told me to go. Second, the fact that I weigh at least seventy pounds less then Travis. I left the poor boy in the dust. It was so satisfying.

One of the boats looked like a space shuttle.
Last up for the day was the Tommy Bartlett show. The first half was a water show. It included the three story human pyramid. It also had a human kite. That was pretty cool. He was 650 ft in the air and then did a little light show. The second half involved other performers. Entertaining. The man on the double wheel almost fell. I think my favorite was the second to last act. The man basically put things on this head from his foot, but he has funny. His tag line was "You like, I do it again." The last act was a family and the girl was flipping into different positions while her dad held her with his feet. It was pretty cool. By the time we got back to the hotel we were ready for bed.

Day 3

We started the day with the water park. Now everyone that knows me knows that I am not a water person. Travis isn't a huge water person either but we figured if we got up and go we could hit the rides a few times before it got busy. So up and over there a little after open, which was 10am. We hit up most of the rides in the back half of the park. Not too bad. I liked the double tubes so that Travis and I could ride together. We headed to the front of the park but the lines were getting to long for the two of us. So we left after forty-five minutes.

After a quick lunch at the hotel bar and grill, we headed over to Big Foot Zipline. Six intense zip lines. The longest was 1,397ft and the top speed was 50mph according to them. The guide said some of us were probably going faster. Not me, I just didn't weigh enough to really get going. They taught us a few tricks. Travis was going up-side down a lot. We were both spinning around. I let one of the guides spin me up and then throw me off the platform. That was a lot of fun. The last line was a double line so Travis and I got to race. This time the weight difference was in his favor and he won, by a lot. We got pictures and video from Travis' helmet cam. So far the zip lines have been my favorite thing. I was surprised that I didn't scream at all since I usually do when doing this stuff. I definitely did on the super swing at King's Island. If you go to the Dells, you have to do the zip line.

I was spinning going down this one.
Travis was showing off by going upside down.
After the zip line we went back to the hotel for a nap. It was great until the fire alarm went off. The people across  the hall are very loud and annoying. I am guessing one of their kids pulled it. We grabbed a bite at Denny's before heading back to the room for the night. We were both just too tired to do anything but watch some T.V. in the room. Not too bad of a day really.

Day 4

Poseidon GoKart
We started off our day at Mt. Olympus. We went straight over to one of the go carts. We choose Poseidon since it went under water. Really it was just a little tunnel under the pond. Long wait for a little ride. I won again, but I should mention Travis started 5 cars behind me. I even had to pass two other girls to come in first. Then we tried a roller coaster. Hades was closest so we got in line. It went through an underground tunnel as well. Unfortunately we discovered that we are no longer kids. The wooden roller coaster just killed us both. We got off and had huge headaches. We felt so bad we went straight back to the room, took an Aleve and a nap.

After a few hours of recovery, we decided food and putt-putt was in order. Unfortunately it was raining. We went to Moosejaw Pizza. A great themed restaurant that a local had told us about. It was set up for tourists as well. Lots of animal heads on the walls and antler chandeliers. While they have pizza, they also have a lot of other food choices. Travis and I both opted for personal size pizzas. I went with my normal garbage pizza and Travis tried a taco pizza. It was good, though I felt a little weird ordering milk. I always feel weird ordering milk at restaurants but I needed it. We have only had milk in our cereal all week. No putt-putt due to rain. We caught up on Game of Thrones though.

Day 5

Today the weather forcast said rain all day. So we decided that a movie and shopping at the outlet were in order. We went to see The Dark Knight Rises. I was all excited about movie tickets only being $5. Pretty good movie. After the movie we went to the outlet mall. All I found was a pair of shoes. Everything else wasn't in my size, which is annoying. It was still raining so we went to get some food. We hit up a German place. The food wasn't great. Still raining so we went back to the room for movies and books.

Day 6

Finally on our way home. Had to argue my bill before checking out. We had lots of fun but were ready for home. Quick stop at McDonald's and on the road. Only $7.90 in road tolls this time. We attempted to make a stop in Chicago to see the Blackhawks stadium and their shop. All the parking lots around the United Center were closed and so was the United Center. The shop was on the other side of town so we put it in the GPS. Problem one, every time we went into a tunnel the GPS lost our signal. Problem two, part of the area where the shop was located was blocked because they were filming a movie. Problem three, parking both the lack of and the expense. Chicago ended up being a bust so we just headed home. At least we stopped to get Sonic on our way home. It was good to get home and Snickers was very happy to have us back.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Red Velvet Cupcakes and Travis' Birthday

So today is Travis' birthday and as always on his birthday he has to work a double shift. It appears that his birthday will always fall during move in. So I thought I would surprise him with Red Velvet cupcakes. Red Velvet cake is his favorite and since I am taking this to his work I figured cupcakes was the way to go. The recipe I use is from Better Homes. The same recipe that my grandmother has used for years (I have her old copy of Better Homes).

Red Velvet Cupcakes

Ingredients: eggs, cocoa powder, red food coloring (a lot), flour, salt, shortening, sugar, vanilla, buttermilk/sour milk, baking soda, and vinegar.

Bake: 350 F for 20 min (30 for a cake)

The 2 eggs have to sit for at least 30 min to reach room temp. Now this seems silly but really is important to the texture of the final cake.  The recipe also calls for a cup of buttermilk, which I don't keep in the house. Thankfully you can make sour milk and no one knows the difference. So to start this mix a tablespoon of vinegar and add enough milk to make 1 cup. Set this aside for latter with the eggs. You should also preheat your oven and prep your baking dish. For cupcakes I just added wrappers. If you are doing a cake you want to flour the cake. For anything chocolate based I flour with cocoa powder instead. No white marks and extra chocolate.

The milk looks normal but it really is sour milk.

Now you have to sift flour. You will need to sift 2 cups of flour with 1/2 tea of salt. I do not have a sifter despite my repeated pleas for one for birthday/anniversary/christmas/just because. I am forced to use a colander. It actually works pretty well, its just kind of a pain in the butt. Set this aside for latter as well.

Buy a shifter. This works but can be messy.

Now for the real fun. Beat 1/2 cup of shortening for 30 seconds. Yes shortening. I like Crisco, but that's just me and tradition. Mix in 1 and 1/2 cups of sugar and 1 tea. vanilla. I have always been warned not to beat too much but then I didn't beat enough and ended up with dry cakes. If your cake is dry trying beating it more. I use a Kitchen Aid and I strongly recommend scrapping not only the sides, but the very bottom where the attachment meats the bowl.

This Measure-All cup from Pampered Chef is amazing
for sticky things like shortening and peanut butter.
Now add 2 eggs, one at a time and beat well after each. Next comes the chocolate and red food coloring. The original recipe says to mix these and set them aside before starting. This turns it into a paste and in my opinion it doesn't come out nearly as well as if I add them separately here. So add 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder and 2 oz (1/4 cup) of red food coloring. Yes I said 1/4 cup. This is why this cake is expensive. I strongly suggest buying the food coloring in bulk, like at Gordon Food Services. So much cheaper.

32 oz of food coloring means I can make this 16 times.

Add your flour mixture and sour milk alternately, mixing well. You can turn your mixer on and off like the instructions say. If you aren't afraid of a little mess you can just leave the mixer on a lower speed (2 for me) and slowly add the flour and milk. I like this way. Last up is adding 1 tea. baking soda and 1 tea. vinegar. Mix these together and then mix them into the batter.

The red color always weirds me out a little.

Pour into your waiting tins and bake at 350 F. I used one of my pampered chef scoops, the large one that is approx. 3 tbls. according to the web site. One scoop seemed to do fine. I baked them for 20 min.

Love that scoop.

After they cooled I frosted them. Usually I make my own frosting but I had a can of chocolate frosting in the pantry and I was hoping to leave soon.

I was planning on taking this bad boys to Travis to surprise him. Unfortunately he knows me too well and around noon he told me that if I was planning on surprising him not to. Oh well, it started raining soon after anyways so I figure at least I didn't get wet. Maybe I'll clean the house instead. Not likely.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Knock You Naked Brownies (and a 2nd Work Bench)

On our way home yesterday we stopped to pick up Tyler, Travis' brother. He was visiting to help with yet another project. Poor kid only visits when we have big projects to work on. Apparently he likes my cooking and says its worth it. Travis wanted a build a second work bench to put the drill press and some other drill on. So while they worked on building the table and installing a new outlet, I made Knock You Naked Brownies (a little late for the month). The ingredients have been sitting in my pantry for a month. I wanted to make these because they combine brownies and carmel. July was just busy with graduation and party and school and work.

So while I made the batter.

Travis and Tyler started on the work bench.

The brownies were easy to spread seeing as they were thick. I wish I had known that the carmel would take so long. I would have started that melting while I made the batter. Next time I might make my own carmel. It might be easier, we will have to see how it tastes.

I did not use 60 caramels. I used 45. That was the bag size. Having extra would have been bad because I would have wanted to eat them, and I still have a month before I can eat them. Rolling the dough on a clear, flexible mat was smart. It allowed me to hold the mat over the dough to make sure I had the right size. Also it was easy to just flip the mat over onto the carmel to put the top on the brownies.

See my mat in the back. Love this!
They got the frame built while I baked.

Working hard without me.
Luckily they had to make a run to Menard's while the brownies cooled. By the time they got back the brownies were in the refrigerator. While in the refrigerator, the boys finished the bench. Now on to the new outlet. I tried to stay inside as much as possible during all of this. Tyler thinks its funny to watch Travis and I work together. There is almost always strained voices and eye rolling. And Travis thinks he needs me and I end up standing around bored. So I busied myself with a grocery list and other house work.

The brownies were done long before the bench and outlet were done. Both boys were very glad for the brownies and they are already have gone 24 hours later. Travis' mom liked them too. Think this is a recipe for our bake often list.

Finished (almost) bench.