{Recipe} Perfect Baby Back Ribs- an art or a science?

There’s nothing worse than a chewy, tough rib! I have had my share of terrible ribs, at home and at restaurants. BUT, when I finally get a finger-licking, out-of-this-world rib, I instantly forget all those bad experience and only hear angels singing from above. It’s a crap-shoot when it comes to ribs. I made it my personal mission to perfect The Rib.

Ribs are prepared in a variety of ways…. smoked or grilled or baked or boiled, dry rub or wet rub, sweet or spicy.  It makes me wonder… is it an art or a science? Should I go with pork or beef? What destroys a rib? I’ve been playing around with ribs for years, and I’ve definitely had some hits and misses. I fondly remember when Nick and his roomie Terry first cooked for me a delectable batch of finger-licking ribs. They had an amazing amount of flavor that was intensified due to slow cooking on a charcoal grill. Apparently, Nick doesn’t remember this 16 years later, but I do. Maybe Terry remembers, too? Those ribs have never been recreated, but I still smile when I think about those good ol’ college cooking days.

After a a few dozen practice rounds, I think I have finally perfected my favorite way to prepare ribs. I only use baby back ribs, as I find that St. Louis style ribs are too meaty and chewy for my taste. Nothing wrong with them- hey, I use to live in St. Louis! I just haven’t found a good way to make them tender or enjoyable at home. I just have better results with baby back. I also allow for some resting time during the process… it’s part of the “art.”

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#TBT- Fort Myers Beach vacay, 2012

One of the vacations that I never blogged about was our 2012 trip to Ft. Myers Beach. I think the reason behind it was that as soon as we returned to NY, I began looking for employment. I was prepping my resume, getting my fingerprints, and applying for my license. This trip was  a celebration trip- I was finished with my Master’s of Science in Teaching degree. Granted I had to finish my final project while ON this trip, but once I clicked SEND, I still had half the trip to savor and party like a rockstar.

I love Ft. Myers Beach (FMB). I have been vacationing here since elementary school. During my childhood, FMB was were we went to celebrate the end of the school year and my birthday during Memorial Day weekend. Thus, it seemed fitting for me to celebrate the conclusion of my degree here.

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Hawaii on a Budget?!!!

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LIARS!

I bought this book when I was planning my honeymoon, and I’m pretty sure I bought it because of the “From $80 A Day” subtitle. I soon discovered that Hawaii was not totally affordable, and I wasn’t going to half-ass my honeymoon. I mean, most of the “value” accommodations are poorly reviewed and described as “need a deep/thorough cleaning.” So we went on a Southern Caribbean cruise instead- for half the money. We’ve dreamed of going to Hawaii since then, though. I even booked us a Maui hotel when Xander was a toddler. But then, the airfare suddenly skyrocketed and never went below $1200 per person, so we cancelled and went on a Western cruise for a quarter of the cost.

Is it really possible to visit Hawaii on $80 a day? HECK NO! Well……perhaps we factor in inflation since 2002. Is it really possible to visit Hawaii on $99 a day? Okay I just made that number up. My point is there’s NO WAY unless you seriously rough it. Finding a place to stay and eat for under 100 bucks a day is barely doable, really. Figure in a car, gas, and doing something other than sleeping, eating, and sitting by the pool or beach, well, we’ve way surpassed $99 per person now. That being said, I do think it is possible to see Hawaii on a budget. Even in 2014. But who wants to travel all to Hawaii and skimp on things?

Maybe the 3rd time is the charm? We are going to Hawaii!! First things first, though- finding a reasonable, affordable places to stay.   It’s not an easy task if you want but I think we finally did. Okay, I’ll admit there was a slight splurge…. We are easy going people when it comes to hotels or rentals. Yes, we enjoy the occasional splurge (ahem), but we have been known to camp, try Days Inn motels, or utilize Hotwire. When we book condos or houses, we always look for air conditioning and a prime location. Nick likes it to be cold at night, and I enjoy picturesque water views and close proximity to well-reviewed eateries, markets, and activities. Xander just wants a pool.

So, we looked all over Maui at multiple hotels. I really wanted that killer view but without the 500+ price tag. I finally found that million dollar view/well-reviewed/under $400 room at Napili Kai Beach Resort, but it didn’t have any air conditioning! DANGIT! Even with the trade-winds, I’m pretty sure Nick would have killed me.  I knew at that point it was time to head over to HomeAway.

Rentals are ideal for us on longer vacations because we can cook our own meals, bask in the larger space, and enjoy amenities that often don’t come with standard hotel rooms. The downside, obviously, is the lack of housekeeping, the hassle of dealing with a booking, and the slight risk that the place won’t be as advertised. To avoid that risk, I only rent from well-reviewed, well-photographed rentals. When searching for rentals, I prefer to use Homeaway.com instead of VRBO.com simply because I like the website layout better (though they are pretty interchangeable). It’s always best to research the area prior to searching, as you can be more specific with your search. For example, I knew I wanted to stay in the Kihei area of Maui. If I had not narrowed down my search, I would have been faced with 5,447 rental choices and 25 towns. I also like to filter my results by price and preferences like “air conditioning” and “waterfront.” Homeaway.com owners can pay to have their results show up first, so sometimes you can find a gem by scrolling through all the results.

I have had a wide variety of owner experiences. Some are better than others. I ended up finding one property that boasted $100 per night rates and an amazing view, but the owner was extremely vague in her 1 line email responses back to me. For example, she told me there was no need for a contract because she had the ‘aloha spirit.’ Then I noticed she had an AOL email address. I immediately had an ‘ahh-ha’ moment as a familiar, yet annoying electronic voice from the 1990’s sang ‘You’ve Got Mail’ in my head. RED FLAGS! I restarted my search and ultimately found the perfect spots.

During our extended stay in Hawaii next month, we will be staying at 3 different properties. Each are well-reviewed and well photographed. Two basically sit on top of the water, and of course, they have pristine pools and central air. The third is located in a dense fern forest near the National Volcano Park which will be ideal for driving at night to go see the lava glow. Two are very reasonably priced, and one is more than I would normally pay (not pictured below). My in-laws will be joining us for part of the trip, and after emailing the owner of the Kihei condo, I was referred to another stellar unit that was next door! All the units have multiple beds or bedrooms, full kitchen, outdoor balcony or deck, coolers, beach chairs/toys, free WIFI, and ample space for stretching out. AND they are all very affordable. We figure we can save additional money by buying groceries and eating some meals in. Though I am sure we’ll off set that by eating dinner at Mama’s Fish House. LOL!

Based on the $99 per person a day budget goal set by Frommers, our family of three only has less than $130 per day to spend on food, car, gas, and activities. Yikes. And let’s not even talk about airfare. Sorry, Frommer’s…. that AIN’T gonna happen.

Condo sneak peek. PROOF you can stay in a nice spot on Maui and Hawaii for under $500 per night:

Kihei, Maui ($183 per night including taxes/fees)

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Volcano Village treehouse, Big Island ($169 per night including taxes/fees):

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Garden Dreaming…

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The backyard is still covered in a glassy layer of snow, but the crocuses and tulips have started to pop out from the cold earth. Winter still has a firm grip on upstate New York despite the fact that the first official day of spring has come and gone. I’m hoping winter releases us soon, because I am ready for warmth and color. More specifically, I’m ready to plant my new veggie garden.  Once the snow has melted, I will tend to the dirt and prepare it for planting. Depending on the weather, I will be able to direct sow some things in April. Hopefully.

Last year, my garden consisted of jalapenos, green and red bell peppers, carrots, peas, cauliflower and a variety of herbs. This year I plan to utilize my second garden more and move my sunflowers to the front yard. Between these items, my CSA farm share, and pickings from the fruit farm next door, I will have PLENTY fresh fruits and vegetables. Many of which will be organic.

C’mon spring!!!

Garden 1:

Green beans (1st time!)

Jalapenos

Bell Peppers

Carrots

Garden 2:

Blueberries

Basil

Thai Basil

Thyme

Parlsey

Chives (1st time!)

And something else? Maybe zucchini?

To Be Built Tomato Area:

Grape

Beefsteak or Roma

{Trip Report} Long weekend in Vermont

{Trip Report} Long weekend in Vermont

We have officially been married 10 years. I give mad props to Nick for dealing with me. For our anniversary, we will be celebrating for a couple weeks. Why not, right?! The perfect gift for me will always be… a … Continue reading

I love (cheap) blueberries!

It’s THAT time of year… when berries are fresh and sold by the pound at a fraction of the cost that they normally are sold for. However, when you buy fresh berries, you must tend to them immediately either by freezing or consuming. This weekend I purchased a $4.00 2lb box of vibrant blueberries and immediately decided to try out a new recipe– Lemon Blueberry Muffins (with flax seed and summer squash puree). I plan to warm them up and serve them at breakfast tomorrow. The rest of the berries I’ve washed and put in the freezer for future Blueberry Banana Smoothies (Xander’s fav), Blueberry syrup, Blueberry yogurt pops, or Blueberry pancakes.  Freezing blueberries is simple… wash and pat dry. Then place on a baking sheet in a single layer. Place in the freezer and freeze. When frozen, take out of the freezer and place in small airtight containers or Ziploc baggies. I use glass Pyrex containers.

ready to freeze!

ready to freeze!

Here’s Nigella’s yummy recipe for Blueberry Syrup (you MUST try it!!):

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup maple syrup
  • 1 1/2 cups blueberries

Directions

Put the syrup and blueberries into a pan and bring to the boil.

Let bubble for 2 to 3 minutes and allow blueberries to burst, and then pour into a jug and bring to the breakfast table with the pancakes.

Where did summer go?

Right now at 2:30pm it is only 61 degrees here in in Saint Louis. The weatherman says the hottest day in the next 5 days will be when the temperature maybe gets to 80 degrees. What?! Where did summer go? Normally September is when the weather takes a turn and begins to cool off but not this significantly! It’s been a bizarre summer, weather-wise. We had maybe 2 days of 100 degree temps whereas last summer we had 2 months of 100 degree temperatures. The weatherman forcasts a harsh winter in our future. Grrreat. Yea, I know we survived 2 New Hampshire winters but it’s been 3 years since then and I’m not a New Englander. Deep down, I’m a Floridian true and through.  I love Fall so I’m definitely not complaining, but Xander is. He was confused and unhappy wearing long sleeves and socks today. He doesn’t own sneakers or any sort of closed-toe shoe so he sported socks and sandals this morning on our daily morning run. He kept tugging at his socks and sleeves, whining. City workers are outside our house right now trimming tree branches near powerlines… another omen? The city of Saint Louis got a lot of heat after the 2006 ice storm that knocked out power to most residents in the middle of winter. Overgrown trees and branches were to blame. They broke under the weight of the ice and took down the powerlines with them. We, luckily, only had to live without heat and electricity for 1 day. Others were not so lucky and had to suffer for weeks.

Anyway, to get to the point of this blog… usually on the first day when I can open my windows to let the cool, pre-Fall breeze into my house, I bake. Baking and Fall go hand in hand. Last year I posted my Pumpkin Bread recipe (my fav Fall recipe which you can look at by clicking HERE) so this year I’m sharing my favorite Banana Bread recipe. Sorry Yankee Candle, you don’t duplicate the smell of this baking in my kitchen! Anyway, it’s the best banana bread recipe I’ve come across. Be sure to use very ripe bananas- my local Farmers Market sell the brown bananas for like 25 cents a pound so this is a very affordable bread to make.

Banana Bread

Ingredients:

1 cup granulated sugar
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
2 large eggs
3 ripe bananas
1 tablespoon milk
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt

Instructions:

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Butter a 9 x 5 x 3 inch loaf pan.  

Cream the sugar and butter in a large mixing bowl until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.

In a small bowl, mash the bananas with a fork. Mix in the milk and cinnamon. In another bowl, mix together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.

Add the banana mixture to the creamed mixture and stir until combined. Add dry ingredients, mixing just until flour disappears.

Pour batter into prepared pan and bake 1 hour to 1 hour 10 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Set aside to cool on a rack for 15 minutes. Remove bread from pan, invert onto rack and cool completely before slicing.

Nick’s 2008 Summer Project

I think Nick secretly dreads when I say: “I have an idea!” Usually that statement is followed by an activity that involves extreme manual labor, a ton of time, and maybe some blood, sweat, and tears. Okay, no blood or tears yet but definitely a nasty amount of sweat. So what was my idea? A lovely new patio area in our backyard! The back of our house faces west so we have lovely sunset views, but it gets painfully hot and our unshaded back deck and yard are not usable until the sun goes down. In addition, we have poor drainage in parts of our yard so in the spring and after a storm we have a very wet, muddy yard. Now that we have a very active child, I thought it would be nice to have a shaded, brick or cement patio under our wood deck. That way we could use our backyard in the hot summer afternoons or after it rains. I plan to put Xander’s sandbox on the patio and some chairs. It’ll also offer a flat surface for his pool. Sounds wonderful, doesn’t it?

Well, the good wife that I am, I suggested we get ‘estimates’ from local contractors. We had several contractors come out to give us a price for pavers, brick, and cement patios. The cheapest estimate was $8,000!! In today’s housing market, that money would be a complete waste so we said ‘no thanks, dudes.’ Instead, Nick got to work. We opted for a patio made of pavers stones. He’s not just setting them on top of the grass. Instead, he’s making the effort to install them correctly (digging down 6+ inches, adding a gravel layer, making slopes etc etc). This summer project has taken up 3 weekends now, and thankfully he has had a ton of help from neighbors and friends. See his progress below.

Back of our house. This is the “before” photo.

We rented this big digger from the local hardware store. Nick felt like a man this day.

The hole. We had piles and piles of dirt. We pawned it off on friends and neighbors.

Next, Nick shovels gravel in the hole with the help of a neighbor. We borrowed his compactor machine to press it down. We’re currently waiting for a second shipment of gravel so Nick can finish this part of the patio-building process!

Stay tuned for more!