Salted Vanilla Bean Caramel Sauce

 
Third time is a charm, right? I think I found the ONE. The perfect caramel sauce to pair with my caramel apple cheesecake. I’m sure I could continue trying out different recipes every day for weeks on end, but this one tastes so good I think I’ll stop here. It’s good.

I decided to start with a basic caramel recipe – just sugar, water, and heavy cream. Then to make it a little more dynamic I added a couple tablespoons of butter, some high quality vanilla bean paste I found at Marshall’s a few weeks ago, and sea salt, rather than Kosher salt which I used in my batches yesterday.

I also kept the heat on low for this batch. I’m not sure that affected the quality of the caramel or just made me stand there staring at it for that much longer for no reason. Because the temperature was lower to begin with I had a lot harder time when I added the cream and butter. The caramel immediately solidified and it took me a long time (at least twenty minutes) to melt the caramel back up again.

The end result is pretty delicious, though. I liked that it was less buttery than the first batch I made yesterday, but it still had enough butter to cream up the texture. Regular vanilla could certainly be used instead of the paste, but I figured since I had it I might as well use it. Plus, I just like seeing those tiny vanilla seeds floating in my food. And sea salt is a must. I don’t know what I was thinking using regular salt yesterday. I love sea salt and use it in everything I possibly can. Yum.

Try this caramel! It is so worth your time. I was sneaking spoonfuls of it all day. And yes, I literally drank some from the pitcher when my ice cream was gone and I wasn’t ready to stop eating. Good stuff.

Salted Vanilla Bean Caramel Sauce

1 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
1 cup heavy cream
3 tbs salted butter
1 tsp vanilla bean paste
1 tsp sea salt

1. In a small saucepan combine water and sugar on a low to medium heat. Stir gently until sugar is completely dissolved. Once the sugar is dissolved, turn the heat up to medium and allow the mixture to boil. DO NOT STIR.
2. Let the sugar mixture simmer on the stove, gently shaking the pan every few minutes. Watch carefully once it starts turning into a golden color.
3. When the mixture is dark amber, take off the burner and immediately stir in butter. Then stir in heavy cream. If the caramel gets hard, put it back on the burner and continue stirring. Add vanilla paste and sea salt, stir. Strain caramel to get out any remaining chunks.

Caramel Crazy

Today was one of those days where there were so many things going on in my kitchen I could barely think straight. For starters, I had beef in the crock pot all day for French dip sandwiches. Then I was working on multiple caramel recipes, trying to find the perfect sauce to go on my caramel apple cheesecake I’m entering in a competition next weekend. And then I made a dark chocolate peanut butter ice cream to eat with the caramel sauces.

Shepard was hanging out in the kitchen with me the whole time munching on pretzel crisps. He’s such a cutie. 🙂

The first caramel recipe I tried was called Divine Caramel Sauce found on one of my new favorite food blogs, Mel’s Kitchen Cafe. It was a pretty typical caramel sauce with sugar, water, butter, heavy cream, vanilla, and a bit of salt. I thought at first the sauce was way too liquidy for what I’m looking for in a cheesecake swirl and topping, but it thickened up the longer it sat.

The second recipe I tried was a Salted Caramel Sauce from a cookbook I picked up last weekend called Caramel. What really intrigued me about this recipe is that it called for mascarpone cheese instead of heavy cream. That seemed really bizarre to me, but definitely worth a shot. This one was a lot thicker, but it seemed a little less flavorful. And a teeny bit gritty.

The dark chocolate peanut butter ice cream was incredible. I got an ice cream maker for my birthday last year and have been slowly but surely trying out various recipes. I’ve had a few winners and a lot of duds. I think this one may be the best so far. I don’t think that homemade ice cream is any cheaper than store bought, but it’s so much tastier!

I decided to let Shepard go at a bowl on his own tonight. I don’t usually let him use silverware, or even ever have food that requires it, because I just don’t want to clean up the mess!

He was really loving it, though.

Despite how good they both were, I haven’t come to a caramel sauce conclusion yet. The first sauce was really good, but also thin and tasted too buttery, I think. The second sauce was more of the consistency I want, but it didn’t have enough oomph. I think I’ll try a third recipe tomorrow. And maybe a fourth. 🙂

Divine Caramel Sauce

1/4 cup water
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup butter, cut in pieces
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 tsp vanilla
pinch of salt

1. In a small saucepan combine water and sugar on a low to medium heat. Stir gently until sugar is completely dissolved. Once the sugar is dissolved, turn the heat up to medium and allow the mixture to boil. DO NOT STIR.
2. Let the sugar mixture simmer on the stove, gently shaking the pan every few minutes. Watch carefully once it starts turning into a golden color.
3. When the mixture is dark amber, take off the burner and immediately stir in butter. Then stir in heavy cream. If the caramel gets hard, put it back on the burner and continue stirring. Add vanilla and salt, stir.

Salted Butter Caramel Sauce

1/2 cup less 1 tbs sugar
2 tbs water
1/4 cup salted butter
1 heaping tbs mascarpone cheese

1. In a small saucepan combine water and sugar on a low to medium heat. Stir gently until sugar is completely dissolved. Once the sugar is dissolved, turn the heat up to medium and allow the mixture to boil. DO NOT STIR.
2. Let the sugar mixture simmer on the stove, gently shaking the pan every few minutes. Watch carefully once it starts turning into a golden color.
3. When the mixture is dark amber, take off the burner and immediately stir in butter. Stir in mascarpone cheese.

Dark Chocolate Ice Cream

1 1/2 cups whole milk
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
8 ounces semi-sweet chocolate chips
3 egg yolks, at room temperature
2 tbs sugar
1 tsp vanilla
pinch of salt
peanut butter, or any mix-ins you desire

1. Place milk, cream, and chocolate in a small pan and cook over a low heat, stirring occasionally, until warm, about 175 degrees.
2. Place the egg yolks, sugar, vanilla, and salt in a bowl. Mix until thoroughly combined.
3. Add about 1/4 cup of the chocolate mixture into the eggs, stirring constantly. Continue adding small amounts until the egg mixture is tempered. Then add that back into the saucepan and cook until 185 degree.s
4. Let custard mixture sit out until room temperature. Then pour into a container and refrigerate at least three hours.
5. Pour mixture into your ice cream maker. In the last five minutes add in any mix-ins you want. I probably added about 1/2 cup of peanut butter, by the spoonful. It was delicious. 🙂

Perfect Pancakes

The art of perfect pancake making has eluded me for a long time. I don’t particularly like pancakes (unless they’re loaded with chocolate chips and drizzled with berry syrup), so I’ve never tried that hard to find a good recipe. For as long as I’ve been married I’ve always just used the standard recipe on the back of the Bisquick box. Greg never complained – I think he’d eat any pancake anywhere. He loves them. Me, not so much.

Anyway, one day I felt inspired to find a better recipe when I wanted to make a special breakfast and didn’t have any Bisquick on hand. I came across this recipe for Old Fashioned Pancakes and I was totally amazed at how much more I liked them. Granted, I’d still prefer some chocolate thrown in, but these are good. And easy! I love easy breakfasts that everyone will eat.

The first step is to mix your dry ingredients: 1 1/2 cups flour, 1 tablespoon of sugar, 1 teaspoon of coarse salt, and 2 3/4 teaspoons of baking powder. Then form a well in the middle and pour in one egg, lightly beaten, 1 1/4 cups of milk, and 2 tablespoons of melted butter. Whisk together and then place bowl in the fridge for ten minutes to rest. This step is important! It makes the batter a lot fluffier once the baking powder is fully incorporated.

While your batter is resting, fire up a pan to medium heat. Then rub some butter on the surface. Or oil, or baking spray, if you prefer. Finally, drop a few tablespoons or up to 1/4 cup of batter  on to the pan. This time around I tried to make mini pancakes by using a small cookie scoop. I probably wouldn’t do that again because the pancakes were incredibly thick. The great thing about this batter is that it doesn’t spread, so you won’t get super thin and gross pancakes. But you don’t want to lay it on too thick either or it won’t cook through.

And that’s it! If you’re not going to serve these immediately (or you want to actually have everyone eat at the same time!) you can keep them warm on a baking sheet in a 200 degree oven. Serve with butter and your favorite topping! Today we tried this cinnamon cream syrup I gave Greg for Easter. I thought it would be delicious and cinnamon rolly, but it was gelatinous and kind of disgusting. Anyway, if you’re looking for a new and tasty pancake recipe, this one is worth a shot! It’s pretty near perfect.

Perfect Old Fashioned Pancakes

1 1/2 cups flour
1 tbs sugar
1 tsp coarse salt
2 3/4 tsp baking powder
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 1/4 cups milk
2 tbs melted butter

1. Mix dry ingredients. Form well, add wet ingredients. Whisk together.
2. Let rest for ten minutes in the refrigerator.
3. Heat griddle or frying pan to medium heat. Rub butter on the pan.
4. Scoop batter on pan and let each side cook until golden brown. Keep warm in 200 degree oven until serving.

Dang Mommy All Day!

This is what Caden screams at me about a hundred times a day. It is usually accompanied by him running at me, fists swinging. Life with him has been especially challenging lately. I feel like dealing with Caden has always been a little harder than it should be. He requires much more attention, much more patience, and much more strength. There are some days when I honestly have no idea how I’m going to make it until Greg gets home from work. It seems so unfair that I get the brunt of his anger and apparent hatred day in and day out while everyone else can just play with him, experience his moments of sweetness, and then go home at the end of the day. I never, ever expected motherhood to be so discouraging and utterly draining.

I wish I could get to the root of why Caden has been acting so horribly lately. Why he’s so angry at me all the time. Is it just because he’s three? Does he resent Shepard’s presence in our family? Does he hate living in our apartment (he does ask to go to our old home every single day)? I honestly don’t have a clue. I’m trying to have more patience with him. I’m trying to show him more love and give him more of my undivided attention during the day. I try to calmly explain why he can’t act certain ways. Sometimes he cheers up for a small amount of time. Until I ask him to do something or tell him we need to go somewhere and the screaming and hitting starts all over again.

These struggles with Caden aren’t really new. Maybe it’s because we have very similar temperaments that it often seems like we’re warring with each other. A long time ago a friend told me that the child we have the most struggles with usually ends up being the one we feel the most connected to. I wonder if that’ll be my sentiment as well as the years go by. Shepard is so easy to love with his constant smiles, snuggles, and laughter. I love Caden just as much, but he takes so much more out of me.

I wish I had something uplifting and encouraging to end this post. But it’s been a hard few weeks. Caden can be a very sweet little boy. When Shepard is upset he always tries his hardest to make him laugh and feel better. He loves to snuggle up and read books with me. And he’s always eager to help me in the kitchen or join in on new projects around the house. But lately his anger is taking over everything, and I’m not sure what to do about it anymore. I pray this is a swift and passing phase and I’ll soon get a lovable little boy back.

Easter Weekend


I hope everyone had a great Easter! I definitely did, though today I feel like I’ve been run over by a truck, I’m so exhausted. The last three days I feel like I’ve been running a marathon with so much preparation and activity and very, very little sleep. I’m sure most people feel like that around big holidays, though, so I won’t complain too much. 🙂

Saturday was a very special day because Greg and I had a big date planned to see Greg’s favorite band, Guster. The concert was at night in Milwaukee, though, and knowing we were going to be gone all afternoon and night, the day before Easter, we had to do a lot of prep beforehand to get ready for the holiday.

To try and make the day a little more exciting for the boys we ended up going to the Columbus egg hunt in the park that afternoon. It was a lot like this insanely huge egg hunt we took Caden to in Minnesota when we lived there. Huge fields filled with hundreds of eggs to find and kids running wild grabbing as much as they could. It was funny watching the boys and how differently they approached that field. Caden was running all over, but not picking up any of them. He was apparently only in search of the perfect looking eggs. Shepard would methodically pick them up and throw them in the bag. Until, of course, one opened and he realized there was chocolate inside. Then he was content to just stand and eat his candy the rest of the hunt. It was fun!

Soon after, our friends Jake and Liz showed up to babysit the boys all night. Greg and I joined my brother Timmy and headed to Milwaukee to eat dinner at The Rumpus Room, where Timmy is a cook. It was a neat experience since we were given a lot of free food and shared a lot of different appetizers and desserts. We don’t get many opportunities to eat at restaurants fancier than Chili’s, and I really enjoyed it!

Finally, it was concert time! Jeff Garlin and a new comedian, Matt Edgar, opened the show and were very funny. Guster is Greg’s favorite band and though I’m not opposed to them, they’re not a group I choose to listen to on my own time. But I really loved the concert and I’m so glad we went. It made me realize how rarely we do things like this since having kids and I miss it. Now that the boys are getting older I hope that we have a lot more opportunities for special dates in the future.

After getting home after midnight, playing Easter Bunny, and getting a couple hours of sleep, it was finally Easter! Shepard was pretty hardcore about finding all the little chocolate eggs. Caden was much more interested in the plastic eggs and what could be inside of them.

It didn’t take any time at all for Shepard to figure out how good candy is. It’s funny how much more laid back you are with your second child. I’m pretty sure Caden wasn’t allowed to shove handfuls of candy in his mouth at thirteen months!

Our Easter morning turned out pretty well, though we didn’t make it to church. I felt bad since it was Easter, probably the most important church day of the year. But Greg and I were so tired and we didn’t want to rush the boys through the Easter morning experience. I also wanted to make a nice breakfast and still have to finish up my pies for later. It ended up being a pretty relaxing morning.

We went to Easter lunch at my in-law’s house. Shepard was thrilled to get more candy!

It was freezing and windy out, but we had an outdoor egg hunt there that was a lot of fun. I don’t remember ever looking for eggs outside when I was growing up. It’s exciting! After eggs we had a delicious lunch.

In the afternoon we went to my parents’. The Easter Bunny brought the boys lots of new outside play toys! Shepard liked the slide.

It took three people to get Caden on the swing.

Both boys loved the new sandbox and sand toys. We’re looking forward to a warmer and less windy day to actually sit outside and enjoy everything!

  
We looked for little chocolate eggs in the house then. Shepard found a lot!
He was pretty tired then and had to eat his snack laying down.
And here I am with one of the strawberry and cream pies I made. So yummy! 
Overall, I had a really great Easter weekend. I loved going on a special date with Greg on Saturday and having some time where we didn’t have to be parents  for awhile. And Easter was such a fun family day. We’re so fortunate that so far all of our parents and siblings live close enough that we can still spend holidays together. You never know when that will change so you need to enjoy it every chance you can. We all had a wonderful day!

Jack and Rory’s 7th Birthday

Today is our cats’ seventh birthday! It’s hard to believe they’ve been part of our lives for so long. At the same time, it feels like we’ve had them forever!

We first picked our boys out when they were five weeks old! We got them from a friend’s farm. I immediately picked out Jack as “mine” because he was the only uniquely colored one. Greg picked out Rory from the other six black and gray cats.

They very quickly became a central part of our family. They were definitely our babies those first few years.

I wish baby animals could look like babies all the time. They were so adorable!


I think we picked out a pretty good set. They have an occasional squabble, but they’re still inseparable.

In honor of their birthday, we made a trip to the giant Animart in Madison this morning. Caden spent most of that trip playing with two kittens while I drooled over the beagle puppies. We picked out one new wand toy to bring home as a present. They both loved it, but I eventually had to take it away because Caden was being too rough with it. Caden is too rough with pretty much everything.

Last week we started growing them some cat grass and it was ready just in time!

They also got new catnip bananas and a special early canned food dinner. Which they both threw up five minutes after eating.

Rory wasn’t taking part in the other festivities because he just wanted some cake!

I think we succeeded in making it a special day for our two special kitties. I think that we truly lucked out and have some great cats. Happy birthday, Jack and Rory!

Egg Dyeing Party

Today we had our 2nd Annual Family Egg Dyeing Party/Egg Pecking Contest. We started this last year since it was our first Easter in Wisconsin with children and we wanted the grandparents, aunts, and uncles to join in the excitement of Caden’s first “old enough to enjoy it” egg dyeing experience. The egg pecking contest aspect of it is something that Greg always did in his family growing up so it is now part of our tradition as well.

I tried to make some Easter themed desserts to go with the party. These were really easy and delicious!

Vanilla cupcakes with vanilla bean frosting. In Eastery colors. 🙂

I think we had 18 dyes for 13 people.

Even Shepard joined in the fun by using markers on his eggs. I think he might have ended up with more colors on his face and hands, though.

Caden won the award for making the most number of eggs in the shortest amount of time! I feel bad that I didn’t get a chance to make any with him, so I think we’re going to do this again later in the week with just us.

So many creative eggs!

This is my brother Tim’s ugly egg. It was my favorite.

Sarah’s was the most detailed. So neat!

Melissa’s Game of Thrones eggs.

Starting the egg pecking contest! We decided to be hard core this year and actually made a bracket.

And I won!

Shepard has a pecking contest with himself.

I love having family traditions like this. It was a fun and memory filled day!

Good Deals at Target!

Every year around Easter it seems that stores like Target and Toys ‘r Us have really good game and toy deals that correlate with a bunch of game and toy coupons that are floating around. A few years ago I was thrilled to pick up games like Candy Land, Chutes and Ladders, and Memory for only $1 each. I knew these coupons were floating around again this year and didn’t think much about it until I saw another blogger posting the deals she got at Target the other night. So I did some research and set out this morning to see what I could get. I’m very excited about my purchases!

For starters, I picked up the game Operation for technically $10.99. Which doesn’t seem like an amazing deal, but combined with all my coupons it turns out great (just wait). Operation is originally priced at $16.99 and I used a $3 off Target coupon combined with a $3 off Hasbro coupon.

Next, I was able to get Monopoly Electronic Banking for $5. I’m not sure what it’s originally priced at ($25 on amazon.com), but it’s on sale at Target this week for $15. I used a $5 off Target coupon combined with a $5 off Hasbro coupon. These coupons were good for Monopoly Electronic, Bop It XT, and Connect Four Launchers. I thought the Connect Four would be more fun for Caden right now, but it was priced at $20 and is only $11 on amazon, so I’ll save that for another day. I wanted this better deal. Besides, I’ve always enjoyed Monopoly myself!

Target also has a promotion this week where you can get a free Hasbro card game with the purchase of any Hasbro game priced $10 or more. So because I bought Monopoly, I was able to get the I Spy Go Fish game (priced $5.99) for free!

My final item, a Little People Batman car was more of a lucky purchase due to a hurried cashier. I had a coupon for 50% off any Little People item that I wanted to use. This car was on sale for $3.79. The coupon wasn’t working at the register, however, and instead of trying to figure it out the cashier put in the full amount for the coupon value and I got this for free!

And finally, when I went to Target the other day, I received a $5 off any toy purchase of $25 or more. So, I was able to get two board games, a card game, and a small toy for a grand total of $10.99 (plus tax)! That’s a savings of $30.78!

Sorry to go on and on. I just get really excited when I can find good deals that I can use as future gifts for my kids or other people. Of course I planned on putting the games away until they’re older, but Caden doesn’t miss much and has been begging me to play the new games all afternoon. He never saw the smaller things, though, so he’ll be getting I Spy in his Easter basket and Shepard will be getting his first Batman toy!

Yay for deals and doing research!

Easy Garlic Pizza Crust

Tonight I discovered something amazing! I finally found a homemade pizza dough recipe that is incredibly easy, fool proof, AND delicious! I feel like I’ve tried dozens of different recipes over the years and have never been impressed with any of them. I finally found a winner!

Mixing the dough was very easy. In a bowl combine 1 1/8 cups of warm water, 3 teaspoons of active dry yeast, 1 1/2 tablespoons of honey, and 1 1/2 tablespoons of olive oil. Give it a stir and let it sit for ten minutes until bubbly. In a separate bowl combine 2 1/2 cups of flour, 1 teaspoon of salt, 1 teaspoon of garlic powder, and 1 teaspoon of dried basil.

When the wet mixture is bubbling combine all the ingredients and knead for several minutes with the dough attachment on your mixer, or by hand. For me it came together into a perfect ball very quickly without having to add any extra flour or liquid.

Then you just drizzle a little olive oil in a bowl, roll the dough to coat it with oil, and place plastic wrap over the entire thing. Let it rise for an hour and a half. I was amazed by how quickly it rose. I could have easily been ready to use it in an hour or less.

The best part about this dough is how incredibly easily it covered my pan! That seems to always be the most frustrating part about making your own pizza. It’s nearly impossible to stretch it out to the size you want. I didn’t have an ounce of difficultly with this one. It was perfect!

Next, preheat your oven to 375 degrees. Then melt 2 teaspoons of butter with 2 cloves of minced garlic and brush it over the dough. I saved a little of the butter mixture to add in the final minutes of cooking.

Finally, put the dough in the oven by itself for ten minutes. Take it out and cover it with your favorite pizza toppings. Tonight I made my favorite – BBQ Chicken. I used honey bbq sauce, diced chicken left over from last night, two slices of bacon, Italian and cheddar cheeses, and dried cilantro. Then put the pizza back in the oven for about ten minutes or until the crust looks done.

The original recipe called for an additional 3 tablespoons of butter and 2 tablespoons of Parmesan cheese to be brushed over the crust edges during cooking to make it into an actual garlic bread crust. I might try this next time if I make a more traditionally topped pizza. It seemed a bit much for my bbq flavors tonight.

There you go! A super easy, fast, and yummy pizza crust recipe to make at home!

Easy Garlic Pizza Crust

  •  1 1/8 Cups of Warm Water
  • 3 tsp active dry yeast
  • 1 1/2 tbs honey
  • 1 1/2 tbs olive oil
  • 2 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 tsp dried basil
  • 2 tsp melted butter
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced

Combine wet ingredients, stir, let rest for ten minutes. Combine dry ingredients and mix everything together. Knead for several minutes and then place in an oiled bowl, covered in plastic wrap, for an hour to an hour and a half.

Spread crust over greased pizza pan. Top with melted butter and garlic. Bake at 375 for ten minutes. Put topping on pizza and brush additional butter and garlic mixture over crust. Bake for another ten minutes or so until it looks done. Enjoy!

Minnesota Vacation

On Saturday we got back from a four day mini vacation to Minnesota. It was kind of weird going on a vacation where we used to live only a year and a half ago, but it was fun visiting a few of our old haunts. As usual, the weather was crummy. It seems like the weather is against us on every vacation we ever take. I was disappointed we weren’t able to go to the zoo and a few of the parks I was planning on, but we still made the most of our time with indoor activities.

We left for the trip on Wednesday afternoon, hoping the boys would nap most of the way to Rochester, where we were staying our first night with my sister-in-law, Sarah. When we got to Rochester we ate at John Hardy’s BBQ, a favorite of Greg’s. I’ve been there a few times in the past and wasn’t too thrilled, but it was pretty good this time! I recommend the turkey. 🙂

On Thursday it was raining and very cold so our planned trip to the zoo was canceled. Instead we went to the Children’s Museum in St. Paul. When we lived in Minnesota I took Caden there a couple of times, but he was really too young to enjoy it. We usually spent the entire time just playing in the water area. This time around it was a lot more fun because he’s at an age where his imagination is fully developed and he loves pretending and interacting with new things.

Shepard usually finds joy in just about everything, but I think he got a little overwhelmed after awhile. He kept getting plowed over by kids, running into exhibits, and falling off of everything he climbed on. Poor guy. 🙁

After the Children’s Museum we headed to Punch Pizza in St. Paul. Now normally I’m not a very big pizza fan, but Punch’s has the most delicious pizza I’ve ever eaten. I’m so glad we had the opportunity to eat there on this trip! Yum, yum!

The rest of Thursday afternoon was spent humoring me by going to a lot of my favorite stores. I was able to leisurely browse Bibelot while the guys spent a long time in Creative KidStuff. Then we headed down to Burnsville so I could go to the best TJ Maxx around and then ended with a trip to the Abdallah Candy Factory. After that we checked into our hotel in Apple Valley and settled in for an evening of swimming and relaxing.

Friday was another wet and gloomy day so we decided to hold off on the zoo again. We’ll have to go there on our next trip. Instead we went to the Mall of America. Pretty touristy, but we thought Caden might enjoy Lego Land now that he’s older. By Friday he was pretty crabby and uncooperative, though, so it wasn’t much fun. We still stayed a few hours and I walked the mall checking out new stores.

After the mall we stopped at Ring Mountain in Eagan for gelato to celebrate Caden’s half birthday! Greg and I used to go there all the time when we lived in an apartment in Eagan. I had salted caramel this time and it was fantastic! Shepard certainly enjoyed his first taste of gelato as well!

We then headed back down to Rochester, avoiding a trip past our old house in Farmington. I’m glad that we live where we do now, but I still miss so many things about our lives in Minnesota. I thought it would be too sad to see the house again. So we skipped over it and met up with Sarah right as she got home from work. We played on the playground and walked around downtown Rochester. We ate at Chester’s, where I had an amazing Santa Fe salad. Afterward we checked out all the sculptures and walked by the river. It was bristly cold by then, but we all really enjoyed it.

By Saturday we were all so exhausted and anxious to head home, but we made one last stop to Quarry Hill Nature Center to see the Twilight of the Triceratops exhibit. None of us had ever been there before, but I’m so glad Sarah suggested it!

I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a dinosaur exhibit in person before, but it was pretty neat! The best part, though, was the nature center itself. The outdoor area seemed to have tons of trails and bridges over ponds and rivers.

We even saw a few beavers looking like they wanted to push some turtles off a log. That’s definitely not something you see in nature every day! If we hadn’t been so worn out I would have loved to spend a few hours just wandering around. Next time!

Overall, I’m deeming the trip a success. I wasn’t sure what to expect since our two vacation attempts as a family last year proved fairly disastrous. But despite the weather and Caden’s moodiness, I think we all had a pretty good time. It was great spending more time with Sarah and visiting a lot of the places I miss. I enjoyed the family time too. Vacations are usually a lot of work, but almost always worth it in the end! 🙂