Sunday, October 29, 2017

A Day in Saint Louis

Recently, the whole family took a day off of work and school to get some family time away. Through the months of September and October our schedules are consumed with extra-curricular activities and we finally figured out that if we wanted time away, we would have to take it during the week. So one Friday morning in mid October, we told the boys we were taking them to school and surprised them by turning onto the interstate instead. We were leaving town to take St. Louis by storm.

This was their reaction when we finally revealed our plan. They were so happy. We've missed our annual zoo trip the past 2 years, and Lex has been begging to go. Perfect. First stop - the St. Louis Zoo. The best thing about the St. Louis Zoo (aside from the fact that it is a beautifully maintained zoo) is that it's free! 

The zoo was all decorated for fall and Halloween and also, the weather was perfect!

We saw the new Grizzly Bear attraction and the bears were out and active!

And the boys enjoyed all the "haunted" decorations.

We went through the chilly and smelly penguin house.

The last time we were at the zoo, the railroad pass got you one round trip on the train. That means 4 stops and then you're done. This time, we were pleasantly surprised that the train pass (which does cost money) got you unlimited riding time. And we definitely took advantage of that. We probably did 2 1/2 round trips by the time it was all done. When we got tired of walking and we just jumped on the train and rode it for as long as we wanted.

 The elephants were also all out and active.

More time on the train.

And then we saw the zebras. 

And giraffes.

And my personal favorite, the monkey habitats! There are so many, and they are always playing.

And then the sea otters, which were one of our favorite stops of the day. The boys loved watching them do tricks at feeding time. 

We saw so much more than I have documented here. One cool thing that we learned from one of the volunteers at the Zoo was that at around 5 pm, they feed the big cats, and apparently you can hear them roaring for their food from anywhere in the zoo. We've only ever gone to the zoo in the morning, but now, we can't wait to plan an evening trip so we can hear those cats!

We were at the zoo for about 4 hours and by the time we were tired of walking and felt like we had seen as much as we wanted, we were famished. We wanted to find a local pizza place, and decided that since it was so early in the day still, we would head to downtown and get a closer look at the arch. We easily found parking at a garage right across from Busch Stadium (where the Cardinals play for those of you who aren't local or don't care about baseball). 

We were so lucky to not be in downtown when the Cards were playing because otherwise, we would have never found this parking garage literally 3 blocks from the Arch, AND the traffic would have been insane.

One of the boys said it would be really cool to eat at a restaurant where you could see the Arch right from your seat. And guess what - We walked right into Angelo's and got a booth where the boys could look right at the Arch from their seat.


After some pizza, we walked on over to the Arch. The boys have never been there close up. And even though I've been there several times, it never gets old. I mean, where else in the country is a piece of architecture as unique as this one.

It had been such a long day and was nearing evening by this point, so we opted against a trip to the top. We did walk all around the grounds though and saw the Mississippi River. It's such a beautiful area.

 And that's how we took St. Louis by storm. We headed home, full, exhausted, and refreshed.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Spinach and Artichoke Stuffed Bread

What is it about fall that incites cravings for carbs, heavy cream, and butter? After a summer full of salad recipes, I was surprised to see that once I compiled my fall themed grocery list, I had not one, not two, but three packages of cream cheese in my grocery cart! Oh my goodness. I will certainly need to pace myself as I plan weekends of football food (aka soups, sandwiches, and appetizers).

I have seen variations of this recipe all over the internet and was happily surprised to see how easy it was! I will definitely put this in my bank of "recipes good enough to take places." Who doesn't like a good artichoke dip? Who doesn't like a good garlic toasted baguette? Why wouldn't you want to combine the two?

2 baguettes
1-2 Tablespoons of oil (for sauteing)
1 14 oz can artichoke hearts, drained and chopped
8 oz spinach
1 8 oz block of cream cheese
1 1/2 cups mozzarella
3 green onions, sliced
1 t. garlic powder
Salt and pepper to taste
To top:
garlic butter
Parmesan cheese

I have had a love affair with baguettes ever since my first trip to France after my senior year of high school. Every single morning we had these for breakfast, spread with butter and preserves and I will never forget the taste or the feeling of being in France eating fresh baked bread for breakfast.

For this recipe, I started with 2 baguettes, cut the ends off. and cut the remainder into 4 pieces.

 Next, I used a long knife, and hallowed out the inside of the bread.

 Now for the yummy filling.

Start by sauteing the artichokes in the oil over medium heat for a minute.

Next, add the spinach until it cooks down. (The spinach I had was mixed with arugula, so I threw it all in there, but spinach alone will work just fine (if not better)).

Let the greens cook all the way down.

Aaaah! Steam bath!

Add in the cream cheese and stir around. You may want to turn it down to a medium low temperature.

And then the mozzarella. Let it all cook until it's completely melted.

Stir in the onions, and then add seasonings to taste.

Now for the fun part. Fill each of the hallowed baguette pieces with the spinach/artichoke mixture. Lay them end to end inside a piece of aluminum foil.

Brush the baguettes with garlic butter. Brush it on thick. Anything that runs off will be captured in the foil.

Sprinkle with shredded Parmesan.

Wrap the foil around the baguettes, and then bake at 350 (F) for 15 minutes. Unwrap the foil and then bake for another 5 minutes uncovered so that the bread gets nice and toasty brown.

Remove from foil and then slice. You can wait until they cool to do this also. I preferred the cool ones to the ones straight out of the oven, but that's totally your call.

Recipe post thought: These are amazing. Amazing with soup, amazing for a late night snack, and amazing as leftovers. I can't help but wonder though how much more amazing they would have been had I sprinkled some sea salt over the garlic butter before baking. Next time... next time.

Oh, and also... they freeze great! Just reheat in the oven when you're ready to eat.