Delicious Apple Spice Muffins

Apples Bishops

When you think about autumn, you think about pumpkin spice lattes, leaves changing colors, comfort food, cooler weather, etc… One of my favorite things to do in the fall is go apple picking at my local orchard. I will spend the next two weeks baking a bunch of apple flavored recipes.

Here is my recipe for Apple Spice Muffins

Apple Muffins

Ingredients:

  • 2 Cups all purpose flour
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg
  • 1 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 1/4 tsp. vanilla
  • 1 1/2 cups chopped apples

Directions:

  • Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Grease muffin pan or use paper liners. Should make 12 regular sized muffins.
  • Mix flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, nutmeg, and cinnamon in a bowl.
  • In a stand mixer, cream the butter and both sugars. Add the eggs one at a time. Add vanilla.
  • Slowly add the flower mixture to the egg batter. Stir until just mixed.
  • Slowly stir apples into the batter.
  • Pour the batter into the muffin tins.
  • Bake for 25 minutes or until toothpick can be inserted cleanly.

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Visiting Chicago Part 1 – Location and Planning are Everything

It is pretty funny how I have to devote multiple posts about I city that I was only at for about a day and a half. I plan to devote 3 more posts to our Chicago visit. Chicago has so many things that you can do and unfortunately, my husband and I only had very little time to do it. So I want to devote this post to giving advice on how to get the most out of a place when you have only a short time to enjoy it.

This was our first time in Chicago and we completely fell in love with it. To be honest, we would have loved to stay in Chicago longer, but the hotels were super expensive. When we were there at the end of May, Tuesday happened to be the cheapest night. Rates went up significantly after that. So when we left Milwaukee, we planned to stay in Chicago for one night but try to make the most out of the days we were there.

You may be thinking, “Why not stay just outside of the city for a cheaper rate?” When staying in larger cities, you have to take into account that parking costs a lot of money as well as transportation. We are not pros when it comes to public transportation, so staying downtown was a much better option for us. We stayed at the Springhill Suites by Marriott,* which was in a very walkable area so we could save money by not taking cabs. We also saved some money by purchasing a parking garage pass through Marriott. It was a perfect location for us so we could be central to all the places we wanted to go which included the Willis Tower, Millennium Park, a city cruise tour, and the Michigan Mile. We literally walked everywhere within a 40 minute distance.

View from our hotel room. Historical Wrigley Building.

View from our hotel room. Historical Wrigley Building.

When staying in a large city for such a short time, you really have to narrow down the places that you want to see. We started at the Museum of Industry and Science.* It was definitely not walkable from our hotel, so we visited it before check-in. We saved money on parking by using the outside parking lot. Unfortunately, I did not take any pictures while there. With museums, I really like to enjoy being there and interacting with the exhibits. At that moment, I was a bad blogger.

When we finally checked into the hotel, we really wanted everything else we visited to be within walking distance. For the rest of the day, we strolled through Millennium Park and Grant Park. We also took a boat tour of the city through Shoreline Sightseeing.* Our boat tour was a great way to see the city in such a short time. It concentrated on the buildings and architecture of the city. The next day we walked to the Willis Tower before leaving for Indiana.

Over the next few posts, I will break down the amazing things we did and sights we saw. Stay Tuned……

*This post is not sponsored. All opinions are my own. We were not paid to go to any sights.

 

Easy Vegetable Alfredo Pasta

20150701_182335

I have a confession to make. I love food but I am not the best “made from scratch” cook. I have found that you fall into one of two categories: Cook or Baker. I am a Baker. I subscribe to the Sandra Lee and Rachael Ray form of cooking. I use package items and add my own twist to them. This easy vegetable alfredo recipe is a great example of that. I use store bought alfredo sauce and add my own twist to it. I also love adding whatever vegetables I have in my freezer or refrigerator to my pasta. I am always trying to eat healthier but I have a weakness for pasta. To make my pasta a healthier dish, I always add some type of vegetable to it. This easy vegetable alfredo pasta is a great example of taking an otherwise indulgent dish and making it slightly healthier.

Easy Vegetable Alfredo Pasta

Ingredients:

  • (1) 12oz package of pasta (You can use whatever pasta you would like. I used Ronzoni Garden Delights Pasta* with some fusilli mixed in.)
  • (2) TBSP olive oil
  • (1) TBSP minced garlic
  • 1/4 cup chopped onion (I used frozen chopped onions because I’m lazy)
  • (1) can diced tomatoes
  • (1) 15oz jar of alfredo sauce (I used Bertolli Alfredo Sauce*)
  • 1 cup chopped frozen broccoli
  • 1 cup frozen spinach
  • Parmesan cheese to taste
  • Black pepper to taste

Directions:

  • Bring water to a boil using a medium size pot. Optional to season water with a pinch of salt.
  • While you are waiting for the water to boil, coat the bottom of a separate pan with your olive oil. I use a braiser*  for this step. Put your stove top on medium heat. Add your garlic. Let it simmer for a minute but do not let the garlic burn. Add the onions and cook until translucent. Drain your can of tomatoes and add to pan. Add the can of alfredo sauce. Turn heat on low and let simmer.
  • Once you water has reached a boiling point in your pot, add your pasta, frozen spinach, and frozen broccoli. Cook until al-dente. Drain.
  • Add your pasta and vegetables to your sauce mixture. Let simmer for a few minutes on the lowest setting on your stove top.
  • Season with parmesan cheese and black pepper to taste.

The great thing about this pasta dish is that you can alter it to your liking and it will work. You can change the vegetables or add more vegetables. I have used green and red peppers with this recipe in the past. I hope you enjoy it. Please leave me feedback in the comments section.

*All the brands that I mention here are my personal preferences. I do not get paid to promote any company or brand in this post.

From Garage Scraps to Treasure: Simple Tabletop TV Stand Tutorial

TV Stand After1

About two weeks ago, my parents moved from Connecticut to Michigan. They are currently renting a very cute apartment that happens to be quite small. As a result, their furniture has to serve multiple purposes. My mom has this beautiful antique dining room buffet table that she was going to also use as a TV stand. Here is what the buffet looks like with just the TV on it and cable boxes.

TV Stand Before

Notice how the cable box, router, and phone are scrunched into the corner of the buffet. The TV is off center as a result. Not a very pretty visual. We considered mounting the TV, but my parents were on a budget and wanted to save some money. It was then that I came up with the idea to make a simple tabletop TV stand.

Full disclosure; my husband and I are remodeling our house. We are always in a constant state of remodeling. We have so much paint, stain, wood, scraps, etc. sitting in our garage. We realized that we can make two TV stands for my parents by just using what we already have in the garage. This tabletop TV stand costs us $0.

You will need…

  • 3/4″ wood shelves or planks
  • stain
  • polyurethane
  • 2″ wood screws
  • base molding or trim molding (optional)
  • finish or trim nails (optional)

Step 1: Measure the bottom of your TV base and the top of your dresser/buffet/table that you will place the stand on. Measure your cable boxes. Determine the size that you want your TV stand to be. For the purpose of this tutorial, I wanted my TV stand to be 30″L x 11″D x 7″H. My dresser was 53″W x 17″D.

Step 2: Measure your wood planks and mark what size you want them to be. I had to cut three different pieces of wood: (1) 30″ x 11″ and (2) 6″ x 11.” Make your cuts using a table saw.

TV Stand Scrap wood

Step 3: Using wood screws, screw the two shorter pieces onto the larger piece of wood. Make sure your largest piece sits on top of the smaller pieces. This will help with weight distribution. This will be the base of your stand. If do not want molding on your TV stand, skip the next step.

TV Stand basic box

Step 4: Measure your molding to fit around the top of your TV stand. Leave room to angle your corners (optional). I angled the corners on the living room TV stand. I did not angle the corners for the bedroom TV stand. Cut your molding using either a miter saw or a hand saw with a guide. Nail the molding to the top of your TV stand base.

TV stand box with molding

Step 5: Cover your screws and nails with wood putty. Let dry.

Step 6: Sand your entire piece. I used 150 grit sand paper since I was using real unfinished wood. Wipe down with a damp paper towel.

Step 7: Since the wood pieces I used for the TV stand were two different colors, I treated it with Minwax Pre-Stain Wood Conditioner. It helped the stain to go on smoother and evenly. According to the instructions, I put the conditioner on the wood then wiped it off after 15 minutes.

Step 8: Stain the wood. I used Zar Oil Based Wood Stain in Dark Mahogany. You can used as many coats as you would like to get the desired color. I used two coats sanding it in between using ultra fine 400 grit sand paper. Wipe down after sanding. Allow your last coat of stain to dry overnight or according to directions.

Step 9: Use an oil based polyurethane to seal the wood. Be sure to clean the surface of your TV stand before sealing.

Here is the final product…

TV Stand Bedroom

TV Stand in Bedroom

TV Stand Final Living Room

TV Stand in Living Room

As you can see, the TV is now centered on the table top stand. The cords are mostly hidden and the surface of the buffet looks cleaner. For anyone concerned about weight, I was able to stand on top of both stands without bowing. I certainly don’t weigh less than a TV. This is my first time ever doing a tutorial so if you have any feedback please leave it in the comments. I hope you enjoyed this tutorial and can try to make a simple TV stand yourself.

Tackling the Indiana Sand Dunes

Indiana Dunes 1

View from Mt. Holden

This past May, my husband and I decided to take the 3 Dune Challenge. We found ourselves in Indiana on the last stop of our road trip which included Milwaukee and Chicago. We just checked into our Bed and Breakfast in La Porte. I will admit, I did not plan out this portion of our trip. I already knew that I wanted to see the Indiana Dunes. I just needed to do some last minute research to bring some structure to our day.

I was sitting in the wingback chair in our room when I came across the 3 Dune Challenge on the Indiana Dunes website. The 3 Dune Challenge is a 1.5 mile hike up the three tallest sand dunes at Indiana Dunes State Park. The three dunes are Mt. Jackson, Mt. Holden, and Mt. Tom. Some of the uphill inclines are as steep as 40 degrees. Hiking in sand is considerably harder then hiking on dirt or a rock surface. The trail is suited for moderate to advanced hikers. I jokingly asked my husband Eric, if he would like to take the 3 Dune Challenge. He looked at me, completely serious, and said “why not.” I should have known; Eric likes to try different athletic challenges.

We woke up the next morning and packed our essentials. When going on any hike, you always want to make sure you have sunscreen, water, and bug spray. Since it was 80 degrees out and on a beach, we wore shorts, light t-shirts, and sneakers. I know it can be tempting to wear flip flops or go barefoot on the sand, but it is not wise for this challenge. There are twigs and rocks in the sand. You don’t want to have to worry about losing a flip flop while you are hiking up a steep hill.

When we arrived at Indiana Dunes State Park, we parked at the Wilson Shelter. This was one of the starting points for “trail 8” which is the path you take during the 3 Dune Challenge.

3 Dune Start

Start of “3 Dune Challenge.”

The first sand dune that we would climb is Mt. Jackson which is 176 ft. above Lake Michigan. The first park of the hike was really not that hard. There were some inclines but nothing too steep. I also wasn’t expecting the hike to take place in a wooded area. I thought that because it was sand dunes, we would be on the beach and out in the open. I was actually happy to be in a wooded area because the shade offered some respite out of the sun. I kept thinking to myself that this wasn’t much of a challenge at all. I was completely wrong.

We reached the base of Mt. Jackson and we had a completely uphill climb to get to the top. In sand… We could see the top of the dune. While it looked so close, it took a while for us to make it to the top. We pushed through and the view was spectacular.

Mt. Jackson

Sign with the stats of Mt. Jackson. Husband in background.

Mt. Jackson Scene

View from top of Mt. Jackson.

 I could not believe that the steepest incline was 31 degrees. It felt like more. We knew then that we were definitely in for a challenge. We haven’t even conquered Mt. Holden or Mt. Tom yet. We were determined to push though. In case we were unable to complete the challenge, there were plenty of easy trails coming off trail 8. We rested for a few minutes and continued our hike.

Mt. Holden

Sign for Mt. Holden.

Mt. Tom

Sign and view for Mt. Tom.

Mt. Holden 2

View from Mt. Holden.

Mt. Tom 2

View of staircase from Mt. Tom.

Hiking downhill on the sand dunes was obviously very easy. Climbing up Mt. Holden was a little more challenging due to a steeper incline. In my opinion though, Mt. Holden had my favorite view. You could see the trees and the water. I have a picture at the top of this post. We were also much closer to the water. When we reached the base of Mt. Tom, I will admit I was slightly disappointed that we had to climb stairs. My disappointment was mixed with a little relief because I was pretty tired by then.

Once we climbed down the stairs of Mt. Tom, I felt such an accomplishment. We finished the entire hike within 40 minutes which is a pretty good time. Most people who are runners finish the trail in 20 minutes. I never hiked in sand before so taking the 3 Dune Challenge was definitely an amazing introduction.

Indiana Dunes State Park is such a hidden gem in Northern Indiana. It is only about an hour away from the hustle and bustle of Chicago. We went on a weekday, but the area was not crowded. The actual beach portion of the park is beautiful. We would have spent more time there if it didn’t rain the next day. If I am lucky enough to ever visit Indiana Dunes State Park again, I would probably take an easier trail and just take in the views.

For more information about Indiana Dunes State Park, please visit http://www.indianadunes.com/.

 

Welcome

I would like to take a moment to welcome all of my new readers. This blog has been a year in the making. I hope you enjoy all the content that this blog has to offer. I would like to start off by saying that I am no expert. I blog from my life experience. I am still learning and my blog will encompass my experiences, warts and all. My wish is to spread my knowledge of design, food, and travel to you. To help you learn from my mistakes (there are plenty). To give you something to enjoy reading. I look forward to starting this blogging journey.