Best Banana Bread EVER!

Ingredients:

  • 1 3/4 cups flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 5 large VERY RIPE bananas peeled (about 2 1/4 lbs)
  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
  • 2 large eggs
  • 3/4 cup pack brown sugar (light or regular)
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

*BIG note here: over ripe bananas are key in this recipe. Do not use perfect yellow or green bananas 🍌

Be prepared to need a fine wire mesh strainer, saucepan, 3 bowls, potato masher, silicone spatula, microwave and stove top.

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees, spray 8 1/2 by 4 1/2 loaf pan with non stick cooking spray.

2. Cook peeled bananas in microwave for 5 minutes- (You do this to extract the juice from the bananas) Peel bananas, cut in half and place in a microwave safe bowl. Cover with plastic wrap making a few vent holes in the plastic by poking with a knife. Place bowl on a small microwave safe plate to catch juice that leaves the bowl (you will need that juice!)

3. Meanwhile mix flour, baking soda and salt together in a bowl with a wisk. Set aside.

4. Remove Bananas VERY CAREFULLY from the microwave, plate and bowl (HOT! HOT!). Let sit on counter for a few minutes. Do not discard any juice that has dripped onto the plate. Grab a new bowl and fine strainer.

5. Pour the bananas and ALL the juice from cooking the bananas (including the juice on the plate) into the strainer and gently move around the mixture to allow the juices to drip into bowl. DO NOT push the bananas through the strainer.  Give this process about 2-3 minutes to get as much liquid as possible into the bowl.

6. Set strainer with bananas aside. Pour juice into saucepan and cook on medium heat until all the juice has reduced to 1/4 cup.  Use silicone spatula to stir while cooking.  Meanwhile melt the butter in a microwave safe container (may want to cover butter to avoid a mess on the roof of our microwave!) remove melted butter from microwave to cool a bit.

7. Once your juice is reduced to 1/4 cup, mix the following in bowl (bowl used with strainer in step 5 ok): juice, bananas, eggs, butter, vanilla extract and brown sugar. Mix with potato masher.

8. Combine flour mixture with banana mixture by folding it with a spatula until all flour is mixed then immediately pour into loaf pan.

9. Cook at 350 degrees for 55-70 minutes or until you can stick a toothpick in pull it out clean. I recommend placing the loaf pan on a cookie sheet. Depending on the side of your loaf pan it will likely overflow a little.

There you go! This recipe is definitely not the quickest or easiest out there but I’ll guarantee a moist and tasty loaf! Have fun with all the dishes 😆

Nona’s Italian Meatballs

Ingredients (makes about 30 meatballs)

  • 1lb ground beef
  • 8oz lean ground pork
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/3 cup soft bread crumbs
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan
  • **end of traditional ingredients-can optional ingredients if desired**
  • Fresh herbs to taste (optional)
  • 1/2 tsp crushes red pepper (optional)
  • 1 tsp salt (optional)
  • 1 clove garlic (optional)

Instructions on how to make the meatballs later on in this blog

This recipe was perfected to be simple and easy. It’s my “cheater” dinner when I know I will not have time to cook!

One weekend each month I make a few batches that will last 1-2 dinners/week. You must freeze them as air tight as possible to avoid freezer burn. I recommend eating them within four weeks of freezing to avoid freezer burn. Regular ziplocks are fine.

For cooking

  • Large crockpot
  • 24 oz can Hunts pasta sauce (one 24oz can sauce for every 10 meatballs, really can’t have too much, some will evaporate when cooking)
  • Turn crockpot on high 4 1/2 hours
  • Dump in sauce
  • Put in desired amount of meatballs STILL FROZEN (helps them not fall apart while cooking)

Meatballs will be fine to cook on high for 4 1/2 hours and sit on warm until you are ready to eat. Can start at lunchtime for a 5pm dinner or in am and allow to sit on warm til dinner.

If you wish to have spaghetti with your meatballs I suggest cooking that when you are ready to eat. I DO NOT recommend putting the spaghetti into the crockpot unless you like your spaghetti mushy!

Now for instructions on how to make the meatballs:

  • Place defrosted meat in mixer (8oz pork, 1lb beef) until evenly mixed.
  • meanwhile mix the eggs, Parmesan and breadcrumbs in a separate bowl(add optional ingredients to egg mixture at this time as well)
  • Add the egg mixture to the meat and mix evenly
  • using a spoon scoop out a decent size meatball and roll in palms until packed and round
  • Place meatball in ziplock bag to be put in freezer

Be sure to store in freezer on flat surface so they do not squish. Once frozen you can store however you wish.

When you remove meatballs from freezer you can break off the desired amount easily with a simple bang on the counter.

The ingredients listed at the beginning of this blog is enough to make about one large Ziploc bag of meatballs if you wish to make more than one bag you can double the recipe in one batch but I would not recommend more than that at one time.

My kids dislike the onions and pepper so I make them without all the optional ingredients and they are delicious! It’s even enough to season the sauce while cooking. The Hunts sauce tastes nothing like it does strait out of the can! I promise!

Buon Appetito!!!!!!

Day 5: Mammoth Dig, Hot Springs and oh Buffalo!

Our last full day in South Dakota was packed with activity but not as previously planned. This should have been the visit to the Wind Caves. After visiting Jewel Cave we decided to check out something other than another cave even though the Wind Caves are supposed to be more famous than Jewel Cave.

We headed into Hot Springs, South Dakota to the Mammoth Dig site. One of the longest drives from camp it took about an hour to get there.

The Mammoth Dig site is famous because it contains the largest collection of Mammoth fossils in the world. The Dig site which has been recently enclosed by a structure for conservation is a very special story in the history books. A sinkhole found in the late 70’s by a developer (excavating for a new housing project) formed a long time ago and attracted many animals in the area because it held water! The edge of the sinkhole had a very slippery type of mineral and when animals would approach the hole for a drink they fell in unable to back out due to the slippery mineral. Unable to escape the sinkhole many animals died and were preserved in the mud and other mineral layers over thousands of years. This sinkhole also holds one of the very few longnose bear fossils found around the world.

Next stop was the famous Evans Plunge indoor hot springs water park and pool! This pool has naturally heated water from the hot springs. It was a nice break from the sun, although I expected the water to be warmer than it actually was.

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About 4:00 we headed back to camp hoping to get in some last night paddle boarding and fishing. We expected to be back about 5:00.

What we did not expect was to be set way behind schedule because of Buffalo traffic! There was s good mile stretch in our journey back to camp that apparently went through herds of buffalo families. They could care less that cars were on the road!

Click here to see the hilarious video of the Buffalo with commentary from my kids 😂

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We managed to get back early enough to get in a paddle and fishing and enjoy our last evening at camp.

The next morning we packed up and headed home!

Our drive home was uneventful. No traffic until we hit Colorado then our drive time doubled. We made it back to Littleton about 6pm about a 7 1/2 hour drive. Not too bad. We kept all our wheels, had a great trip and made lots of memories!

South Dakota Day 4: Mount Rushmore, Brady’s 11th and Chuckwagon dinner

Monday June 11, 2018

Big day! Today we go see Mount Rushmore, the event this entire trip was planned around!

We woke Brady up with wrapped birthday presents and allowed him to play his new Nintendo game while we made breakfast, then we were off for a full day of adventure.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY BRADY!

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We were able to leave camp set up while we were gone during the day. We took our valuables with us and locked the camper.  The drive to Mount Rushmore was only about 45 minutes.  It was a very interesting drive through the beautiful Black Hills.  We were challenged by many one lane bridges and tunnels.  Crazy to think that campers and RV’s drive though there!

The actual park area of Mount Rushmore was way smaller than I expected. It was not crowded the Monday we went. It could have been a zoo!  I got some great pictures with my good camera (not iPhone).

IMG_4232IMG_4238We spent a good amount of time in the museum watching the short movies and learning about the history of Mount Rushmore.  Both kids completed  a Junior Ranger Badge here too! I found it interesting how the monument needs to be constantly monitored for cracking and repairs.  Wonder how many years until a nose falls off…looks like Lincoln was close…Did you know that the pretty much the entire monument was shaped with dynamite?  Very little was hand chipped away. They had blasting down to a perfect science.

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Our evening plans included a Chuckwagon dinner at the Circle B Ranch.  This did not start until 6pm.  To kill time between Mt Rushmore and dinner we stopped in the the town of Hill City.  Very cute town. Lots of art galleries and hand made wooden/metal crafts.  We stumbled upon an amazing mini museum too! Everything Prehistoric. They had so many fossils of dinosaurs, mammoth and other animals, some that were found in the area too. Everything Prehistoric also had an impressive display of minerals.

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That evening we attended a Chuckwagon dinner at the Circle B Ranch.  This was a lot of fun.  Before the dinner they had activities for the kids like lasso a bull, pistol shooting and panning for gold. Dinner was good old fashioned “slap it in the tin” type of serving style.  Baked potato, beans, beef brisket and applesauce. We sat at picnic tables and enjoyed our dinner while the entertainers (who were also the ranch owners) sang and played fiddle. The owners made a special shout out during their show to Brady the Birthday Boy! That totally embarrassed him as you can imagine.

The Circle B also has cabins you can stay in (if you are not wanting to camp in the area) and other activities a-la-cart such as horseback riding, swimming pool, four wheeling trails and more.  We were just guests for dinner this day.

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That was a fun filled day, the longest day by far on our trip to S Dakota.  We arrived back at camp pretty late and went to bed…no fishing, not paddling, we all were just exhausted!

HAPPY BIRTHDAY BRADY!

 

South Dakota Day 3: Jewel Cave National Park

Our day started bright and early at 6:30 am! Brady was stirring in the camper and once one person is up…it’s hard for anybody else to stay asleep. So by 7 we were all up and my first attempt to make breakfast in the camper was underway. Pancakes, scrambled eggs and bacon. Check!

We got in a little bit of fishing before we had to head out at 10 for our plans at Jewel Cave. Not as much luck just “salad” as we call the Lake weed catches.

10:00 we grabbed our packed lunches and sweatshirts and headed for Jewel Cave.

Easy drive only about 25 minutes from our campground. We had about an hour until our schedule tour. We used that time to help the boys complete their book to earn their Junior Ranger badge. The Junior Ranger program is actually pretty neat. It kinda forces the kids to learn on vacation rather than just looking at what catches their eye. They were challenged to complete 10+ pages in their workbook plus attend two Ranger presentations and they could earn a patch in addition to their badge! They did it!

Jewel Cave is the 3rd longest cave in the world with over 195 mapped tunnels and passages.

Our tour of the cave counted as a presentation for their patch and it was really cool. See the picture of “cave bacon” above? I knew it would be cold since I’ve been in one other cave, so glad we were prepared with sweatshirts! From the cave information center we descended in an elevator over 250 feet below ground. The temperature was 59 degrees. The temperature in the cave stays at 59 degrees year round regardless of the outside temperature. We saw lots of great formations such as the obvious like stalagmites, cave bacon and stalactites along with others.

On the way back to camp from Jewel Cave we stopped at a rock shop! Kids had fun checking out all the rocks and minerals. They picked out a few to bring home, including a 2 pound Rose Quarts!

(I’m sure Brady would die if he saw me post this pic….start wearing sunglasses kid 🕶)

The rest of the evening was spent at the camp enjoying the beautiful outdoors.

South Dakota Day 2: Glamping

Camp set-up the first night was easy peasy. We all got a great nights sleep and slept IN until 7:30! Then we realized what we forgot…there is always something right? Read on to find out what it was.

Our plan for the first full day at camp was to enjoy the great outdoors and chill!

Check out our digs! Sleeping quarters are in the pop out sides and middle part has table, sitting bench, bathroom, kitchen. We don’t use the bathroom unless we are somewhere that doesn’t provide them. Luckily this spot has a decent vault.

New to our camping adventures (besides the pop up camper) are the following upgrades:

Hot water shower, solar power, hammocks, tv/DVD player in the camper!

Oh man there is nothing like having a hot shower after a long day playing in the lake and sun! Chris rigged up an instant hot water heater to replace our solar heated shower packs we used to use in the privacy tent.

Then there is the solar power panel we now have to charge our camper battery during the day.

Probably one of the most unnecessary items we added is the tv! Funny thing is we forgot all the movies! Guess if your going to forget something that’s not so bad (unless your Rowan). Luckily we realized that Penguins of Madagascar was still in the tv from when Chris was testing it at home. So I guess its Penguins or nothing.

Last are the hammocks. I can’t begin to tell you how much fun these have been for the kids! Glad there are lots of trees! They keep the kids occupied during down time at our camp site.

We spent the day on the Kayak and Paddle board exploring the lake and hidden caves only accessible by water, hiked around the camp area and to the waterfall we could hear from our campsite (which was actually the spillway for the dam) and got lots of fishing in!

We all caught at least one trout and kept two that were large enough for a side dish at dinner! I baked trout for the first time over campfire, along with hamburgers and hotdogs followed by warm peaches and s’mores for desert. Camp cooking is new to me, but I think I’m getting the hang of it.

We turned in about 9:30 and were sooo ready for bed! Big day tomorrow….exploring Jewel Cave National Park!