June 25, 2017

Italian Gnocchi

Every Christmas we have single Airmen over for dinner.  Being overseas, your coworkers and friends quickly become your family.  We love this tradition and every Christmas we have a 'Theme' dinner.  We always have a traditional Thanksgiving dinner, so for Christmas we like to change it up a little.  We've had 'Felize Navidad', 'Italian Feast', and 'Comfort Food' themes.
We've had an 'Italian Feast' Christmas dinner twice out of the four years we've been stationed in Germany, due to high demand:)  People loved it and it's super easy...Pasta feeds a large number of people easily.  Being married to a 1/2 Italian, means I was blessed with being able to reach out to his great aunt for recipes on famous sauce, meatballs, and cannoli secrets.  But, I'm going to share with you my own Gnocchi recipe.  I served this our first 'Italian Feast' and it was gone by the first round of the buffet line.  So, I made plenty of it the second time I served it. 
Here is what you'll need:
One bag of Gnocchi
Italian sausage links
One bag of Spinach
2-4 Garlic cloves, minced (more or less depending on your taste)
1 Can of Italian stewed diced tomatoes
Shredded Parmesan cheese
*If you are feeding a large party, then I would definitely double the ingredients.  This amount will serve 6-8 people.

1)  Boil water in a medium pot
2)  While you wait for the water to boil, cook the Italian sausages according to the package directions (I brown the sausages on all sides in a pan on the stove top, then I add some water and cover the pan to finish cooking them through).
3)  Mince 2 cloves of garlic and sauté the garlic in a pan with extra virgin olive oil (be careful not to overcook.  Garlic burns quickly).
4)  After the garlic is slightly browned, it's time to add the spinach.  I toss an entire bag of spinach  in the pan with the extra virgin olive oil and the garlic.

5)  At this point your water should be boiling.  Add the gnocchi to the boiling water.  Stir.  The gnocchi does not take long to cook.  Keep the water at a roiling boil with the gnocchi in it.  Once the gnocchi starts to float to the top of the pot, that indicates they are done cooking.

See the gnocchi floating=done
6)  When the gnocchi is done, drain it (just like you would do pasta noodles).
7) Assemble: 
Put the gnocchi in a large mixing bowl, add the sautéed spinach/garlic
Add the Italian sausage that you've sliced up once finished cooking
Add the shredded Parmesan cheese (as much as you like)
Add the can of diced Italian stewed tomatoes, juice and all. 
The steam and warmth from the gnocchi will melt the Parmesan cheese and warm up the diced tomatoes. 
Toss it all together and serve. 

We serve ours with garlic bread and salad when it's just our family.  For our Christmas 'Italian Feast we also add bruschetta, lasagna, spaghetti and meatballs, and caprese salad.  Delizioso!

When it's all over, we play games.  Our motto is "you eat, you play".  The Airmen are usually the ones that laugh the loudest at the end of the night.  When all is said and done, I pack up leftovers in Tupperware so they have something good to eat the next day. 
Making friends your family is important, but extra consideration is made at the holidays for everyone to be able to have a home to celebrate in-wherever that home may be at the time.
Getting ready for some Pictionary!

June 11, 2017

Black Forest Staircase

When we went camping in the black forest, the campsite offered everything we needed.  We didn't really have an reason to leave the site.  (You can read about camping in the black forest here).  But one of the days was outrageously hot and we needed something to take our minds off the heat and be in the shade.  We decided to try out what I called the 'Black Forest Staircase'. 
This was such a great way to pass a few hours and explore.  We loved it! 
The views were spectacular!

There is parking at the bottom of the mountain.  It's your typical German parking lot, so bring euro to pay for your parking when you exit.  Beside the parking lot is a restaurant and bike shop.  We didn't eat at the restaurant, but there are public restrooms there.  At the bike shop, there were drinks and ice cream.  But the cool thing is, there were guided mountain biking tours and routes.  These people were serious bikers and had all the gear you needed: bikes, protection, etc.  If you are an extreme mountain biker, I suggest going to this place for some challenging trails.
From here, to the right of this picture, is the entrance to the mountain.  You have an easy hike to get to the wooden staircase. Along the hike, you'll come across the entrance to the wooden staircase.  It's really called the "Baumwipfelpfad".

I think we paid around 30 euro for a family pass (2 adults and 2 kids) and 4 euro for each of our 2 kids to ride the slide on the way down.(more info and pictures of the slide throughout this page...keep reading).  After you pay to get in, there is additional walking to get to the actual staircase. 

Along the walk, there is an option to have a little more fun getting to the staircase.  It's a kid friendly obstacle course. 
               It's super easy and fun.  My kids were 5 and 7 at the time and had no problems at all.

It was completely safe and we all loved it, adults included.  If you didn't want to take the obstacle way, there were parallel paths that were flat.  So, if you had a stroller or someone that needed assistance, you did not have to take the route we did.

There is an awesome slide that takes you from the top of the staircase to the bottom.  This was an added incentive for our kids to get to the top since, they wouldn't have to walk back down. 

After the easy hike to get through the black forest, you will come to a clearing and can get a good look at the staircase.

There is also a clearing with some free hand outs, brochures and info on additional hiking trails in the area.
Then, you start climbing.  Although I call this the Black Forest Staircase, it's actually a very gradual ramp.  There were not a lot of people there and lots of room, so you never had to turn sideways to get around people you encountered while waking the ramp.  It was so gradual, that it required little effort. 

The end result was breathtaking views.

To get back down the staircase you can either walk down, or take the slide (remember you have to prepay for the slide when you buy your entrance tickets).
This was SO much fun.  It was a long ride down, and I screamed the entire time.  It was great.  One thing that is good to know, is each person has to go by themselves.  So, if you have a little one with you-you will NOT be able to go down the slide with them in your lap.  There is an attendant at the top of the slide that takes your ticket, which states you prepaid for the slide.  The attendant helps each person get onto a sliding mat and then, off you go!
At the bottom of the slide, there are free restrooms and a little gift shop.
This was totally worth it and a great way to pass some hours on a hot day.

Things to know:
  • Address: Cloef-Atrium, Parkplatz am Cloef Atrium · 66693 Orscholz
  • Phone: +49 6865 1864810
  • At: Saarschleife Trail
  • Website: baumwipfelpfad-saarschleife.de
  • No dogs allowed

  • June 04, 2017

    Black Forest Camping

    We've been wanting to go to the black forest, but needed a better excuse than to go all the way out there for a cookoo clock.  So, for 4th of July, we decided to do a family camping trip. 
    We went with another family and it worked out great b/c then my kids had more than just eachother to play with.
    It took me a couple of weeks to figure out which campsite we wanted to go to.  I didn't want one that was huge and overpopulated and where your tent was right up against someone elses.  I didn't want to be 'glamping', but I also wanted to be able to use the restroom and shower in some sort of primitive bathroom set up and have the possibility of electrical hook up if needed.
    We found the perfect place and you can find them here.
    What sold me on this place was:  the location, the running stream where the kids could play in and stay cool in the stifling July heat, parking, playground for the kids, electrical hook up, running water, and that there was a specific camping area designated for no cars (so the kids could run around freely and not have to worry about someone backing up or hitting them).
    When we arrived, this place well over exceeded my expectations.
    The owner was out on an errand, but left us a personalized note and map of where to set up our tents. (I had previously reserved certain tent sites based on the map that their website provided).
    The note was wonderful and a great personal touch from this 'mom and pop' owned campsite.
    We found a parking spot at the entrance of the campsite and there were multiple sized wagons to carry your camping gear from your car to your site.
    the small building to the left is where you check in/out and
    where the wagons are stored to cart your camping supplies.

    View from top of site hill.  Parking is to the right, ,bathrooms are the stairs to the left,
    check in is right behind from where I took the photo.

    View from the top of the site hill.  Parking on the left,
    to the right is the bathrooms and check in.

    Another view of parking on the right and campsite down on the left. 
    Cars are not allowed in this part of the site, which is why I chose it. 
    In other parts of the campsite in the WAY back you can find parking along with your tent areas.

    You can see the little wooden bridge to cross over with your wagon of supplies
    and the small stream the kids are playing in.
    It took us about 4 trips to get everything from our car to the site where we were setting our tent up. This was super easy because there is a little wooden bridge that we went over to get to our site (since we selected the campsite that cars were not allowed to drive on). 
    Another view of the small bridge to bring your camping supplies from the parking area
    to the actual site with the wagons provided.
    We set up our tent while the kids explored the campsite area.
    There is a small park for the kids to play at and a VERY shallow water splash area from the stream that the kids an cool down in. 
    We also brought a covered canopy, with screens, to keep bugs out and this thing SAVED us on more than one occasion and shielded us from the dreadful heat of the sun.  By far, the entire summer we ended up camping on the HOTTEST weekend!  We put our kitchen prep table in there and a small fold out picnic table that fit the 4 kids perfectly.  It was great! (I pinterested the mess out of this trip and used lots of little tips and had 'stations' for kitchen prep, etc.).

    You can see all the space that we had. 
    To the left of this picture is small faucet that had running water readily available.← 
    Also, because of all the space in the center, all the kids of all nationalities played soccer in the afternoon. 
    It was so neat to see that even though not everyone spoke the same language,
    the kids didn't care and were able to play together well.
    The good news is that due to the side of the grounds that our tent was set up at, we were shaded in the late afternoon and our tent cooled off for the nighttime.  We were right beside the stream and the coolness from being by the water helped a little as well as the GLORIOUS sound of the flowing water put us to sleep every night.  I loved it!
    The stream was surprisingly cold, so we utilized that to keep our drinks cool.  My husband joked that this was the 'best catch of the day';)
    There's a lot to do in the nearby town where the site is at, but honestly we only went exploring one day because the site had such great stuff to relax and keep everyone entertained. 
    Tip:  We reserved our campsite near the stream and beside our friends so that we could have everything set up together. 
    I emailed the campsite to find out about the electrical set up of the campsite and what European plugs were necessary.  I'm glad I did!
    I was able to buy a cord exactly like the one pictured, at our local hardware store-easy peasy. 

    If you are going with another family, compare menus and resources.  You can team up for meals and prevent double packing items=saving space in the long run.
    The bathrooms were great!  The showers were timed and you had to pay in euro coins.  I wish I had known this, because at the end of the trip we were scrounging for change.lol.
    The main building.  There are men and women showers and restrooms. 
    You can see that there is a very large outdoor sink to wash your dishes in if necessary.

    There was only one shower for the women and one shower for the men on the other side of the women's facilities.  The stall to the left is the single shower.  The stall to the right is a changing and washing up area.  There is also the sink where you can brush your teeth, etc.

    Here is the shower stall.  You can see the box where you pay for the shower. 
    It was something like 3 euro for an 8 minutes shower. 
    You push the green button after you put in your coins for the shower to start.  Very efficient.

    Next door to the shower area, was a completely separate women's bathroom. 
    This had 2 stalls and a sink as well.
    None of the bathroom facilities were coed, which I was grateful for.  In Europe a lot of restrooms and changing facilities are coed for things like camping and public pools, etc.
    Pinterest hack for sleeping:  I got 2 cheap blow up swim floats and put under my kiddos sleeping bags for extra cushion-worked great!

    We had a great time and would recommend this place to anyone.  We would definitely go again.
    Happy Camping!

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