Las Vegas Family Vacation

The three of us just got back from a lovely long weekend in Las Vegas visiting family.  Las Vegas may not seem like an ideal family vacation spot with a toddler and pregnant mama, but I beg to differ!
Reason #1 Las Vegas is great for family trips: direct flights and reasonable flights.  The 2.5 – 3 hour long flight is bearable and so much easier with no connecting airport battles.  Greta didn’t sleep a wink on either flight, as she was too excited to have a window seat.  Here she is rocking out to her favorite kid songs.

Reason #2 Las Vegas is great for family trips: plenty of hotel accommodations to choose from.  We stayed at South Point, due to its proximity to where our family lives.  It was a large hotel with plenty of restaurant options, a large March Madness viewing area, bowling lanes, a movie theater, arcade center, casino on the first floor, Seattle’s coffee shop, ice cream shop, pool, spa, and more.

How did Greta react to the casino?  See her stare at the graphics below.

A downside to our hotel was, that the casino was very smoky and was our exit to the car.  We did discover that some casinos have much nicer ventilation systems and so the smoke isn’t even noticeable.  A plus to our hotel – the casino didn’t have girls dancing at the tables like some casinos do.  There were a few scantily clad cocktail waitresses, but we managed to avoid them and hence avoid questions.

Reason #3 Las Vegas is great for family trips: plenty of free attractions.  This is Greta visiting the Silverton Casino aquarium.  This casino is connected to a Bass Pro Shop, which meant Great oohing and aahing over the taxidermy animals as well.

We consulted a few lists online as far as things to do with kids and found this list, Attractions for Kids from, to be almost too extensive, as we knew not all of these attractions were toddler-friendly.

The Silverton had two tanks – a larger salt water tank (the first image) and a smaller fresh water tank.  This is Greta in front of the fresh water tank, in front of a large sturgeon.

After a morning of aquarium viewing, we headed back to the hotel for nap time.  Las Vegas hotel rooms are so quiet – we never heard any loud rowdiness during our entire trip.  After nap time, we headed downtown to the courthouse to take family photos with Eric’s uncle, the newly appointed judge and to watch the ceremony for receiving his robe.

Greta was wound up before the ceremony, but actually remained quiet for the entire two hours that the ceremony lasted!  I ended up giving her a pen, my rings, and my wallet to dismantle in order for this to happen.

After the ceremony, we attended a reception with delicious food, drinks, and a chocolate fountain for dessert.  It was late, but we made a drive down the strip for the fun of it.

Reason #4 Las Vegas is great for family trips: you can avoid the strip, or just drive through for the fun of looking at lights.  Driving along the strip at night means avoiding the fliers for clubs, characters dressed and looking for $15 photos, and drunk throngs.  Greta enjoyed the lights and buildings almost as much as the aquariums.  Next time, we will make sure she gets to see the Bellagio fountain though, though I will most likely still enjoy it more than she will.

Reason #4 Las Vegas is great for family trips: plenty of things to do outside!  Most people don’t think beyond the strip when it comes to Las Vegas.  This is a shot out the window at Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, just 17 miles outside of the Vegas strip.  Normally it costs $7 for a single vehicle to enter the area, though there are some free dates.  Check the website for those.

We drove the 13 mile scenic road loop and got out for a short hike and photo ops.  Greta enjoyed the views of the rock formations, the sandy trails, and different plant life.

This scenic pull-out was one of our favorites.  Greta gave us an impromptu dance and we even spotted a hot air balloon off in the distance.  We didn’t make it into the visitor center, as we were took much longer walking and photographing than we anticipated.  However, I have heard and read that it is well worth the stop.

Reason #5 Las Vegas is great for family trips: beautiful spring weather when it is cold and snowing in Iowa.  Here we are relaxing in the backyard of Eric’s aunt and uncle.  It was lovely to sit in shorts and a tee shirt in the sunny 75 degree weather for a couple days.

Greta acted like she was getting away with something naughty when I told her she could take off her shoes and socks and go barefoot in the green grass.

I do believe her favorite part of the trip was our last night, digging in the dirt and making pretend dirt pancakes.  This girl and her mother are ready for spring!

Coconut Red Curry & Veggies

This simple and pleasing curried vegetable classic comes from a spurt of energy due to an Iowa warn-up.  Last week we actually had a a couple balmy, sunny days.  It was enough to give me hope for spring!

It actually warmed up enough to melt almost all of the snow and go without jackets a few times.

It was even nice enough to sit on the porch while we had dinner!  I can’t wait to get my summer-cabin themed porch done just right this summer.  I know we will be using it daily.  Anyway, after happy hour or chips & salsa and NA beer, I decided to make something fresh and springy to fit the mood of the afternoon.

I started by throwing a bunch of veggies into a glass 8″ baking dish – 1/2 a red onion, sliced, 3 medium carrots peeled and sliced, 1 – 2 cups of corn, and a bunch of asparagus stalks, sliced.  I tossed these veggies with sesame oil and then baked these in the oven at 425º for 15 – 20 minutes, or till softened.  If you wanted to make things faster and not use your oven, pop ’em in the microwave for 5 to 6 minutes.

While the veggies are cooking, prepare the curry sauce.  Combine 1-1/2 cups coconut milk, 1 tablespoon coconut sugar or honey, and 2 tablespoons red curry paste in a saucepan.  Stir and cook over medium heat until bubbly and thickened, about 15 minutes.

Pour cooked sauce over tops of cooked veggies.  Stir. Serve over warm cooked rice.

I was feeling so in the mood to cook on this warm spring evening that I even whipped up a batch of cherry crisp from canned cherries from last summer‘s crop.  I will share this classic recipe at a later date, because usually when I make this, I just throw it together without measuring – that’s what happens when you make a certain recipe often enough.

Coconut Red Curry & Veggies –
makes about 4 servings

1. In a glass 8″ baking dish combine: 1/2 a red onion, sliced3 medium carrots peeled and sliced, 1 – 2 cups of corn, and a bunch of asparagus stalks, sliced.  Toss veggies with sesame oil and then baked in a 425º oven for 15 – 20 minutes, or till softened.  (If you wanted to make things faster and not use your oven, pop ’em in the microwave for 5 to 6 minutes, or till softened.)

2.  While the veggies are cooking, prepare the curry sauce.  In a small saucepan combine: 1-1/2 cups coconut milk, 1 tablespoon coconut sugar or honey, and 2 tablespoons red curry paste.  Stir until well combined and cook over medium heat until bubbly and thickened, about 15 minutes.

3. Pour cooked sauce over tops of cooked veggies and stir. Serve over warm, cooked rice.

{Healthier} Coconut Berry Punch

I made this Healthier Coconut Berry Punch for the baby shower I hosted last weekend.  I was dissatisfied with all the punch recipes I kept finding that were full of soda pop, extra sugar, and unnecessary ingredients.  So, I set out to make a healthier version.  The result was so deliciously frothy, creamy, and fruity.  It tasted too good to be true!

The first step was to create the frozen punch ring.  This was made from only a few ingredients.  First was coconut ice cream.  This brand, Luna & Larry’s Coconut Bliss, is made from organic coconut milk, organic agave syrup, organic coconut cream, organic vanilla extract, and organic vanilla beans. The second and third ingredients were frozen strawberries and frozen red raspberries.

Allow the coconut ice cream to soften slightly and then beat together with thawed strawberries and raspberries.

Beat till smooth and berries are broken down.  If you need to save time, you could even pop all of this in the blender.

Pour into a pretty cake ring pan and freeze overnight or till solid.

Warm ring until loosened and then flip into a punch bowl.  Add cranberry juice, orange juice, and plain seltzer water.  Allow to melt slightly and then serve and enjoy.

Healthier Coconut Berry Punch – makes full bowl of punch – about 15 – 20 servings

1. Prepare frozen punch ring: in a mixing stand or blender (for finer texture) combine 1 cup defrosted frozen red raspberries, 1 lb defrosted frozen strawberries, 1 pint softened coconut non-dairy vanilla flavored ice cream.  Blend or mix until well combined.  Pour into cake ring pan.  Freeze overnight or till hardened.

2. Remove punch ring from freezer and allow to soften.  Flip ring upside down and into punch bowl.  Add 4 cups unsweetened cranberry juice, 4 cups unsweetened orange juice, and 4 cups seltzer water.  Allow to bubble and melt for a few minutes before serving.

Baby Shower + Gluten Free Dairy Free Waffles

Last weekend I hosted a baby shower for my sister, Caroline, and another childhood friend, Hannah.  Sadly, the few photos I took of guests turned out a hot blurry mess (trying to juggle too many tasks, methinks) and I don’t have one of Hannah.  So, Hannah, or the moms, if you have one of the three of us, I’d love to see it!  I don’t even have a photo of my sister, mom, and myself.  I failed miserably on photographing once people arrived.  😦

Due to my undying, pregnancy love of waffles, I opted for a waffle bar at this brunch.  This is a naked waffle, however for this brunch, a wide array of toppings were available.  These waffles are gluten-free due to the use of Bob’s Red Mill all-purpose baking flour and dairy-free due to my dairy-free buttermilk recipe.  

The first batch I made, the weekend before, had 1/4 cup of unsweetened shredded coconut thrown in.  I personally really liked the subtle coconut flavor and think that perhaps baby boy likes coconut, as I am not usually a coconut fanatic, but seem to be leaning that way these past few months.  I left the coconut out for the baby shower, instead using it as a topping.

The topping bar consisted of: sliced strawberries, sliced bananas, mixed berries, jam, honey, maple syrup, almond butter, Nutella, sliced almonds, sliced pecans, cinnamon, unsweetened shredded coconut, chocolate chips, and whipped cream.  I had every intention of making this topping bar look prettier, but alas better judgement of overdoing things outweighed my nagging sense of Pinterest style.

We set up a couple of extra tables and chairs to accommodate 12 guests.  Each table was dressed with vintage linens, china, silverware, and a floral centerpiece.
I made a delicious punch from juice and coconut ice cream – more on that later.  The glasses were a mismatched set – a thrift store find.

I sewed simple garlands of strips of paper and hung them from the chandelier as decor.

One grandmother-to-be, Katie, created these fun and funky paper flowers as decor.  They are so bright and cheery!  The cupcakes were gluten-free spice cake and oh so tasty!

This grandmother and grandmother-to-be enjoyed nabbing my on the go child for a quick and blurred photo.  Greta enjoyed the guests giving her gift to her future cousin.

Caroline and two of her childhood friends, Sami and Hailey, are pictured here.

I ate my fair share of topping drenched waffles at this brunch before we retired to the living room for a couple of shower games

This game I prepared for the shower.  One thing I forgot to specify before beginning this game, and we ended up flipping a coin for: highest or lowest points win?  As Eric pointed out, have a trash can ready for the people like me who carry their entire life in their bags!  You buy a digital download of in my Etsy shop.

 Our friend, Hailey had a nursery rhyme trivia game and an old wives tale trivia game prepared with cute children’s picture books as prizes.

Greta slept through the gifts, but ended up enjoying the wrapping and filling of the gifts upon awakening.  We are still finding these lovely bits of crimped paper all over the house.

Gluten-Free Dairy-Free Buttermilk Waffles – makes 6 – 8 waffles, adapted from The Joy of Cooking, 1975

1. Sift: 2 cups gluten-free all-purpose flour1/4 teaspoon baking soda1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder1 tablespoon honey1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon gluten-free xantham gum. Add 1/4 cup unsweetened shredded coconut, if desired.  

2. Beat in a separate bowl until light: 2 egg yolks.  Add and beat 1-3/4 cup buttermilk replacement6 tablespoons melted margarine

3. Combine the liquid and dry ingredients with a few swift strokes.  Allow to sit while preparing egg whites.  Beat until stiff peaks form, but not dry: 2 egg whites.  Fold egg whites into batter.  Cook according to waffle iron and preferences. 

Banana Coconut Muffins

Oh my goodness, are these muffins ever delicious!  They have the flavor of banana, a slight crunch of chia seeds, and yet none of the gluten, dairy, refined sugar, or vegetable oils that most muffin recipes have.  I guess this recipe might be what the pinners are calling these days a clean eating recipe.  Well, you have to try them for yourself to believe how tasty they are.

There are only 7 ingredients (8 plus a couple tablespoons of water, not pictured here).  We ate them for breakfast one morning this week after I woke up at 4 AM, cleaned, ate breakfast, read the paper, and couldn’t get back to sleep and then decided to make muffins.  They are great served warm or room temperature as a snack the following day.

I’ve been busy, even though this blog has been quiet.  The new windows are installed and a breeze to use, make our views more beautiful, and keep the house warmer.  We’ve been working on painting trim and general cleaning up after construction.

I’ve also been busy hanging up more artwork.  It always takes me a while to figure out where I want artworks in a new space.  This wall space above the kitchen area is perfect for smaller artworks.  Now I am dreaming of colors and ways to give this space a face lift.  The previous owners painted latex paint over oil paint on the cabinets, which creates the wear without the charm look.

Ok, I’m off to do some prep work while Greta naps – I am hosting a triple baby shower brunch tomorrow morning.  Look for some more yummy recipes after this weekend.

Banana Coconut Muffins – makes 10 – 11 standard muffins
1. Preheat oven to 350°, prepare standard muffin pan with liners or grease with dairy-free shortening and set aside.  In a medium mixing bowl combine: 1-1/2 cups gluten-free all-purpose baking flour, 1/2 cup coconut sugar, and 1-1/2 teaspoons baking soda.
2. In another medium mixing bowl combine: 1/2 cup melted coconut oil, 2 ripe mashed bananas, 2 tablespoons of chia seeds, 1 beaten egg, and 3 tablespoons water.
3.  Make a well in the dry ingredients, add liquid ingredients and combine with a few swift strokes.  Pour batter into prepared muffin pan.  Place water in any empty muffin cups to prevent warping.
4. Bake in 350° oven for 15-20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean.  Cool in pan for 5 minutes and then remove muffins to cool on wire rack, or serve warm.