Thursday, August 27, 2009

IDAVATION: Southeast Special pt. 2 (Blackfoot + Idaho Falls)

We actually spent the majority of our vacation time in Idaho Falls, where Eric grew up. It's always fun for us to show our kids places we hung out at as kids, so we stopped over for a morning in Blackfoot, a small town about twenty minutes or so from Idaho Falls. Eric's grandparents both came to Idaho from Greece around 1914 and started a homemade candy and soda shoppe downtown Blackfoot called the Bon-Ton. In the 1920s they opened a booth selling candy, ice cream and cigarettes at the Eastern Idaho State Fair held yearly at the fairgrounds downtown Blackfoot. Eric spent many, many years working at that fair, helping his grandpa at the shoppe, and generally hanging out with his extended family of Greeks in Blackfoot. He showed us his grandpa's old house and we visited the cemetery. One place he'd never been before, though, was this:

Of course we had to go in. The Idaho Potato Museum is housed in the old railroad depot downtown Blackfoot, the proclaimed potato capitol of Idaho. It is also the headquarters for the Chamber of Commerce and has a sweet little gift shop, with stuff like potato lotion and postcards of Marilyn Monroe wearing the Idaho potato sack. Much to our surprise, we all got a package of freeze dried hashbrowns with our admission fee.

There was a large amount of potato paraphernalia in that place, including machinery, the world's largest potato chip, an outrageous collection of antique potato mashers. The kids had a great time, and I highly suggest stopping in if ever you're in that part of the state.

We all love Papa and Yaya's (our kids' names for Eric's parents) country home in Idaho Falls, and the first thing we did was check out the new baby chickens and rummaged their enormous garden for strawberries and sweet peas to munch on.

We did save these yummies (steamed artichokes) for dinner that night. What a treat!

The next day we hit the Tautphaus Park Zoo in Idaho Falls, which was free with our Zoo Boise family pass. The girls loved the petting zoo and I truly believe this little treasure is the best zoo in the state of Idaho. It is extremely well cared for and the environments are lush and lovely.

Eric and I hit the town one night on a much needed date. For dinner, we took in the Brownstone Brewhouse downtown on the Falls and had a delicious dinner of fried calamari and pizza outside. Of course we washed it all down with their Summerfest Ale. Mmmmm. (Later that night we took in The Hangover at a local theatre and found it outrageously baudy and hysterical, by the way. It was the perfect WOO HOO! WE'VE GOT NO KIDS! HERE WE COME RATED R! movie to see.)

The next morning we hit the Psychedelicatessen, a 1970s school bus turned bagel bistro, downtown Idaho Falls. I'm a super critical judge of bagels because I love them so much and let me tell you, these were fantastic. And their homemade cream cheeses are too die for. Seriously, ladies, if you ever take that thing on the road, PLEASE COME TO BOISE.

The hippy bagel bus was parked right near the Farmers Market, which is getting bigger and better each time I visit Idaho Falls. Their artisans market was great, and my mother in law bought me some killer handcrafted silver star earrings. We enjoyed checking out the local produce and fresh baked goods (but those bagels, I'm telling you....). Anyhow, Idaho Falls is a bustling little city with lots to offer and these are just a few highlights from our trip; there are many other yummy places we ate and things we did. I'm always up for new suggestions, so feel free to leave me your "Idavation" tips on Idaho Falls or other locales in the state in the comments!

Sunday, August 23, 2009

IDAVATION: Southeast Special pt. 1 (Pocatello)

Since our family is on a very tight budget this year, our summer vacation consisted of a 10-day trip to southeast Idaho to accompany Eric to a chemistry conference at Idaho State University in Pocatello. Also, since his parents live in Idaho Falls, we decided to make a vacation of it. Typically I'm more of a researcher and planner before vacations, but decided to fly by the seat of my pants on this one. The only thing I knew was that lots of swimming would be involved. Part One of this "Southeast Special" (I know this sounds more like a dish you might order at a Chinese restaurant) Idavation is dedicated to fun we had in the Pocatello area.

Lucky for us, Eric's conference hotel was paid for at a lovely new Hilton Hotel on a hill overlooking the city. It had a great pool and a stellar complimentary breakfast buffet that we not only ate at each morning, but also snagged some snacks like apples and bagels for treats later in the day. It also came with this beautiful view of foothills that truly rival the ones in Boise, especially at sunset.

Earlier in the summer we purchased a family zoo pass at Zoo Boise, which comes with complimentary admission to other zoos around the intermountain west, including the Pocatello Zoo. The tiny zoo features native Idaho wildlife and this lifesize replica of a teepee, which the girls loved.

We happened to make it there just in time for the Tuesday morning Zoo Tales storytime. The children's librarian from Portneuf District Library comes to read animal stories to the kids under this rustic little canvas structure. At the end they get to do a craft and this morning they made cute little lion hand puppets.

The next day we headed to Lava Hot Springs, a quaint little town about 30 minutes outside of Pocatello. Once land occupied by the Shoshone-Bannock people, the hot springs were "purchased" by the US government in a treaty agreement in the late 1800s and began being operated as a state park in 1902. We bought passes for the whole family to explore the various pools throughout the town all day long for a little over $30.

The hot pools are further into the city on the Portneuf River and are really well kept. The numerous pools have pebble bottoms and holy hell are THEY HOT. We had to take several breaks and were thrilled to find out that they sold all sorts of ice cream bars at the admissions desk to cool us down.
As we wandered downtown to grab a bite to eat, we saw slews of people making their way with bright colored tubes and rafts to float the rapids of the Portneuf River. It looked like loads of fun, and we are excited to go back when the girls are older to give it a try.

We spent the majority of our time at the olympic sized pool, where a bridge to two really long, steep waterslides acts as a welcoming archway into the city proper. The pool is also noted for their three levels of high platforms to dive off of, but, again, with tiny girls we spent our time on the smaller waterslides (of which there are four) and playing on the gigantic plastic water snake toy that bobs in the center of the pool.

It is always important to us to not only expose our girls in a fun way to history, but also cultural diversity when we travel. Especially, since at this point in her short life, Lucy's main knowledge of Native Americans comes from Disney's Pocahontas. We were thrilled to find out that we were going to be in the area on the weekend of the Shoshone-Bannock tribes annual Sho-Ban Festival at the Fort Hall Indian Reservation.

The festival site features several permanent structures, including a large covered arena, rodeo stadium and wooden booths for selling food and wares. The morning we went featured the princess contest and the Miss Sho-Ban dancing events. We were all impressed with the pride and beauty with which these young women wore their amazingly handcrafted costumes and expressed their native cultural traditions.

Of course, we ordered some warm fry bread with honey butter and wandered over to watch the native music being performed live for the dancers. It was both mesmerizing and memorable and something I hope our young ones remember for a long time to come. Stay tuned for Part Two of our Southeast Special Idavation - Blackfoot and Idaho Falls!

Monday, August 17, 2009

KIDDOS: Boise Centre Fountain

We have been fans of the pulsating fountain at the Boise Centre (on the Grove) for years. It has delighted the young and old for the past 19 years, as it refreshes downtown bike riders looking for a cool spray in the hot sun as well as countless toddlers at the Capital City Public Market each Saturday morning. Our family has spent much of our time at the Farmers Market around the fountain and learned quickly to bring towels and extra clothes on these shopping adventures. Those Saturdays, however, are packed with people and we often find the fountain is much too crowded for playing. But any other hot day of the week, the fountain is a quiet respite in the middle of a bustling city.
A few weeks ago I packed a picnic lunch and Lucy brought a friend along for a fun, free water-filled afternoon. There are plenty of picnic tables in the shade and I enjoyed my iced coffee while the girls trotted between the fountain and the pump, running and playing like mad, as they pretty much had the whole place to themselves. I enjoyed watching the downtown sites - business men and women bustling about on their lunch breaks and the bike taxi making casual loops around the Grove Plaza. It was truly one of my favorite leisurely afternoons of the summer and a great (and free) way to remind me why I love living in the city with kids.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

CULTURE: A Homerun with the Hawks

Our family loves baseball. When we lived in Minneapolis, we had cheap seat season tickets to the Minnesota Twins, and Lucy went to her first baseball game at six-weeks-old. We've been to various other major league games and stadiums, but Eric and I will both admit that our favorite homage to the sport is the casual, homegrown nature of minor league teams. Although no one has stolen our hearts quite the way the St. Paul Saints did, with their live pig mascot, Larry Craig "bobblefoot" and other quirky shenanigans, we undoubtedly needed to give our new home team a try.

My summer playgroup arranged for us all to meet one Wednesday night in July for Family Night at the Boise Hawks game. They picked up wristbands for everyone for free at a local Walgreens (I know you can get them at other locations, too). The bands got us $1 standing room only admission to the game, and there is a killer table and chair set up in the shade on the first base side that is conveniently near the jump houses for the kids.

The kids got balloons upon admission, which they released before the game began, much to my chagrin, as it seemed like an environmental disaster to me, but it was a pretty sight.

Family night wristbands also get you $1 hot dogs, ice cream sandwiches, popcorn, and snocones, which was THE BEST DINNER EVER for my girls.

The kids had a blast climbing and running around with their friends, and the adults had a great time, too, especially when the "beer batter" made it to first base and we got $1 draft beers to boot.

It was a pleasant way to spend an evening, not to mention a fun, cheap summer evening with friends. There are just a few Wednesday Family Nights left on the Hawks schedule, though, so you'd best act quick before this ball's knocked outta the field til' next season.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

FOODIE: Crockpot Crazy / Baked Potatoes

A few weeks ago I posted the first of several recipes I'll share featuring one of my favorite kitchen gadgets - the Crockpot. As I mentioned, it is so easy to use and there is something satisfying about coming home after a long day to a warm meal. Making baked potatoes in your Crockpot is so embarrassingly easy, you'll kick yourself for not trying it before. All you do is wash your potatoes, poke them a few times with a fork, wrap each one with aluminum foil, toss them in the Crockpot and turn it on low for 6-8 hours.

My favorite inexpensive and simple meal to make for a crowd is a baked potato bar with bowls full of fun toppings like bacon bits, chives, chili, cheese, you name it. The potatoes we had this day were a little small, so I decided to make them into Twice Baked Potatoes and serve them for dinner with a salad.

The Internet abounds with easy recipes for them, but I just made up my own using what we had available in the fridge. You start by cutting the potatoes in half lengthwise and carefully scooping the insides out. Dump those into a bowl and add some milk, butter, sour cream, salt and pepper to taste. Mix and mash well. I then stirred in a large handful of shredded cheddar cheese and some chopped ham. After loading up the little potato skin boats, I sprinkled cheese on the top and baked them at 350 degrees in the oven for about 30 minutes. We always have a variety of types and sizes of potatoes at our house (come on, what Idahoan doesn't?!), and this meal is a hit at our house with the kids and adults alike.

Monday, August 3, 2009

FOODIE: Capri Restaurant

We have driven by the Capri Restaurant in the Budget Inn on Fairview Avenue near 27th in Boise weekly on the way to my mom's place in the North End. For some odd reason, it took me until this summer to see the marquee signage on this old school diner and take them seriously. Really? You think you have the BEST BREAKFAST IN BOISE? Bring it.
The first time we went was a surprise for Eric on Father's Day, as he loves a leisurely breakfast out and the greasier the spoon the better. As soon as we saw the line out the door and the bright orange vinyl booths I knew the Capri wasn't foolin' around. Their super loyal clientele was surprised to hear it was our young family's first visit and raved reviews as we all stood waiting for a table, reading the paper and chatting outside. The waitstaff was friendly and fun and I got a kick out of their kitschy tee shirt uniforms. Eric really enjoyed the chicken fried steak and I loved my omelet. We've been back a few times since and you always know you've found a good breakfast joint when a foursome of old dudes sit for hours chatting slowly over coffee are seated next to tatted up hipsters with bedhead still reeking of Jagermeister. And the pleasant vibe of the place combined with delightfully full bellies compels them all to say good morning to our little family of four despite our talking baby dolls propped next to their heads and the constant barrage of flying Cherrios. For all these reasons and more, the Capri has made its way into my heart as my favorite breakfast in Boise.