Monday, November 30, 2015

Thanksgiving 2015 Recap

This year, we continued our tradition of heading up to Whidbey to spend Thanksgiving at Eric's parents' house.

They are so kind to open their doors to us each year ... and we don't say that just because Eric's dad smokes a turkey AND roasts a turkey. (SO AMAZINGLY GOOD!) Not only do they open their doors to the four of us, but also to my side of the family (who couldn't make it due to other family obligations and illness this go-around) and  the practically-family friends who we bring along.

We have a great system for dividing up the work (aka meal prep) and the holiday tends to go quite smoothly. Sure, there's chaos, but it is the good kind of "we're all here and having fun together" kind of chaos. This year, I decided to make some Thanksgiving cookies to (a) eat and (b) use as place markers at the table. I used my turkey cookie cutter for the little cookies. For the place marker (bigger) cookies, I opted to trace Annika and Conor's hands and use them to create handprint turkey cookies. Fun, right??? Each person got a handprint turkey with his or her name printed on it. I had such fun making them and using the kids' handprints made them that much more special. (Unfortunately, my in-laws' puppy got to the cookies before we unloaded them from the car. Lucky for him, he's a mighty cute dog ... it's hard to hold a grudge when the other end of the grudge is a sweet, fuzzy puppy face.)

Little turkey cookies

Handprint cookies
"The carnage following the Cookie Massacre of 2015"
Eric's best friend and his daughter joined us on the island this year, much to our happiness. Dave and Anne really are part of the family and having them with us to celebrate turkey day added to the whole day. Our kids played together until they practically collapsed due to exhaustion.... then played some more.  They even ventured out into the cold to decorate the driveway with a variety of sidewalk chalk creations. (After the kids returned to the warm indoors, the puppy turned almost all of the unused chalk into a snack .... whoops! Note to self: replenish the sidewalk chalk supply when we go to the island next time. Tee hee hee!!) The rest of the time, the kids kept themselves busy playing with Legos, balloons, and stuffed animals. The imaginary play they create really is remarkable!

Anne and Annika watching a movie together

Conor nibbling on a snack while watching a movie
While the turkey did its thing in the oven, we grownups pulled out the cards and played Euchre and Fool... two games that were new to us and so much fun to play. (Thanks, Dave, for taking on the role of card game instructor!) We are a competitive bunch, but even so, we have so much fun playing games together. We turn into silly creatures and are often struck with fits of giggles during times like these... it warms my heart to think of days like these. As we played cards, we were surrounded by the smells of Thanksgiving dinner in the oven and the sounds of our kids happily playing together.

After our hearty meal, we lounged in front of the TV and watched some good ol' football. In all honesty, I can't even remember who played in the game, but I do remember cheering my heart out at the time. The kids weren't overly interested in the game, so they sought shelter from the crazy grownups downstairs in the great room, where they happily played/relaxed in a world that was all their own.

We have so much to be thankful for... a roof over our heads, food in our tummies, jobs that we enjoy, our health (speaking of which, Annika's broken wrist is getting better each day!), and loved ones to celebrate the holidays with. A special thank you to Eric's parents for opening their doors and hearts to us... you are true gems!

Friday, November 27, 2015

Daring Bakers Challenge November 2015: Cheesecake Crumble Pie

This month's Daring Bakers challenge was completely new to me, but seemed like a "how could this possibly turn out anything but yummy" kind of challenge. We were asked to do our own take on a cheesecake crumble pie. When I first read the challenge brief, I thought "they want us to make a what??" Lo and behold, this "cheesecake crumble pie" is really a thing and quite a popular thing. Who knew??

We were given quite a bit of leeway when it came to the flavor profile, so I opted to fill my go-to pie crust recipe with a pumpkin cheesecake recipe that I've been meaning to make for YEARS. Plus, it's fall ... no better time for something flavored with pumpkin! Based on the cheesecake recipe given in the challenge brief, I decided to half the cheesecake recipe I decided to use and I'm glad I did ... it was the perfect amount for my pie. I followed the crumble recipe that was provided in the brief (YUM) but easily could have halved that amount, too. I wound up with a bit too much on the pie and still had plenty left in my mixing bowl. That said, always better to have too much than too little when it comes to a crumble topping! :)

 I served the pumpkin cheesecake crumble pie as the dessert for our recent family dinner and everyone gave it a big thumbs up! I wasn't sure if our kids would think much of it, but from the pictures below, you'll see that I shouldn't have wondered. :)

Taste test

Future food critic's official verdict

Crumble face

Here are the recipes I used:

Butter Pie Crust (from a pie-making class I took a few years ago- amounts below make 2 crusts)
2 1/2 c all-purpose flour
1 tsp salt
1 c cold butter
1/2 c ice water

Pumpkin Cheesecake (I halved all of the amounts listed below when I made the pie)
Four 8-oz packages regular cream cheese (room temp)
1 1/2 c sugar
5 eggs (I used 3 when I halved the recipe)
1/4 c flour
2 tsp pumpkin pie spice
14 oz can pumpkin puree
Pinch of salt

Directions: Beat cream cheese until fluffy. Slowly ad sugar. Add eggs one at a time. Gradually add everything else.

Crumble Topping (from challenge brief)
1 cup scooped and levelled / 140g all-purpose (plain) flour
½ cup / 75g rolled oats
1 cup / 200g white sugar
⅔ cup / 135g brown sugar
½ tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp salt
½ cup / 1 stick / 113g cold unsalted butter

Directions: Mix all dry incredients together in small mixing bowl. Add butter and crumble together until it resembles a coarse meal (pea-sized).

For this challenge, I made and pre-baked the pie crust. When the crust was cool, I filled it with the pumpkin cheesecake filling, baked it at 500 for 15 minutes (10 would have been enough!), dropped the temp to 200, topped the pie with the crumble topping, and baked for 1 hour more. I should have followed my gut instinct and covered the crust with a collar before the 2nd bake because it got too dark, but oh well! No big deal... just a slightly darker crust than I otherwise would have preferred.

Pumpkin Cheesecake Crumble Pie


 For the month of November Krista & Nicole of "Two Cups of Sugar" challenged us to make our own version of cheesecake crumble pie.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Annika's Big Owie

Last Tuesday, as I was driving from the park and ride to the kids' school to pick them up, I got a call from the Extended Care teacher saying Annika fell from the playground equipment and hurt her wrist and it looked pretty serious. Fortunately, I was only about 3/4 of a mile from the school when my phone rang, so I was there in a flash. Even with a degree in English and only basic First Aid/CPR training under my belt, I could tell it was broken. There was an odd angle to her wrist and I knew it wasn't because of some funky swelling. 

Before I got to the school and saw her wrist, I called Eric and told him that based on how she was, I'd either meet him at school (so he could take Conor home) or I'd have him meet us at the ER. No doubt about it ... he was meeting us at the ER. I have to say, our local ER is wonderful. Their staff and care providers are always compassionate and efficient. Plus, it isn't a major hospital, so the wait times are often shorter than if we went to UW or Harvorview, for example. The ER doctor examined Annika's wrist and very kindly ordered pain meds for her before they bothered with x-rays (which did eventually confirm that she completely broke her left radius and ulna. The bones were at about a 25-degree angle, and the doctor (who has a friend/former colleague named Annika, by the way!) said setting the bones would require Annika to be sedated. NW Hospital's ER wasn't set up to do a pediatric sedation and after consulting with the orthopedic doctor at Children's Hospital, it was decided that we should switch hospitals. So, they splinted Annika's arm and sent us on our way. 

Side story: About an hour before we left NW Hospital, Eric and Conor headed home so they could let Buca outside and to get dinner into Conor. I didn't need my coat in the ER, so sent it home with Eric. Guess what! My car keys were in the coat pocket. WHOOPS! Fortunately, we live fairly close to the hospital and Eric/Conor were able to pop back with my coat and keys.

Waiting for Daddy to bring Mama's keys

We barely got settled in the waiting room at Children's when they called us back to get Annika ready to have her arm set. The silver lining? Eric's cousin happened to be on shift that night and was one of Annika's nurses!) Jensine walked in to the room Annika was happily watching cartoons in (God bless oxycodone and good hospital planning!) and said, "I wondered if this is the Annika Olson I know!" She gave Annika two little stuffed animals, as well as some marvelously kind/supportive words. 

Watching cartoons while waiting for her turn to get fixed up

Soon, Annika was wheeled into another room that was big enough for the medical staff to treat her arm. The nurse put in an IV and soon realized it didn't go in right, so he had to do it a second time, much to Annika's chagrin. I have to give our little girl credit, she was in pain and scared, yet really did a fabulous job putting on a brave face and breathing through the owie parts. Fortunately, she was sedated for the REALLY owie part... the setting of her bones. I swear, it looked like the doctor was trying to pull her arm off completely at some points during the procedure!! That said, when he was done and the cast was on, he took new x-rays, which showed how nicely the bones were aligned. 

Sleeping it off
It took awhile for Annika to get out of the sedation fog. The doctor in charge of the sedation warned me that Annika would probably see double as she came out of the sedation, and she was right! Annika, it turns out, is a really funny "drunk". She kept saying, "Mama!! Why I see two Mamas? You have four eyes and two noses!" She also tried to "catch" the leaf decorations on the walls in her recovery room. 

Once she was somewhat lucid, she was wheeled to an x-ray room, for one last set of images before we were  given the green light to go home. We rolled up to the house a few minutes before 1 AM ... and found a very tired/worried Eric standing at the door waiting for us. Poor guy couldn't sleep knowing his baby girl was hurt. Eric, Annika, and I stayed home on Wednesday to (a) get some sleep and (b) care for Annika's arm. There were a few tears when the reality of her injury started to sink in ... namely, no diving/swimming classes until she's better. Talk about a broken heart to go with her broken arm!

Feeling a bit perkier ... still enjoying the good meds
By Friday, she was ready to head back to school for a half day. She loved the celebrity associated with being back at school and had many people asking to sign her cast. 
Excited to go back to school

She'll return to Children's tomorrow for a follow-up appointment and to have the current cast removed and then a longer-term cast put in its place. She's hoping the new one will be pink and purple stripes ... much flashier than the plain white one she has now. I'm guessing a whole new round of friend signatures is on her horizon!

She's doing quite well now and is getting feistier each day. She's still sore, but that's to be expected. That said, I told her this morning that she was already almost a week into her healing and she exclaimed, "WOW! That was fast!" (Now, let's see if she still thinks that a month or so from now!) :)

A special thank you to everyone who expressed concern for Annika during this ordeal. We are so grateful for your kindness and compassion!

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

October 2015 Daring Bakers' Challenge: French Macarons

This month's Daring Bakers' challenge gave me the opportunity to tick another item off of my baking bucket list and I couldn't be more excited about how the whole thing went! This month, we were challenged to make French macarons ... no, not the coconut macaroons ... macarons ... the egg white-based sandwiched cookies that basically taste a little like Heaven.

We had to decide whether to use the French or Italian method of making these airy little delights. I opted for the Italian method, simply because I knew by bringing the sugar to a boil, I wasn't at risk of having gritty cookies. Gritty cookies = no bueno. 

We had free range for our flavors, so I made orange-zest cookies with a chocolate ganache filling. Oh... my... goodness. They were so yummy!

Because I'd never made them before, I was a bit nervous about how they'd turn out. Fortunately, watching various baking shows (a special thank you to Great British Bake Off) I knew some of the methods and tricks that would help lead me toward success. And success I did have!! Each cookie had its foot (aka bumpy part around the sides) that showed the air properly escaped as it poofed up the cookie. 

The cookies were properly crispy and chewy all at the same time. I really couldn't have been happier with how they turned out and will definitely make them again in the future.

Macaron feet

Orange and chocolate macarons

For the month of October we got to take on one of many bakers' deepest, darkest kitchen nightmares : macarons. Our talented bakers Korena from Korena in the Kitchen and Rachael from pizzarossa made the intimidating task of mastering these French beauties a breeze.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Conor's Band

This weekend, Conor and I were in the car when the following conversation took place:

Conor: Mama? Is there a band called The Love Handles?

Me: (trying not to giggle) No, Sweetie. I don't think there is a band called The Love Handles.

Conor: There should be. Isn't that a good band name? The Love Handles!

Me; Yes! It is a great name for a band. You're very clever to think of it.

Conor: I didn't think of it. There is a band called The Love Handles. But I think they broke up, so you should get them back together.

Me: So, I'm supposed to get The Love Handles back together?

Conor: Yes. So they can play music together again.

Annual Pumpkin Patch Pilgrimage, Circa 2015

When you live in Western WA, like we do, planning outdoor events and excursions often comes with the tag "weather permitting." When the weather window opens, we've learned to run at it full steam ahead because you never know when Mother Nature is going to slam it down on you.

Such was the case with our annual trip to Fairbank Farm for our family's Halloween pumpkins. As Conor and I were driving home from church, I realized my windshield was staying dry... the weather window was open!! The gray clouds above meant Mother Nature's hand was on that window, but we are brave (foolish?) folks and decided to risk it. As soon as we got home, I rallied the troops and soon we were in the car headed to the pumpkin patch.

We got to the pumpkin patch about an hour after it opened, which left us parking a couple of blocks away instead of in the farm's parking lot. (Obviously many others decided to pop in while the weather window was open like we did!) Soon, we were feeding the farm's various species of birds (ducks, geese, peacocks, chickens ... all of which smelled like wet bird), watching the pigs, oohing and ahhing over the baby ducks and newly-hatched (and hatching) chicks (note: better smelling than the wet adult birds out in the rain!), and wandering through the mini hay maze.

Because we're regulars at the farm, we were able to make pretty good time as we wove our way through the various sections of the farm. I think I'm the only one who even stopped to look at the pony this go-around! Plus, a number of years ago, the farm changed insurance companies and the new company wouldn't allow people into the pens with the calf and juvenile sheep, so there are a fewer spots to encourage us to lollygag in the barn.

One of our kids with one of the farm's kids

Conor and his new goat buddy

The gray goat kept head-butting the brown one... not hard, just often

Conor decided to referee the goats and restore peace in the goat pen

Once the kids (and their parents) got their fill of taking in the sights and sounds of the barn animals, we grabbed a wheelbarrow and made our way to the pumpkin patch. From our years of experience, we know to bypass the first patch and head to the back one ... novices stop at the first patch, which is more picked over. We seasoned veterans know to hike the extra 40-50 feet and enjoy the bounty of the slightly-less-visited back patch.

It's pumpkin season!

Each family member can pick out one pumpkin. Conor found many of "THE" one for him. His approach was to find a pumpkin that spoke to him (metaphorically, of course!) until another one had a louder voice. Then, the original pumpkin was put down and the next one was picked up. (This happened over and over until he felt comfortable with his final choice ... and it was basically time to leave.)

Conor with one of his chosen pumpkins

And with one of the many others that he deemed adoptable

Annika, on the other hand, was much more discerning in her pumpkin picking. She went in with one goal: to find the biggest pumpkin. No mediocre pumpkin was going to catch our girl's eye. (We can only hope she's this discerning when it comes to choosing people to date in the future!) As we tried to help her along (Mother Nature's hand was getting ever closer to the window, ya know!), all we did was annoy her by pointing out sub-par pumpkins. (Gosh, we are jerks!) Fortunately, she eventually did spot a pumpkin that she deemed worthy and gave us the green light to load it into the wheelbarrow with the rest of our orange loot.

Annika: Pumpkin Huntress

 Most years, I get a picture of the kids sitting in the wheelbarrow with our pumpkins. Only when it was too late did I realized we grabbed one of the smaller wheelbarrows and the kids wouldn't fit in... whoops! I did manage, however, to get one of my other go-to shots: the one of Eric and the kids wheeling our pumpkins away from the patch.

While Eric paid for the pumpkins, the kids played around in the farm's photo op area and put their faces through the holes painted in various scenes so I could take their pictures. They still think this is silly fun and are willing to participate. One day, they'll be too big (or cool) to do this, so I'm taking advantage of it while I can!

Our kids 

The cutest scarecrow and pumpkin on Earth!
After the pumpkins were paid for and loaded in the car, we headed home celebrating our pumpkin finds and outwitting Mother Nature ... we stayed dry the entire time. Yippee!!

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

A Circus Wish Comes True

For at least the past year, Annika has been asking to go to the circus. I'm not really sure what sparked her idea, but  she wasn't letting it go. She has even decided that she wants to be a trapeze artist when she grows up ... she is THAT interested in the circus!

A couple of months ago, I found out that the circus was going to be in town, so we decided to get tickets and surprise the kids. They had NO idea where we were going until we were there and saw the signs showing clowns and elephants. Conor was excited .... Annika, however, about came out of her skin with glee and anticipation all rolled up into one. It really was a dream come true for our little girl.

We weaved our way through the crowds and found our nosebleed seats. (While we were all about treating the kids to the circus, we weren't about to spend $100+ per seat!) Surprisingly, the nosebleed seats were quite good and we had a great view of everything.

Ready for the show to begin!

We were treated to clowns, acrobats, motorcylists, unicycle-riders, elephants, horses,dogs, and much more. The feats some of the people performed were really remarkable... the core strength of most of the performers was mind boggling!

I have to agree with Conor, who said some parts of the circus were simply too loud. At times, it was insanely noisy, but still visually impressive. (Note for any future circus outings: bring ear plugs!)

After the circus, we stopped at the Old Spaghetti Factory for dinner. During our meal, we asked the kids what their favorite parts of the circus were. Conor gave his vote to the acrobats (his new career path, by the way) while Annika's vote was for the trapeze artists (no shock there).

All-in-all, a very fun (and tiring) family adventure!