Monday, July 30, 2012

Fun at Lake Pend Oreille

Just over a week ago, the four of us and my sister piled into our minivan and made the long trek across our state into northern Idaho. The destination? Lake Pend Oreille .... land of tranquility and beauty.

Truly, visiting the lake is my version of going to Mecca. I started going there on a regular basis when I was about 16 and have never looked back. We are very fortunate that my sister and her family are so generous with their little bit of Paradise and invite us to visit them when they're at the cabin.

Our first full day at the cabin was blissful. The sun was out, the lake was fairly warm, and sky was blue. We spent most of the day in or next to the lake just playing and staying cool. Annika was enamored with the paddle boat (or as she called it "peddle boat") and thought it was just about the neatest thing EVER. Conor, like his sister, thought it was wonderful. He couldn't reach the peddles, but he could steer that boat like there was no tomorrow."No! I do it!" was his common refrain (accompanied by swatting our hands off of the steering handle thingy) as we paddled around the lake. I'm sure he's now knows to the other folks on the lake as "that independent little boy".

Annika "fishing" in the lake

Conor and Me in the "peddle" boat

Ready, set, GO!!!!

Cannon ball!!!!!


Annika following in her daddy's footsteps

There she goes!

Cute little splash!

My little fishies

While Eric and Annika happily splashed in the lake, Conor got to work excavating the beach

Only stopping now and then to check on the lake activities

And then went back to digging in the sand ... a boy's work is never done!
Stay tuned for more lake details ....

Friday, July 27, 2012

July Daring Bakers' Challenge: Crackers

Wow - this month's Daring Bakers' challenge was a lot of fun! We had a very open-ended task, which made my creativity go crazy... the challenge? To make homemade crackers. As soon as I saw the challenge, I thought "you can make crackers??" and then I thought "cool!"

As a mother of young children, I knew which recipe I was going to try as soon as I found it on the Plan to Eat blog: homemade goldfish crackers. Seriously, what could be better than that for a family that buys goldfish crackers in bulk?

The first step was to put the dry ingredients in the Cuisinart
The next step was to add the little chunks of cold butter
(Ah ha! The secret to why these little fishies were so tasty)

After pulsing the butter and dries together, it was time for cheese... lots and lots of extra sharp cheese
The dough all ready for its 1 hour rest in the fridge
While I worked on the dough, Eric got creative making the
fish-shaped cutter out of a Diet Coke can. Didn't he do an amazing job??
These are my fish-decorating tools: a broken toothpick for the
eyes and a cut straw for the smiles
Isn't he cute???
Holy moly, but was this tedious! I wound up abandoning the fish shapes
after the pan was full; I used a larger circle shape for the remaining dough

The crackers weren't overly crackery. They were poofy, not at all crunchy, and more cheese puff-esque than I expected, but they were SOOOO good! Buttery and cheesy ... what more could a girl ask for? I gave one to Annika and she decided, while cute, they weren't what she thought of when expecting a goldfish cracker, so she didn't want any more. (In fact, she spit out the one I gave her ... I'm still working on not being offended.)  ;)

This challenge sparked my interest in making crackers: I found recipes for homemade graham crackers, pepper jack cheese crackers, and rosemary/salt crackers ... all of which I'd like to try in the not-too-distant future. Stay tuned!

Our July 2012 Daring Bakers’ Host was Dana McFarland and she challenged us to make homemade crackers! Dana showed us some techniques for making crackers and encouraged to use our creativity to make each cracker our own by using ingredients we love.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Homemade Croissants - Revisited

A number of months ago, the Daring Baker's challenge was to make croissants ala Julia Child. Mine were ok at best, never that flaky goodness I expect croissants to be. I got it in my head that I needed to try again, but using a different flour blend (per Julia's suggestion ... like how we're on a first name basis now??)

I closely followed an episode from her TV show, during which she detailed the croissant-making procedure. and I went to work. Mind you, making croissants isn't a difficult task, but it takes A LONG TIME to complete. Rising and chilling time alone equals about 8 hours.

The final result from the time and effort? Still not 100% what I was hoping for, but MUCH closer to it than my previous attempts. Definitely getting closer to what I'm looking for. These croissants had a great flavor, lovely exterior, and fluffier/flakier interior than past attempts, but still a bit more dense than what I ultimately want. I think I need to find white pastry flour instead of the whole wheat pastry flour I used. Just means I get to keep trying!


God is Pretty Cool

Last night, the kids got chocolate milkshakes as a special treat, which resulted in the following conversation:

Annika: "We've got milkshakes."
Eric "Yes, we do."
Annika: "Well, SOME of us do. I do. Conor does."
Eric: "Daddy doesn't. Mommy doesn't. Buca and Smudge don't."
Annika: "And God doesn't."
Eric: "Yes, you are cooler than God because you have a milkshake."
Annika: "God is pretty cool because He made all the stuff."

Ahhh... the wisdom of a 4-year-old!

Thursday, July 19, 2012

S'mores Ice Cream Experiment

Last week, I was peeking around on Facebook when I noticed my sister-in-law (Staci) added a post about making s'mores ice cream (recipe courtesy of Brown Eyed Baker). Hmm.... I was intrigued. We've recently introduced our kids to the ooey-gooey sticky world of s'mores, and I thought the ice cream would be the topping on the cake (so to speak).

The key to the recipe? Toasting the marshmallows! Genius! Most recipes call for marshmallows, but this one really thought about what makes a s'more a s'more.... the toasting! To make our marshmallows have that "just off the campfire" taste, I used our kitchen torch to brown 'em up a bit... and only had to put out a couple of small fires. Too much fun, if you ask me!!

The next step was making the custard, and I had to agree with Staci, it was beyond amazing!! The trick is to make the custard and toasted marshmallows in the blender and create a smooth (albeit unattractive thanks to the cooked/burned marshmallow bits ... seriously, you've never seen a funkier color of ice cream!) concoction. Funky flavored, but soooo yummy!

Looking back, that's where I should have stopped.

After letting the ice cream custard hang out in the fridge overnight and letting it do its thing in the ice cream maker, I added the crushed graham crackers, as was called for by the recipe. In theory, great idea. In practice, not so much. It gave the final ice cream a soggy graham cracker texture that I didn't really find appealing. I'm a big texture person ... nuts don't belong in brownies, chunks don't belong in peanut butter, and soggy graham crackers don't belong in ice cream.

I also made and added the chocolate fudge swirl that the recipe called for. While I love that I have a better technique for adding swirls to my ice cream, I don't think the chocolate really did much for the final ice cream. I'm not a huge chocolate person, so that may be why... I also might have such a hard time moving past the graham cracker effect that I can't appreciate the chocolate. Either way, I've decided if I try again, I'll stop with the toasted marshmallow ice cream and call it a winner!

Last night, I have the kids some of the ice cream for dessert and they LOVED it... devoured it, in fact. Perhaps it is grand as is and I'm just weird.... who knows??

Who wants ice cream???

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Childhood Evolution

It is amazing how much little kids learn ... and how fast they learn it. I thought I'd share a few signs of our children's verbal evolution... if not for you, then for me so I can remember how they sounded when I'm old and gray. (OK.... older and grayer)

We have a dog. His name is Buca. A few months ago, Conor called him "Bupta" and now he calls him "Buta". Gettin' closer, my wee one!

Annika used to say "uppy down", which evolved into "eyeside down" and now she says "upside down". (Evolution complete!

We have a cat. His name is Smudge. Conor used to call him "Cat!" and now he calls him "'Mudge" (The "s" sounds still eludes Conor.)

Annika used to sing "Oh, the Lord is Good to me and so I thank the Lord for giving me the things I need, the sun and the rainy apple seed. The Lord is good to me. AMEN!" Now, "rainy apple seed" has been replaced with "rain and the apple seed." (Evolution complete)

When we tell Conor to be careful, he responds "I DO!"

When Annika was younger and wanted to try doing something on her own, she would proclaim "B'self!!"

Conor used to call himself "Nanu", which has evolved into "Taner. That said, he still thinks his real name is "Nanu." Recently, I asked him if he knows his name. "YES!" he proclaimed. I asked what his first name is. "Taner". I asked what his last name is. "Oson!" (close enough!). I asked if he knew his middle name. "YES!" he proclaimed again. I asked what it was, and he said "Nanu!"

Annika used to call herself "Ankuh" and that eveolved into "Ateetah".

What does this mean? Our kids are going and learning at lightning speed and while I dread the days they'll be on their own and not in our home, I also look forward to seeing the people they blossom into and the things they'll learn along the way.

(Excuse me while I wipe a few tears away from my cheek now.)

Monday, July 16, 2012

Sourdough Chocolate Cake

I've taken on a new profession (of sorts) ... sourdough starter rancher. It is a great profession .. I feed and care for my precious stock and get to turn it into all sorts of yummy baked goods. Really, how could that be anything but a good thing??

I found myself pondering about non-bread uses for my starter, which made me turn to my trusty friend the Internet. Oh, how I do adore the Internet and all of its recipes! (Except for Emeril's cornbread ... that was GROSS! But I digress...)

While surfing the 'net, I ran across a sourdough chocolate cake recipe on the King Arthur Flour website and decided to give it a try. Oh my, but am I glad that I did (and so are my co-workers). The cake did take a bit of forethought because it required 2-3 hours for the sourdough to get fed and eat (geez .. who takes that long for a flour/water meal??). Then, it is time to make the cake (easy!) and chocolate/espresso frosting (easy and insanely yummy!) and chocolate drizzle (a snap!).

The only issue I had was the 9x13 pan I have probably needed to be about 1/4" taller to keep the frosting from oozing over the edges. Oh well ... small price to pay for a yummy cake. As promised by the recipe, the cake doesn't taste like sourdough; I think the sourdough provided the great leavening and poof to the cake.

Will definitely keep this recipe on hand for future use!

Sourdough Chocolate Cake

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Eric's Apprentice

Eric is a beer guy. I know, that isn't exactly shocking news. He not only appreciates drinking a good beer, but he also likes brewing beer now and again. He recently brewed a batch of porter and Annika decided to lend a hand. He taught her about following the instructions, how to read the instruments, and how to follow a set process. She was eager to lend a hand and was mighty cute while doing so.

Who knows? Maybe they'll start their own micro brewery one day. :)

Siphoning the beer from the fermenting bucket thing to the glass bubble thing
(like my technical jargon??)

Eric explaining the process of transferring the beer from one container to the other

Annika taking a whiff of the porter

Annika watching the beer flow into the glass jug (I think it is called the carboy)

Taking a reading of the starting alcohol level

Annika using her looking eyes to help Eric take the reading

Time to put the beer "nigh-night" and tuck it under its covers

Annika giving the beer a goodnight kiss...

...and hug

Monday, July 9, 2012

Best Sprinkler Day EVER

Summer has finally arrived in Seattle, and much to our shock, it was here in time for the 4th of July. The common joke around these parts is summer officially begins on July 5th, because we usually have soggy fireworks on the 4th.

It has been warm enough over the past few days for the kids to don their swimsuits and run through the sprinkler. Last year, Conor was a bit apprehensive about the sprinkler, but this year had no qualms about diving right in. Annika was an old pro at the sport and could hardly contain her excitement at the idea of running through the sprinkler.

The kids had an absolute blast running around getting wet and cooling off. Their giggled and laughed the entire time they were outside. Even when they were shivering and cold, they resisted leaving the sprinkler behind and wrapping up in their towels.

As we walked into the house, Annika proclaimed, "Best sprinkler day EVER!!" (Made my mommy heart so happy to hear that our kids are enjoying their childhood.)

Starting out with getting fingers wet

Conor enjoying the spray
Annika speeding through the sprinkler
Conor figuring out how sprinklers work

Sheer joy

Summer fun
Stopping for a little refreshment

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Gin and Tonic Cupcakes

I've been asked to share the gin and tonic cupcake recipe, but wanted to do a bit more fine tuning before making the recipe public. I kept meaning to get to it, but life continued to get in the way (go figure!), but I decided today was the day to work on the recipe and get it to a place I'm happy with.

Summer has (finally) arrived in Seattle, which didn't exactly make me jump at the idea of heating up our kitchen with wild enthusiasm. Instead, I scaled the recipe to a size that would fit in our toaster oven. I have 9 silicone muffin cups and they fit on the cookie sheet that came with the toaster oven, so that's what I wound up making. You can definitely scale the recipe up to make more than 9 cupcakes!

Without further ado: Gin and Tonic Cupcakes

Yield: 9 cupcakes

Cupcake Ingredients:
  • 1/4 c butter (at room temp)
  • 1 egg
  • 1/3 + 1/4 c all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 c milk
  • 1/8 c gin (I used Bombay Sapphire)
  • 1/2 c sugar
  • 1 T lime zest
  1. Preheat oven to 350F.
  2. In medium bowl, beat butter with electric mixer until smooth.
  3. Add sugar, egg, and lime zest. Mix well.
  4. In separate bowl, combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Whisk a few times to remove any lumps.
  5. Pour milk and gin into a measuring cup (one with a spout is helpful).
  6. Alternate adding the flour mixture (1/3 at a time) and the milk/gin mixture (1/2 at a time) to the butter/sugar mixture. Note: Start and end with adding the flour mixture and mix well after each addition.
  7. Spray paper muffin cups with non-stick spray.
  8. Spoon batter into muffin cups (fill each cup about 3/4 full)
  9. Bake for 12-15 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean.
  10. Place on wire rack to cool.
Frosting Ingredients:
  • 4 T butter
  • 2 T Crisco
  • 9 1/2 T gin (again, I used Bombay Sapphire)
  • 3/4-1 tsp True Lime (use less or more depending upon how "limey" you want it
  • 5 c powdered sugar
  • 1 T whipping cream
  1. In  medium bowl, mix butter and Crisco with electric mixer until smooth.
  2. Add 2 c. powdered sugar and True Lime. Mix well.
  3. Add gin. Mix well.
  4. Add remaining powdered sugar or enough until you get a smooth frosting; the exact amount will vary depending upon your local climate.
  5. When cupcakes are completely cool, pipe or spread the frosting on the cupcakes.
  6. EAT UP!!

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Independence Day ala the Olsons

Our celebration of the U.S.A.'s birthday wasn't quite what we anticipated. On the 3rd, Eric and the kids picked me up after work so we could head over to my brother/sister-in-law's house for a fun family sleepover.... at least, that was the plan.

Mid-span on the I-90 bridge, Conor got sick (he'd been complaining about a tummy ache since Eric and the kids entered downtown). Fortunately, my mommy senses kicked in and I had a plastic bag at the ready, so my van didn't get trashed (woot). We offered to cancel the night, but Troy insisted we continue as planned and come up with a Plan B if the tummy troubles continued. Fortunately, all seemed to be fine. Conor was a bit lethargic, but no more getting sick.

We had a laid back evening at Troy/Staci's and enjoyed a yummy pizza dinner (as I'm sure the founding fathers would have done had pizza delivery been invented back in 1776!) and plenty of laughter.

The next morning, Conor was back to his normal self and happily played throughout the morning. He was feeling so good that we took a mini field trip to the playground in Troy/Staci's housing development. The kids had a blast! They played on the swings and play structures, went down the slides, and event spent time trying to master crossing the monkey bars. Unfortunately, that wiped out Annika and she started to go down hill a bit (uh oh); she wound up spending the rest of the morning in our niece Kat's bed watching "Tangled".

We spent time in the backyard marveling at the fact it wasn't raining on the 4th of July, had a lovely BBQ lunch, and then high-tailed it back home so everyone could take a much-needed nap and to flee before my brother's family was even more exposed to our family's potential tummy troubles.

After 3 of the 4 of us slept, we had a very traditional dinner of waffles and then showed the kids how the "pop-it" firecrackers and little American flags can make the 4th of July a party for all.

Eric pushing Annika on the swings


Conor having fun on the play structure

Annika whispering the reasons why she is glad Eric is her daddy

Annika whispering the reasons why she is glad I'm her mama
(She's a very breathy whisperer ... it tickles!!)

Annika zipping down the bumpy slide

Eric showing his patriotic side

Conor having a one-man flag parade

Annika wanted us to have a parade on the street, but settled for one on the deck
(I'm fairly certain she thinks we are slacker parents)