Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Carving Pumpkins

Happy Halloween!!

It is raining like made here in Seattle, so we expect a very damp trick or treating experience tonight. That's ok ... we're natives and are only thrown off of our game when it ISN'T raining on Halloween.

To help our house look a bit more festive, we broke out our pumpkins and carving knives on Monday. The kids were thrilled to have a chance to get into the holiday mood ... not to mention, decide what their pumpkins would ultimately look like. We tag teamed the kids (and their pumpkins), which seemed to work out quite nicely. No one had to be patient or feel left out of the experience. Parenting win for us!

Annika and Eric sketching out her concept

Conor adding his two cents worth to his pumpkin's sketch

The first incision

Conor "cooping" out his pumpkin

We were amazed by how thick and unseedy these pumpkins were...
made cleaning out the insides very easy, thought

Annika cleaning out her pumpkin

Conor and his finished jack-o-lantern

Annika and her finished jack-o-lantern

The whole "fierce pumpkin" carving team

Conor and his pumpkin really see eye to eye

Conor checking out his workmanship

Eric finishing up the creative process ... notice
the lack of children at this point; they abandoned the process temporarily for
something more exciting... aka chasing each other around the kitchen a few times

Conor inspecting his flameless candle

Annika and her "fierce" pumpkin

Monday, October 29, 2012

Our Kennewick Weekend

Last Friday, Annika's school was closed for teacher training. That meant one of us would be home with her and the idea of "hey, why don't we make a weekend out of it an visit the extended family in Kennewick before the passes get snowy" took shape.

Before kids, the door-to-door drive would take us 3 hours in the summer and 3.5 hours in the winter (barring anything weird like pass closures, etc.). On Friday, it took us 4.5 or 5 hours to go door to door. Nothing like traveling with wiggly kids who have to pee every 10 minutes!

We wound up driving two cars over because of our plan to leave our spare car behind so our nieces can use it. Great in theory... in practice, that resulted in Eric having a very peaceful drive over with our dog and me having a stressful time driving our kids over in the van. We did caravan and used Annika's Hello Kitty walkie talkies to maintain an open line of communication between the cars, but that didn't help when the kids needed new movies in the DVD player or helping picking up the book/toy/shoe/water bottle that they happened to drop. I was pretty frazzled by the time we pulled up to our destination but was glad we made it in one piece and me without too many bald spots. ;)

Our plan was to stick around until Sunday, but that had a chance of getting hijacked when Eric's boss reached out to him saying there were Internet connectivity issues back at the office. Mind you, this was at 9 Friday night. Eric wound up working with a guy from the ISP until 1:30 AM on Saturday (can we have a collective "ugh, that poor guy!!" inserted here, please??) Fortunately, the issue was resolved and Eric didn't have to pack up our crew for a Saturday return trip to Seattle, which he thought might have to happen.

Conor woke up at 4:50 Saturday morning (can we have a collective, "ugh, that's early" inserted here, please??); to pass the time, he and I hung out in the bedroom's walk in closet (all of us shared a room that weekend) and read stories until Annika woke up a bit after 6:00. To let the others in the house sleep as long as possible (namely, Eric), I shuttled the kids off to the closest Starbucks for hot cocoa ("hot toto", per Conor) and the opportunity to speak above a whisper.

The rest of the weekend was really mellow. John (Eric's brother) made chocolate chip cookie dough before we arrived so he and the kids could do a project together. (Wasn't that sweet of him??) It was a huge hit; the kids loved it ... and the rest of us loved the resulting cookies.

It was a rainy, cold weekend, so we mostly hung out at the house and caught up with Eric's brother and his family, as well as Eric's sister and her husband, who live close to Eric's brother (et al).

A few months ago, Eric's brother's family added a 3rd Great Dane to their pack. They named him Zed; he's super cute, but already bigger than our Buca. He decided that Annika (who runs everywhere and makes random squeaky noises) was his toy, so took to chasing her and trying to play with her. Annika wasn't overly impressed with that idea. Zed also wanted to play (aka nibble  and slobber on) Buca, who like Annika, wasn't overly enthusiastic with the idea, so poor Zed spent a lot of the weekend segregated from the kids or on a leash. Our kids had a great time with the older Danes (Nevaeh and Boomer) who were much slower and less inclined to think our kids were chase-worthy.

On Sunday morning, we packed up and made the long drive home. (Fortunately, without the many potty stops that we had on Friday!) Because of our fairly early start, we had the freeway to ourselves for much of drive to Ellensburg. We saw quite a few gorgeous fog banks (partially making me wish we had the ability to stop on the side of the freeway so I could practice photographing landscapes), not to mention beautiful waterfalls in the mountains and some stunning autumn-colored trees all along the way.



View of the canyon Friday night

Boomer and Erin chillin' on the floor

Makin' cookies with Uncle John


Sunday, October 28, 2012

October Daring Bakers Challenge: Mille-feuille/Napoleon

This month's Daring Bakers challenge really had me revved up from the minute I saw it. We were tasked to make napoleons ... including making our own puff pastry from scratch. Really? Puff pastry and pastry creme all layered on top of each other in one stack of heavenly goodness. Oh darn! :D

I found this challenge really straightforward and not tricky. The only difficulty I had was finding the time to do it. October proved to be a really busy month for us and mille-feuille is a two-day baking experience. Much like when making croissants, a dough (not yeast-based, unlike croissant dough) is made and rolled into a square (Day 1). Then, butter is pounded a bit and placed in the middle of the dough square. Then dough is folded in over the butter, rolled out, turned, refolded, chilled, rolled, folded, turned, etc. etc. etc. The pastry creme is also made on day 1. Both creations spend the night in the fridge to get nice and cold. The next day, the dough is rolled, folded, turned, rolled, folded, turned a few more times. Once the required rolling, folding, and, turning is complete, the dough is rolled out one more time, cut into thirds, and baked. After the dough has a chance to cool, the napoleons begin to really take shape because that's when the stacking of the pastry creme and puff pastry goodness takes place.

This recipe called for topping the napoleon with royal icing and a chocolate drizzle, but I found that to be unnecessary ... too sweet. I would have preferred an unsweetened whipping cream with raspberries instead... it needed a little tartness to the dish. Another thing I decided was to pre-cut the puff pastry before stacking the napoleons... aka make a bunch of little ones instead of making one big one; cutting got a bit messy because the knife's downward pressure made the pastry creme ooze a bit. That said, it still tasted good!

All in all, though, I was pleased with how my dessert turned out. Hurray!

Our October 2012 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Suz of Serenely Full. Suz challenged us to not only tackle buttery and flaky puff pastry, but then take it step further and create a sinfully delicious Mille Feuille dessert with it!

Monday, October 22, 2012

My Birthday

This weekend, I started the last year of my 30s. Yup.... I'm 39, or as Annika kindly told me, I'm OLD!!

Old people, like me, tend to prefer quite celebrations instead of partying 'til dawn birthday shin-digs. We've been go-go-going so much lately that a quiet day of doing very little sounded like an ideal way to spend my birthday. I barely lifted a finger all day, which was a huge treat and got lots of quality time with Eric and the kids.

Eric was starting to get sick, so while he took a little nap, I took the the kids to Carkeek Park so they could play and I could practice my photography skills. Wind = fast moving clouds = constantly changing lighting = freaking hard!! (but I digress...)

There were only two other people on the beach when we arrived, which was great. The kids were thrilled to throw rocks in the water, run after seagulls, find walking sticks, and relocate the driftwood (good thing the beach has interior designers). The sky was an incredible blue and the whipping wind meant there were lots of sailboats on the water for us to watch. After exhausting the beach fun, we trekked up the stairs and spent some time at the play area working out any last bits of remaining energy. The kids (and I) had a blast!

After our Carkeek excursion, we went home for lunch (aka Dicks burgers),  nap/quiet time, and a low-key afternoon at home. My big accomplishment was taking the time to put the zipper in my Halloween dress.

Thanks to Eric, who made my birthday very special and relaxing. You're the BEST, Sweetie!!

Oh! And what did my amazing husband/kids give to me? A new tripod, remote for the camera, boot trees, and Sees candy. Now, just ask who played with the tripod and remote first? One hint ... it wasn't me. ;) 

Conor having fun at the beach

Throwin' rocks

Fixing the beach's feng shui

Good thing Annika was there to fix up the beach's decor

This was the closest I could get to having them both smiling
and looking in my general direction

Beautiful day at the beach

Annika pretending to be old with her walking stick
(she told me she was pretenting to be Aunt June ... my 99-year-old great aunt)

Conor: The king of the slide

Monday, October 8, 2012

Do you know the days of the week?

Some time ago, Annika learned a song at school that helps the kids learn the days of the week. Conor has started picking up on it and now is her backup singer.

I love listening to our kids sing; their sweet little voices make me smile from ear to ear. They sing with pure enthusiasm and verve.

For your listening pleasure ... the singing Olsons!

Sunday, October 7, 2012

When Double-Dipping Is a Good Thing

On Friday, I got an IM from Eric saying how someone brought Top Pot doughnuts to work and he had part of a maple bar. Now, if you know me, you know that I love the maple bars from Top Pot. They are scrumptious and the perfect balance between sweet and maple. So, I decided that making doughnuts this weekend was a definite must.

I originally planned on making the maple bars found in the Top Pot cook book, but didn't think I had bread flour (I wound up finding some later on) and definitely didn't have any ground mace. So, I went to my old faithful doughnut recipe from the Pioneer Woman (making a 1/2 recipe in the interest of our waistlines); instead of using the Pioneer Woman's glaze, I topped these round bits of yummy goodness with the maple glaze (double dipped!) from the Top Pot cook book. HEAVENLY!

Homemade Glazed Doughnuts (ala Pioneer Woman)

Doughnut Ingredients

  • 1-⅛ cup Whole Milk, Warm
  • ¼ cups Sugar
  • 2-¼ teaspoons (one Package) Instant Or Active Dry Yeast
  • 2 whole Large Eggs, Beaten
  • 1-¼ stick Unsalted Butter, melted
  • 4 cups All-purpose Flour
  • ¼ teaspoons Salt
  • Shortening (NOTE: I used canola oil)
To Make the Dough:
  1. Make sure milk is nice and warm, but not overly hot.
  2. Add sugar to milk. Stir to dissolve.
  3. Add yeast into a small bowl.
  4. Pour milk/sugar mixture over yeast. Stir gently, then let sit for 10 minutes.
  5. Melt butter in separate bowl until butter is almost melted. Stir to finish melting so butter won’t be overly hot.
  6. Add beaten eggs to melted butter, stirring constantly to make sure the butter’s not too hot for the eggs.
  7. Add the egg/butter mixture to the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the dough hook.
  8. With the mixer on 3 or medium-low speed, pour in the yeast mixture.
  9. Allow the dough hook to stir this mixture for a couple of minutes, making sure it’s thoroughly combined.
  10. With the mixer still going, add helpings of the flour mixture in 1/4 to 1/2 cup increments until all the flour is gone.
  11. Stop the mixer, scrape the bowl, then turn the mixer on the same speed for five whole minutes.
  12. After five minutes, stop the mixer and scrape the bottom of the bowl.
  13. Turn on the mixer for 30 seconds.
  14. Turn off the mixer and allow the dough to sit in the bowl undisturbed for 10 minutes.
  15. After 10 minutes, transfer dough to a lightly oiled bowl. Toss the dough to coat, then cover the bowl with plastic wrap and place straight in the fridge.
  16. Refrigerate dough for at least 8 hours, or overnight.
To Make the Doughnuts:
  1. Remove bowl from fridge and turn out dough onto a lightly floured surface.
  2. Roll out to 1/4 to 1/3-inch thickness.
  3. Using a 3-inch cutter, cut as many rounds as you can, then roll out remaining dough and cut as much as you can, etc.
  4. Cut holes out of each round using a 1 1/2-inch cutter.
  5. Place both doughnuts and holes on a floured baking sheet.
  6. Cover with large tea towel and place in a warm place in your kitchen; my kitchen is very drafty, so I have to briefly warm the griddle, then turn it off and set the sheets on top to keep warm.
  7. Allow doughnuts to rise undisturbed for at least 1 hour; 1 hour 15 minutes if necessary. Doughuts should be visibly puffier and appear to be airy.
To Fry the Doughnuts
  1. Heat plenty of vegetable shortening (NOTE: I use canola oil) in a large pot until the temperature reaches 375 to 380 degrees—do not let it get hotter than 380 degrees! 375 is ideal; keep the thermometer in the pan to continually monitor.
  2. One to two at a time, gently grab doughnuts and ease them into the hot oil. Allow them to cook 1 minute on each side (NOTE: I found chop sticks to be the ideal flipping tool); they will brown very quickly.
  3. Remove doughnuts from the oil with a slotted spoon (NOTE: I used a spider instead of a spoon), allowing all oil to drip off.
  4. Place doughnut immediately on several layers of paper towels. Count to five, then flip it over onto a clean part of the paper towels. Count to five, then flip it over again; the purpose, obviously, is to drain as much grease as possible before it soaks into the doughnut.
  5. Repeat with remaining doughnuts and holes. The holes will cook more quickly than the doughnuts; about 30 seconds per side. (NOTE: Doughnut holes are really hard to cook evenly on both sides because they definitely have an "up" side! Used the chop sticks to brown the 2nd sides more easily.)
  6. Allow doughnuts to slightly cool. (NOTE: I let them cool completely per the suggestion in the Top Pot cook book.)
Top Pot Maple Glaze
  • 4 1/2 c powdered sugar (sifted)
  • 1 1/2 tsp light corn syrup
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 3/4 tsp maple extract (NOTE: After taking a taste, I decided a bit more maple was needed, so I bumped it up to 1 tsp.)
  • 1/3 c + 1 T hot water
  1. Place all ingredients in bowl and whisk until smooth. If too thick, add more hot water 1 tsp at a time.
  2. Dip cooled doughnuts into glaze. (NOTE: I double dipped after the first coating had a chance to dry for a minute or two)
  3. Let dry 10-15 minutes (unless you're Eric, who lets them dry 10-15 seconds) before eating.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Our 2012 Pumpkin Patch Excursion

Each year, our family visits a small pumpkin patch/petting farm that is about 20 minutes away from our house. Eric and I even went there once before we had kids... back when we were young and not sleep depraved. :)

One of the draws for this location (aside from the fact it isn't overly far from our house) is it has farm animals in addition to pumpkins. They have a miniature horse, chickens galore, pigs, sheep, goats, a calf, peacocks (not exactly a farm animal...), ducks, and turtles (again, not so much in the farm category, but they are there).

Last night, I realized our run of amazing weather will probably come to an end before too much longer, which made today an ideal day to visit the pumpkin patch. Eric, in all his wisdom, pointed out how nasty parking was last year and how we should arrive as close to when the farm opened as possible (which for us, was about a half hour .. which is pretty good for our crew!). The weather was so gorgeous this morning that we didn't even need coats. No coats in Seattle in October??? What has the world come to?

We got an amazing parking spot and scurried right in. As we paid the entrance fee, the gal told us that some piglets were born the day before and we should make sure to peek in on them. I am so glad we did! The piglets (11 total) were adorable! As we ooh'd and ahh'd over the piglets, the mama pig slept like only a new mother can. She was exhausted and snoring loudly in case anyone missed the fact she had given birth 11 times over yesterday. (Either that or she has sleep apnea and needs a CPAP machine.)

We also got a chance to visit the farm's sheep. There were two kids that were absolutely precious. They hopped around like they were made of springs. Poor Annika and Conor just couldn't move slowly enough to keep the sheep from scrambling as they got near.

After feeding the chickens and turkeys, playing in the barn, and me trying to smuggle the precious calf of the barn and into our car (ok, that last part didn't really happen, but I sure considered it for a few moments), we headed off to the pumpkin patch to pick out which orange beauties we'd take home.

In previous years, we've waited until closer to Halloween to go to the pumpkin patch and found the fields to be rather picked over. This year, we went the 2nd weekend they were open (they're only open to the public during the weekends of October), we got to pick from a wonderful selection of pumpkins.

Eric and Annika walking toward the entrance

I'm not kidding (get it??) .. one of the cutest animals ever!

Cute little piggies!!
(Compare them to the size of the mama's hoof!!)

Conor trying to haul his pumpkin with him

Annika showing her pumpkin of choice

The kids decided they were too tired of walking,
so they hitched a ride with the pumpkins

Waiting for Daddy to pay for the pumpkins

All ready to head home

Monday, October 1, 2012

Mamas at Gas Works Park

Last Monday, the Mamas with Cameras met at Gas Works Park to learn how to shoot cityscapes, particularly during sunset at and night.

First of all, I cannot thank the group's leaders (Mary and Wenmei) for all that they've taught me about photography. They are very knowledgeable and have a great teaching method... not to mention, are incredibly talented photographers!

Now, on to the pictures...

We traipsed all over Gas Works Park, and in all honesty, there aren't many more wonderful places in Seattle for getting a variety of settings and backdrops. Up on the sundial offers amazing views of the Aurora Bridge and downtown Seattle. Down by the water offers a closer view of downtown and the watercraft that travel along Lake Union. I'd hoped we see a sea plane land, but had no such luck.
We learned how to catch the setting sun on the buildings and in the lake
Mary and Wenmei goofing around under the cement arches; we worked
on creating depth/tunneling by shooting under the repeating arches

Downtown Seattle & Lake Union
(shot from up on the sundial hill)

One tip was to switch our white balance setting over to Tungsten to better capture
the lights in the buildings ... if you switch too early, your pictures wind up too blue ... just like this!

The skyline shot with the white balance back on the cloudy setting... MUCH BETTER!

Downtown Seattle after the sun set a bit more
(the tungsten setting was a better fit this time)

Note to self: Don't try balancing the tripod on 2 legs!

My favorite shot of the night