Thursday, January 31, 2013

Train Time!

Recently, Eric's best friend asked if we wanted to go to the Pacific Science Center's model train exhibit with him and his daughter. It sounded like a great outing, so we quickly agreed to meet Dave and Anne there that Sunday morning.

Our kids were all geared up for an adventure and about exploded when they heard that Uncle Dave and Anne would go on it with us. It was a cold and cloudy morning here in Seattle, and we were all pretty impressed that the top of the Space Needle was hidden from view by the low cloud cover. After waiting in a surprisingly long line to get tickets, we tracked down Dave and Anne and explored the rather impressive world of miniature trains. Fearing for the delicate models, we rather quickly abandoned the display area and let the kids run amuk in the play/interactive areas in the science center. The Lego table was a huge hit, as were any displays that had buttons the kids could push. We eventually wound our way to the water play area, and all I can say is "thank you" to the smart employee who thought of providing free canvas ponchos for the kids to wear. Brilliant!

This being the small world that it is, we even ran into our friend Rachel and her little boy Liam, who is Conor's age. It was amazingly chaotic, so we didn't get much time to chat, but it was still fun to get a little time to wave and watch the kids do their thing.

After exhausting ourselves in the mayhem of the science center, we headed across to the food court, ate mini chicken pot pies and macaroni/cheese pot pies, and worked our way home so Conor could take a much-needed nap. We'll have to head back soon, so the kids can play at the children's museum .... part of the city center we didn't make it to on train day.

The cloud-covered Space Needle

Annika and Conor in their conductor hats

One of the very impressive model train towns

Playing at the Lego table

Choo choo!

Annika riding on the train

Eric, Anne, and Dave waiting in the train line

Me riding the train

Anne and Dave at one of the water tables

Conor playing at a water table

Monday, January 28, 2013

One exhausting weekend

The weekend we just finished could be defined as "jam packed", but that might be a bit of a muted description.

Saturday started off with our trip to the passport office. Eric, Annika, and I needed to renew our passports and Conor needed to get his first passport. We were so smart getting ready for this adventure. We had pictures taken 3 weeks ago (right after the kids got haircuts), filled out and printed the required paperwork, grabbed Conor's birth certificate, had photocopies of our IDs, and had it all tucked away in a big envelope.... or so we thought. We arrived at the passport office about 10 minutes before it arrived, knowing two kids in a long line wouldn't be our definition of "fun". We were third in line and silently laughing at the suckers forming the line behind us. After about 10 minutes, it was our turn. We smugly handed the lady our packet of paperwork and as she sorted through everything, I saw the little square on the forms that identifies where the pictures need to go. My stomach sank. I turned to Eric and asked, "Did you grab the pictures? Please tell me you grabbed the pictures." His face sank. The lady smiled, returned our paperwork to us, and said, "we're open until 2." Fortunately, there was a drug store across the street that takes passport photos, so we just had new ones taken. (A small miracle for the photo snafu: Conor and I wound up with much better photos this time around.) We got back in line and made our way through to the desk. The lady sifted through our paperwork, looked at the kids to make sure they matched the photos, looked at our IDs, confirmed the forms were correct (Eric and I even had to take an oath!), and then asked where Annika's certified birth certificate was. Wha?? We knew we needed Conor's because his was a new passport application, but Annika's was a renewal so we didn't think it was needed. The lady very kindly said, "It isn't clear on the website." Followed by, "Do you have it at home because we're open until 2." ARG!!! We scurried back home, I grabbed the birth certificate, and then headed back to Ballard. Fortunately, I was able to make the trek solo because the lady had seen the kids and Eric, as well as all of the required information, so I just needed to hand her the certificate. Oy!!!

Saturday night, we had a wonderful evening out with Troy and Staci. We decided to treat ourselves to an experience instead of exchanging Christmas presents, and this weekend was the designated date. We originally hoped to get tickets to "The Book of Mormon" when it was in town, but getting tickets that weren't insanely expensive wasn't in the cards. Instead, we had a marvelous dinner at Daniels Broiler in Bellevue. We laughed ourselves silly and ate wonderful food until we were ready to burst. We even had a celebrity spotting... Troy discovered that Brock Huard (former UW and NFL football player) and his family were sitting diagonally from us. I'm sure the Huards were tired of hearing us laugh all night long, but oh well! We were having fun and are a loud family. :)

On Sunday, Conor and I went to mass, followed by a quick trip to the grocery store. Annika had been invited to a friend's house for brunch and a play date at 11, which she was beyond excited about. I took Conor to swim lessons while Eric took Annika to her friend's house; unfortunately, we didn't realize it was "everyone please stay" not just "Annika please stay" situation, so we had to scramble a bit to make that work around Conor's nap and us needing to prep for our little dinner party that night. I also needed to finish my Daring Baker's challenge (due on Sunday), so had to work in baking gevulde speculaas, too; fortunately, it worked as the dessert for our dinner party! Eric cleaned up the house while I took Annika to her swim lesson, and then I tackled the lasagna when I got home. We figured it all out and got everything done on time ... thank goodness for teamwork (and Conor taking a nap)!

Sunday evening, our friends the Hoglunds came over for dinner. Awhie ago, they gave us hand-me-down pasta machine, and I promised to pay them back with a homemade pasta dinner. I wound up making a lasagna recipe that I found on the Smitten Kitchen blog and it was fabulous! I made the meat sauce on Saturday and the rest on Sunday. It was really good and Eric liked that it isn't overly tomato-y. I'd definitely make it again, that's for sure.

As we sat in a heap on the couch finishing the episode of Downton Abbey that we'd been trying to finish for over 24 hours, I had the realization that I was looking forward to going back to work the next day... not only because I love my new job, but because the pace HAS to be slower than what we experienced this weekend!!

Sunday, January 27, 2013

January's Daring Bakers Challenge: Gevulde Speculaas

I have no idea where January went, but suddenly I found myself QUICKLY looking at the deadline for this month's baking challenge, which was a Dutch pastry called gevulde speculaas. I was intrigued by this challenge because (a) I'd never heard of gevulde speculaas before and (b) it required me to make my own almond paste. Cool!

Fortunately for my 11th-hour approach to this month's challenge, the recipe wasn't difficult to complete in a timely fashion. I made the almost paste last night and let it sit in the refrigerator overnight. I saved myself quite a bit of time by purchasing almonds without their skins (whew). This morning, I made the dough, assembled the layers of dough and almond paste, and then baked the final product.

The original recipe called for whole almonds to be placed on top, but I had plenty of the slivered almonds (and no whole almonds), so used those instead. (The kids enjoyed helping me sprinkle the almonds... Conor also enjoyed poking his finger through the layers in of dough and almond paste in the pan... whoops!)

The final product smelled really good (and reminded us of how our kitchen smells when I make molasses cookies) and tasted quite yummy, too. I've decided they'd be ideal with a dollop of whipped cream on top for a little added "ooomph". All in all, this gets our thumbs up!

Francijn of Koken in de Brouwerij was our January 2013 Daring Bakers’ Hostess and she challenged us to make the traditional Dutch pastry, Gevulde Speculaas from scratch! That includes making our own spice mix, almond paste and dough! Delicious!

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Cousin Time

Recently, our cousin Tonya was in town for work; she was so "in town" that she was basically working around the corner from my brother's office building. Of course, we jumped at the opportunity to catch up with her and a family dinner seemed the most likely way to see her.

As an added bonus, our cousin Curt and two of his kids made the trek up from Gig Harbor to join us for the evening. Curt and my brother Troy are the same age and spent a lot of summers together down in Portland, where our grandmother lived.

We did takeout Chinese food for dinner (love our Snappy Dragon) and were louder than could possibly be imagined. At one point during the evening, I mentioned that I have some of our grandparents' hats. The cousins agreed it would be fun to see them, so we wound up with a little hat fashion show.

It was such fun to talk about the old days, common memories, and laugh about our whacky family ... all while dining on yummy food. It is embarrassing to realize how little time we have spent together over the years; something that definitely needs to be changed going forward.

A family gathering in our house is never complete without some computer demos!

Troy and Curt

Troy (not doing his :Troy: face ... this pic needs to be framed!)

Nolan wearing his great grandfather's hat

Hannah wearing her great grandmother's hat

Tonya sporting one of our grandmother's hats

Curt modeling Grandpa's hat

Troy was fetching in Grandma's hat

Tonya is ready for a night out in Grandma's fancy black hat

The whole crew

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Theo Chocolate Tour

On my last weekday of employment freedom, I had a girls' day out with my wonderful sister-in-law, Staci. Well over a year ago, I won a pass for two to tour the Theo Chocolate factory. Theo Chocolate is a bit of a local celebrity for chocolate lovers here in Seattle. Their reach is expanding, but it still has a loyal hometown crowd. The chocolate that comes out of the Theo factory is divine... it is smooth, flavorful, and they have very clever flavor combinations to keep ya on your toes.

During the tour, we learned about the company's business practices, how they roast the cocoa beans, and how the cocoa is turned into all sorts of yummy goodness. We also got to taste some of their products (oh darn), much to our great happiness. I was most impressed with the chocolate bar that had ground up bits of crunchy Essential Baking Company bread; if I didn't know better, I would have thought the crunch was from rice krispies, not a loaf of bread. Impressive!

After our 1-hour tour, Staci and I enjoyed a tasty lunch at a local Thai restaurant. We left full, laughing, and having chatted ourselves silly.... can't complain about that. :)

The cocoa beans arrive at Theo in burlap sacks like this one

Unroasted cocoa beans

One of the two cocoa bean roasters in the factory

More of the factory
The idea of a cocoa butter holding tank got me a bit teary and overcome with joy

Some of the Theo confections (I think these are caramels) 

Monday, January 7, 2013

Starting 2013 with sun and sand

On January 1, I took the kids to Carkeek Park to (a) enjoy the clear weather and (b) provide a quiet house for Eric to take a nap. The kids and I bundled up, made a pit stop at Dick's for some burgers, and then headed down to the beach. It was cold, but absolutely stunning. I figured we'd probably have the beach to ourselves; I couldn't have been more wrong. The place was packed! Apparently, we Seattleites have no fear of cold and refuse to pass up a blue-skied day.

Upon arriving at the beach, the kids began meeting their hole-making quota. Annika and Conor began digging their own holes, but Conor quickly determined working on a co-owned hole was much more fun and Annika was amiable to the idea. Eventually, their focus turned from digging holes to throwing rocks. (Gratefully, they had enough real estate that they weren't risking their or anyone else's safety ... aim and our children haven't become friends yet.) Being the horrible mother that I am, I eventually made the kids pause in their efforts and had them eat their burgers. (Note that I scarfed mine down as soon as we arrived ... cold burgers just isn't appealing in the least... our kids have no such beliefs.)

We were treated to having a train run along the tracks while we were there. By "treated", I mean Annika and I thought it was cool.... Conor covered his ears and decided the entire event was completely unnecessary and probably a bit cruel.

Eventually, we made it up to the playground so Annika could spend some time on the swings. Conor was much more interested in returning to the beach, so this was a good lesson in how to compromise. (Personally, I'm with Conor and would rather spend our time on the beach taking in the view!) Annika has become quite the skilled pumper on the swings and can achieve rather impressive heights under her own power. She still likes for us to pull her feet for some extra oomph, though (who wouldn't??).

All-in-all, it was a wonderful way to start off the new year and enjoy the gorgeous scenery we have around these parts. Can't wait to go back. :)

Dig, dig, dig

So many treasures to be found on the beach

Annika taking in the view

I took this for my brother (Drew)
so he could recall all of the goodness that is Seattle

Nom, nom, nom

Not sure if she's dancing or throwing rocks...

Mmmm.... cold burgers

Choo choo choo choo

Annika showing her new-found ability to pump on her own

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Saying Goodbye to 2012 and Hello to 2013

To wave adios to 2013 and hello to 2013, we hosted our 3rd annual Nova Scotia new years party. What, you may ask, is a Nova Scotia new years party? It is a way for those of us with young kids to ring in the new year at 8:00 (midnight in Nova Scotia) and get to bed at a reasonable hour so we don't start the new year off exhausted ... at least, no more than usual.

We hosted a pasta dinner and invited our guests to bring their favorite sauces—an easy way to ensure everyone likes what they're having for dinner. We also served homemade meatballs (recipe courtesy of America's Test Kitchen), salad, more appetizers than anyone could eat, and champagne cupcakes for dessert.

Our house was filled with 6 families (totaling 12 adults and 10 kids, ages 2-15) and there was activity and noise everywhere! The kids raced around like their lives depended on it; if only we could harness that energy! At one point, our nephew even created a treasure hunt game for the smaller kids to help give them direction; it was really sweet to have him play the big kid during the party! I was shocked by how our circles of friends overlap and people we didn't realize have a connection know each other. It's a very small world at times!

At 8:00, we broke out the champagne and sparkling apple cider, donned our hats/tiarras, and counted down to "midnight".

It was such a treat to spend an evening with good friends ... so many smiles and so much laughter.

Happy 2013 to all of our loved ones!

Rachel, Eric, and Nat catching up

Nikhil having a rare still moment

The Russells

Staci and Kat having a quiet moment

Elaine and Mamatha

Nat sporting his new years hat

Anne and Nicola

Grace enjoying her cupcake

Troy doing dishes ... I'm sure he's dreaming about being at the cabin!

Rachel and Liam playing

Kiran sporting a frosting face