Wednesday, August 27, 2014

August 2014 Daring Bakers' Challenge: Tubular and Coiled Treats

This month's Daring Bakers' challenge took me to new heights... of sorts.

We were challenged to make upright or spiraled yeast-based yummies. I chose to try the chimney cake option, just because I've never attempted anything like it before, and who doesn't like something coated in sugar?? I mean, come on! :)

The dough/recipe were quite simple, which was good. The execution of the chimney was a week bit trickier, shall we say. A definitely learning curve was associated with this part of the task.

The first chimney would have been condemned by the building inspector right away. When I attempted to release the cake from the foil-encased rolling pin, the cake began to uncoil. I quickly figured out that I needed to roll my cake a bit more before baking it... the rolling is what keeps the coils together post baking.

The second chimney was definitely a greater success! I rolled it more firmly after coiling the dough around the rolling pin and that was the key. Unmolding that cake was far easier and resulted in the cake remaining upright instead of in a coiled pile of rubble. After taking the coil off of the rolling pin, I brushed it with more melted butter and then rolled it in cinnamon sugar. The final result reminded me a lot of the elephant ears you can buy at most fairs. Tasty :)

First attempt (aka what not to do)

Second attempt (voilĂ !)
The August Daring Bakers' Challenge took us for a spin! Swathi of Zesty South Indian Kitchen taught us to make rolled pastries inspired by Kurtoskalacs, a traditional Hungarian wedding pastry. These tasty yeasted delights gave us lots to celebrate!

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Seahawks Training Camp: Go Hawks!

At the end of last month, Eric and I met my brother (Troy) and his family met up in Renton to watch the one of the open-to-the-public Seahawks training camps.

It was a GORGEOUS day ... nary a cloud in the sky. We all agreed that we we were grateful that the grassy hill the crowd sat on faced west; otherwise, we would have been blinded by the sun for two hours and burned to a crisp, even with the sunblock we'd slathered on ourselves!

Before we even got to the seating area, we wandered through the vendor area. We were surrounded by food carts and Seahawks gear galore. I did pick up a white jersey as an early b-day present (yippee!!!!!), so will be quite the fashion maven when football season starts up. One of the tables set up had a guy from the Seahawks office (marketing, perhaps) who was giving out posters to people as they passed by. I noticed that he, as a team employee, had a Super Bowl ring. COOL! I asked him if I could see it so I could snap a picture, thinking he'd hold up his hand to me. Instead, he took off the ring and handed it to me. Whoa!! I was stunned to say the least. He did look a bit nervous when I handed it to Troy so he could try it on, to which I said, "Don't worry. He's my brother. We can't run fast. Plus, we're Catholic and aren't allowed to steal." That seemed to ease his mind, but he still wasn't taking his eye off of that ring (not that we blamed him)! After Troy tried it on, so did Eric. So much fun and something I never expected to do. (Side note: That ring was HUGE!!!!)

Because the Seahawks played on the half of the field that was further away from the crowd, we didn't really see a whole lot in terms of football. We saw the players run drills and plays, but were so far away that the details were lost on us. It was fun to play a sort of "I Spy" game with each other as we sat there. "I see Russell Wilson!!" and "There's Richard Sherman!" were common choruses for us.

At one point, a Seahawks employee offered Troy two VIP wristbands so Kat could go to the area set aside for people with mobility issues. We decided to go together and see if they'd let both of us in with her. No one batted an eye, which was nice. As we watched the practice for a bit, I noticed the Seagals were walking by and I asked if I could take Kat's picture with them. They happily agreed (thanks, Seagals)! Kat LOVED the sparkly pompoms ... I think I know what she might get for her birthday! :)

Ironically, the real excitement from the day had nothing to do with football. Because it was right before Seafair, we were treated to a display by the Marines and Blue Angels. The Blue Angels flew overhead numerous times... even buzzing the crowd during one flyby. The Marines brought in some helicopters to show the crowd (and Seahawks personnel) how they do water insertions. We also got a neat brief education on the various types of helicopters used by the Marines. The last helicopter pass included the airborne Marines holding up a 12th Man flag in the helicopter's open side door. Very fun!!!

By the time practice and the air show wrapped up, we were all incredibly hot (it was over 80 degrees) and ready for some cool AC in our cars. A very fun day together with our extended family and favorite pro football team!


Yes, I did make my hat! :)
(And people liked it ... so THERE, Troy!)

Eric and Ian taking in the practice

Blue Angels

Richard Sherman

Kam Chancellor

Robert Turbin

The crowd

Kat, Troy, and the Seagals
(Notice Kat eyeing the pompoms!)

Ian having a fun day
Marine water insertion
At the VMAC

Kat and me having fun

Go, go, Russell Wilson!
VIP, baby!

Troy sporting a Super Bowl Ring

Eric's Super Bowl bling

The biggest ring I've even worn!

Ballard Locks Adventure

This week has been a bit different for the Olson Four. Our wonderful summer nanny is on vacation for part of the week, so we're doing the Shuffle and Juggle approach to childcare. My mom very graciously watched the kids on Monday and Tuesday (and is probably still napping to recover from the ordeal. Today, Eric is home with the kiddos.

Yesterday was my day with the kids, and I wanted us to do something fun together. We started off our fun-ness (yes, that IS a word!) by having lunch with Eric. The kids love going to restaurants, so we treated them to lunch at the newly remodeled Red Robin in our area. The kids loved it... mostly because they got balloons after lunch. They're so easy to please at times!

After lunch, the kids and I headed to the Ballard Locks. I've been wanting to take them there for quite awhile, but wanted to wait until they were old enough to really have fun there. Taking an infant or squirmy toddler wouldn't be nearly as enjoyable, but yesterday seemed ideal. It was a nice day without being too hot, and it was a weekday, which meant we'd encounter smaller crowds, which would ensure better vantage points for us to watch the boats.

Once the kids got over the initial disappointment that we weren't going to a place with bouncy houses (sigh!), they seemed to have a grand time. Watching the boats was fine for the kids (I was wowed by two huge tug boats that were going to Alaksa, I must say), but what they really liked were the grassy hills (perfect for rolling and running down) and the fish ladder. I remember visiting the Locks when I was a child only because I recall the fish ladder, so I guess they come by it honestly!

We spent about an hour and a half wandering around, watching boats, waving at people on the boats, and looking at the fish as they navigated their way from the Puget Sound into Lake Union via the fish ladder.

It was a lovely afternoon together, and one I hope we can do again one of these days.

Annika and Conor at the locks

Waiting for tall marine traffic to go under
the Salmon Bay Bridge

Bye, bye sailboat!

Fill 'er up!

"Mama! Take my picture!!"
(Notice Conor running away... yeah, that's how he spent a lot of of the afternoon)

Tugs on their way to Alaska

Rollin', rollin', rollin'

Down he goes!

We'll call you "Smiley"

Swirly artwork

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Our Kids' First Camping Trip: Battle Ground State Park

Eric and I both grew up in families that camped, so it seemed natural that we'd raise a camping family, too. We took a several year hiatus from camping thinking that tending babies or corralling small children while camping wouldn't be the most fun we could have. That said, this year seemed like a good time to take the kids on their first-ever camping trip.

The funny thing is we originally planned on taking them camping in September at a state park on Whidbey Island, but a scheduling conflict cropped up, so we decided to go sooner rather than later. The only difficulty to planning a more last-minute trip was finding a campsite that was available and one that wasn't closed due to this season's wildfires. Based on those two requirements, we ended up reserving THE LAST AVAILABLE SPOT at Battle Ground State Park. As luck would have it, the campsite was quite ideal for us. It was beautiful, had a lake that was perfect for swimming, and had lovely hiking trails for us to explore.

When we told the kids about the camping trip, they squealed with sheer excitement. That excitement quickly eroded after about the first 30 minutes in the car ... especially knowing there was another 2.5 hours to go. "But WHY is the place so far away from our house?" and "Is THAT the lake we're going to?" were constant questions during our drive. We dropped Buca off at my mom's house for the night (Thanks, Mom!) en route to the park, which was quite ideal, especially considering my brother's dog would also be there overnight. Dog cousin camp at Nana's house!

Once we got to the park, we quickly unpacked the van and began setting up camp. The kids were fantastic and enthusiastically pitched in to help. At some points, it was tricky to find jobs for them to do, but we kept everyone busy. Conor and Annika became expert camp chair setter-uppers, and sleeping bag carriers. Once the tent was set up, Eric got our temporary home in order while I set up the kitchen area and made lunch.

Before long, we were all overly ready for a dip in the lake. It was over 80 degrees and lugging camping gear quickly made us long for cool water to splash in. The lake was about a 10-ish minute walk from our campsite, which was perfect... not too far, but far enough that we weren't perpetually listening to the crowd noise from the other swimmers. We brought two pool floats, which the kids thought were extra fun to play with. (Next time, we'll definitely blow them up when we're near a pump... those things are a PITA to blow up without one!) We splashed, played, swam, and kicked until the kids started to shiver.... even then, they didn't want to get out of the lake, but Eric and I vetoed their pleas to stay in the water and ushered them back to our campsite. Eric started a lovely fire, which quickly warmed the kids, much to everyone's happiness.

Once everyone was warm, we pulled out the Ziploc of cards and games that we brought. We played gin, Spot It, and more. For dinner, we roasted hot dogs and made hobo pouches filled with potatoes and green beans. I had to get a little creative in marking whose hobo pouch was whose (note to self: pack a Sharpie pen next time!), so wound up folding each pouch in a unique shape to tell them apart. Hello, creativity! After dinner, we made the required s'mores for dessert and told "scary" stories around the campfire. I got smart and packed Ghiradelli chocolate for Eric and me to have on our s'mores ... no dummy am I! :)

This was one of the few times when our kids asked to go to bed. They were wiped out and ready for a little down time. They hunkered down on their sleeping bags (it was way too hot to be in them!) and proceeded to wrestle and annoy each other... ahh, sibling time! Eventually, Eric and I decided to call it a night and tucked ourselves in. Just as we were falling asleep, a group of people somewhere in the park or nearby area started making an insane amount of noise. It sounded like fireworks or the like. Poor Annika was so tired, but couldn't sleep because of the noise, so began to sob out of fatigue. Eventually, the noise subsided and everyone was able to (finally) get some much-needed sleep.

Roasting hot dogs

Campfire cooking tutorial


Hobo pouches

View from our campsite

The next morning, Eric and I awoke to the sounds of Conor talking to himself. He usually chatters for a bit before getting up in the morning, which isn't a problem unless we're all within a few inches of each other. After a few failed attempts at quieting him, we got up, so Annika could continue to sleep in peace. Eric begrudgingly lit a fire (he didn't think morning camp fires were really a thing.... WHAT??), which added to the wonderful morning ambiance. The forest was cool and quiet ... a perfect camping morning. Once everyone was up, we made pancakes, sausage, and scrambled eggs for breakfast. The plan for the day was to eat, pack up most of our gear, and then explore some of the hiking trails.

As Eric and I made breakfast, the kids entertained themselves by playing lemur, which consists of hanging from a low branch, and building nests out of pine cones and leaves. They were covered in dirt and loved every moment of it!

Conor exploring a nearby stump

Hot cocoa and Pirate Booty... the camping breakfast of champions

Eric whipping up breakfast

Annika and her pancake

Fireside breakfast ... what could be better?

Conor playing lemur

Once the chores were done, we set off to explore a bit. I have to say, the maze of trails available in the park was gorgeous. We walked under a tree canopy that had so many different shades of green for us to take in. The morning sun made the tree leaves almost transparent at times... so stunning. We chose to walk along the upper lake trail, which provided us with breath-taking views of the lake. The kids had a marvelous time scaling fallen trees, scrambling up boulders and stumps, and peeking behind hidden crevasses. In some ways, it was the epitome of childhood ... wandering, exploring, climbing, and getting dirty.

Conor and Annika discovered this big
stump and decided it needed to be scaled


Annika, Queen of the Stump

Panoramic view of the hiking trail

Which way should we go?

See how tall I am??

Hiking, hiking, hiking

Annika and Eric on the Upper Lake Trail

Conor on his boulder throne

Annika catching her breath

Conor ... part billy goat

Annika ... even more of a billy goat

Battle Ground Lake

Eric taking in the view

Eric and Annika... lakeside

Conor.... master boulder scaler

Conor lounging on his boulder

Annika proved to be quite the climber on our hike ... wouldn't
be surprised if she takes up rock climbing one day!

"Annika, what are you doing?"
"Oh, just hanging around!"

Eric hanging around

Forget Where's Waldo! Where's Annika?

Eventually, it was time to head back to our campsite, pack up the last of our stuff, and head home. The kids were absolutely wiped out ... as were their parents. Aside from a few occasional traffic slow downs and moments of the kids annoying each other, the drive was uneventful. As we drove, I asked Annika if she thought the campground was pretty. "No," she responded. "What?? You didn't think all of the trees and the lake were pretty??" "Oh yes! They were very pretty, but the ground was just brown dirt ... that wasn't very pretty."

We picked up Buca from my mom's house on our way home, and then continued heading north. As we approached Tukwila, I noticed the Blue Angels in the distance.... lucky us, we got a few peeks at their air show as we drove north. At one point, four of the Blue Angel jets flew right over our car... bonus for us!!

All in all, we had a very fun weekend and, I think, the kids enjoyed their first camping experience. Eric and I are already brainstorming possible locations to take them next year... perhaps a state park on the Key Peninsula or up to the San Juan Islands, perhaps!