Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Annual Pumpkin Patch Adventure

Each year (even before the kids were born), we make the trek to a local-ish pumpkin farm in Edmonds. This year, Eric and I greatly took the weather forecast into account when picking the day (and time) to go, and are so grateful that we did. It didn't rain until we were loaded into the car, with our farm animal fix taken care of and our pumpkins rolling around in the back of the car.

Fairbank Farm is a wonderful family-run farm that is only open to the public during October and we love going there. It has escaped the commercial feel many other pumpkin patches seems to have adopted, which I highly appreciate. It isn't  a "now that you've paid your entry fee, now pay to ride our train, pay to give feed to our animals, pay to have a picture taken here" place. It is a "pay your $4, here's a cup of food for the birds, have a lovely time" farm.

We got to see baby pigs (not quite as young as the ones we saw last year, but that's ok; they were still mighty cute!), a pony, pygmy goats, geese, ducks, peacocks, and turkeys. Inside the barn, the kids got to pet ducklings, baby bunnies, and chicks. We also observed a snoozing calf and were memorized by the hatching chicks in the  incubator.

After wandering around the animal area and daydreaming about having farm animals of our own (ok, that is more of my daydream than Eric's, but in my daydreams he dreams about having some of them, too! Oh, and I don't daydream about having the farm birds... only the mammals), we found a wheelbarrow and made our way to the pumpkin patches. After careful consideration and evaluation, each of us found a perfect pumpkin to take home. Conor found "THE" pumpkin about five or six times, but was able to (eventually) find "THE THE" pumpkin for him. Meanwhile, Eric and Annika seemed to hone in on their ideal squash quite easily.

While Eric paid for the pumpkins, the kids and I spent some time in the farm's play area. There's a full-size tee-pee, as well as a old-fashioned wagon, cutouts for photo ops, and a few bales of hay to climb. A few raindrops started to fall, which was our signal to exit stage left, and I'm so glad we did. Getting home without being sopping wet and covered in mud is a wonderful bonus.

As we walked back to the car, we saw the farmer who had just used his tractor to pull a car out of the mud. I stopped to tell him how much we enjoy visiting the farm each year and mentioned that Eric and I started visiting long before we had kids. The farmer seemed genuinely touched by this and just as I finished talking, he scooped up Conor and plopped him in the tractor's driver's seat. That boy was in hog heaven! He gripped the steering wheel with gusto and made happy tractor driving noises like never before. Of course, as soon as Annika saw him, she asked why she didn't get to sit up there. (Ahh... sibling rivalry!). We explained that there is only one seat and she'd get her chance. (Whew, crisis averted.) After her turn in the tractor's seat, we thanked the farmer again and made our way home. Within just a couple of minutes, the sky opened up and began dumping rain. Talk about timing! :)


Annika doing her pig impersonation

I've decided her name is "Big Mama"

Strike a pose!

Fluffy chicks
Headin to the pumpkin patch
Picking out pumpkins

Too small for carving, but I bet they'd make lovely pies!

The hunt continues

Mama and Conor... he didn't actually want
this pumpkin, but we needed a photo prop :)

Pretty sure that at this point, he was much more
excited about his dandelion pumpkins

Annika with our plethora of pumpkins

Ready to roll

My sweetie, two babies, our four pumpkins ... and a dandelion for good measure

In the wagon

Annika the scarecrow and Conor the pumpkin

Conor "driving" the tractor

Farmer Annika

I plan on doing a blog post about our pumpkin carving soon.
Until then, here's a picture of our final results :)

Monday, October 27, 2014

Our little swimmers

Yesterday, the current session for Annika and Conor's swim classes came to an end. The last class of each session typically includes a skills review/evaluation and then having some fun.

Conor's class got to ride in the pool's row boat so they could (a) have fun in a boat and (b) see how the skills they've been learning can have a practical application... a boat sinks = you swim, or at least float on your back. After the instructors pulled the boat around the shallow end of the pool for a bit, they slowly allowed it to take on water and sink. The kids were in life jackets and (for the most part) giggled with glee as their feet, legs, and tummies got wet. One little guy wasn't impressed with the experience, but everyone else (including Conor) had a marvelous time.

After their skills evaluation and boat excursion, Conor's class was given the opportunity to jump off of the diving board for the first time. Conor LOVED it and showed nothing but bravery and excitement the entire time.

Annika showed amazing growth in her swimming during this class session. Her crawl stroke and side breathing are really improving ... as is her ability/willingness to pay attention to the instructor instead of simply having fun and splashing in the water.

After her class' skill evaluation, her instructor started teaching the kids the very first steps of learning how to dive. He taught them how to kneel on the side of the pool and lean in head first. Annika didn't realize she was actually learning to dive until I told her after the class, which I found pretty entertaining. Her big takeaway from the deep end experience was they got to go to the bottom of the deep end twice. Unfortunately, it left her ears feeling a bit sore thanks to the pressure. I showed her how scuba divers clear their ears and that seemed to help a bit.

All-in-all, the kids had another beneficial and fun-filled swim session and we are so grateful for all that they've learned. I can't think of another sport lesson that is so important... lifesaving skills top just about everything else in terms of importance!

Happy swimming, our little fishies!

Daring Bakers' Challenge October 2014: Sachertorte

This month's Daring Bakers' challenge was a definite "11th hour" things for me! I'm pretty sure that someone hit the turbo speed button on the month, because it seemed to FLY by. Well, the day before the baking deadline, there I was melting chocolate, beating egg whites, measuring flour, folding, and baking to make my first ever sachertorte!

What, you ask, is a sachertorte? Simply put, it is a dense Austrian chocolate cake that uses beaten egg whites as a leavening agent, incorporates apricot jam as a flavor layer, and is encased in a poured layer of chocolate ganache. The key is to incorporate the egg whites without deflating them ... no easy task... and no tidy task, either.

I was actually really excited about this month's challenge because Eric and I have recently gotten hooked on a show out of the UK called "The Great British Bake Off" and one of the technical challenges given during one of the episodes was a sachertorte. The show is hosted by two well-known bakers from the UK: Mary Berry (isn't that the best name ever??) and Paul Hollywood.

As I worked on my creation last night, I had many thoughts running through my head, but the most prominent one was "What would Mary Berry say?" Would she think I whipped the egg whites enough? Would she approve of my folding technique? It tickled me how a TV host was so absently involved in my process yesterday. At one point, Conor asked if he could help me prepare the cake... of course, that was just as I was folding in the egg whites, which requires a more delicate touch than he tends to display. Instead, I had him help me sift the flour... much less mission critical, but still make him feel special! :)

I'd read about a number of people having difficulty with the poured chocolate finish provided by the recipe provided for the challenge, so I opted to hedge my bets and use Mary Berry's ingredients and quantities for that aspect of the cake, and I'm glad I did. The poured chocolate went on beautifully and turned out so smooth!

The final touch of a sachertorte is writing "Sacher" on its top. The recipe called for milk chocolate, which is something I'm not a fan of and ... it turns out ... don't even keep in our house. We have dark and semi-sweet chocolate galore, but no milk chocolate. I was concerned that the chocolates I had wouldn't provide enough of a contrast with the poured chocolate, so I opted to use white chocolate for the final touches.

Because of the late hour the sachertorte was finished last night, we decided to hold off on taking it for a taste test run until tonight. So, at this point in time, I have no clue how it tastes, but it sure looks pretty and it rose during its time in the oven, so I'm taking that as a win! :)

(please ignore the flash's reflection in the cake!)

The October Daring Bakers' challenge was brought to us by Korena of Korena in the Kitchen. She took us to Austria and introduced us to the wonders of the Sachertorte.

Update (10/28/14): We dove into the sachertorte last night and gave it a big thumbs up. The kids devoured it! To save us from eating the whole thing, I took the leftovers to work, and my co-workers happily finished off the remaining sachertorte goodness.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Our Surprise Concert

A few nights ago, Eric and I were doing our usual evening puttering around the house as we took care of little tasks and chores. Little did we know that the kids were up to something in the front room.

As I sorted socks and folded laundry, Annika and Conor were busily preparing a musical concert for us. Not only did they plan the music, they also took care of creating a legitimate venue. They commandeered a roll of birthday wrapping paper and taped it to the wall so they had a proper background. They also built a mini stage (about 2" off of the ground) using building blocks and books. No detail was left unattended to ... they even had glasses of water and bowls of clementine oranges on the coffee table, so their concert goers (aka Eric and me) had refreshments available during the musical performance. The piece de resistance was the handwritten invitation for us to attend a "?" in the front room. (They wanted to keep the performance a surprise as long as possible.) Impressed? So were we!

Not only were their preparations impressive, so was their ability to work together to accomplish a rather sizable project as a team. Not once during their preparations did we hear them argue or express frustration with each other. They were so quiet, we had no clue what they were up to.

Without further ado.... I give you Annika (on ukulele) and Conor (on drums)!!

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

September 2014 Daring Bakers' Challenge: Kolaches

Whoops!!! Funny how your life can get turned on its ear when you have surgery! My apologies for the delayed Daring Bakers' reveal post... my nap schedule and foggy brain got the better of me. (Side note: all is going well and I'm recovering quite nicely.)

In September, we Daring Bakers were challenged (once again) to create something I've never heard of. I think that is one of the main reasons I really enjoy these monthly challenges. Most of the time, I am creating something completely new and out of my baking comfort zone.

Basically, Kolaches are a yeast-based sweet bun that is formed into a sweetened cheese-filled purse and then topped with a dollop of plum jam and a streussel-esque topping. Amazingly, I had JUST made plum jam courtesy a friend who shared part of her plum crop with me, so I was ready to go without a store run. How great is that??

I thought these treats were quite tasty. They reminded me of a cheese danish in some ways. They were definitely best warm. Eric found them a bit too doughy for his liking, however. I took the extras to work (Lord knows I didn't need to eat the entire batch by myself!) and got rave reviews from my co-workers.

The September Daring Bakers' challenge was brought to us by Lucie from ChezLucie. She challenged us to make a true Czech treat - Kolaches!