Monday, July 27, 2015

July 2015 Daring Bakers' Challenge: Yafawi Sfeeha

Wow! This month, the Daring Bakers were challenged to make yafawi sfeeha, which is a dish from Palestine. What a great challenge this go around; it is such a treat to make things from different cultures and regions of the world. I had NO CLUE what to expect going into this challenge and, for me, that is a great deal of the fun.

Putting the actual dough together was a snap. The stretching part of the recipe proved to be the biggest hurdle to conquer. It definitely took me a few tries before I got the hang of how to efficiently and effectively stretch the dough so it was incredibly thin and the size I was aiming for. I found out that stretching, rather than using a rolling pin, was the way to go. Even after that, figuring out exactly HOW to stretch the dough took some doing. Because the dough was coated in melted butter, the whole experience felt like a little spa treatment for my hands. :)

I started off with a savory Mediterranean-inspired filling: spinach and feta, with some salt, pepper, sauteed onion, and a hint of nutmeg. My best guess while putting it together was it would resemble spanakopita, and I was right. The texure wasn't overly flaky like spanakopita usually is, but the flavors were definitely there.

I ran out of the spinach/feta filling before I ran out of dough balls (I think I made the dough balls a bit too small, but oh well!), so I filled the rest of my dough segments with cinnamon sugar and after they were baked, topped them with a little powdered sugar/milk/lemon juice icing. Again, the flavor of a cinnamon roll, but a different texture.

Spinach and feta

Cinnamon sugar, glazed

All-in-all,this was a fun experiment and it made our kitchen smell divine!

The July Daring Bakers’ Challenge was brought to us by Manal from Manal’s Bites. She introduced us to an authentic Palestinian dish from Jaffa that is served as a main meal along with a bowl of soup or a salad. The “Yafawi Sfeeha” or also known as “Milwayeh” which means twisted, is crispy yet tender and full of flavor.

Scenic Beach State Park Camping Trip

This past weekend was our second installment of 2015 camping trips with the kids. This time, we headed northwest to Seabeck (near Hood Canal) to Scenic Beach State Park. The kids loved our last trip, so anxiously counted down to this one.

Conor was rarin' to go camping as soon as he woke up!
(Like his mis-matched PJs?? So do I!)

The drive was a bit longer than the trip we took last month, but it went really smoothly. We stopped in Tacoma to drop off Buca for his overnight stay at "Hotel Nana" and have some lunch. That stop and a chance to stretch our legs helped break up the drive time quite a bit.

Before we left home, we kept an eye on the weather. After months of little to no rain, the forecast for our weekend in the woods was supposed to be wet to some degree. So, as soon as we got to our site, Eric and I got to work on setting up a rain canopy using ropes and a big tarp, so we'd be covered (literally and figuratively) in case the predicted rain actually arrived. Being married to an engineer comes in REALLY handy in times like these, let me tell you!!

Our weekend home, complete with rain shelter

What happens when our kids are bored while camping ... one uses citronella
candles for heat and the other waits use the "fly swapper" on any invaders.

As we drove through the park to our site, we noticed a small playground, which made the kids really happy. The fact that it was about a 1 minute walk from our site was the icing on the cake! Easy play time. Someone was really thinking when they designed this camping area. On behalf of campers with kids, thank you!

The kids started getting antsy (and bored), so I wound up ushering them down to the play area while Eric tackled setting up the rest of the campsite. Fortunately, our tent is fairly easy to set up, so leaving him to handle it solo didn't riddle me with (much) spouse guilt. While Conor made a bee line for the slide, Annika headed straight for the tire swing. Her squeals of glee quickly caught Conor's attention and the two happily played on the swing for quite awhile. It was so long, in fact, that Conor couldn't stand up after he got off of the tire... waaaay too dizzy. He stumbled and toppled over so much that he looked like he'd been hitting the bars all night long.

Our two cutie pies

This was tricky to get because the swing kept turning
them away from me.... and then all of us got the giggles!

When the kids were spun/played out, we returned to our site to see that Eric had finished setting up our temporary home with skill. We parked ourselves at the table under the rain shelter and played a few rousing rounds of Crazy Eight. (Yeah, we are party animals when we camp!). After a bit, the wiggles kicked in, so we headed back to the play area for a game of family frisbee. I have to say, our kids are really starting to hold their own in the frisbee department! Their aim and ability to catch the frisbee is becoming quite impressive... especially if you take into account they were often standing on a stump or bench while performing these acts. 

Before long, it was time to roast hot dogs over the fire and enjoy an easy-to-clean-up-after camping dinner. We still have a statewide burn ban, so no fires just like before. No problem! Eric replicated his brilliant idea of using the camp stove as a make shift camp fire just like he did last month. Easy and effective! (And park ranger approved!). 

Roasting a hot dog and taking photos of the kids ...
it's all about the multi-tasking!

Happy campers

No clue what she's doing in this one, but I find it really funny nonetheless
Here's Eric taking the goofy pic of Annika above:)

How ya get the campfire experience when there's a burn ban in effect
She actually is having fun... the fire just mesmerized her
... and him, for that matter!

Conor's silly camping face
 Our fatal flaw of the trip was neglecting to actually pack marshmallows so we could make s'mores. (WHOOPS - parenting fail). Fortunately, the night before we left, I made oatmeal s'more bars as a stick-in treat and am so grateful that I did! The kids got to enjoy the flavors of s'mores, even though their slacker parents forgot the marshmallows at home.

Our propane campfire

As we were sitting around the fireless fire pit, we started feeling a few raindrops plop down on us. Then a few more ... before long, it was raining... not sprinkling or drizzling... I'm talking RAIN. Our area has been starved for water, so this rain felt (and smelled ) so good to us. Plus, because we planned ahead, we were able to seek shelter under the tarp and stay dry.

Soggy in Seabeck

The kids started to feel a bit cold once the rain started making the night air damp feeling, so after some teeth brushing and hand washing, they headed into the tent to seek shelter (and rest) in their sleeping bags. Eric and I pulled out the playing cards and played a few hands of gin rummy. Eric proved to be quite the adversary and completely kicked my butt in just about every game of cards that we played. It was his weekend in terms of gin rummy, that's for sure! (Maybe that was the card gods' way of rewarding him for working so hard getting our camp set up!).

When we hunkered down for the night, I happened to feel the tent floor and there was so much water under us that it made the camp's base fee like it was filled with gel. I got a bit nervous about how dry we'd stay, but knew we couldn't do much about it at that point.

The next morning, we awoke to the sounds of birds chirping, squawking, and quacking merrily. They probably loved the rain just as much as the trees and shrubs did! Conor, however, was a bit disappointed that there weren't more puddles to jump in. (So glad we thought ahead and brought the kids' rain boots ... and regretted not bringing mine!) Considering how wet everything already was, not having wet "I just jumped in puddles" clothes on the kids wasn't a miss in my book.

We enjoyed our casual/traditional camping breakfast (eggs, sausage, "Papa pancakes" aka buttermilk pancakes) and then got to work tearing down our campsite. Fortunately, the rain stopped at some point during the night, so packing up (while muddy and wet) was much easier than it would have been had the rain not moved along. Eric and I were quite glad to have a plethora of Hefty bags in our camping kit; it made getting the wet tarps, tent rain fly (which worked like a champ, thank goodness!), clothes, boots, etc. home easier and preserved the inside of my van!

Before long, we were pulling up to my mom's house to gather Buca and then made our way back home. Annika had diving lessons at 2, so we were definitely working with a schedule in mind. Fortunately, our planning panned out and we were able to get home in time for us to unpack the van, put the extra camping food away (aside from the bread and hot dog buns, which Buca helped himself to while we were at swim lessons), get the kids into their swim suits, and make it to the pool right on time.

Another fun (and tiring) weekend in the history books. :)

Friday, July 17, 2015

Piñata Fun

In an effort to keep our kids busy and to keep their creativity flowing, we decided to take on the multi-day project of making piñatas.

Thanks to a quick Internet search, I was able to get the recommended glue/water ratio and after tearing up a newspaper and blowing up a couple of balloons, the kids happily set off covering their balloons in goopy strips of newspaper.  Wisely, I covered their work area with Hefty bags that I duct taped to the deck. Amazingly, it contained the mess beautifully.

We hung the newly-made piñatas from our sun canopy on the deck and I'm pretty sure anyone who looked up from the road probably thought we had two huge wasp nests up there! The final layer of the piñatas was paper towel (a tip from the Internet) to make painting easier, but it also gave a distinct "wasp nest" look to the projects.

The following day, the kids were able to paint their piñatas. Our current streak of warm weather definitely helped this project move along at a speedy pace. Even with Conor's generous use of the glue, they were almost dry enough to paint the first day. That said, we waited until the second day just to be safe.

Both kids did a marvelous job painting their piñatas. Annika decided to make hers into a pink donkey. Naturally, Conor followed suit and made his into a blue donkey. They worked diligently for good half hour before proclaiming that their creations were complete. Once again, we hung the piñatas from our sun canopy (that thing is so handy) and left them to dry.

Even though no rain was in the forecast, I was a bit nervous about how the piñatas would do over night. Fortunately, my fears were completely unnecessary!  The piñatas survived the night completely unscathed.

By the next day, the paint was dry and the kids were ready to destroy the creations they worked so hard on. During the day, the kids filled their piñatas with trinkets they found around the house (plastic pirate coins, random Legos, deflated balloons, dress up necklaces, etc.).  It highly entertained me that even though they knew exactly what was in their piñatas, the kids were still excited and acted surprised by what scattered all over our deck as the piñatas erupted.

That night after dinner, we hung the piñatas for a third time and the kids let loose on their masterpieces. Before the kids began, Eric and I warned the kids that their piñatas felt a bit flimsy and would probably fall apart pretty quickly. Boy were we wrong! Those things too one heck of a pounding before giving up their goods! Way to go, our little piñata engineers/builders! :)

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Discovery Park Photos

Last night, the Mamas with Cameras group had an on-location photo shoot at Discovery Park. I really enjoy these outings for a number of reasons... the woman are great fun to be with, I always learn how to improve my photography, and I often get to visit new places.

We couldn't have been luckier in terms of weather last night. The sun was out, but the clouds kept us from having to deal with harsh light. The clouds in relation to the sun actually gave us amazingly beautiful sun rays to take in.

As we approached the beach, we saw a man playing with his two dogs. One was a short-legged mutt and the other was a very eager-to-please golden retriever who LOVED to fetch driftwood logs out of the Sound. What absolutely floored me was the fact he'd trained his dogs to drink out of a water fountain! Impressive way to avoid having to carry a dog bowl around.

Most people who know me know that I'm a sucker for lighthouses. The are a marvelous nod to days gone by and to life on the water (my dream). I often imagine myself sitting at the top of a lighthouse looking out over the water and simply taking in the view (assuming it isn't foggy, of course!). The lighthouse at Discovery Park didn't disappoint; it has charm and character... not to mention a great view!

The driftwood, the lighthouse, the sailboats near Shilshole, the dogs, and the sun/clouds all proved to be amazing photography subjects for our group. Beyond the sheer satisfaction of being in such a stunning place, I was also grateful to have learned how to better capture the sun rays as they filter through the clouds (change aperture to 20 or 22!). I was also granted plenty of opportunities to play with including layers (for example, logs + beach + water + bluff) in my photos.

Once we decided it was time to call it a night, we began to wander back to the parking lot and were treated to a view of Mt. Rainier, which had been hiding behind clouds earlier in the evening. Can't beat that!!

Date Day at Adventura

On Saturday, Eric and I ditched the kids (aka hired a sitter) and went on an incredibly fun date at Adventura. Oh. My. Goodness. Such a good time!

What is Adventura? Basically, it is a ropes/obstacles course that is a playground for adults. There are a variety of ropes obstacles that are suspended from a structure of telephone poles. A reservation is for 2.5 hours of play time... actually less than that once the equipment is distributed and the safety part of the training is complete.

That said, when we first arrived and saw the structure, we both said, "That's it?" The structure was smaller (in terms of its footprint, not height) than we expected and I couldn't imagine we'd be up there for 2+ hours and not feel bored after a short time. Boy, was I wrong!!

The course

Getting ready for our adventure to begin

Once we got up on the structure (with 20-ish other people), we quickly understood that the course wasn't something you quickly pop through and then stand around twiddling your thumbs. Each challenge is just that ... a challenge. Every path between two poles was different and could be made more or less difficult based on how it was approached. That said, a few of the obstacles were difficult, no matter how they were approached. We used so much core strength while we were up on high!!

By far, my favorite parts were the two zip lines. I had been anticipating them from the day I made our reservation to go to Adventura and they did not disappoint. So... much... fun!!

The really neat thing I took away from the experience, aside from having a few hours of fun with Eric, was how everyone on the course started rallying for each other as time progressed. We were a group of strangers, but that didn't stop us from whooping and hollering when someone conquered a challenge, cheering people on as they struggled, and laughing together as we talked about our blunders and falls. Some people were there to conquer a fear of heights, others were there for a bit of fun, yet others were there to spend time with someone special ... once we got up there, we all became a bit of a team pulling each other up and helping each other through the course.

Yes, we have a few bruises from our adventure, but so many more good memories and moments to laugh about. Even a few days later, Eric and I are still recounting our experiences ... learning from them, laughing about them, and grateful to have shared them with each other.

Eric on his way up to get the fun started

Us on top of the world (or about 40 feet up ... whichever)

Eric the balancing man

The zip lines were AWESOME!!!

Nothing like your wife making you stop mid-challenge for a photo op!

And a few videos for your viewing pleasure!

Monday, July 6, 2015

June 2015 Daring Baker's Challenge: Charlotte Russe

The day I was supposed to blog about last month's challenge landed smack-dab in the middle of our camping trip. Needless to say, our tent in the middle of Bay View State Park didn't have wi-fi. :)

This month, we were challenged to make either a Charlotte Royale or a Charlotte Russe. I opted for the Russe, which is basically ladyfingers that are surrounding a whole bunch of creamy/chocolaty goodness ... and tied with a bow for extra specialness.

I'd never made ladyfingers before and was rather excited to try it out. Let's just say that they didn't turn out (visually) as expected .... I'm thinking because I didn't have a tip that was ideal for the job ... but that didn't stop them from tasting really good. I also added raspberry liquor from a local distillery to add a bit of extra flavor to my chocolate "filling". All I can say to that is OMG sooooo good!

I gave the kids Charlotte Russe "sandwiches" and both gave the experiment their (sticky) thumbs up. Can't complain about that!

For the June daring bakers challenge Rebecca from BakeNQuilt.comchallenged us to make Charlotte Royale and Charlotte Russe from scratch. Savory or sweet Charlottes were definitely tasty showstopper