Saturday, October 31, 2009

Muffins in the Morning

Since I wasn't very good about posting last week, I figured I would take some time to do some catch up posts today.

As I mentioned before, Woodley and I came up with a new schedule that we have been using to provide a bit more order to our days. According to the schedule breakfast is at 8:30am each morning, I spend the early hours of the day cleaning and tidying up the house, lunch is at 12:30pm, the afternoon is spent gardening/sewing/crafting/blogging, and I cook dinner between 5pm and 8pm. This schedule worked fairly well for awhile but it really fell apart this past week when I got a head cold and didn't feel like getting up early and making breakfast at all, let alone spending a couple of hours a day cleaning. However, I'm going to try to go back to it next week and we'll just see how I do.

The week before last though I was doing very well with the schedule and was perhaps getting a bit too pleased with myself. Last Wednesday I got up early, all ready to make muffins for breakfast (just as I had specified on my weekly menu plan).

I cheerfully donned my apron and began sticking muffin papers into my min-muffin tin.

I melted the butter together with the honey and mixed them up thoroughly.

I whisked up the dry ingredients, chopped the dried apricots, and dove into the fridge to grab the one egg I needed to finish the wet ingredients. Alas! There were NO eggs!! Apparently, I forgot to check for them when I went to the store on Monday. I glanced at the clock: 8:05... If I had had the egg, I figured it would just be possible to get breakfast on the table by 8:30. Without the egg, there was no way.

Since I had already gotten so far along into the recipe I decided the only thing to do was to head down to the store and buy more eggs (we don't have any close neighbors whom I could ask that early in the morning). I peeked in at Woodley, he was still sound asleep so I figured I might be able to get to the store and back before he even woke up. That way, even though breakfast would be late, he wouldn't have to sit around waiting for it. So, I ran out to the car and headed down the hill to the grocery store.

Twenty-five minutes later, right at 8:30, I was back with the eggs.


After that, the muffins came together fairly quickly.

I mixed up the wet ingredients and assembled all of the pieces,

added the wet ingredients to the dry,

Mixed it all up,

Tossed them into the muffin pan,

And 20 minutes later the muffins were done!

They were pretty decent but since they weren't amazing I won't bother about sharing the recipe.

I would have thought that by this point in my baking career I would have known enough not to start baking something without first checking to see if I have enough eggs, but apparently I haven't quite learned that lesson yet. Or maybe I just shouldn't try baking things that early in the day. :)


A Bridesmaid At Last!

Back in late August, or perhaps it was early September, when we were on our first trip to Alaska, Woodley and I found out that our dear friends Nicola and Matt got engaged! Nicola has been one of my best friends since birth and I couldn't be happier for her! We had heard rumorings of rings, dates, and a possible engagement during most of the summer, so it was fantastic to finally hear that he proposed, she said yes, and the ring was on her finger.

We hear the proposal took place on Nicola's favorite Seattle beach which we were able to visit with them earlier this summer (above). Isn't it a lovely spot?

Once I heard the news, I began to secretly wonder... would she ask me to be a bridesmaid? Although it might seem silly, I've always secretly longed to be a bridesmaid and I have often feared that I would never get the chance. I suppose since I had the honor of being a bride before ever being a bridesmaid it felt as if I had skipped something along the way.

As the weeks went by and I never heard a word about it, I continued to wonder what Nicola was planning to do about her bridesmaid situation. I had been developing a bunch of fun ideas for showers and parties but I felt it would be inappropriate to start acting on them, in case she didn't ask me, in which I case I worried that I would be stepping on the toes of the real bridesmaids.

I thought about the fact that we had been good friends since early childhood but then, although we have kept in touch, we went to different high schools and colleges and I know she has had many, many close friends since the days when we played in the woods together and dreamed about someday meeting prince charming, getting married, and being in each other's weddings. I also thought about how Nicola was one of two bridesmaids/maids of honor that I had at my wedding, the other being my friend Katie who I went to preschool with and who I've been best friends with for what seems like forever. But then, just because you invite someone to be your bridesmaid, doesn't mean that they have to ask you in return. All these thoughts went through my mind again and again, especially when I heard the latest rumors from my mother, that Nicola was planning not to have bridesmaids at all, but instead to have just her brother as her best man. Although I told myself over and over again how silly I was to think/worry about it, I couldn't get it out of my mind. I just kept telling myself to remember that it's Nicola's day and she should do whatever will make her most happy and it really doesn't matter in the least if I ever get to be a bridesmaid or not. But then, I knew I wouldn't really be able to put it out of my mind completely until I had heard from Nicola herself what she planned to do.

Several more weeks went by and we talked many times about all sorts of wedding related things, except bridesmaids. Although I wanted to ask, I just knew I couldn't be the one to bring it up. Finally, when we were waiting in the airport to head back up to Alaska in late September, I noticed I had missed a call from Nic (as I like to call her). I called her back right away and, after touching on a couple of other topics, she asked me to be one of her bridesmaids! I'm sure Woodley could tell she had asked me right away from the way I was beaming across the table at him. Needless to say, I was thrilled! Her brother Stefan will be her best man and there will be about five of us bridesmaids it sounds just perfect to me!

Now, every time I think about how worried I was over it, I feel so incredibly silly for ever worrying or wondering if she would ask me but, all the same, I'm so glad she did!

And, the best part of all is that now I had the freedom to start suggesting the party ideas I had had in mind before. After talking over a few options, we settled on a Spajama Party in Bellingham the weekend before the wedding. It's a package that one of our local hotels offers and I've always wanted to host one. Apparently we get to spend the night at the hotel and get manicures or pedicures in our room while we drink sparkling beverages and eat chocolate. I can't think of a better way to say adios to single girlhood.

The invite.

I added a little packet of bath salts to each invite with this message 
(my friend Becca helped me with the wording > Thanks Becca!)
I'm so happy with how they turned out!

I had a lot of fun putting together the invites and I'm just now starting to hear back from the girls! Now I just need to start thinking about some fun games...


Friday, October 23, 2009

An Amazing Dinner!

I had some leftover thyme and I was searching for a way to keep it fresh
in some water on my windowsill when I discovered this little egg cup! It is so cute and worked perfectly!

When it comes to cooking, I often feel like an explorer searching for greener pastures. In my case, the promised land of the kitchen includes dishes that look impressive, taste divine, and, unless they are for special holidays once a year, simple and easy to toss together. I dream of discovering a collection of these recipes that I can keep together in a big binder and refer to ten years from now (or whenever I get too busy with children to try out new recipes and think up new menus).  I hope that by the time I've been a housewife for 25 years or so I will have developed quite a collection.

Although there is always a bit of a risk in trying out a new recipe, sometimes you hit upon a real gem which makes up for the bad experiences with things like apple cranberry pancakes. : )

I had just such an experience on Tuesday night when trying out a recipe for Proven├žal Rack of Lamb which I found on Epicurious. This recipe seemed particularly brilliant after my experience with Monday night's dinner. I had never cooked a rack of lamb before and was a bit nervous about it, but I was thrilled to discover that it was very very easy and it took just a little over an hour to assemble and cook. A rack of lamb is a fancy and rather expensive cut to cook for an ordinary dinner, so in the future I think I'll save this recipe for special occasions or for when I want to impress company. :) 

Proven├žal Rack of Lamb 
Serves 2
From Gourmet Magazine, October 2008 via

2 garlic cloves
2 teaspoons chopped thyme
1 teaspoon chopped rosemary
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
2 medium tomatoes, halved
1 (1-pound) frenched rack of lamb (4 to 8 chops, depending on size) cut in half
2 medium shallots, thinly sliced (1/3 cup)
2 medium boiling potatoes, peeled and sliced crosswise 1/4 inch thick
2 tablespoons water

1) Preheat the oven to 400F with a rack in the middle.

2) Mince and mash the garlic to a paste with 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Stir together with herbs and 1 tablespoon olive oil. {On the day I made this recipe I had a really tight schedule in the evening so I was trying to get as much done as possible ahead of time. To help make things easier, I put the garlic herb mixture together earlier in the afternoon and then let it sit out on the counter until it was time to make dinner.}

I just love my mortar and pestle! It took me quite awhile to finally invest in one, but it is so nice to have!

It makes mashing up garlic and herbs so much easier!

3) Put the tomatoes, cut sides up, in an oiled small baking dish and drizzle with a third of the garlic mixture. Roast until tender, 30 to 40 minutes.

4) Meanwhile, pat the lamb dry and season with 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper.

5) Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a 10-inch, ovenproof, skillet {I used my lovely cast iron skillet!} over medium-high heat until it shimmers. Brown the lamb on all sides, 4 to 6 minutes total. Transfer lamb to a plate and discard the oil from the skillet.

6) Heat the remaining tablespoon of oil in the skillet over medium heat and cook the shallots and potatoes, stirring occasionally, until the edges are browned, 3 to 5 minutes. {I found this took more like 10 minutes and I could probably have let them go a bit longer than that even.}

7) Stir in the water and half of the remaining garlic mixture and remove from heat. {I love how the delicious garlic herb marinade is infused all through this dish!}

8) Rub the remaining garlic mixture on the fat side of the lamb racks. Arrange the lamb over the potatoes and roast in the oven until an instant thermometer inserted into the center of the meat (do not touch the bone) registers 130F for medium-rare, about 20 to 25 minutes. {I let my lamb cook until it registered 145F and it was still a bit pink in the middle. Normally I would want mine to be more done, but since we had to leave the house right after dinner, I ate it the way it was and it was delicious! I didn't even mind the bit of pink!}

9) Let stand, loosely covered, for 5 to 10 minutes. Serve with the tomatoes.

Woodley was very, very impressed by this dinner and kept remarking over and over again what a good housewife I made. :) That was definitely one of the things that let me know this recipe was a keeper!

Another thing is that it almost makes a complete meal by itself. The tomatoes and potatoes act as a nice side dish and I served it along with a green salad and that felt like plenty of food to us.

Yet another fabulous aspect of this recipe is that you really don't get very many dishes dirty while you are making it. I left the tomatoes in the oven while the lamb was cooking and managed to do all the prep dishes while the lamb was in the oven. Woodley came into the kitchen about 20 minutes before dinner was to be served, just as I was cleaning up the last of the dishes. He asked if I was actually cooking dinner and if it would really be ready in 20 minutes because there was nothing on the counters and nothing on the stovetop. (At that point the tomatoes and the lamb were in the oven!) I assured him that, yes, dinner would be ready shortly and then tossed together my salad and set the table. :) It worked perfectly!

Needless to say, I would highly recommend this recipe!! If you try it out, be sure to let me know how it worked for you.


Wednesday, October 21, 2009

To Norway? Or Not?

A little over a week ago Woodley got the news that he has been accepted to a PhD program in Oslo, Norway to study computational linguistics (helping computers better understand and process human language). Needless to say, this has created quite the stir in our house.

He applied for the program earlier in the summer so we knew an answer would be coming at some point. All summer we've been saying things like, "well, we'll decide what we're going to do next year once we find out if Woodley got accepted to graduate school" or "maybe we'll be in Norway next year." Now that the answer has come our tune has shifted a bit but, since Woodley hasn't yet decided whether or not he should accept, I spend my days wondering, "will we actually be moving to Norway in a few months???"

Woodley has now visited Norway twice. Once to do some research with the professor who would be his advisor (about 4 years ago) and with me on our honeymoon (which is where these pictures come from).

On our honeymoon we spent a few days in Oslo and visited the university (since even back then Woodley was considering going to graduate school there) and then took the Norway in a Nutshell Tour. Our visit to Norway was my favorite part of the honeymoon trip, but then it was summer, and we were on our honeymoon. :) I imagine it would be quite a different thing to move there for 3 to 4 years. Since Oslo is roughly at the same latitude as Anchorage, Alaska, we know that it will likely be quite dark and cold in the winter.

But it does sound like such an amazing adventure! And I think if the decision were just up to me I would say yes right away, perhaps without thinking it over as much as I should. Woodley is much more careful about big decisions like this though. I am anxiously awaiting his decision!

Who knows, this time next year I might just be figuring out how to be a classic housewife in Norway!

Here I am with a four leaf clover that I found on a hike while we were staying at a lovely hotel at the edge of one of the Norwegian Fjords. It must be a sign right? Good luck for us in Norway?

I just love the Norwegian countryside! (some of my ancestors came to America from Norway so I think it would be tons of fun to get to experience Northern Europe a bit)

Oh! It's time to go on a walk with my lovely husband. I'll have to post more pictures and musings about Norway later... I'll keep you updated!


Upside-Down Pear Gingerbread!

Yesterday evening I made an Upside-Down Pear Gingerbread and it turned out quite well. It is much like a pineapple upside down cake except that you use pear instead of pineapple and gingerbread batter instead of normal cake batter. Woodley really liked it so I thought I'd share the recipe, in case anyone else is looking for things to do with extra pears or wants a special fall dessert. It is especially good with vanilla ice cream!

Upside-Down Pear Gingerbread
From Simply In Season by Mary Beth Lind and Cathleen Hockman-Wert
Serves 8

1/4 Cup Brown Sugar
2 Tablespoons Sugar
1 Tablespoon Butter
1 Tablespoon Water

Combine in an ovenproof dish {I used my 9 inch cast iron skillet}. This step can be done in the microwave using a glass ovenproof dish or on the stovetop in an ovenproof skillet of 9 - 10 inches diameter. Heat until the butter melts (either on the stove top or in the microwave). Stir.

2 Ripe Pears (peeled, cored, and sliced)

Arrange the pear slices on top of the syrup in the ovenproof dish.

1 Cup Flour
1/2 Cup Whole Wheat Flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1/4 teaspoon salt

Stir together and set aside.

1/3 cup butter (softened)
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 egg

In a mixing bowl, beat together the butter and brown sugar, with an electric mixer, until light and fluffy. Add the egg and beat another minute.

1/2 cup molasses or honey {I used a little of each to total 1/2 cup}
1/2 cup buttermilk

Alternately, add molasses and buttermilk and dry ingredients to the creamed butter mixture. Spoon over the pears in the baking dish.

Bake in preheated oven at 350F until a toothpick inserted in the cake comes out clean, 30-35 minutes.

Remove from oven and cool about 3 minutes. Turn onto a platter. Serve warm or cold with whipped cream or ice cream.


Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Back to Reality

For the last few weeks my cooking has been turning out surprisingly well and I've been genuinely happy with pretty much everything I've made. I don't know if it's that my kitchen skills are improving or that I've had some luck in selecting good recipes. This past Saturday I came back to kitchen earth when I attempted to make "Cranberry Apple Pancakes."

I discovered the recipe on Thursday, during my bi-weekly menu planning session, and it sounded absolutely divine! Cranberries and apples both sound so full of fall cheer and deliciousness. When combined with pancakes, I imagined that all that good stuff could only get better (like in an apple cranberry crisp). Sadly, I was mistaken. Very mistaken.

Everything started out well, although it took quite awhile to chop up the apples and cranberries. The batter was full of whole wheat flour and oat bran. It sounded so healthy and delicious!

Then I started frying them. I set the stove on to the temperature I use to cook normal pancakes so I was quite dismayed to discover that, in no time at all, they had turned quite black.

Oh well, I told myself that one can't expect anything of the first pancake, it's "for the dog," as they say. I figured I had just turned the heat up a bit too high so I dropped it to level 3 and tried again... no luck... more black pancakes... I took the empty pan off the heat and waved it around in the air, hoping to cool it down... it still didn't work and my stack of blackened pancakes continued to grow.

This went on and on until the burner was turned almost off and my pancakes, although not as black as the first ones were most definitely not anything I would want to present to company. I felt bad giving them to Woodley, but since he knew I'd been working on breakfast for over and hour I didn't think he would be happy if I set down some yogurt and granola on the breakfast table. Thankfully, he very graciously at the pancakes... and the left overs when I reheated them for him the next morning. (what a great guy!) The pancakes didn't taste horrible, but then, they didn't taste very good either.

But, needless to say, I will not be making those pancakes again and I will not be sharing the recipe. :) Fortunately, since then I seem to have recovered somewhat and haven't had any more disappointments in the last 3 days. (I expect there is likely one just around the bend now though)

Maybe next time I'll try adding some finely chopped apple and cranberry pieces to a pancake recipe that I know works and see how that turns out.


Friday, October 16, 2009

A Romantic Drive Down the West Coast

When it came time to head back down to California, I asked Woodley if I could plan our trip including a few stops along the way. He agreed and I decided to keep my plans a secret (like he had kept our honeymoon plans a secret). Unfortunately I didn't start planning it until 3 days before we left, but with the help of The Best Places to Kiss in the Northwest and Northern California , I was able to put together a pretty good itinerary very quickly.

On a beautiful sunny morning we said a sad farewell to Bellingham and, with the top down on the convertible, took the scenic Chuckanut Drive down the coast before connecting with I-5.

After only a couple of hours on the road, Woodley was quite surprised when we got off the freeway in Seattle. I think he thought we were going to have lunch with Nicola and Matt (which would have been a good plan) but instead I directed him to the City Center where we stopped and... had lunch at the Seattle Space Needle!

 Although I grew up under 2 hours from Seattle, I had never actually been up in the Space Needle before. Woodley had tried to take me several times, but I was always too scared of the height and the idea of a long, cramped elevator ride. However, I finally decided that it was time and, actually, the elevator ride (less than 2 minutes long) and the height didn't bother me at all! (I was so relieved!)

I was so thrilled that it was a beautiful sunny day and we could see all over Seattle. The seating for the restaurant is right up against the windows so that everyone has an amazing view, and the entire seating area rotates very slowly so that, in a little less than an hour, you pass all the way around the building and get to see the view in all directions.

There was a fireboat practicing out in the bay, we got to see several ferries going to and fro, and there were also lots of seaplanes taking off from Lake Union and flying around the Space Needle. It made for a very exciting lunch. The food was excellent, and I was glad we went for lunch because the prices were  rather high (although not as fantastic as if we had gone for dinner, I hear).

After finishing up with lunch we hit the road again and headed down to Cosmopolis, WA where we visited and spent the night with my good friend Erin and got to meet her husband and beautiful baby boy. Erin and I had been good friends from eight grade through high school but we lost touch with each other since then. Just a couple of months ago she found me on Facebook and I am so thrilled that we have been able to visit and catch up since then. It turns out that she is also at home doing housewifely activities and taking care of her baby. It is always so fun to find out about other women who are housewives!

We had an exciting time with Erin and even got to learn to play Pinochle in the dark when the power went out! All to soon, it was time for us to continue on our trip.

Our second day on the road took us down the Oregon Coast, unfortunately it was quite foggy almost the entire day. As we cross the bridge over the Columbia River and into Oregon the fog make it look almost like we were going up into heaven.

Woodley was again surprised when I directed him away from the highway after only a couple of hours of driving. He began to wonder if we were ever going to make it back to California! :)

We wound through the cute town of Astoria and up to it's highest point where we discovered the amazing Astoria Column. It was built about 100 years ago as a tribute to Lewis and Clark and is covered with reliefs about the settling of the Astoria area.

We hear that on a clear day there is quite an amazing view from the top of the tower but we didn't get to see much of it:

Leaving Astoria, we continued down the coast on 101 until we got to Cannon Beach. Cannon Beach is quite a cute little town and we had fun exploring the strip of shops and restaurants near the beach. After reviving ourselves with an excellent lunch of pizza, we hopped over to the beach and took a stroll down to the famous Haystack Rock. Thankfully the fog had cleared up a little bit by this time.

Looking north from Cannon Beach.

Looking south from Cannon Beach.

Unfortunately the tide had already come up around Haystack Rock, but we strolled out it it, avoiding jellyfish and waves as we went, and admired it from a distance.

By the time we reached the rock it was getting late and we had to run back to the car so that we could try to make it down the coast in time for our evening's dinner reservation. However, I wanted to break up our drive a bit with stops every few hours so we pulled over very briefly at a couple of other places along the Oregon coast.

The next stop was at the Yaquina Head Lighthouse. My mother has plans to paint watercolor paintings of a bunch of lighthouses so I figured we could stop and take some pictures to send her. Unfortunately the fog had come up again and prevented us from getting a very clear photo of the lighthouse. :)

Can you find the lighthouse?

As we got closer, it became a bit easier to see.

Our next stop was a bit more exciting because both the sun and the fog were going down. It was a very brief stop but we got to see a beautiful bit of the coast at Devil's Churn, a place where the water rushes in and out of a narrow inlet.

The rest of that night's drive was filled with lots more beautiful scenery (which I tried to photograph through the window as we rushed along...)

We ate a delicious dinner at The Wild Rose Bistro in Bandon, OR. The food was fantastic and it is clear that they have an excellent chef. However, the management seemed to be disorganized and since it was a busy night, a bit frantic as well. The tasty dishes soon made us forget our long wait to be seated (despite our reservation and the availability of several tables) though and we would definitely return!

Although it was getting late, we continued on after dinner and finally arrived at Tu Tu Tun Lodge in Gold Beach, OR where I had arranged for us to stay the night. After a long day of driving, the tranquil hotel room was quite a welcome respite. We immediately decided to take advantage of the hot tub on our balcony and it was easy to forget the cramped car as we watched the stars and listened to the river rush by.

In the morning we had breakfast delivered to our room and had a delightful meal gazing at the lovely scenery. (If I had known that "breakfast" would consist of granola, fruit, and 2 very small pastries for the whopping price of $36 plus tax, I think I would have instead found a cute breakfast spot in town. But that was the only downside to the lovely hotel.)

Our lovely room!

Breakfast on the balcony.

Looking back towards our room from the main lodge.

Before leaving, we sat on the dock and watched the river go by.

Before long we were in California! We stopped off in Eureka for lunch and then continued on 101 until we came to the turn off for The Avenue of the Giants. The Avenue of the Giants is a 31 mile stretch of road that follows an old carriage trail next to 101 and winds through some amazing groves of towering old growth  redwood trees.

The redwood trees were amazingly huge and it was so much fun to drive right through them on the narrow road. About 15 miles down The Avenue we stopped to hike the 1/2 mile Founders Grove loop trail.

The trail is dedicated to the men who first had a vision of protecting the old growth redwoods. Their work led to the development of the Humboldt Redwood State Park through which The Avenue winds.

The "Founders Tree" was quite impressive!

Some of the trees had been hollowed out a bit by forest fires and you could even stand up right inside of the living tree!

On our way back to 101, we laughed when we saw this sign for two adjacent towns which reminded us of our friends Phil and Miranda:

We didn't stop much during the rest of our drive, but continued down the coast all day. When 101 finally headed back to connect with I-5, we instead veered off toward the start of Highway 1. It turned out to be quite windy but we enjoyed the the twists and turns of the coast road with its beautiful view.

We had another wonderful dinner along the way and ended up in Gualala, California where we stayed at The Whale Watch Inn. Our room had an amazing spiral stairway leading up to a private bathroom overlooking the water.

We had a nice view of the ocean from our room. Unfortunately it was overcast, but I imagine it would be absolutely stunning on a clear day. 

The staff at The Whale Watch Inn also delivered breakfast to our door in the morning and I was pleased to see that the breakfast, which was included in the price of the room here (as opposed to at Tu Tu Tun Lodge), was substantial and absolutely delicious!! 

We enjoyed it out on the deck while looking out over the ocean!

After checking out, we explored the grounds and discovered a charming wooden staircase leading down to a beautiful beach. (Before that, I had had no idea that you could actually get to the beach so easily from the hotel!) 

All too soon it was time to hop back in the car and complete the last leg of our journey. 

Altogether, our mini vacation down the west coast was fun and very romantic. However, next time I hope we can spend a full week or two rather than just 4 days. There is so much to see and do along the coast! 

But... I kind of have the feeling that next time we drive to Washington we might be doing the fast track up I-5.