27 January 2008

Weekend Not As Planned

This entry was originally intended to describe our fun weekend: Dim Sum in Portland, Corinne's woodworking project, and snowboarding. But Mother Nature apparently thought she wasn't getting enough coverage in this blog...

But I'm getting ahead of myself. Our friend Rat invited us to dim-sum in Portland to celebrate the coming Year of the Rat. Corinne had also coordinated with our friend Ken to use his woodworking shop (and his expertise) for a cedar shelf project she had been planning. Since he lives outside of Portland, we planned for a Saturday in the city to accomplish both tasks, then return home to go snowboarding the following day.

The plan started to break down almost immediately. The weather forecast had called for some heavy snow conditions and icy roads, and we didn't even make it to our first destination without being stopped behind an accident. After about a half hour delay, we made it to the restaurant safely and enjoyed an exotic array of Asian dishes. But by the end of our meal, I-84 - the main road east/west between Portland and Hood River - had been closed with no estimate as to when it would reopen. Since we already had the afternoon scheduled with Ken, we headed back to his shop and began the project.


After a full afternoon of woodworking, we checked on the road conditions to discover that the road had recently re-opened, but that the traffic was very slow going and chains were required for a large section of the trip. Some of our other friends who had come in for dim sum entertained themselves at a movie while waiting for the road to re-open; now that the road was open, they decided to brave the road and head back home. We, on the other hand, opted to spend an unscheduled night at Ken and Rita's in Portland and would attempt the journey home on Sunday. (Having time to go snowboarding was now looking very unlikely.)

When we talked to the folks who drove home Saturday night, we found out that a trip that would normally take <1 hour took them 3 hours that night, and that the road was in pretty bad shape. I think we made the right choice.

Sunday morning we went out to breakfast before heading home. Even >12 hours after the road reopened, chains were still required for 20 miles on I-84, and the trip still took us twice as long as usual. We arrived home early Sunday afternoon to find 16.5" of new snow sitting in our driveway!

Several hours later, we had the driveway cleared and were able to get the car into the garage. When I went to take the chains off, I noticed that one of the front tires was flat. I began the process of putting on the spare when I noticed that BOTH of the front tires were flat! After some choice words, I made a closer inspection and realized that the chains had rubbed up against the valve covers and loosened them just enough to let air out. I reinflated the tires and everything was fine.


That's a lot of snow. Thank goodness this didn't fall when we were in Florida!

- Mike (& Corinne)

20 January 2008

Family Vacation in Orlando (With No Mice!)

By January the holidays may be technically past, but we still had one more holiday get together for the season: a week in Orlando with my family at my parents' timeshare in Orlando. Drew and Michelle took time off to join us and brought their twin 17 month old girls Katya and Nadija. The last time we saw the twins was over a year ago, when they were barely able to crawl around let alone talk or exhibit much personality. This would be our first chance to get to know them as people.

Michelle's father and step-mom live outside of Orlando as well, so Drew, Michelle and the girls stayed with them for the week. They arrived a few days before we did, so they spent a day at Disney World before we got there - so that we didn’t have to. We managed to spend 6 days in Orlando without going to a single theme park!

We did spend 2 days at Kennedy Space Center, which it turns out is more of a theme park than we think it should be. We were simultaneously awed with humankind’s accomplishments and disappointed with its inability to convey those accomplishments without resorting to the "science is hard" mentality. On the second day we took the bus tour which included stops at the Saturn V pavilion and the launch pad (which happened to have the Shuttle Atlantis awaiting its February 7th launch.)

The most enjoyable event was our airboat ride on the St. John’s River. For those who haven’t been, an airboat is a flat-bottomed boat whose sole means of propulsion and navigation is a large fan mounted to the back of the boat. The fans on those boats can be pretty loud - particularly since you are sitting right in front of them - but this outfit’s boats were equipped with individual headsets so that everyone can still communicate while the boat is roaring along.

The weather for most of the trip was not exactly what most people would associate with Florida; most days it reached only into the lower 60’s. The morning of our airboat ride was particularly foggy; our ride was beautiful and surreal, but by the end we were all pretty wet.

We saw tons of alligators on this trip... sorta. Because the air temperature was so cold, the gators stayed warm by staying in the water. The only parts we could see were their 2 eyes and the tip of their nose, all of which quickly disappeared beneath the surface as we approached. We must have seen around 60 gators on our airboat ride, but none quite as closely as the 1-year old gator on display back at the boat launch.

We even managed to stay out of the Orlando chain restaurants during our trip. Because the timeshare had a full (but small) kitchen, we were able to cook several of our meals there. Mike and Cindy (Michelle's family in the area) opened their home to us as well; we enjoyed lots of relaxing time and great meals with them. Their neighbor has some pretty fabulous, sweet lemons on his trees which he encouraged us to try. They made great lemonade, despite what Nadija's face might lead you to believe.

There was lots of relaxation time, whether it was wandering through the shops or sitting by the pool reading (until it started raining).

Unfortunately, we couldn't completely relax during the trip. Our home back in Trout Lake had us worried for two reasons: (1) Snow. We'd gotten a ton of snow this winter, and we knew we weren't through. But what if we got more snow while we were in Florida? Since we had been clearing it ourselves, there was the possibility that we'd come home to a driveway that had too much snow and couldn't be plowed. We monitored the weather and thankfully didn't have to come up with a mitigation plan; no snow. It stayed pretty cold, so the snow stayed away. But that brings me to (2) Furnace. Over the past few months, our furnace has started to give us problems. Occasionally the thermostat would fail to turn the furnace on, and the only way to clear the issue was to flip a manual reset switch on the furnace. Of course the problem got worse right before our trip, leaving us in a bit of a lurch. Thankfully our neighbors Harry and Judy were available to be on call in case we needed them, and I was able to setup a system so that we could monitor the temperature in the house via the web. (See, nerdliness does have its rewards.) We did actually have to call in our reset brigade twice during our vacation.

You can’t travel to Florida and not come back with citrus, right? We bought ½ bushel of grapefruit and ½ bushel of honeybell tangerines (also known as Minneolas) and somehow managed to fit them in our suitcases and carry-ons without going over the baggage weight limit or breaking our backs. When we returned, we gave some of the fruit to Leif for taking care of Max, and some to our neighbors for saving us from furnace hell. Man, that was some good fruit, particularly the tangerines.

And now, we'll end with the obligatory niece photo gallery!

- Mike (& Corinne)

09 January 2008

Favorite Recipes of 2007

It's time for another installment in our Favorite New Recipes series. While most of the recipes in the 2006 edition were garden-centric, 2007 seemed to bring more warming, comfort foods for fall/winter. So here they are, in no particular order...

#1: Turkey and Sweet Potato Hash
Source: Fine Cooking

This hash was a big hit at Saturday morning brunch after Thanksgiving. We doubled (tripled?) the recipe, and the biggest challenge was finding enough cookware!

#2: Pizza Margherita
Source: Cook's Illustrated

We’ve been making pizza at home for many years, but we were never entirely happy with any of the doughs we made. Most bake up too thick, with a consistency more like bread than a thin, NY-style pizza crust. That is, until this one. Now all of our pizzas use this dough.

#3: Beef Short Ribs in Chipotle and Green Chili Sauce
Source: Bon Appetit (via Epicurious.com)

As Mark Bittman says, "When I want to make something that really shows someone that I love them, I make short ribs." If you've never cooked short ribs before, now is the time to start. Cooked "low and slow" is the way to go, and the meat will fall apart in your mouth. The spice level in these short ribs is perfect.

#4: Classic Macaroni & Cheese
Source: Cook's Illustrated

The ultimate in comfort food: homemade Macaroni and Cheese. Our friend Jamie made this for us on a recent visit, and now we can't stop. This stovetop version uses a roux for a nice, thick cheese sauce. Even if you're only cooking for 1 or 2, make the whole recipe; it reheats well (unlike the "blue box" version we all loved as kids).

#5: Hot Buttered Rum
Source: All Recipes

The surprise hit of this years holiday season, this drink is much lighter than it might seem from reading the recipe. Make up a batch of the batter for the freezer, then all you need to do is heat some water, add some dark rum and a scoop of the batter. Yum.

Despite my lament last year that I didn't take more food photos, I did even WORSE this year. I guess you'll just have to make them yourselves!

- Mike (& Corinne)

04 January 2008

Wreaths on Display

Now that the holidays are over, we thought we'd shared some photos of the wreaths we made over Thanksgiving using grand fir boughs from our farm. Here are some photos of the finished products on display.

Corinne's wreath at River Ford Farm:

Donna and Carol's wreath:

Taryn's wreath:

We also made swags that Taryn hung on the doors of her business:

- Corinne (& Mike)

03 January 2008

Holiday, part 4: Food

The last, but certainly not least, installment in our Holiday Spectacular is on that topic oh so dear to us: Food.

As Leif has been known to exclaim before a meal, "We eat like kings." All of the advance menu planning we did really paid off in some spectacular meals.

Why do we only eat turkey around the holidays? One evening we had an awesome roast turkey dinner with all the trimmings: mashed potatoes, sweet potato casserole, green bean casserole, and MY stuffing. For those not familiar with the ongoing battle that is stuffing, let me elaborate.

When I was growing up, my family made stuffing that included raisins, apples, and celery, and substituted apple cider for the traditional chicken stock. To me, this was the right way to make stuffing. It was only later that I realized that most people don't make stuffing this way. Unfortunately, some of those people are Corinne and her family, who prefer the more savory sausage, sage and chicken stock method. And for some reason whenever we would decide to make a stuffing, I would lose the battle and a savory stuffing would result. This time, however, I somehow managed to maintain control of my own kitchen (yes, I'm going to get in trouble with my editor and co-author for writing that). I didn't have a recipe to work from, but I remembered enough to make a pretty dang good sweet stuffing!

Anyway, I digress.

The turkey feast was only one of a string of hits. Other meals centered around a delicious country ham that Reidar brought from a butcher in Tacoma; a famous Donna recipe for pork burros; and what may become a new tradition, the Christmas Eve homemade macaroni and cheese (so good).

But we all know that the foods that really makes a holiday are the sweets, and we had no shortage. Kringle from Larsen's Danish Bakery in Ballard; homemade caramels; homemade almond macaroons, and "sushi" rolls involving some creative use of rice krispie treats and swedish fish.


And perhaps the biggest surprise discovery: Hot Buttered Rum. Ice cream, butter, vanilla, rum, and hot water. Sounds rich and heavy, right? Well, think again. We made several batches and would usually finish off a busy day by warming up with a cup. You'll see that on our Best Recipes of 2007 summary for sure.

The best part is that everyone helped with the cooking! To everyone who joined us for the holidays: Thanks for all of the fun! (And thanks for leaving the leftovers!)

- Mike (& Corinne)

02 January 2008

Holiday, part 3: Playing in the Snow

Snow, snow, and more snow - there's no doubt that we had a White Christmas this year. It's a good thing we like snow; we wouldn't have moved to Trout Lake if we didn't. The weather really cooperated for this holiday, alternating days between heavy snowfall and clear, sunny weather that enabled us to go outside and enjoy it.

After one new snowfall, Leif, Loren, Corinne and I played 2-on-2 tackle football. The snow was deep enough that it was near impossible to run very fast or far; and the snow was so soft that there was nothing hard to hit when you were tackled.

Towards the beginning of the break, the top layer of the snow that was already on the ground had formed a moderately hard but unpredictable crust. Sometimes you could walk on top safely; other times your foot just fell right through into the softer snow below. This sparked an idea that ended up being much more fun that we had anticipated - a snow race!

We still can't figure out how Loren didn't fall on his face (like everyone else.)


We took several hikes, including one on our neighbor Jack's trail that leads out of the valley and up onto the hills to the east. Corinne and I wore our snowshoes on the trail, but Leif and Linda slogged through with only their boots on. Parts of the trail lower down had already been traveled and stomped down a bit, but once we got near the top the snow was untouched. It was deep and it was hard work! We got some beautiful views, including a nice view down on our property. The dense, dark, perfectly organized trees are all ours. ;) If only we had remembered to bring one of our walkie talkies, we could have called down to our other guests and waved.


We've lost some branches - and a tree or two - to the heavy snow loads that we get here in Trout Lake. In particular, a flowering cherry near the house had most of its larger branches snapped off, leaving a mangled mess that would never recover. Loren has some recent experience with chainsaws, cutting downed trees after some heavy storms in Tulsa, so he and I made fairly quick work of the remnants.

Of course, all of that snow meant that some work had to be done occasionally. I think I cleared the driveway three times over the break, and I'm thankful that I was able to get away with that small number. ;)

But by far the most frequent and popular snow event of this holiday season was Zillah Magilla, the Snow Gorilla. It all started innocently enough with the pretty standard idea to make a snow sculpture.

Step 1: Create the biggest pile of snow possible.
Step 2: Analyze the raw material to "free the inner sculpture". In our case, Linda spotted a gorilla head. We had our inspiration.
Step 3: Work to bring the new creature to life.
Step 4: Make sure that it doesn't REALLY come to life. (Actually, we're carving out chambers in which to place candles.)
Step 5: Take a break.
Step 6: Take credit where credit is due.
Step 7: Light it on fire.

But as it turns out, our gorilla had a bit more to say. Several days later, the gorilla got a helmet (ala Planet of the Apes). Then, his right fist emerged from the ground several feet to the west. Shortly after that, his left hand was seen around the base of a tree, seemingly pulling himself out of the ground.

Before long, our creation was trying to claim his first victim.

We spent a good portion of the daylight hours outside, and that's the way it should be. That's why we live in the country! All that exercise sure did make us hungry, though...

- Mike (& Corinne)