Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Furlough Part I

I have to take two weeks of furlough over the next few months and was able to get this week as my first one - which, after the past few weeks, turned out to be even better timing than I had anticipated.

Day 1: House cleaners came, so we hung out outside for a couple hours. Unfortunately, it was quite cold here earlier this week, so this wasn't so pleasant. Once the kids hit a school break, I placed our bagel order and had everyone get in the car while I picked up the bagels. Then we decided we should keep ourselves warm a bit longer by driving by Daniel and Emily's house. Ryan was the only one who had seen it up close before, so that was a good excuse to drive by. 

But the big afternoon activity was the exciting one - I hung up the artwork! Huge thanks to my mom and sister for their long-distance assistance in thinking through where and how to hang these. Ryan and I had thought about spreading them out through various rooms and I was a bit worried about having them all in the living room (would it make the whole room feel like it has a "theme"?). Partly because we have so many walls and so little to go on them. And even when thinking about the living room I was thinking they'd have to be spread all throughout the room. Then realized they work so much better all together here, which prevents the room from feeling like is themed around this one thing, but also tells the story so much better than they would spread all over. Having some art on those walls also helps this little corner feel less disjointed from the rest of the room. This is why I have my mom and sister help with this stuff - I'm terrible at visualizing things like this and they're not.

Day 2: Let the kids skip school. They were supposed to have their annual doctor visit, but their doctor was sick, so we just got flu shots instead. Mal amused us all by stating that the flu shot "felt kind of satisfying". After we got home from that, we played some Star Dew Valley together and baked a spider bundt cake. We definitely had some slight stickage issues with the cake (I think our pan must've been a larger size than called for, but dumb pans don't list their size on them so I had no easy way of telling; looks like a typical size bundt pan to me, but maybe not). Once we got the cake out and cooled, the decoration was super easy.

Day 3: More chill. I'm gradually getting old childhood silver fillings replaced as my dentist determines they're needed, so spent an hour on that this morning. Spent the rest of the morning comparing healthcare plans for open enrollment (so fun) and then will take Ryan downtown later to collect his belongings from his old office before his last day next week. 

Sunday, October 25, 2020

Early Fall

Well, had a nice roll of fairly consistent posting there until September hit. September meant the start of school and ramping up preparations for an organizational go-live at work (we changed our electronic health record, a process that's been in the works for over 2 years). I was a superuser for that, which meant I had to assist others in our department before, during, and after go-live. Basically, worked many 10-12 hour days, 6 days a week for the past few weeks. But got to be on-site again, which I've missed so much! I've also moved into the ketogenic/biochemical genetics cohort at least through the end of the year, which means at the same time as go-live I was also training in keto (ugh, no you shouldn't do keto to lose weight, it is only evidence-based for intractable epilepsy and is actually quite dangerous if not monitored carefully). It's been stressful, but I'm really enjoying being in a stable place.

Our weekend baking has dropped off considerably with all this. But I did make up some mini donuts one day! And had serious issues making the glaze. Not really sure why. The chocolate chips I had on hand were Nestle; not sure if they changed something in their formulation recently, but every time I tried to melt them they just became a semi-melted, semi-solid gloopy separated mess! Never had that happen before. I finally just pulled out some baking chocolate squares and that worked immediately. So bizarre, but enough of an issue that I'll likely stick to Ghirardelli chocolate chips in future. Had recently had those and melted them without issue. Donuts were oven-baked and just from a KAB mix and were delicious. It's tempting to get a couple regular-size donut pans, but we don't really have room for them so we won't.

Ryan splurged and purchased a new microphone for himself. He's been wanting this one for a long while and has been very excited for how much better his sound quality is on his meetings and calls now. I'm gradually realizing we need a bigger house for his audio hobby as he acquires more microphones and various equipment. While I was in the middle of go-live, he was doing some job interviews (our poor kids those couple weeks!). He'll be starting a new job at the end of November, which should provide some good challenges and growth.

Anyone else's grocery stores start using these short bags?? I'm not sure if they're just using them for grocery pickup or what. With COVID, they stopped letting people re-use bags. Not sure what they're doing in-store now, but for the past few weeks we've just been getting these when we pick up groceries. I've been sending all our excess paper bags to the school for the lunch/food programs to use, so hopefully these ones will work just as well as the regular size ones!

We finally got Ryan's album artwork back from the framer! They did such a nice job - worth the 8 month wait. Now we just need to decide where to hang them all. Hopefully before tomorrow because house cleaners are coming tomorrow so would be nice not to have these hanging out on the floor still.

We voted! I love our vote by mail system here. No waiting in lines or having to rush to a polling station during lunch or after work. And that I can track my ballot as well as see my voting history online. If vote by mail isn't the default in your state, I highly recommend you work toward it. (Assuming this isn't the last election we have. *nervous laugh*) I think it took several years to implement here, but was in place by the time we arrived. Voting here is so much easier and I'm way more informed about the issues and candidates that I'm voting for than anywhere else I've ever lived (some places don't send out any voter information at all, so finding out who candidates are can be really difficult). Basically, WA voting makes all other states I've voted in look super regressive. Lest you think WA is too perfect, we have one of the most regressive tax systems and likely an impossible battle to move toward anything more progressive on that front, sadly.

And we tried some new teas! We needed to replenish our MarketSpice (cinnamon orange) tea anyway, so also grabbed some Princess Grey while I was at it. Got a very small amount of their Egg Nog as well. Ryan was not a fan of the egg nog tea; I didn't mind it, but definitely not one I'll sit and drink a lot of. Princess Grey, on the other hand, is delicious. I enjoy Earl Grey typically and also enjoy a good London Fog now and then (if I get it at Starbucks I request they use waaay less sweetener than they typically put in - they make both their chai latte and their London Fog super syrupy and cloying - yuck). This has some of those London Fog flavors (lavender), but without the sweetener. I think we're rapidly approaching the need to clear out and dedicate a whole cupboard shelf to our tea supply.

Isn't that gorgeous? Earl Grey + rose + lavender

And that brings us up to the present. We're spending the weekend watching some Halloween movies (Beetlejuice, Ghostbusters, Evil Dead - only with Gareth on that one!). I'm on furlough this week, so planning some fun Halloween activities to do with the kids since we won't be trick-or-treating. 

Monday, August 31, 2020

Millionaire's Shortbread, Take One

Malcolm and I were hoping to make a fougasse this weekend, but the GBBO version called for bread flour and the King Arthur Baking version called for dry milk, both difficult to find. So that will have to wait for a future bake. Instead I decided Millionaire's Shortbread would be fun to try.

The shortbread portion was easy enough. We got that in the oven and baked then started on the caramel while that was cooling. The kids and I all took turns stirring, though some of my control/anxiety comes out on things like this and I was constantly itching to take back over the stirring since I really wasn't confident in the kids' ability to actually stir properly and avoid burning. I was so worried about it burning and about following the instructions exactly (which just talked about getting it to thicken and not so much about the color), that I forgot to use my brain and previous knowledge about what color caramel should be. And didn't really make that realization until it was already poured on top of the shortbread and in the fridge. But it at least seemed thick enough!

Final product. Shortbread probably could've used a slightly longer bake as well, just to brown a tad more. Caramel definitely needed more caramelizing. Texture is right and it tastes fine, but doesn't have a very strong caramel flavor at all.

So now we have a 9x13 pan of very rich cookies that are just okay. Ryan and everyone had looked at me like I was out of my mind when I suggested we just make an 8x8, but apparently they weren't realizing how rich these would be. 

I also think the shortbread layer could be thicker to better balance the quite thick caramel layer. I'm thinking next batch we use the same amount of shortbread in the 8x8 pan and then halve the caramel and chocolate amounts, which should give us a shortbread layer that's twice as thick with caramel and chocolate layers as they are here.

Sunday, August 23, 2020

First Harvest and Bakewell Tart

The kids were supposed to be at Camp Quest this week, but that is, of course, cancelled this year. They did get camp shirts still though!

And we picked our first snap peas and carrot from our little raised bed. We may not get many more snap peas, because mildew has taken over the plants. I'm hoping that if we're able to plant earlier next year that will lead to more harvest before we have such issues. And I found a recipe for something that's supposed to be preventative (I tried it out, but didn't seem to be very effective at clearing up the issue after it's taken hold). I'm okay with not getting much this year as we got started late and I went in knowing it would primarily be experimental this year. We had one carrot that we were positive was ready, so pulled it out to find this:

Lots of leafy green, very little carrot! We had a good laugh about it, but it still tasted good. And we have several others growing that will hopefully get a bit longer than that!

This weekend's bake was the classic Bakewell Tart. The combination of flavors is mentioned/used so frequently on GBBO, that this became a must-try. We used a King Arthur Baking recipe again, but switched out the raspberry jam for cherry. We'd decided we wanted to try out frangipane and this particular combo of frangipane-cherry flavor. This bake also gave me the opportunity to try out the ceramic baking beans I bought with some of my birthday gift cards, so I was excited about that.

I threw in my pie chain weight (that was never sufficient on its own) as well, just for good measure. I think the ceramic would've been plenty though. And this is the first time I've tried a blind bake where the bottom of the pastry crust didn't bubble up! So already pleased with this purchase.

We used one of our new pastry bags to help spread the frangipane. I meant to start the spiral in the center and failed, much to my chagrin. But used a knife to smooth it all out after anyway, so guess it doesn't matter much in the end. Everyone took a turn trying out using the pastry bag.

Gareth and Mal enjoyed sprinkling the sliced almonds on top before it went in for the final bake.

Finished! The edge of the crust didn't turn out very neat. This time I tried leaving excess crust on while it blind baked, but wasn't really sure of the best way or time to trim the excess and have it look neat. I'll have to experiment with different approaches to see what works best for us.

Nice layers of jam and frangipane. 

It's tasty, but the almond extract is the predominant flavor by far. This looks like the typical proportions based on pictures on the internet, but I still wonder if we needed more jam and maybe less almond extract. I looked up a variety of frangipane recipes, and some use almond extract while others use vanilla (and rely on just the almond flour for the almond flavor), others use a combination of almond and vanilla extracts, while still others don't use any extracts at all. So lots of future experimentation that we can do with this recipe to determine what our preferences are.

All of us enjoyed it, except for Mal. He wasn't much of a fan day of, but tried it again today and decided he did like it after all. This was another one that was pretty easy, so we'll have to make it again. We also have custard tart on our "to-do" list, which is one I'd really like to get good at since I love custards, pudding, mousse and such things.

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

More Quarantine Baking

We really don't have anything else to do, so more baking it is! A couple weekends ago we opted for a repeat of the florentines, which were thoroughly enjoyed by all. This past weekend we returned to something new, but stuck with an easy cookie, making some "Magic in the Middles". Quite easy (though definitely follow the recommendation in the reviews to chill the peanut butter middles) and so tasty.

Mal helping mix together the peanut butter and powdered sugar. I took over after a bit since it took some work to get them to thoroughly combine. Then we divided the mixture into 26 and set them on a cookie sheet in the fridge while we made up the chocolate dough. Gareth learned the hard way when making these again that you shouldn't overwork the peanut mixture. If you spend too much time handling it, the peanut butter gets warm and soft. Then you have to leave it in the fridge longer than the dough takes to mix (if it's soft it is harder to wrap the dough around the peanut butter.)

Weighing out ingredients for the chocolate dough:

Everyone helping to roll, fill, and coat in sugar (and apparently we didn't quite get all our produce put away after picking up groceries and decided to just work around it).

I got the job of flattening the cookies with the bottom of a glass. 

Finished product!

They were declared "Amazing!" by Ryan. Rather than having Gareth make dinner today, we had him make another batch of these. Don't worry, we didn't eat just these for dinner (thought it's tempting!) - I made up dinner instead.

Friday, July 31, 2020

Backyard Camping

We were able to have our house cleaners come for the first time since February this week. Of course, we had to be out of the house while they were here. This meant hanging out in the backyard, with Ryan and myself set up to get work done. But how to entertain the kids for a couple hours?

Ryan had the brilliant idea to task them with figuring out how to set up and take down the tent. We told them if they did this, they could sleep in the tent with me Friday night (we need some more gear to make Ryan comfortable sleeping in the tent, plus we only have 3 sleeping bags, since the last time we camped Mal was 2 or 3, so Ryan sadly can't join us).

It ended up being a great task for a 13 year old. Mal wasn't as into it, until he could see it starting to take shape and see that it really was a tent. He helped with some of the poles and with the stakes. 

We then let them play in the tent a bit while the cleaners wrapped up and we completed our workdays before having them take it back down. They're quite excited to do some backyard camping this weekend.

While they did this, I discovered that the deck is a great place to sit in the afternoon and finish up charting/attend meetings. The sun isn't shining directly on it anymore and you often get a nice breeze. I'll definitely have to start sitting out there in the afternoon whenever I can!

Thursday, July 30, 2020


Mal has long loved going on bike rides. In the trailer. On the front seat of Colin's bike. He was always drawn to the bike racks at Gareth's old elementary school, wanting to ring all the bells and touch the wheels and just look at the bikes. So I thought for sure he'd be one of those 3 or 4 year olds riding around without training wheels. But then we tried to put him on the balance bike and he was frustrated and nervous. We tried on and off, but usually with the same result. And then we moved to our current house, with no sidewalks and both streets a hill and getting him out on it got pushed down the importance list when it was such a battle to get him on board. So that's how we got to where we have been, with his inability to ride a bike constantly in the back of my mind as a semi-urgent thing that I feel kinda guilty and frustrated about.

I was finally going to give up and put the training wheels on Gareth's old red bike (that we got for his 5th birthday), knowing that it was probably a little small, but hoping spending some time on it would give him a little more confidence. We did that a couple weeks ago. There was some frustration still, caused by being a little too big for the bike and by the fact that you pedal backwards to brake. But it did seem to be working - he was zooming around on it and getting more comfortable with the slight downhill of the elementary school playground. Then he forgot to brake, ran into the fence, scraped up his elbow when he fell off, and I'm pretty sure you could hear the screams of anger at how his bike was trying to kill him all the way in downtown.

We took a few days off for him to get over his wounded elbow, but knew we needed to get him back out. He knew there was another bike in the garage that would fit him better, but without training wheels. We opted for that one last weekend, removed the pedals (but brought them with us, just in case). Still lots of frustration on his part about the weight of the bike and how it kept trying to tilt over or turn (always the bike's fault, never his). But he was seeming to keep his balance pretty well, even if he wasn't zooming along confidently. Eventually, he was ready to give the pedals a go.

Within a couple tries, he was riding with only a little help to stay balanced as he got started. He even was willing to try to start on his own, but kept getting nervous and would stop before he could get going. We went out again the next day and I brought my bike. I wasn't getting much riding time since he kept stopping every time he got to a curve and I kept having to help him start. Finally I told him that I was going to ride around the playground once, but that I'd be back to help him. Of course, while I was doing that, he got started all on his own! He's not to the point where he gets going on his first try 100% of the time, but pretty close. Still some confidence work to do, but we're hoping to get him out practicing regularly to buoy that up.