Sunday, June 21, 2020

Garden and Garage

I was supposed to go on a bike ride this morning, but woke up yesterday congested. Felt well most of the day, so was hoping it was just allergies, but woke up this morning feeling worse and decided it was best all around if I stayed home today. Disappointing, but hopefully I'll be better by next weekend and can get out then.

Our plants are sprouting more, though only the cilantro seems to have come up in the railing planter. And the left side of the raised bed is looking much less productive than the right side. No idea why. But what is coming up seems to be coming along nicely.

Ryan and I have embarked on a garage cleanout/reorganization project. We're trying to tackle a bit at a time, otherwise it'll be overwhelming. Yesterday we spent an hour or so and got our food shelf better organized. Ryan cleared up some cobwebs and did a bunch of shrub trimming outside so we could get in and out of the garage easier. Today we got a tool chest. Home Depot was disappointingly crowded, but once we found what we needed, we were able to get out quickly. We got it put together and put all the tools that have been sprawling over the garage floor for the past few years put away in it.

We still have a lot of work to do and a lot to get rid of. Planning to try and figure out some wall storage, a better way to store the bikes, and likely some more shelf storage. Hopefully in a few weeks we'll have made some good progress; it's been a project we've known needed to happen for a while, so it feels good to finally get around to it.

No baking this weekend, but we plan to be back at it next weekend - if my work and biking plans allow.

Friday, June 19, 2020

School End

Well, school has ended for the year. Very anticlimactic this year and it's not clear what things will look like in the fall. The childcare at the elementary school has been allowed to re-open, but Mal won't be going this summer since we're all working from home still. Lots of people are going to be losing childcare FSA money this year I'm guessing. Half of ours was supplied by my employer, so it won't be quite as painful if we don't use it all. The schools will only open full time in the fall if we're in phase 4, which everyone is assuming unlikely. We just got approved for phase 2 and it sounds like we're barely meeting requirements there, so I wouldn't be surprised if we have to move backwards in a few weeks.

Since it was a lame last day of school, it worked out nicely that I had the day off (I'm working an upcoming weekend day). I decided we should do some fun things since the kids didn't really have school. Mal wanted the three of us to play Overcooked, which we planned to do, but Ryan was using one of the controllers, so we'll get that in tomorrow instead.

Gareth and I went for our first bike ride in ages. Just 9 miles over to our old neighborhood and back. It includes some hills but is very doable. I'm going to be in some pain tomorrow since it's been a couple months since I last rode and because I'd also gone for a run this morning. It felt good to get out though and was a nice way to spend an hour. We stopped by a friend's house and had a brief outside conversation before making our way back.

After injuring his back on his birthday when he tried to lift his heavy pillow as though it was a regular pillow, Ryan's realized he needs to be moving more than an occasional walk and dips/pushups. A friend told him biking has helped with his back, so Ryan might actually get into biking again. He has a bike that this friend gave him a few years ago, but apparently it needs a little work - we just can't remember what it needs. One of my big barriers to getting out on rides alone is that I don't actually know a lot of maintenance stuff or how to fix things if something goes awry while I'm out. We're hoping to start learning together.

Sunday, June 14, 2020

Potato Cheese Sticks, Fence, and Butter Herb Loaf

We didn't do nearly as much baking last weekend, partly due to the fact that we still had cheesecake left from Ryan's birthday. But we did try out another Julia Child recipe: Potato Cheese Sticks. Basically just riced potato mixed with egg, flour, cheese, butter, and seasonings.

The mixture got easier to pipe as it cooled a bit, simply because it held its shape better. The first tray kinda flattened out a bit, while the second tray (above) held their shape better. I was shocked that Mal actually liked them, considering he hates potatoes and cheese. The texture is a bit like a french fry - still soft in the center, but a little crunch on the outside. I was worried they'd taste terrible as they cooled, but they're actually fine.

Now that things are opening up a bit, we were finally able to get our broken fence replaced. We'd realized that each section was going to fall apart one by one, so we may as well replace the whole thing since the people we bought the house from clearly didn't get it built correctly. The team came early in the week to remove the old fence and to pour concrete for new posts, then came a few days later to put the new fence up.

New gates that actually function!

It feels good to have got one repair/improvement project done. This weekend's baking is a butterflake herb loaf.

Kids did most of the work mixing up the dough

Mal wandered off, so Gareth and I put together the butter-herb filling
All of us worked to cut out the circles, spread with filling, fold in half, and place in the loaf pan. Our pan was a little bigger than called for, so instead of two loaves we made one.

Before baking

We used the scraps to make all sorts of rolls

This one was just 4 pieces of scrap placed together with filling between.
 All done! Some crackage along the side, which I'm sure means we did something wrong. But tastes great! We'll definitely be making this one again.

Next up: Florentines.

Tuesday, June 2, 2020


Ryan turned thirty-nine this week. In between following the protests and trying to have some conversations with our kids (more in-depth with Gareth, obviously) about what's going on and why, we baked and celebrated. We started off the weekend by using up our leftover egg whites to try out macarons. I warned everyone that they sounded tricky and that they were unlikely to turn out perfectly on our first try.

We got better at piping as we went along. But it's a good thing I set expectations low, because we clearly didn't deflate the batter quite enough/it was undermixed. Some of them ended up overbaked slightly, others slightly underbaked (they were all in the oven on the convection setting together, so it's a bit odd), and apparently we didn't knock out any air bubbles sufficiently since some of them had cracks. They still tasted good at any rate.

The next day I made up the chocolate cheesecake for Ryan's birthday. I was nervous about it since I was increasing the recipe to adapt it from a 9" to a 10" pan. It seemed to go well initially, but I think I must've over-mixed it a bit and maybe overcooked it a tad as well, since it ended up with huge crack. Again, it tasted delicous - rich and fudgy and likely impossible for just the four of us to make it through.

Ryan's birthday gift has been sitting in the living room for a few days, and was labelled on the box with what it was, so no surprises here. But he was still thrilled and declared that I think of the best gifts (made me laugh since I have a really hard time coming up with gift ideas for him). We've had a hard time finding pillows that are actually firm and don't flatten immediately, which really sucks when you're a side sleeper. So I got him (and me, because it saved some money to buy 2) a buckwheat pillow to try out, after looking into them and finding lots of rave reviews. We let Gareth try it out a bit and now he's jealous and wants one as well.

In non-birthday news, the cilantro seeds I planted in the railing planter are coming up! It's a self-watering planter with no real drainage, and we've had quite a lot of rain recently (including a thunderstorm, yay!), so I was starting to worry that they'd gotten too much water and not enough sun/warmth and were just being drowned. We'll see if I get to harvest any before winter comes.

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Bread, Rhubarb, and Custard

After I graduated a couple years ago, my mom and I made a pane bianco. I'd been meaning to make it again and just hadn't found the time. Newly inspired by GBBO, Ryan decided we should do that this past weekend. It's been a ton of fun to work together as a family on these bakes. We ended up making two loaves, one per day, because we had the basil and may as well use it all up, right?

First day:

Mal channeling GBBO and anxiously watching the dough prove

Cutting the sun-dried tomatoes into pieces

Choosing some basil to chop

Into the oven for the second prove

Finished product!
It's quite an elegant loaf, but I felt it was a little dull looking. Decided an egg wash would be worth trying the next time we made it.

Day 2, I did mostly by myself. I was more confident with cutting the bread and letting it open up more. But also forgot about the dough while it was proving initially, so may have been a little over-proved. I wouldn't really know how to tell. We opted for a whole egg + milk wash and I loved how it gave a nice shine:

For Memorial Day, we had some rhubarb and so I needed a recipe to use that up. When I traveled to the UK in college, we were frequently served rhubarb crumble with warm custard and it was pretty much the best thing ever. No one was able to give me a recipe ("It's just from a packet!"), so I haven't had it in years. I was able to find a recipe and made that up. None of my family were huge fans of the raw rhubarb (Gareth didn't seem to mind it much, but he likes to eat raw cranberries too...), but everyone loved the rhubarb crumble and the custard.

Gareth has been making dinner for us once a week, which he seemed hesitant about at first, but now seems to be enjoying. It's great to see his confidence grow - when we last did this ~3 years ago, he needed help with every step. Now we can pretty much leave him to his own devices and he'll figure things out, but knows we're available to help when needed. So far he's done smoked gouda mac n cheese, scrambled eggs and biscuits, and a "southwest falafel" with avocado (basically pinto bean patties that you serve in pita with guacamole).

This next weekend we'll be making a chocolate cheesecake for Ryan's birthday. And, if time permits, may make up the Julia Child leek quiche for his birthday dinner (we've done it dozens of times before, but it's been years since we last made it). Macarons are also planned for this week since we have a bunch of egg whites leftover from making the custard.

Saturday, May 16, 2020

Quarantine, Part III

One nice perk to quarantine is that our weekend days are suddenly very empty. Not that we don't enjoy the things we usually do with them, but now we're having the opportunity to do some things we enjoy doing that maybe wouldn't have been prioritized previously. Among those a couple weekends ago was a cheesecake trial run. Ryan has done German chocolate cake for his birthday for several years, though we've also occasionally purchased a cheesecake. We've never made one before, and he was thinking he'd like that this year, so decided to try it out.

Our local baking supply shop (just a couple blocks away from us!) is taking phone/email orders and then no-contact pickup and delivery. We didn't own a cheesecake pan, so I placed an order and was able to walk with Mal to pick it up that afternoon. Love our local stores!

Everyone pitched in with measuring/mixing/grating of lemon zest. Ryan took charge of spreading the base across the bottom of the pan, though I helped get it up the sides a bit.

The recipe we used called for a biscuit crust. I was a little worried when it puffed up a fair bit in the oven, despite our having pricked it with a fork.

But it seemed to be okay when we poured the filling over it, so into the oven it went. Apparently the key to not having a big crack across the top is to cook it until it's just set about 1 inch in from the edge, then turn off the oven, leave the oven door open a bit, and leave the cheesecake there for another hour. It sets the rest of the way as the oven is cooling.

I had no idea if it would really work or not, but it came out looking quite good - no crack and set all the way through!

I was making a store run that day anyway, so picked up some frozen tart cherries to make a fruit glaze with.

It turned out way better than I expected, very creamy, with the fresh lemon zest definitely coming through. The base was a little thick at the edge, so next time we know to leave a little more in the center! Gareth wanted us to finish this one off by the next weekend so we could make another, but I think if we did that we'd be tired of cheesecake before Ryan's birthday rolled around!

We got a new raised bed the other day, intended for patios/decks. I was able to pick up some seeds at the grocery store this past week. I wanted to keep it on the deck since last year we put some tomatoes down in the yard and they were woefully neglected since we just didn't make it down to them that often. Hoping that on the deck it will be more visible to us and we might actually remember to tend to whatever manages to grow. Not sure how it will fare against the bunnies though (not sure they can get up to the deck, so maybe another pro to putting it up here?). I also got a planter to go on the deck railing that I'm hoping to grow some herbs in. I've been wanting to do that for a while and am excited to finally get around to it - if it goes well then I'll expand next year. I know we should've been planting ages ago, but Seattle's a little forgiving in that respect since it can take a while to get warm here. Better late than never, I figure. Even if we don't get much to eat from it, it'll be something else for the kids to do.

We're starting to do more Zoom visits for work, and after having a few in one day I realized my side-of-bed work setup just wasn't sustainable for the long-term while doing video calls. So we kicked the boys out of their fort and I took over the music room as my office. I made our first trip to Costco in a long while and was able to use my work badge for priority entry into the store. Picked up a folding table for a desk. My back is appreciating my new setup, though a certain 8 year old has decided that me being on the same floor as them means they should be able to knock on the door and ask me questions all day long.

Ryan's finally given in and started watching Great British Bake Off (I was doing a re-watch). So while I've watched all of them available on Netflix, he's new to it and it's been a ton of fun to watch all together. We're making notes of bakes we'd like to try and hoping to gradually work through them over the next many weeks/months.

Saturday, May 2, 2020

Quarantine Part II

As it became obvious that this wouldn't be a short stint of us all at home, we decided that Ryan definitely needed a better work setup. I need one as well, but we just don't have the space; since I need to be able to keep patient appointments/discussions about patients private, working up in our bedroom really is the only option and there isn't room for a desk and good chair up there. So folding chair at the side of the bed it is. I pulled in my sister to help with ideas on how to rearrange our space to create an "office" for him. Had to map out our outlets as well, since his laptop requires a 3-pronged outlet, which helped remind us that we need some electrical work done at some point.

Our couch lives in front of the window. I never would've thought to get Ryan a desk in the corner between the couch and the fireplace, but she suggested it and it's brilliant! We weren't able to find a cheap corner desk that would fit (actually, there was one on Ikea, but they were stupid with their ordering system and you couldn't order it despite it saying it was in stock. But you only found that out after you were halfway through the order process.). We found a cheap desk that we'll give away after this is done. He gets to enjoy having sunlight and looking out the windows while he works now!

We did the usual outdoor egg hunt on Easter. As usual, the kids missed many of the most obvious eggs. They tend to wander around, swiveling their heads to and fro, but not actually looking. It becomes clear why I'm apparently the only person in the house who can actually find anything.

Speaking of finding things, as all of this started, Ryan lost one of his jackets. We both looked everywhere. I wondered if he'd left it at his drum lesson or at the restaurant we'd been to recently. No luck at the drum school and we were both positive he'd put it on before leaving the restaurant. He was very sad about it. We were watching a show a few days later and one of the characters had their blue bomber jacket stolen - Ryan sympathized with the character deeply. This past weekend I got in the basement closet to pull out my sewing supplies for masks, pushed aside some clothes hanging there, only to realize I'd just moved the jacket out of my way!

He must've washed it, hung it there to dry, then forgot it was there. I had a good laugh about that one. And we just saved ourselves a few hundred bucks, because I was very ready to have him just go buy a new one once the stores opened again. Yay!

We've also celebrated becoming parents to a teenager:

Lighting the candles on this cake went much better than lighting them on the pie, for the record. He was excited to get lots of books and some video games he'd been eagerly waiting for.

Ryan made time to get in the first mow of the season, and almost mowed over some bunnies in the process! Thankfully they ran away in time. Of course, we won't be so thankful if we try to plant anything we care about and they eat it. Neighborhood has been having a huge rabbit boom lately. But we've also seen coyotes around (though not right near our house yet), so maybe it'll all balance out?

And I finally finished a mask! My sewing is definitely rusty. Huge thanks to my mom for her tips and guidance. I don't visualize things well, which causes issues with sewing sometimes and she is remarkably patient putting up with it. Now I just need to make a LOT more so we have plenty for all of us.

I've agreed to take on an interim position at work as a biochemical genetics dietitian. These RDs work with patients who have inborn errors of metabolism - where there are genetic errors that make it so they can't metabolize certain proteins or fats or where they are unable to break glycogen down to make glucose. You know the newborn screening they do? Some of these inborn errors are screened for on that, because the consequences of not diagnosing these conditions early are severe. Nutrition is key to managing them and the RDs take turns being on call 24/7. It should be a fun challenge to undertake. I'm training intermittently through the next few weeks, and will start covering in mid-June.

Our stay at home order has been extended until the end of May at least. Summer camp for the kids is up in the air, which is disappointing all around, but obviously we prefer everyone stay safe and healthy!

Sunday, April 19, 2020

Quarantine Part I

When the kids' schools were initially closed, Ryan had already been working from home for several days (and was daytime on-call, so was already stir-crazy). That first day the kids were out, I happened to be home since I was scheduled to work over the weekend. Things went okay, though the kids polished off what little work their teachers had provided in 20 minutes. We'd been told they'd be out for 2 weeks and I was banking on being able to just skate by with those 20 minutes in the morning and not worrying too much if they had a couple weeks full of screen time. But the next day, it was extended to 6 weeks and Ryan texted me before I'd even headed off for rounds to let me know that the kids thought they should just play video games all day. I'd been hoping to get through the weekend to my next day off (Monday) and be able to spend some time then coming up with a plan for the 6 weeks. It quickly became apparent that, to give everyone's sanity some hope, we would need to come up with something that night. So we spent some time coming up with a basic schedule and then lists of outdoor/physical activity ideas and "approved" indoor activities.

Seemed to work decently for the first few days. While I was off the following Monday, our director sent out an email telling our department to start preparing to work from home. I went in Tuesday, covered my service as usual, and then started packing up anything I might need for home. We've been figuring things out all together ever since.

The schedule quickly started to fall to shambles, since neither Ryan nor I had capacity to regularly check in with the kids. After a couple weeks, we sat them down, re-instituted the schedule (including setting "school bells" on Gareth's phone) and added on a requirement that they write a report/message to us daily - 3 paragraph minimum for Gareth, 3 sentence for Mal. It's been working decently well, though Mal prefers to write 3 short sentences telling us three things he ate that day.

On that Monday off, I took the kids to Kubota Garden since I knew it'd likely be empty. We saw 4 or 5 other people while there, but mostly from a distance.

I'm not sure if the garden is still open or not, so I'm glad we got the trip in early on (and that it was safe to do so - if the parking lot had been crowded, I was prepared to turn around and go home).

A couple weeks later was Mal's birthday. I'd been hoping to give him an actual birthday party this year, but obviously those plans got waylaid. We did have Emily and Daniel over (Mal and Daniel share a birthday). The governor had just announced the stay at home order that afternoon/evening, but we didn't hear about it until they were already on their way. So we had our celebration and then said goodbye for the near future. Mal had requested an apple pie, since we had said we'd make his requested Minecraft cake when we could actually have a friend birthday party.

The pie was delicious, but because it was so full, it definitely overflowed in the oven, making a big mess. Then I set it on the stovetop to cool while we ate dinner. Of course, it wasn't cooled completely by the time we were ready to eat it. The only candles we had were some thin, sort of squiggly ones Mal had picked out a few years ago. Not even thinking about the pie being a little warm still, I started sticking them in, wondered why they were so unstable, then realized they were melting from the bottom up due to the warm pie! I quickly lit the candles and tried to lift up the pie to carry it to the living room where Mal was video chatting with family, only to realize the overflowing juices of the pie had cooled and now the pie was firmly stuck to the stovetop. So I ran to the living room and told Mal he had to come do candles right that instant before the candles melted entirely away. It added some nice comedy to the evening. And I didn't manage to get any other photos.

About a week or so in, I suggested to Mal that he use some free time to build a fort. Initially, their fort was making basement bathroom and laundry access difficult, so I had them move it into the music room. They've been sleeping in it ever since. Ryan's asked a couple times how long we're planning to let the fort stay and I just shrug my shoulders. There's not really any good reason for them to return to sleeping in their room at the moment.

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Sidewalk Follow-Up

Completed sidewalk!

It's been done for a while - since just before Christmas. And our car even just barely fits in our driveway! They've slowly worked on putting up mailboxes and just today added in some "No Parking" signs across the street today. It's lovely, and I appreciate it every time I walk home from the bus stop. I appreciated the width of it a little less when it came time to salt it during the snow storm recently, but since we only get snow once or twice a year, I think the whole having a sidewalk thing is still an overall plus.

Saturday, January 4, 2020

Post-Christmas/New Year

I headed back to work a couple days after Christmas (helping cover the NICU, so it's been an enjoyable week), but I did have New Year's Day off. On the 30th I started our puzzle, just getting some work done on the edge. Ryan completed the edge during the day on New Year's Eve. By the end of the night I'd completed the following (Ryan did the couple of trees in the middle left and right of the puzzle):

We also enjoyed a nice spread of treats, cheeses, etc. Daniel and Emily joined us for dinner, but dinner happened a bit late so they had to leave before we made it to the cheeses. Mal stayed up until about 9:30 or 10, the rest of us stayed up much later.

The boys received a cookbook from my sister for Christmas and Mal was eager to start trying recipes on New Year's Day. First up? Pancakes. I struggle with letting go of control/knowing everything will be a mess when they're helping in the kitchen, but I also really really want to encourage them to feel confident and comfortable with cooking/in the kitchen. So lots of deep breathing in store while they learn, but it'll be worth it. And Mal is really quite good at flipping pancakes we discovered.

I spent the rest of the day focused on the puzzle. By the end of the night I was further along than this picture shows, with just some small sections left in the upper left and right. I was the only one who had put significant work in on the puzzle at this point, so was actually a little worried that everyone would finish it while I was at work the next day.

Sure enough, they did. I was definitely a little sad about that. But it's a beautiful puzzle and was lots of fun to make.

Mal requested he make chili that night, and danced some while stirring the vegetables in the pot.

This morning he insisted on "baked breakfast", so we made the blueberry muffin recipe. He has lots of other recipes marked in the book, so we'll have to get all the ingredients and work on those through the coming weeks. He did much better with cracking eggs this morning than he did with the pancakes, so he's definitely improving and learning. I'm loving how much he's enjoying it.