Friday, 28 November 2014

Fall is flying by!

It's always surprising how quickly the Christmas decorations go up after Halloween.  I used to think it was an eternity between Oct 31 and Dec 25.  This year the calendar is moving at warp speed.   As bad is it is to put up the Christmas decorations immediately after Halloween, I'm sure that posting a Halloween blog post in the weeks before Christmas is a crime on the same level.  So I had better post this quickly, because the snow is falling outside tonight and December is only days away!

Finley loves to watch the train go past the window of our house.  He gets so excited when he hears the horn.  I thought he would be very excited to go for a special train ride at the West Coast Railway Museum; turns out, he was not super thrilled.

I think we'll give the Polar Express a miss this year, given the enthusiasm he had for the Mystery of the Magic Pumpkin Tour.  I thought the train was pretty awesome - they were playing Ghostbusters & all the employees were in costume.  They took us to a pumpkin patch where we picked out the perfect pumpkin to take home.

They had a carving station and a bunch of crafts happening, but it was getting close to nap time, so we had to go.  I broke my back trying to carry both my pumpkin and my munchkin back to the car.  It felt like it was about 5 km, thought it was probably 500m.  It's pretty sad what I will do for something free.  Even a free pumpkin which rotted before Halloween night (which make it look more ghoulish, so was actually a good thing... or so I told myself!)

For Halloween day, I couldn't wait to get dressed into our costumes.  It turned out that the costume I got for Finley was a little too small, but he rocked it anyway.  He was so darn adorable that I was inspired to dress up in costume that enhanced his Halloween look.

Ladies and gentleman, I bring you Princess Leia & Chewbacca:

I had the day off of work, so I took Chewie to a Halloween party at a community play group. We did arts & crafts, had special treats for snack and even trick or treated!

Next year Finley will be old enough to chose his own costume - I can't wait to see what he will want!

Winter seems to be arriving this weekend and it's chilly out.  We've been cooking lots of comfort foods lately, and I've got some cook book challenges in the wings.... so there will be more posts to come!  Soon, I hope!

Monday, 13 October 2014

Fall Firsts

There is lots to love about fall.  Here are just a few of the things that I enjoy about the season:

1. Thanksgiving
2. Cozy sweaters
3. Beautiful colours in the forest
4. Halloween
5. Ski season is around the corner!

We've had a great autumn so far.  Actually, with the weather we've been having, it was starting to feel like an extended summer.  But not to worry, the rain is here, and it's here in a big way!

Our first fall event happened before it was fall.  Every year there is a Fair in town - the Brackendale Fall Fair.  I had heard that it was great, but I'd never been.  This year we went to check it out & it was awesome.  There was live music, a petting zoo, lots of food vendors, a farmer's market & pretty much everyone in town was there.  As you can see, it was a gorgeous day!

Biking in fall is awesome - the crisp air, the colourful leaves littering the trail, the tacky dirt on the trail.  I got a new bike in July and it has been SO MUCH FUN!  It is like the One Ring of bikes - it performs well in all conditions.  I even took it to the bike park this weekend & it was perfect.

Last weekend Finley and I planted some new foliage on the decks to brighten things up.  I did most of the work, but Finley kept me company while he man-handled my decorative peppers.  My new approach to the potted garden is to use perennials and just add some colourful annuals around the edge according to the season.  I'm hoping it will be less work.  I can use my extra time to power-wash the deck!

Let's face it, it's not quite as easy to get out and about in the pouring rain.  Here we are are enjoying a rain-free day at the river.

Back at home, Finley is into all the classic games.  Hide and seek:

I wanted to brave a turkey this year, but I didn't stop to consider the details of that plan.  So when I went to order our free-range organic turkey and was told the smallest bird was 12lbs, I thought that might be a bit much for two adults and one baby.  It was a bit late to have other people over, so I decided to do a roast chicken instead.

You may remember that I'm not that good at roasts & I have an inexplicable fear of handling full carcasses of meat.  I am better now, having BBQed whole chickens.  Still, I wouldn't say that traditional meals are a strong suite of mine.

Sounds like time for a Cookbook Challenge!

Cookbook Challenge #25: Thanksgiving Dinner for Two from Jamie's Food Revolution by Jamie Oliver

We got this wonderful book as a gift from Derek's Dad & Step-mom.  We - as in both of us - Derek and I got this book.  Notice Jamie says right on the front cover that we can rediscover how to cook simple, delicious, affordable meals.  I'm not sure if Bruce & Sharon thought that Derek might crack this book & try some new dishes, but I have to admit that I had that thought when I saw the book.  More of a fantasy, really.  I don't think Jamie has Derek convinced yet, but perhaps he just hasn't been hungry enough to try yet.  (Ask him about the first time he made his famous tomato soup, or stir-fry.... driven by hunger and wife MIA!)

Anyway, I thought Jamie could help me with my first roast chicken & the appropriate fixings for a transitional-ish Thanksgiving dinner.

"Perfect Roast Chicken":

"A consistently good gravy" (my first gravy!):
(tastes better than it looks, and I did strain out the veggies etc!)

"Baked Carrots in a Bag":

"Baked French Potatoes":

Everything turned out really well!  Jamie Oliver's cookbooks are usually pretty straight-foward and easy to follow, once you get used to his random measurements (dash of this, handful of that!)

Since only 50% of the dinner guests like Pumpkin Pie, but 100% of the guests love the Triple Chocolate Mousse Cake from Xocolatl, we had the latter.  With Pumpkin chocolates on it!

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Kitchen Gadgets to the Rescue

Does anyone else ever feel like they have too many gadgets in their kitchen?  Expresso machine, bread machine, Vitamix, toaster, toaster-oven, slow cooker, electric kettle, rice cooker, Magic Bullet, dehydrator, juicer, fondue pot, ice cream maker ... the list goes on!  For the record, I do NOT own all of the items listed above.  However, I admit I am guilty of coveting gadgets, using them furiously for weeks to months, then relegating to the back shelf of the pantry.  That is where my bread machine is.  It was the coolest thing ever when it was given to me, but I can't honestly remember the last time I used it.   My great uncle won it and passed it on, so at least nobody paid for a bread machine to sit on my shelf.

We recently had the opportunity to dust off some gadgets, as our stove has been out of commission for the past 2 weeks.  I was trying to tidy up the cupboard above the stove, when I knocked over a mason jar full of cereal.  I heard a loud smash & cursed myself for breaking the mason jar & making a big mess.  No such luck!  The mason jar was intact.  Our stove top... not so much.

Not awesome

I had to get a bit creative with the cooking, but we ate well, thanks to our gadgets!

The gadget that really saved our bacon was the BBQ.   We used it most nights, and you really can't go too wrong with a BBQ.  I tried to attach a rotisserie accessory I bought years ago on sale, but it didn't fit - drat!  With the mild winters we have, there is really no reason to close down the BBQ once summer is over.

The next most useful gadget was our rice cooker.  Rice cookers are not fly-by-night gadgets, they are legit.  They are super helpful.  They cook rice like you've never tasted.  I can't remember a time when we did not have a rice cooker in our kitchen.   The one we currently have was gifted to us at Christmas 2 yrs ago & I love it.  The buttons are in English (my last machine was in Japanese), it has a timer, and it makes amazing rice.

Without a stove, I had to find a new way to cook Finley's morning porridge.  The rice cooker was equal to the task.  I put the oats & water in at bedtime, set the timer & woke up to hot porridge.  I don't think I'll go back to the stove top for this one.

A few years ago I bought a sukiyaki maker at Uwajimaya in Seattle.  I received a great deal of teasing from my friends who were there with me.  We love sukiyaki, but you can only eat it so often, so this gadget has not seen much use.  Until now!  In the past two weeks, the sukiyaki maker has expanded her repertoire - pancakes, scrambled eggs, omelet, stir fry, yakisoba, steamed veggies, fried rice, and yes - sukiyaki!

"sukiyaki maker"
Last, but not least - the slow cooker.  I didn't bring it out until today, for a delicious dinner of pulled pork tacos.  It was the first slow cooked meal of the season & I'm looking forward to more.

But starting tomorrow, we can cook on our stove again.  Jeff from Best Appliances came through for us today & we have a sparkling new stove top.  What should we make first!?

Sunday, 28 September 2014

Visitors from afar!

We got some visitors in September!  Grandpa Bruce and Grandma Sharon came out from Toronto to visit Finley for a week.  We had great weather for exploring.

We had lots of great adventures while they were here: We went to the train museum, up the gondola for lunch, to the swimming pool at their hotel, and out of lunch and for walks.

The West Coast Railway museum was having a "Mini Day": free admission to the museum & free rides on the mini-train.  Sweet!  Finley loves trains!  We ran into Finley's friends Bradley & Lucas there.

We've redecorated the house and now have two kitchens, just like the Duchess of Cambrige (a.k.a Two Kitchen Kate)  Finley likes to prepare meals for his stuffies.

Could I offer you a spot of tea, Mrs Hans?
We had another visitor in September - Derek's good friend Jonas from the Yukon.  We met him in North Vancouver for coffee.  We arrived a little early so we stopped at this park which also had a water park- it was awesome!  We need one of these in Squamish!

I can't believe it will be October in a few days.  We've got a pretty amazing Halloween costume for Finley already - but you will have to wait to see it!

Saturday, 6 September 2014

California here I come!

Last week I went to San Francisco for the Labour Day weekend with my Mom and my sister Bronwyn.  Aside from a few overnight work shifts, it was the first time I've been away from my little boy since he was born.  As the trip came closer I was nervous - not about leaving him, I knew he'd be in the best hands (his daddy's!) - I was nervous that I would miss him so much it would prevent me from having a fun time.

It was tough to be away - I missed both my boys a lot.  We had FaceTime dates every day, sometimes twice, which helped me feel connected to home.  But I also had a really great time - it was nice to sleep in a little, eat at some fancy restaurants, and have unscheduled days where we could just do whatever caught our fancy (no naps required!)

Throckmorton never misses a chance to travel!

Friday Mom & I arrived from Vancouver.  We checked in to our hotel in Union Square and rested before dinner.  I reminded mom of a trip we took to San Francisco over 20 years ago at which time we were passing through Union Square in a taxi and saw Cindy Crawford & Richard Gere all dressed up outside one of the fancy stores.    She didn't remember, but I was star-struck!

That night we had dinner at "Bouche", a delicious little French restaurant a few blocks from the hotel.

The next day we went to the Ferry Building for coffee and breakfast.  There was a Farmer's Market with the most amazing selection of heirloom tomatoes and plum-family members that I've ever seen.  I stocked up on Pluots for later.

Here we are attempting to go up to Coit Tower.  We had to take a somewhat round-about route as one of our party felt the Filbert Steps were dangerous.  Not naming names, but she might be in the picture below....

But we made it to the top anyway, and were met by yogis and panoramic view of San Francisco. 

Bronwyn arrived that afternoon.  After lunch, we parted ways for a few hours and I got some serious shopping done.  I haven't bought new clothes in ages & San Fran was a good place to make up for lost time!  Dinner at the Slanted Door was yum, but the service was pretty shocking.  Maybe you need to be Ricard Gere or Cindy Crawford to get noticed in this town!

The next day we didn't have much of a plan other than a brunch reservation in Hayes Valley, which is apparently one of the hip neighbourhoods these days.

On the way we passed City Hall and another Urban Farmer's Market.

Hayes Valley was a pretty hip area.  There were lots of cute stores, restaurants and a little park. There was also a area where shops were made out of shipping containers, including Ritual Coffee (yum!), a bike rental place and a beer garden.   We had breakfast at Absinthe, where I had one of the most decadent brunches I've ever had:  ricotta stuffed french toast with caramelized bananas and pecans topped with citrus whip cream AND a side of sausage.   AND a belini.  Oh my.  Don't try this at home: this is vacation eating.  

After over-indulging at brunch, it seemed that we ought to do something active... especially since we had dinner reservations at the highly recommended Zuni Cafe.  We rented bikes from one of the shipping containers and made our way to Golden Gate Park.

We passed Alamo Square and the "Painted Ladies" on the way:

The painted ladies, one lady getting a fresh coat

Golden Gate Park was cool, with lots of things to see.  It was a Sunday so the roads through the park were closed for pedestrian traffic.  There were tons of people - locals & tourists alike - out enjoying the sunny day.

The arborium, pretty flowers & picnickers 

Some Groovy Roller-skaters

Free Swing Lessons (which this couple did not need - they were awesome! Just look at how his leg is bending - how is that even possible!?)

Just riding along

Ocean Beach, a HUGE beach at the end of Golden Gate Park

Nice!  Mom makes it up the hill on the 50lb bike!

Nice cold brewskis on a hot day.  Mom loved her IPA in particular!

We ate at Zuni Cafe, which was recommended by two friends of mine.   Despite showing up in our biking clothes and looking like ragamuffins, we got great service.  We were recommended to have the roasted chicken with warm bread salad, which was their speciality.  The prep time was an hour, so we had fancy cocktails and appies while we waited.

The next day we biked again - that's how we roll, literally.  We took the bikes across the bay to Sausalito where we hung out for a bit then rode our bikes to another small town, Tiburon.

On the Ferry to Sausalito

In Sausalito we ate at Fish, where our the chef is the nephew of one of our family friends & neighbours from growing up.  The food was delicious, and worthy of the long line outside the restaurant!

Our ferry leaving Tiburon

Golden Gate Bridge

Pier 39, Coit Tower, the TransAmerica building and the SF skyline

For dinner on our last night, we ate at Gary Danko, which I think is only Michelin Star rated restaurant I've eaten at (one star).  Bronwyn made the reservation months ago, otherwise we never would have got in.  The food was top notch and the service was the best I've ever seen.   The wait staff manages to make you feel like you are their favourite table and they can't wait to take care of you - without feeling forced or phoney.  It was a real treat!

After four days away, I couldn't wait to get home to see my lovely boys!  Little did I know I was to be greeted by a grumpy monkey with 3 molars & one cuspid tooth coming in.  He flashed me one weak smile before erupting into tears and snuggling with his daddy.  We'll have lots of cuddles this weekend to make up for my time away!