Category Archives: Family Fun

Back to Reality

Hi friends!  Remember me?  I know I’ve been gone a long time, but this summer was just crazy busy.  There’s no way that I’m going to be able to fill you in on all the details, but I can give you some highlights.  This is actually harder than it sounds.  You know in school how it is harder to summarize a long passage into a few sentences than it is just to retell the whole thing?  That’s true here in real life, too!  But, I will try, if only to prove to my kids that this is a skill worth learning and maintaining.

First off, we took an “mind blowing” trip to Jasper National Park in Canada.  The words in quotes are not mine, they belong to my teenage son.  I’ve tried to include a good selection of pictures below, but I’ll say what everybody says–that the pictures just don’t do the place any justice.

From our drive into Jasper until our last moment there, the place enchanted us with its amazing views.

There were gorges.

Waterfalls.

Glacial rivers

Lakes

Views of glaciers.

Challenging hikes.  (This picture in particular does not convey how difficult this part of the trail was to climb.  See all the switchbacks?  That means it was too steep to go down in a straight line.  I’d guess it was at least a 45 degree incline.)

We even had a few triumphant moments.

And we had an amazing half hour on an actual glacier.  (pro tip:  It’s cold on a glacier.  You should probably wear more than I did, which was basically shorts and a light jacket.  A full length down jacket would be appropriate.)

Four days in Jasper was not enough to do everything we wanted to do there.  We would go back in a heartbeat if we could.  The only consolation we had in leaving was that we were moving on to Banff National Park, which was equally enchanting, but in a different, less wild kind of way.

In Banff, you never feel too far away from civilization.  This picture is taken just a short walk from Banff town, which is quite a hub of activity.

In Banff, seeing the most popular views also means seeing some interesting hotels and sharing that experience with hundreds of other strangers.  Still, there are moments where you can feel like you have the place to yourself, such as 7 am in the morning at the shores of Lake Louise.

One of the most charming things about Banff is that there are several trails that have teahouses on them.  So you don’t even have to bring your lunch!

This makes up for the crowds of people that you have to share your incredible views with.

Ok, maybe crowds is a bit of an exaggeration here.  But, there were a lot more people on the trails in Banff than Jasper.

One interesting thing we saw in Banff was an ice cave.

Another nice thing about being closer to civilization is eating incredible ice cream.

We sadly only really had two days in Banff before we had to move on to a place that felt more like home, but was no less amazing because of that.  If I could only go to one national park for the rest of my life, it would probably be Glacier National Park in Montana.

Even though we had been there 4 years before, there was no shortage of new things to see.  Some things we had seen before looked new and different.  The view of the mountain next to our campsite glowed red with the sunrise when I got up one morning.

The Highline trail gave us incredible views, albeit a bit smoky/hazy.

We saw waterfalls we had not noticed before, even though we passed right by them on the road.

Here, in Glacier, we also had more wildlife encounters, like this moose having her lunch right next to the trail.

Some places, we visited again and loved them just as much as we did before, maybe even more for having seen it twice.

When it was time to leave Glacier, we left with mixed feelings.  We were tired of camping and a little footsore.   Ten straight days of camping without any campfires (There was a fire ban.  There had been very little rain in the Rockies over the summer.) was probably one or two days too long for us. There’s only so much you can do to make an airbed more comfortable.  But, I was loathe to leave the mountains behind.

However, there was more adventure ahead as we had planned to end our trip with a couple of days in Seattle.  In Seattle, we all got to see something that interested us.

My younger one wanted to go to the Boeing museum.

And my older one wanted to go to the Smith Tower and see the old fashioned elevator.

The husband got some great food.

And I got to go to the amazing Chihuly Glass Gallery.

If it looks like an awesome trip in the photos, it was exponentially more awesome to be there in person.    It was actually a lot harder to pick which pictures to include here than it was to write this paragraph.  This is partly because, between the four of us, we took over two thousand pictures!  I’m glad we have those pictures, though, because you never know if we’ll ever go back to those amazing places.  The pictures will help us remember them and I hope you enjoyed them as well!

Now, we’re more or less back into the swing of things at home with school and work and life.  I’ll be back soon with some details on some fun things I’ve been working on.  How was your summer?

 

 

 

 

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A Little Busy

Well, the last few weeks here have been quite a whirlwind!  We had some houseguests, which meant we had get ready for houseguests.  It’s great to have houseguests because we finally get around to cleaning the whole house all at once.  There’s a brief moment when one can enjoy an entirely clean house (well, except for that closet where you shove everything to make the rest of the house look nice:)  Then, there’s the super fun of having people in your house.  I got the chance to try making liege waffles.  Those were fun and totally tasty and gone so fast I didn’t have a chance to take a photo.  But, I did have a chance to take a picture of the funnel cakes we made.

We love having guests because we can make stuff we might not make for ourselves.  I mean, when else can one make 6 funnel cakes and not have any guilt?

We also get to play tourist in our local area, which, to be honest, is not hard since we haven’t lived here long.  This is my favorite picture from the whole week.

These pouffy flowers at the Boston Public Garden had us scratching our heads.  Such interesting plants!

We also watched the ducks and swans.

And tried our first cannolis from Mike’s Pastry in the North End.  Really tasty, by the way.  Totally worth the wait, which we did not have, but if we had to wait, it would have been worth it.

One highlight was a little organ music at the Old North Church.  It wasn’t a concert.  He was clearly practicing for a future event, but it was fun to listen to him practice in that space.

On our way to and fro, I even got a little bit of knitting time on these new socks.

They are the Head Over Heels Foothold socks, by my friend Helen.  Yarn is from IndigoDragonfly.

I also had some time to order some new yarn to make a strokkur and a cabled sweater.  I think I’ll wait a little while to get started on those, though.  It’s been hot here and I don’t fancy a thick woolen sweater at the moment.  Instead, I’ve cast on a laceweight sweater: Ivyle.

The chances that this will get finished before the summer is over are very slim, but I will try.  I’ve also got a couple of shawls on the needles that I’d like to finish up.  More on those next time.  Summer is looking busy!

 

Day 10: Truffles

Today’s treat is not baked, but very tasty and easy to make.  It amazes me sometimes how much we are willing to pay for chocolate truffles when it’s not terribly hard to make them at home.

The thing that makes these so easy is that they are rolled in a coating and not dipped in tempered chocolate.  Tempering chocolate is a tricky business that involves quite a bit of precise temperature regulating.  If you eliminate that step, though, you get a treat that even kids can make.

In fact, that’s just what my kids did yesterday and today.  They each chose a flavor for their truffles.  One chose peppermint and the other mexican chocolate.

I was busy shuttling back and forth between the two of them so there are no pictures of the chocolate mixing process.  The recipe I used can be found in Dorie Greenspan’s book, Baking Chez Moi.  However, there’s lots of similar recipes out there if you want to try them.

Rolling the ganache into balls was messy, but it doesn’t really matter if they are done evenly because it all looks good in the end after they are rolled in their coatings.  The peppermint ones got rolled in ground up white chocolate, while the Mexican ones got a cocoa powder/cinnamon/chili powder coating.

Because these are not coated with tempered chocolate, they have to be stored in the fridge.  They taste better if you leave them out for a while to warm up, though.  The boys are planning to give some of their truffles away as gifts to their friends.  That’s only if we don’t eat them all first!

I’ll be sure to include a few in the Christmas Treat box that I am giving away in just a few days.   Be sure to leave a comment to be included in the drawing.  (If you need the rules, here they are.  Tell me about your favorite chocolate.  My favorite chocolates to eat are from Chuao.  They have a passionfruit truffle that is really yummy!

 

Off the Grid

Last week we went on a biking and camping vacation to Acadia National Park.  It was a significant trip for us for a couple of reasons.  First, we got a hitch and bike rack to put on the car so that we could take our bikes with us.  After fifteen years of waiting, we are finally a biking family!  This may seem inconsequential, but biking did not come easily to the boys (nor me, if I am honest).  We wanted it to be a fun biking trip and not torture for anyone, so we waited until everyone was comfortable biking for long stretches and found it enjoyable as well.

This is also our first camping trip since moving to New England.  Previously, we usually took a fall camping trip in October sometime to western Maryland or down to Virgina.  But, the nights get a little nippy earlier in the year up here, so we decided to go in September.

And it was glorious.

We had wonderful weather for the first three days.

The biking was not too difficult.

The views were fantastic.

All the food we ate was delicious.

We wished it would last forever.

Unfortunately, it came to a halt when our older son fell off of a rock he was walking on and injured himself on some other granite rocks.  We had to get him down the mountain, a two mile bike ride, and then to a hospital for stitches.  Fortunately, he could still bike and those two miles were all downhill.  We were very thankful it was not worse than it was.  If he had fallen in a different direction, he would fallen down a very steep ravine, littered with rocks.  As it was, he only needed a few stitches and some ice cream.

Our last morning in the park started off in a rush of breaking camp as we woke to the sounds of rain on the tent.  The rest of the morning, we spent enjoying the park through the fog and an occasional downpour, which gave the park a unique beauty.  My only regret is that we did not get to the top of Cadillac Mountain on a nice day because the views from there are truly spectacular.

Instead, with the wind buffeting us around, we pretended we were summiting a much taller mountain and tried not to get blown off.

Something that I was not expecting during our vacation was the lack of a cell phone service.  I only had service when we went into town, which we did almost everyday, but other than that, I was completely off the grid.  At first it was annoying because I missed the convenience of looking things up on my phone and posting to social media.  But, I soon forgot about it and enjoyed the time I had to focus on the things we were doing without any temptation to connect with the cyber world.

Sadly, we had to come home and get back to all that comes with a busy life.  However, it’s only a matter of time before we go back.  Promise.

 

Lemon Blueberry Cornmeal Quick Bread

One of the first things I did when we returned from our travels a couple of weeks ago was to look around for blueberry farms that would allow us to come and pick our own.  We’ve been blueberry picking every summer for almost two decades!  There were several that popped up, but most of them did not seem appealing for one reason or another except for one that happened to be rather close to our house.  Well, close meaning it was a 25 minute drive, which is how far we are from just about everything.  Anyway, we jumped into the car and drove over there and the whole time I was thinking that if it was a bust, at least it wasn’t that far away.  Happily, it was a fantastic little farm and we were there on the opening day of blueberry picking, so the blueberries were very plentiful.

We were there for less than an hour and picked all this, including the raspberries.

I can”t tell you what a relief and joy it was that we were able to find this farm.  After a long first year here with countless moments of homesickness, this was a couple of hours when we all felt actually really happy and glad to be here.  Don’t get me wrong, none of us regret moving (well, maybe a little), but living in a place where everything is new and nothing is familiar just wears on a person.

It was nice to enjoy a familiar activity.  In fact, we enjoyed it so much we went back the next week and did it again.  And I am hoping they will still be open for another week so we can get some more because, unbelievably, we have gone through 12 quarts of blueberries in two weeks.  There were a couple of tarts and batches of jam.  Three or four of those quarts went into the freezer for the long winter.  And, of course, there were pies and breads and smoothies.  And recently, with the last quart of berries facing me, I also made a lovely loaf cake dotted with blueberries, flavored with zingy lemon, and enhanced by the subtle crunch of cornmeal.

Best of all, the cake is super easy to mix together.  The hardest task is zesting the lemons.  Everything else can be done with a whisk.  These are my favorite kinds of recipes.  Simple.  Tasty.  Unfussy.

When the loaf comes out of the oven, it gets a sugar and lemon juice glaze.

Then, once it has cooled, it gets a drizzle of icing.  You may be tempted to skip the icing and it would be ok without it.  However, the cake itself has less sugar than most, so the icing really enhances the cake instead of just adding to the sweetness.  Plus, it makes it really pretty.

 

Lemon Blueberry Cornmeal Quick Bread

makes one 9 by 5 inch loaf  (I used a 11.5 by 3.5 inch pan that I got from Ikea, but the 9 by 5 is about the same volume.  If you don’t have that, an 8 by 8 pan would work, but it would be shorter and probably need to bake for a shorter period of time.)

1 1/4 cups (6.25 ounces) all purpose flour

1/2 cup (2.5 ounces) fine cornmeal

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup (3.5 ounces) granulated sugar

zest of one lemon

1 cup (8 ounces) buttermilk

2 large eggs

8 Tablespoons (4 ounces) unsalted butter, melted

1 cup plus 1/4 cup fresh blueberries

for glaze:

2 Tablespoons lemon juice

2 Tablespoons granulated sugar

for icing:

3/4 cup (3 ounces) powdered sugar

zest of half a lemon

1-2 Tablespoons lemon juice

To make the cake:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Spray a 9 by 5 inch loaf pan with nonstick spray and line the bottom with a piece of parchment.

In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, cornmeal, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together until mixed.

In a large bowl, whisk the sugar, eggs, buttermilk, and lemon zest together.  Add the dry ingredients and whisk until almost fully mixed.  Add the melted butter and whisk until smooth. Switch to a rubber spatula and fold in 1 cup of blueberries.  Scrape the batter into your loaf pan and sprinkle the remaining 1/4 cup of blueberries on top.

Bake for 40-50 minutes or until nicely golden on top and a tester comes out clean.  Meanwhile, mix together the 2 Tablespoons of lemon juice and sugar for the glaze.  As soon as you remove the cake from the oven brush the glaze over the top of the cake while it is still in the pan.  After 15 minutes, remove the cake from the pan and let cool completely on a rack.

Mix together the ingredients for the icing.  Begin with a tablespoon of lemon juice.  Whisk the powdered sugar, lemon zest, and juice together in a bowl, adding additional juice until the icing drops smoothly from a spoon or whisk.  Drizzle the icing decoratively over the top of the cake.  Transfer to a serving plate and serve at room temperature.  The cake will keep well, covered for a day or two.