30 July 2008

Filbert Gateau with Praline Buttercream *OR* How Satan Gets His Kicks

Consider the hazelnut, or filbert if you prefer. A little package of flavor that God gave us to make our coffee worth drinking. In its humble shell you'll find all sorts of delicious nutrients for your health. But Satan, always trying to manipulate God's perfection into unimaginable atrocities, whispered into an unknown chef's ear "Think how much better this recipe would be if that hazelnut was skinned." From then on, for no reason at all, (Except some claim the skin is "bitter." Grow some, you wussies!) from then on, chefs and bakers the world over have added countless hours to their already busy lives attempting to de-skin the common hazelnut.

Yesterday I made the Filbert Gateau with Praline Buttercream from the cookbook Great Cakes by Carole Walter and submitted by this month's host Chris from Mele Cotte. It took a long time, it was mostly enjoyable and I completed the Daring Bakers' Challenge. But holy crap! Skinning 3 1/2 cups of hazelnuts is something that should only be sentenced to those convicted of crimes against humanity. Seriously. It was only through sheer willpower that I kept going. I felt my sanity waning. I had thoughts of sitting behind bushes and pelting people with half-skinned hazelnuts. I dreamed up plans of training an army of hazelnut-skin-eating chipmunks with those collars around their necks that wouldn't allow them to swallow an entire nut. I almost cried.

With that being said, here's the cake:

20 July 2008

Dug and Tricia vs The World, part 9 - Justice: Texas-style

Our road trip to Texas was a fact-finding mission, a reconnaissance if you will, for moving to the area. We stayed with the illustrious Hibbard family and while the kids attended VBS (in the morning and the evening) we would use the time to scope out houses. Our main plan of attack was to drive into an area that looked decent and look for "For Sale" signs. (Very scientific, I know.)

One evening we were driving along one of the highways and in between two driveways was a "For Sale" sign. These driveways were the type that went back pretty far into a forested area so there was no way to tell which driveway the sign went to. It was a little closer to one than the other so we tried that one first.

Right away "No Trespassing" signs started popping up. We hemmed and hawed about whether we should keep going. Our friend put it this way: A "For Sale" sign negates a "No Trespassing" sign. I mean, how can someone sell their house if the buyers can't at least take a peak? So we cautiously continued on. We were about 100 feet in by this point and up ahead a little sign had been pounded into the ground. Pulling up to it, this is what we saw (click for a larger version):

Yeah. For real. Sorry buddy, "I Will Shoot You" trumps a "For Sale" sign any day. If this was in Western Oregon, I might think it was a joke. But Texas? No. Not taking any chances in Texas.

17 July 2008

Dug and Tricia vs The World, part 8 - How to drive for days and days and days and...

A few weeks ago we hit the road. Oregon to Texas. 4896 miles round trip! Which, in case you wanted to know, is farther than driving from Los Angeles to Columbia, South Carolina and back again. Not only did we do this with four kids, ages 3 through 8, but we drove each way in only three days! (To put it in perspective, that averages out to 13.3 hrs of driving per day!) It was on this trip that we realized that we are a road trip family. We would rather explore the country through driving than skipping to the destination on an airplane. For us it's just fun. Our kids handle it great (for kids, that is) and even stopping at a rest area is fun. No, really. After driving for a few hours, getting to stretch our legs, read up on area history and trivia (they always have some sort of informational plaque/map of the area to read), clean up the van floor and getting a bite from the snack bag is a welcome change.

We actually drove a similar trip to Alaska a few years ago. Although about 900 miles longer, the Texas drive went much smoother for a couple reasons. Here's a little table to explain why:

Alaska 2005

Texas 2008

Children’s Ages



Kids in diapers




1984 bare bones dodge caravan, all blue vinyl interior with one bright red cloth replacement bench seat in back

2006 loaded Toyota sienna with dvd player and nav-center among other kick-hiney features


Slept in van in rest areas and on side of the road

Slept in Marriott for free (perk from Dug traveling so much last year)

Meals (breakfast, lunch, dinner)

Bagels in van, pb&j in van, dinner out

Jamba juice and bagels in van, pb&j in van, dinner out (somethings don't change)

Can you guess the biggest factor? (Hint: the one with the 2 in the row)

The biggest surprise to me on this trip was the fact that even though we have a DVD player built into the roof of our van, the kids only watched about two movies a day. Once during the day and then once when it was their bedtime but we were still driving. They just weren't that interested during the day. I was so proud of my little guys.

So what did they do? Well, before we left I got on the magical interweb and did some research ('cause, you know, that's just what I do) and I looked for anything and everything that would keep kids busy for 72 hours in a car. (One really awesome website, MomsMinivan.com is, as the Brits say, brilliant!) I printed off a bunch of paper-based games, typed out a list of activities requiring brains only and brought along crafty stuff.

The number one best thing I brought was...*drum roll*...pipe cleaners!! I know, can you believe it? The kids loved them. By the end of the trip they had gone through close to 800 pipe cleaners! I bought the big multi-color packs and literal hours were spent creating little fuzzy sculptures. And I'm not talking about the thirty minute spurts that seem like an hour. I mean real hours.

The kids each made a bird cage, complete with bird, and hung it above their heads. The van was filled with princess hats, glasses, magic wands, pinwheels, cupcakes, chili peppers, people, cats, penguins, chickens, musical instruments, and more all made out of pipe cleaners. At this very moment, Dug the Dog, our van mascot is sitting playfully and loyally on our dashboard. He was made the first day and only once (when we were back in Oregon and driving through the windy Columbia River Gorge area) did he leave his post. If you are going on a road trip, go to a craft store, throw down the six bucks and buy a 500 pc multi-pack. It is sooooo worth it.

The second most popular items were the sketchbooks and Crayola Twistables crayons. I got each kid a spiral-bound Crayola sketchbook for a couple bucks each and two packages of the Twistables to share. (Twistables are awesome!! They don't break as easy as crayons and they are much easier to hold. They also don't require a sharpener!) Their favorite drawing activity was a game that my brother and I used to play when we were on roadtrips. My mom would say one item at a time and we would have to draw it on our paper. When we were both finished with the item, she would give us another and so on until our papers were filled. For example, she would say "tiger" and we would have to draw a tiger. Then she would say "table" and we would add the table somewhere on the page: under the tiger, in the air, on the tiger, wherever. And an important aspect was the secrecy. No looking at anyone's drawing until they were done. Absolutely no peeking. Finally, when there was no more room or our drawings seemed complete we would have the "Great Unveiling" and hand our artwork over to our mom for her evaluation. When Mom had seen them, she would always write some comment like "Great Job!" or "Excellent" or even just a big smiley face on our drawing. It was so silly but so fun. I decided to share this with my kids and they loved it! And I had so much fun looking at how they had decided to put their drawings together.

The last thing the two oldest kids really liked was Battleship. On the MomsMinivan site I found a printout version and printed out a bunch of copies. (Along with the rules, lest I forget.) It ended up being quite a hit. Oh, and I bought these little $7 lap desks at Michael's for each of them. That was definitely one of my better decisions ever. They used them not only for their activities, but it made eating on the go so much easier. They also fit perfectly over their bottom seat-only booster seats.

Things not so great: tin foil, tic tac toe printouts, books. The tin foil was supposed to be a sculpture building tool. They could use it to make crowns or swans or whatever they wanted. It ended up being too difficult and they mostly just made little balls that they threw around. Big mess. I left the roll in Texas with our friends. As far as tic tac toe goes, I had printed out sheets of tic tac toe squares. The kids played but in hindsight, I didn't need to print them out, the kids can make their own just fine. So it's not that this one was not used, it was just unnecessary. Next time I'll save the paper and just let them make their own.

Last item: books. Now my oldest daughter is an avid reader so this doesn't apply to her. She tore through three novels on the trip. The other kids brought books but they didn't really read them. The one exception being the Encyclopedia of Animals. That one is three pounds and just stock filled with pictures and info. They repeatedly went to that one since there's always something new in it. The little story books were looked at the first day and not again the rest of the trip. I brought books to read aloud but in order for the kids to hear me well I had to be facing backwards and I got a little queasy. Lesson learned: Trips that are only a couple hours are fine for little story books, but if we go on a really long road trip, only really long books will be allowed. Novels or huge books. The others just become van floor fodder after the first day. And, muy importante, don't read while facing backwards.

There's only one more thing you need to know: When you hit the rest area, EVERYONE GOES. Don't let anyone get by with "But I don't have to go." The proper reply is, "I know. But let's just go and see if there is any peepee hiding." If you don't, you will regret it because there is nothing more annoying than pulling back onto the freeway and a little voice from the back whines, "Mommy, I haf to go poddy aftow all."

16 July 2008

The Portrait of an Arduous Read

I was completely unprepared for summer, at least as far as blogging goes. In the winter, especially in Oregon, it is so easy to blog. Nights start early and the weather is hardly conducive to outdoor excursions. The perfect combination for ample blogging.

Then summer hit. Glorious, mostly rain-free, lots-of-sunlight summer. Road trips, motorcycle classes, camping, warm evenings, home improvements...talk about distractions. But here I am. At least today.

And believe it or not...I've got myself some reading done on top of it all. We've been driving a lot. Well, to be honest, Dug's been driving a lot. We've discovered that our family does road trips well when Dug is the driver and I'm the child liason/nav center controller (CL/NCC). As the CL/NCC I get to read a lot.

The last book my book club read (we're on hiatus until Fall) was The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James. We were supposed to read it in May. I, literally, just finished it. Yep, took me 2.5 months! How ridiculous is that?

Since it was such a bear, I've decided to include it as one of my books from the Reading Dangerously challenge. Technically, this is my book for November. Obviously, I'm not doing things in order...

So what did I think of it? Well, it was set in my favorite literature period: late 17th/early 18th century Europe, so I had high hopes. Unfortunately, I found it to be something that I had to force myself to pick up. I don't know if it was the change of seasons or the fact that I wasn't in the mood for that genre or that the book really was just a difficult piece. Whatever the reason, I can say that while Portrait is not my favorite, it did get me by the end.

The story follows Isabel Archer, a young American woman, recently brought to England by her rich, eccentric aunt. Isabel is quite the independent and refuses marriage proposal after marriage proposal in order to protect that freedom. She doesn't exactly know what she wants, but she definitely can see what she doesn't. After a series of events, Isabel finds herself with the means to be completely independent and in charge of her life. We follow her through her decisions and ultimately see the results of her choices. (As well as discover how artfully one can "help" another make a choice without the decision-maker being aware.)

While it took a lot to push though, I found myself by the last tenth of the book really hooked. Yes, you read that right. It took 9/10 of the book to capture my attention. I know that this is considered a classic, (I read "The Modern Library Classics" edition, for heavens' sakes.) but I've got to tell you, I don't know that many would push through 90% of a book for the gripping last 10%. While I loved the characters, I can tell you that I wouldn't have finished it if not for the two following facts: #1 it was one of my book club books and #2 my lovely friend, MamaP, said it was worth it.

So there you go. The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James, it's worth it, if you can hack it.