Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Easy Entertaining for Six

We're hosting our first visitors here in Salem this week, and it wouldn't be a Jones family celebration without non-stop gnoshing!

The New Year's beverage list:

Trevisol Prosecco, Valdobbiadene Italy, 2008

Being in Oregon, we tried some Wilammette Valley Favorites...

McKinlay Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley Oregon, 2007

Redman Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley Oregon, 2006

A salute to our new port destination of South Africa...

Mulderdosch Chenin Blanc, Stellenbosch, South Africa, 2007

A salute to our beloved Washington...

Holy Cow Reisling, Washington State, 2006

The meal:

We were planning to have crab, but a Pacific storm has held up the fishing boats. We had wild Coho salmon instead.

The salmon was accompanied by broccolini, cooked along the lines of this recipe from Epicurious. Cheesy mashed potatoes and homemade bread completed the meal.

The hors d'oeuvres:

-Carolyn whipped up Old Bay seasoned Cougar Gold crab dip with crudites, baguette slices, and crostini -- a family favorite recipe from Amy. She had held onto the Cougar Gold cheese for a year, so it was aged to perfection. How honored we were to share it with her!

-I made a Brie en Croute from the Macrina Bakery Cookbook that I got for Christmas. (Macrina is a wonderful bakery in Seattle, and probably one of the reasons we can never live there. If we lived near Macrina I would be on Dr. Phil explaining how I spent all of our savings on scones, biscuits, and cakes.) It had a great roasted-grape and walnut filling that was spilled over the cheese. If I made it again, I would skip the "croute" -- rich brie in rich pie dough was a little too much. But the grape-walnut topping with cheese would be a simple and delightful treat.

I was still full this morning after all that eating!

Abi and Lily enjoyed the meal with us, (though the "enjoyment" took a little more coaxing for Abi than Lily), and then both girls did an unusually great job of going to sleep. We stayed up and played a mean game of "Mexican Train" Dominoes while we waited to ring in the new year with Carolyn & the Gundersons.

Happy New Year's everyone! We wish you the best in 2009!

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Beware of Emotional Fill-Ups

I was once told that you should never drive angry.  Why?  Well, because in your emotional state you may not be making sound decisions and that could be dangerous to you and those around you.  I am going to add an additional piece of advice…never fill up your car with gas if you are emotional.  Let me illustrate with a recent example that I witnessed.  As my Melanie and I were headed out of Pullman on our epic adventure/move/endurance test we decided to fill up with gas.  I in my truck and Melanie in hers.  Our dear friend Allie met us there to say goodbye.  Abi said goodbye, I said goodbye, and Melanie and Allie embraced and I saw a few tears as I jumped back in my truck.   I was driving out of the driveway to the Shell station and looked in my rearview mirror and to my horror had noticed that in her emotional state Melanie had forgotten one important step in the fill-up process…removing the hose from the tank.  Why is this important you ask?  If you do not remove the hose and nozzle from your tank it will rip away from the pump and you will drag the partial hose behind you while people behind you run after you screaming that you have just ripped away something very important.  Friends, please, don’t fill up while emotional, it can endanger both you and those around you. 

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Moving Tips: Driving your Moving Van Through a Snow Storm

Well, we just had the moving trip from you-know-where, and I learned a lot I did not know about moving vans, and moving in the snow. Thankfully, we arrived safely in Oregon after an epic journey. Those Oregon Trail pioneers have nothing on us!

Enjoy the fruits of our inexperience! These snow moving tips are free!

Tip #1- Charge your cellphones-and bring a car charger: If you are moving in a snow storm, a six hour drive can quickly turn into a 20 hour non-stop driving marathon. Cellphone batteries will not survive that long.

Tip #2-Make sure all parties involved in the moving experience have the numbers, addresses, and map directions for wherever you are going written down on paper: Having information stored in a cell-phone isn't enough if it is dead.

Tip #3a-If you plan on making a winter move, ask the moving company what tire size your moving truck will have so you can purchase chains ahead of time: Purchasing tire chains a week into a record snowfall year is nearly impossible, and expensive. Buy your chains from some place that allows you to return them. If you don't need them, then you can take them back.

Tip #3b-Have the person at the chain store show you exactly how to put the chains on: This saved me a lot of time and trouble while putting chains on in a parking lot in the freezing cold with a crying baby in the moving van.

Tip #3c-When taking the chains off of your moving van tires, undo the inside first and the outside second: If you undo the outside first, there is a good chance that your chains will slip onto the axle between the dual tires, and you will have to get under the moving van, yank, curse, reverse-forward-reverse-forward, etc.

Tip #3d-If the improper installation/removal of your tire chains results in multiple flat tires, fear not: Call the moving company with your handy charged cell-phone and they will send someone to help you out.

Tip #4-If moving in a snow storm, never let your gas tank drop below half-full: When moving in a snow storm, you may find yourself stuck on the interstate for five hours or more without an opportunity to exit. Once you finally exit to fill up, the gas stations might all be out of gas, because the gas trucks are stuck in a parking lot, which was known as I-5 better weather, and won't be in for days.

Tip #5-The following items should be stored so they can be easily accessed from the moving truck: Hammer, broom, pliers, de-icer, blankets, food, drinks, movies, shovels, kitty-litter, and anything else that could be used to fight snow, exhaustion, and malfunctioning truck parts.

Our epic moving adventure included two flat tires, two dead cell phones, one motel room, one truck out of gas, three tire chain installs, one all nighter drive, and four very tired Joneses!

However, we made it to Salem finally, and have enjoyed a very relaxing Christmas.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

What we would do for four more feet...

I think we can officially say the adventure has begun, even if the journey isn't underway yet. Here is a run-down of how our move is shaping up:

  • There has been record snowfall all over the northwest, up to 24 inches in a day! Currently, every road that would take us to Portland is closed at some point, making travel impossible.
  • Moving trucks don't come with chains, you have to buy your own. Have you ever tried to buy chains for a moving truck the week after record snow fall hits your region?? I would file that under "do not recommend".
  • We have a two bedroom apartment. We got the moving truck recommended for "2-3 bedroom apartment". That 16 foot truck is full, and still doesn't have our daughter's bed, a crib, bookshelves, washer/dryer, bikes, car tires or a room full of boxes in it yet. (I'm calling today to get the storage unit one size higher than the one recommended for "2-3 bedroom apartment" -- apparently we don't fit the mold!)
  • We are now renting an additional 14 foot moving truck with car tow one day prior to a move.
  • And we took our children to the doctor yesterday and both have ear infection/runny nose grossness.

So, it has been an adventure! Thanks to the help of many friends and my mom we were able to pack almost everything into the first van yesterday, and thankfully there was no snow falling during the drive to pick up the van from Spokane or during the moving party. Despite the fact there are no cooking utensils left in the house, we have yet to miss out on a home-cooked meal thanks to the support of many friends.

I'm keeping my mind on the day a week from now when everything will be tucked away in storage, neither of us will be working, and there will be nothing to do but spend time with family and relax!

Friday, December 19, 2008

Moving Day???!

Here's the story. We planned our move so that we could leave sometime around the 21st -- we would just pick a day when it wasn't snowing. Ha! It has snowed every day since Wednesday, with no sign of letting up any time soon. This means we have to add another item to our moving budget -- chains for a moving truck, to the tune of $100. Hopefully we can turn around and sell those puppies fast, as it looks like it should be a pretty snowy winter.

We have family coming in and going out to help with the move, but the airport has been closed on and off on either end. If my mother-in-law doesn't get here with chains for our car, then we may be unable to move until roads are reopened, as there are checkpoints to make sure tires have chains and travel without chains is not allowed for part of our trip at the moment. We could go buy chains ourselves...but they are all sold out everywhere. So, we may be knocking at your door sometime in the upcoming week as our whole house is almost packed and we are out of an apartment as of the 23rd.

Please pray for our safe travel!

Sunday, December 14, 2008

One Reason I'm Happy to Leave Pullman

A picture of our car last winter
So far you have only heard me explain how hard it is to leave this place we've called home for seven years now. Great people, great food, great friendships. I seriously cannot imagine starting over again. However, there is one reason I can't wait to get out of here: it is called SNOW. We arrived in Pullman yesterday night without gloves and coats. It was 7 degrees. We got out the De-Icer to de-ice the car: IT WAS FROZEN!! Even De-icer doesn't believe in 7 degree weather.

Have you ever heard of a snow day? Then you aren't from Pullman. Snow is just a part of life here. Schools don't close. Work doesn't stop. The population of Pullman just pulls on their boots and takes pride in their heartiness.

I am not hearty. Where I grew up, school was cancelled if someone saw a snowflake. It was 72 degrees in Oklahoma today. It was SEVEN degrees in Pullman.

I'm not going to say I will never live in another place where high temperatures only have 1 digit, because you know what happens when you say never. I am going to say that we will have a yearly Caribbean vacation fund if we ever end up in a place where it snows in April again.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Semester at Sea Itinerary Change for Spring 2009 Voyage

I updated our itinerary to reflect the changes that have been made recently. Our ship is no longer sailing through the Gulf of Aden due to pirate activity there. Recently a cruise ship was chased by pirates with guns. As 17 ships are currently held by pirates in the Gulf of Aden, I'm not that disappointed to miss out on the pirate infested waters. However, pirates, if you are reading this I am so mad at you for making me miss out on a trip to Egypt. We just watched the Swiss Family Robinson - we know how to take care of pirates. Watch out. Any pirate that stands in the way of me and a bowl of gelato better have made peace with his maker.

For the non-pirate audience, this change of itinerary means the itinerary no longer includes Italy, Turkey, or Egypt. Instead we will travel all the way around Africa and sail to Morocco, Namibia, South Africa and Mauritius. I think that is an alright consolation prize! We'll have to do some more investigation into kids activities in each of those countries, but I already have a few things in mind for adult activities -- maybe this time we can have a case of wine shipped back from Stellenbosch!

I am writing from Oklahoma. We're visiting my family before we make our big move. Abi is going to stay with my parents in Oklahoma from the 13th until the 17th. This will give us a little time to pack up without her help. (Not that she isn't an exceptionally helpful three year old, but sheesh, she's a three year old!) In just one week, we will be throwing all of our worldly posessions into the back of a moving truck and heading for Oregon.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Making Use of a Good Pantry

I think the hardest thing to pack is my kitchen. I've spent three years building my pantry, but it isn't really practical to store most of it as we won't be cooking for 5 months.

A good pantry simplifies life significantly. With ingredients on hand to cook for unnexpected company or to cover for a missed trip to the grocery store, food is rarely on the "urgent" list. Most recipes can be accomplished without buying a lot of extra ingredients, which means we can incorporate a greater variety of foods into a week without straining the grocery budget at all. Best of all, it is no longer essential to plan every meal for the week -- sometimes I just come home and say "I feel like eating 'x' food tonight -- let's see what I can come up with." (Last night: Pesto Bowtie Pasta with Shrimp, Sundried Tomatoes and Carmelized Onions)

It took a long time to build a really diverse pantry full of flavor and family favorites. The spices and grains and canned foods I've collected are like a metaphor for community relationship. The longer we've been here, the more we've spread out our shopping to several small stores that carry things we like. A search for affordable saffron was what got us started at the Moscow Food Co-Op, while a desire to recreate Vietnamese spring rolls was what led us to the International Store in downtown Pullman. Even the big Winco discount grocer in Moscow has a unique place in our food lives -- there is one checker that is so kind and helpful with the kids that I wait any amount of time just to be in her line. In the food world I've always encountered helpful people that have shared all kinds of advice, from how to freeze herbs to how to clean a crab. I think food people are just about the nicest folks you can find -- they always want to share. (Except maybe that chef guy on "Hell's Kitchen" - he doesn't seem so friendly. But don't you think they made him up?)

I'm doing my best to use everything in the pantry that I possibly can, which is why I have been on Recipezaar lately. I made a list of the random odds and ends remaining in the fridge, freezer and pantry. I've been typing various ingredient combinations into the Recipezaar narrowing recipe search. Who knew that the leftover orange jam sitting in the fridge for the past six months would rise again as "Stovetop Orange Marmalade Porkchops".

There are several recipe websites I use, like Epicurious and Allrecipies, but I like that Recipezaar allows you to search for a variety of ingredients and then makes suggestions of typical additional ingredients used in recipes with your leader ingredients. It makes it easy to find meals you will like using ingredients you already have. (Just for the record, Recipezaar has nothing that combines ground beef and frozen cherries: suggestions anyone?) At the end of the month or season, it is fun to spin those remaining ingredients into new dishes.

Our "stocked" pantry looks something like this:

-Spices that reflect our favorite types of cusine
-Pastas, grains, and dried beans (or frozen cooked beans)
-pre-cut/shredded veggies that are frozen in the state typically used. (e.g. shredded carrots kaffir lime leaves and sliced ginger for stir-fry, small dice onion, celery and carrot for soups, sliced peppers amd herbs. When fresh veggies are starting to look sad, turn them into frozen cut or pureed veggies!)
-frozen fruits for breakfast and dessert
-the ingredients for favorite scratch breakfasts and desserts (for us that's brownies, chocolate chip cookies, pancakes and biscuits)
-Salsa, Ketchup, Dijon Mustard and Barbeque Sauce
-Vinegars, Wines, and Broths according to preference

Cheap and Easy Travel Toys

Before I get to the cheap and easy travel toy, I have a confession: I spent $50 on laminate for the purpose of laminating 100 numbered ships. Abi's daycare teacher Miss Beth suggested counting our days on the ship using a numbered picture to mark each day. This would culminate in a 100 days party. This is a magnificent activity that will give a sense of routine to our days. However, ship policy dictates we can't stick our boats up with tape, so I'm turning them into magnets. The laminate will save us from having to put several pieces of magnet on each ship.
Laminating 100 ships takes a loooong time people, so I spent a lot of time thinking of the wonders of laminate.
Abi loves writing with dry erase markers. Her dad made a chore chart out of an old binder cover with a pocket on the front.
There is a piece of paper with some clip art, checkboxes, and simple chore descriptions behind the clear sleve. The pocket on the back can be used to hold a pen. Abi carries the chart around like an inspector as she puts things away. She loves marking off each task as complete, and seems to have a special sense of ownership over what might otherwise be a mundane task. We can wipe and reuse the chart every day. The total cost of this project was pennies, as we already had all of the components lying around.

Is it just me or shouldn't this idea already be invented and in Wal-Mart stores everywhere? If you have an old binder with a clear cover, the possibilities are endless:
  • Print out simple clip art shapes for "complete the picture" activities -- a circle that can be turned into a silly face over and over again, or a square that can be made into a house.
  • Put worksheets behind the sleeve so your child can "practice" a few times before making the final fill-in.
  • Put maze, connect the dot, and matching activities behind the sleeve so your child can redo a fun maze several times.
  • Put a map behind the sleeve and practice filling in the names of countries.

All these activities could be hole-punched and included in a three-ring binder, rotating them as desired. For example, if you were studying "under the sea", you could include several fun activities related to aquatic life and your child could use the binder throughout the week, repeating activities as desired. With the addition of a pocket for an erasing rag and some dry erase pens, this could be a really fun, innexpensive, and quiet activity to take on a long trip!

Monday, December 1, 2008

Pumpkin Pie Filling Update

If you read the post on leftover pie filling, maybe you are wondering what the results were. As I contemplated the situation, I thought of Ferdinand's famous Pumpkin Pie Ice Cream -- my favorite fall flavor. I wondered what would happen if I threw the leftover custard into the ice cream maker. All I can say is, HEAVEN. There were no additional ingredients added -- I just poured the leftovers straight into the ice cream maker. I would guess that any pie that uses a ratio of 3 parts sugar/1 part egg/13 parts liquid (including dairy and "flavor") would probably turn out similarly. The next time I have leftover pie filling or cake batter, I will definately try this again. My mind spins as I imagine apple pie ice cream, chocolate mousse ice cream, or lemon ice cream! Of course egg is a part of any custard recipe, so you want to be sure to bring the custard to a high temp before putting it in the ice cream maker. That is part of the process of making pumpkin pie anyway, so I think we're safe.

One thing I would have done differently is strain the mixture before adding it to the ice cream maker. The ice cream was a little bit grainy, and I think straining would have made a difference.

A little pumpkin ice cream with a graham cracker tucked in the corner of the bowl, it is divine!