Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Pumpkins, pumpkins, and more pumpkins: Pumpkin Challah

You knew there was no way we were getting through October without mention of pumpkins, right?   I'm not sure you can even call it autumn if you're not putting pumpkins everywhere in everything.

After bad experiences with rotting pumpkins, or falling apart jack o lanterns, we held off on our pumpkin adventures until the end of the month.

First stop was the pumpkin patch!

It was an excellent year for pumpkins based on the amount of great ones we found out in the field.  Almost everyone's pumpkin came from their this year, instead of the pre-harvested variety that are placed in lines according to their size.

Once everyone had their pumpkins picked out we went exploring.  Like getting ourselves lost in the corn maze.

And hopping aboard the hayride.

We waited another week to actually carve the pumpkins so they'd be bright and shiny for Halloween night.  Thatboy and I decided to do split duty and carve our pumpkins at a later time so we could help the boys.

Thatkid is finally at the age where he can do a majority of the carving himself.

Thatbaby is at the age where he wants to do all his carving himself, but really shouldn't.  And can't.

Thatkid put a lot of thought into his pumpkin, specifically looking for one with a flat side that it could rest on, so he could carve a face and use the vine as a nose.

Thatbaby, who wants to do everything his brother does, also wanted a face with "angry eyebrows."

With that little practice session under our belt, we headed back to annual tradition of Plan 9's pumpkin carving contest.

As usual, it's a real family affair.  Thatkid thinks up and picks the design.  He won't touch the inside of a pumpkin, but that's where Thatbaby shines.  

Thatboy's role is the actual carving.  Which takes a lot out of him.

But at the end of the night, all the pumpkins get put up to ooohhh, awwwww, and vote on.  It's really neat to see the creativity.  

And this year we walked away with second place!  Which Thatkid thought was fair since we got first place last year, someone else should get a chance.

The next night, after the kids went to bed, Thatboy and I did our carving.  Looks like we're all ready for tonight!

As for pumpkin eating, well, there's a whole lot of that going on.  The kids are eating pumpkin oatmeal or pumpkin cereal.  If there's not a pumpkin bread in the fridge, there's pumpkin muffins.  Or vice versa.  But those recipes are old hat.  They're everywhere.  Everyone and their mom has a pumpkin bread or muffin recipe.  You know what isn't everywhere?  Pumpkin challah.  I've been making challah every other week since the Jewish holidays and when I saw the book contained a pumpkin challah recipe, I knew this was the perfect time of year to try it out. 

It is the absolute perfect blend of pumpkin and challah.  It still has that sweet, doughy challah taste and crumb, but with the addition of a pumpkin richness.  The pumpkin flavor itself is not overwhelming, which I credit to the fact that it doesn't contain a lot of the typical pumpkin accompaniments like cinnamon or nutmeg.  Instead, cardamom and ginger help to balance out the flavors which really makes it a fabulous fall bread.

Pumpkin Challah (From A Blessing of Bread)
1 envelope instant yeast
1/4 tsp cardamom
1/2 tsp ground ginger
3 1/2 cups bread flour
2/3 cup warm water
1/3 cup sugar
1 1/2 tsp salt
1/4 cup canola oil
2 eggs
1/2 cup canned pumpkin
  1. In a large bowl, whisk together the yeast, cardamom, ginger, and 2/3 cup flour.  
  2. Whisk in the warm water until smooth.  Let stand uncovered for 10 to 20 minutes, until it puffs slightly.
  3. Whisk the sugar, salt, oil, 1 egg, and puree into the puffed yeast until combined.
  4. Stir in remaining 3 cups + 2 Tbsp flour.  When the mixture clings together in a ball, turn it out onto a work surface and kneed until it is smooth and firm.  
  5. Place the kneaded dough in a warm bowl and cover with plastic wrap.  Let rise 2-3 hours, until it has tripled in size.
  6. Line 2 baking sheets with silpat liners.  Divide the dough into 2 even portions.  Braid or shape them as desired.  Cover with plastic wrap and let rise 1-2 hours, until tripled in size.
  7. Preheat oven to 350.  Beat the remaining egg with a pinch of salt.  
  8. Brush the loaves with the egg glaze.  Bake for 35-40 minutes.  Remove from oven and let the loaves cool on a rack.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Halloween-ing Begins: Pizza Dough

I do my very best to hold off on all things Halloween until after Thatkid's birthday.  But after that?  All bets are off.  By the following weekend the house was decorated and we were on our way to our first Halloween event of the month- Brick or Treat at Legoland.

It's become an annual tradition here, although this year, since we're so busy with soccer games and art classes on Saturdays, we decided to not spend the whole day there.  Especially since I'm currently dealing with a sprained ankle which makes a full day at the amusement park seem less than ideal.  So we headed over right before the evening event started and got into our costumes.

Thatbaby has been killing me this year with his costume selection.  It's almost like he's, I dunno, 3?  First he wanted to be Olaf, then Spiderman, then a zombie, then a dinosaur, and then the week of the event he settled on a "baby egg."  No, I have no idea what a baby egg is or where he came up with the idea.  Or how I was going to pull it off.  He volunteered the baby egg was a red egg, and Thatboy might have steered him a little into a baby dinosaur egg.  Which still didn't give me a great sense of how to pull it off.  A couple of sketches for possible designs later and some approval from the creative team, and I was off buying some red felt and cutting it into an oval shape.  I used the scraps to create a hat so that it looked like his little head was poking out of a hatching egg.  A little face paint magic, and voila!

I was actually kind of please with how it turned out, and he was beyond thrilled with his costume (despite no one knowing what he was).

I put my face painting skills to further use to help Thatkid with his vision of a zombie costume. 

We ended up pairing off again - with Thatboy going the zombie route while I got roped into a mama dinosaur.

Once dressed the kids immediately started their brick-or-treating.

Despite being frequent visitors to Legoland, we've never visited the aquarium, so we thought this would be a good time to give that a whirl.

And Thatkid requested a familr ride on the fairy-tale boats.

After that it was one treat station after the next, a couple rides, and a break for dinner - at the Pizza Buffet, which has also become part of our annual tradition.

As we went to hit up the last few treat stations, Thatkid convinced his brother to try Beatle Bounce with him.  Thatbaby has historically refused to go on this ride, or any incarnation if it.   But, buoyed on by his big brother he agreed to give it a shot.  AND HE LOVED IT.  It had been raining that morning and so crowds were few, which meant no lines and the boys rode it over and over and over until we had to peel them away. 

On our way out, we discovered the new submarine ride, with barely a wait at all and decided to check that out too.  It was similar to the Finding Nemo ride at Disney, but much brighter and roomier, which led to much happier kids  (Thatbaby was terrified of the dark Nemo ride).  We also ran across this station where the kids could make weird monster music by moving their hands around the metal antenna.

Our only fail of the evening was forgetting to bring their pajamas, as both kids were asleep before we left the parking lot.

Pizza is a weird Halloween tradition, but it really carries us through the month.  Thatkid always picks a pizza place for his birthday dinner.  We always eat at the pizza buffet at Brick or Treat.  And pizza is always our Halloween dinner.  It's just easy.  It's easy enough that a child can do it.  Although my child likes to make things harder.  Last month he decided he wanted to make pizza, with homemade pizza dough.  Which was a whole weekend activity.  He also wanted to color the dough green.  The upside to this labor intensive meal is that the dough actually makes 4 pizzas.  Which means we could make some that weekend, and have leftover pizza crust in the freezer.  And that made for a very easy meal for us this past weekend.  Because the dough was already green, I decided to go all out and make them Halloween pizzas, mummies made from mozzarella and red bell pepper.  But you can top yours however you like!

Pizza Dough (From Alton Brown)
1 1/4 cups water
1 Tbsp salt
1 tsp sugar
8 cups flour
1 envelope instant yeast
  1. Combine the ingredients in an electric stand mixer fitted with a dough hook.  Mix for 2 minutes on low, or until dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl. Rest the dough for 15 minutes. 
  2. Continue mixing at medium-low for 5 minutes.  Remove the dough from the mixer bowl and knead by hand for about 30 seconds, then work into a ball.  Place the ball in large metal bowl with a little olive oil.  Toss the ball around to coat.  Cover the bowl with a clean kitchen towel and set aside for an hour or until the dough ball nearly doubles in size. 
  3. Fold down the dough, patting it into a disk and place it back in the bowl.  Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.
  4. Remove the dough from the refrigerator and cut into four equal pieces.  Shape each into a disk, folding it on to itself.   Cover the disks with a clean kitchen towel and leave for an hour to bench proof. While the dough is proofing, preheat your oven to its highest possible temperature.  
  5. Work the disk in your hands, creating a lip with your thumbs.  
  6. Toss the disk back and forth between your palm.
  7. Use the back of your hands to stretch the dough while rotating.
  8.  If you are using the dough right away, top it with your preferred toppings, then bake for 4-5 minutes.  If you are freezing it for later use, bake it untopped.  Thaw the frozen crusts before topping and cooking them.

Monday, October 22, 2018

Mommy Mondays: Fall Bucket List

I don't know about you guys, but I LOVE these bucket lists.  We don't always get to everything on the list, but it's fun to sit down and brainstorm as a family about activities we want to do.  Thatboy is already asking about our plans for winter activities.  And it was 90 degrees on Saturday! 

The only problem I run into, is that some of my favorite activities don't always fall on their appropriate season.  Like apple picking is always done during the "summer" here, even though it is definitely a fall activity.   And while Christmas falls in the winter, most Christmas activities happen in what is traditionally considered fall, based on the calendar.  And this year?  Channukah actually falls in the fall!

But I'll sit here, sipping my cider, dreaming of cooler weather and sharing the adventures we've had and plan on having for the rest of the "fall."

*Go Apple Picking
*Make Chili
*Drink apple cider
* Make pumpkin muffins
* Make candy corn
*Make creepy gingerbread houses
* Corn Maze!
* Go on a hayride
* Oktoberfest
*Go to a pumpkin patch
*carve jack-o-lanterns
* Go to Fall Festivals
* Read Halloween books
* Watch Halloween movies
*Brick or Treat at Legoland
* Listen to Halloween Playlists
* Visit a haunted ship
* Trick or Treat
*Dia de los Muertos Festivities
* Watch the Macy's Day parade
*Go see a movie on Thanksgiving
*Celebrate Thanksgiving
*Take family photos

You'll notice there's a decided lack of fun things like "go see beautiful fall leaves changing colors."  Such is the tradeoff for living in California where fall marks wildfire (and arson fire) season because of the high heat, extreme dryness, and high hot winds.  It's not my favorite tradeoff!  

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Oktoberfest: Sauerbrauten

San Diego boasts no fewer than 18 Oktoberfest celebrations.  And every year I vow we're going to make it to one.  And we haven't made it since 2009.

It's not my fault!  As I've said before, our weekends are SO full in the fall.  But this year, one of the local breweries were having their Oktoberfest late, on a Sunday.  And our Sundays are usually pretty quiet.  It was an adults only event, requiring tickets, so after checking in with our babysitter to make sure she was available, we planned a day date.

Of course, as often happens, after making that plan our Sunday filled up.  Sunday school, a birthday party - the event was from noon to 6pm, so we just made arrangements to head over around 2:30, after all our morning events.

So I guess really it was our own fault that by the time we arrived, they only had one stein (included with the price of our ticket) left.  Which isn't the biggest deal, except the first beer in that stein was free.  So while they subbed in a non-Oktoberfest stein, filling it wasn't as great of a deal. 

What wasn't our fault is that although they billed it as "adults only" and "tickets required" there were tons of kids running around.  And anyone who showed up was welcome to come join in the Oktoberfest festivities.  Which means that "free" stein of beer, just became a VERY expensive stein of beer since it included an unnecessary babysitter for two kids who would have been just as happy to run around playing with the other kids there.

Thatboy took part in a stein holding contest.

He did not win.

The guy next to him, who was sitting at our table did though!  So it was like we were part of the winning team.

The best part of the entire experience was the food.

I can't tell you about the German chocolate cake - I'm not a sweets girl.  But the sausage was excellent, the schnitzel was way better than expected, and the pretzel?  Well, I haven't met a pretzel a pretzel I didn't like.

While we ate, Thatboy and I reminisced about the food we ate in Austria.  We definitely have a soft spot for Austro-German (Germanic? Austro-Hungarian?  Eastern European?) cuisine.  And like my love of various other cuisines, I credit my parents.  

Wurst were introduced to us from an early age, with bratwurst being my favorite.  So much so that I introduced it to my kids last week - and they were likewise big fans.

But brats are easy.  For our own fall celebration at home I wanted something a little more special.  I was inspired by the new and improved Good Eats Reloaded which premiered this week.

If you've been reading this blog for a long period of time, you'll know I'm a HUGE Alton Brown fan.  If you're new - HI!  I'm a big Alton Brown Fan.  I've been super excited about the Reloading of an old favorite, so I popped open one of my Good Eats Cookbooks (I have all three) and pulled out this Sauerbraten recipe.    Sauerbraten, or "sour meat," gets its name from the vinegar marinade it sits in for days.  And while this dish is time consuming, it couldn't be easier.  You pour a bunch of vinegar in a bowl with the meat, let it sit, then pop it in the oven.  You end up with a super flavorful pot roast that goes perfectly with your favorite Marzen beer! 

Sauerbraten (From Alton Brown)
2 cups water
1 cup apple cider vinegar
1 cup red wine vinegar
1 onion, chopped
1 carrot, chooped
1 Tbsp + 1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
2 bay leaves
6 whole cloves
12 juniper berries
1 tsp mustard seeds
3 1/2-4lb bottom round
1 Tbsp canola oil
1/3 cup sugar
18 gingersnaps, crushed
  1. Combine water, vinegars, onion, carrot, salt, pepper, bay leaves, cloves, juniper berries, and mustard seeds in a large saucepan over high heat.  Cover and bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Set aside to cool.
  2. Pat the bottom round dry, then rub with oil and salt on all sides.  
  3. Heat a large saute pan over high heat.  Add the meat and brown on all sides.
  4. When the marinade is cool, place the meat in a large glass or metal bowl and cover with the marinade.  Refrigerate for 3 days.
  5. After 3 days, preheat the oven to 325.  Transfer the meat and marinade to an ovenproof pot or dutch oven. Add the sugar to the meat and marinade.  Cover and cook for 4 hours.
  6. Remove meat and tent with foil to keep warm.  Strain the liquid to remove the solids.
  7. Return the strained liquid to the pot and place over medium high heat.
  8. Whisk in the gingersnaps and stir until the sauce has thickened.
  9. Strain the sauce once more to remove any lumps.  Slice the meat and serve with the sauce.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

One on One: Boysenberry Milkshake

I have a special trip planned for Thatkid and myself coming up next month.  It involves an airplane ride across the country, a hotel stay, and doing a bunch of fun things he really is looking forward to.  And I felt a little bad about it.  I'm overly sensitive to sibling dynamics, and while there are a ton of benefits to being an older child, they shouldn't get all the fun.

So I planned a special weekend for Thatbaby and I too. It didn't include an airplane ride across the country, because I'm not crazy, but t did involve a very special hotel stay and a bunch of fun things.  We did a little drive to Knotts Berry Farm!

We left pretty early in the morning and managed to miss all the traffic, so I was surprised when we checked in that our room was ready.  I finished up at the front desk, while Thatbaby impatiently whined and pulled, begging me to finish up because right across the lobby, someone was waiting to say hello.

He was SO excited to see Snoopy.  Which was a big part of this trip.  In fact, I booked us the super special Camp Snoopy room!

It came with that stuffed Snoopy, which of course HAD to go to the park with us.  They were inseparable.

We walked over to Knotts Berry Farm and made a beeline to Camp Snoopy - the children's area of the park. A familiar friend greeted us.  And despite having seen him only moments before, he had to go say hi again.

And then it was time for the rides!  The great thing about Camp Snoopy is that all the rides are really geared for the smaller audience who usually gets overlooked.  Nothing was too scary for Thatbaby.

And he adorably buckled in Snoopy beside him on all the rides.

We stopped for a little lunch, where he convinced me he needed a giant cup of strawberries.  And over the course of the day he ate all but two of them!

After lunch we had time for a few more rides.  Including a horse drawn buggy and a train ride around the park.

They did a mock hold-up of the train, which Thatbaby did NOT appreciate.

Because Knotts Scary Farm had begun, I ushered him out of there a little early, so we didn't run into anything scary on our way out.  And I ushered him right over to Mrs. Knott's Chicken Dinner restaurant.

The little guy was pretty happy with his jello appetizer, biscuits and jelly.

Although as he licked all the butter and jelly off his biscuit then asked for more butter, I had my own little appetizer.

It was a busy night, and dinner took hours.  We were both pretty tired from our long day - especially since Thatbaby didn't get his typical afternoon nap.  We headed back to the hotel and I ran him a nice, warm, bubble bath.   He had interrupted my nice, warm, bubble bath a couple weeks back and expressed interest in the face mask I was wearing at the time, so I picked up a hydrating jelly mask for him.  He was so happy about it.

After bath I whipped out some new Snoopy pajamas for him, which was greeted with equal enthusiasm.  And then we curled up on the bed together and watched a little television while waiting for a special friend to drop in.

Having Snoopy tuck him in was an awe-inspiring moment for him.  He made me show him the video a couple more times before tucking in to bed.  

The next morning, we hit up the hotel pool.  They have their own little splash pad which made this trip over the top for Thatkid.

After the pool we got cleaned up and headed to meet up with a friend before going home.  It was a pretty epic weekend.  And Thatbaby had a wonderful time.  His one request for the weekend was that he wanted a milkshake - because Thatkid had preemptively bragged about the one he was getting on his trip.  And so I found one for Thatbaby.

Knotts Berry Farm is known for their boysenberries.  In the late 1920s, Walter Knott, who was a berry expert, was the first to commercially cultivate the berry.  He began selling them from his farm stand, which eventually grew into Knott's Berry Farm.    His wife, Mrs. Knotts, began making preserves out of the berries, which made Knott's famous.  

Now boysenberries are all over Knott's Berry Farm.  The barbecue sauce is made with boysenberries. The salad dressing is made with boysenberries. The churros are stuffed with boysenberry syrup.  That beer I was drinking?  Boysenberry beer.   So naturally, Thatbaby found himself with a boysenberry milkshake.

And the great thing about Knott's Berry Farm, is that you can take some of that boysenberry home with you.  Which I did.  In syrup form so I could make milkshakes for the rest of the family!

Boysenberry Milkshake
1/4 cup boysenberry syrup
1 cup vanilla ice cream, softened
2 Tbsp whole milk
  1. Combine all the ingredients in a blender. 
  2. Pour into a glass and serve!