Hello, Dawg fans!

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As one of the official (literally– I’ve been on the Homecoming posters for the past three years, banners in the parking lot, web banners and email ads) University of Washington representatives, I hereby wish you a very happy college football opener.

The Huskies play the Boise State Broncos tonight at 7 p.m. and we’re off to celebrate this momentous season opener around noon. While I won’t be physically in the stadium (Brandon will), I’ll be watching and cheering on our Dawgs.

Husky Stadium has been under renovation for the past year and it looks amazing. I haven’t been there “in person” yet, and won’t be for a few months, but there is a certain air about Seattle with all of this “retake Montlake” talk.  I think tailgating tomorrow is going to be fantastic. We were a bit disjointed last year, trying to make-do with Qwest Field, so this year is very exciting. So exciting that the Huskies are playing Oregon on my birthday, so I’ve already started planning a huge tailgate to celebrate. More on that as we get closer…

Cheers to you and come back soon for lots and lots of tips on tailgating treats and decorations.

In the meantime, GO DAWGS!!!!

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{Gone Pinning} Our next vacation

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Brandon and I will be celebrating our second wedding anniversary next month (where did those two years go?!) and to celebrate we booked a vacation. My very first all-inclusive vacation, in fact. You probably think we’re headed to Mexico or the Caribbean, right? Well, nice guess. We’re headed on vacation to a less-warm locale. We’re off to see the northern lights in northern Alaska, in the arctic circle in the dead of winter. We know how to have fun, right?

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Thankfully the lodge we’re staying at provides all of our food, drinks and warm clothes. (We’re talking intense parkas, gloves, hats, hand warmers, the whole shebang.) They even have Internet in the middle of nowhere!

NL2Come January, we’re off to Bettles, 35 miles north of the Arctic Circle just south of the Brooks Range. (Thanks, Wikipedia.) According to the tour website, Bettles officially has the most clear weather days in the entire state, which means more cloud free nights of opportunity to see the majestic Lights dance in the sky. Bettles is located directly under the Auroral Band, the highest aurora activity in the Northern hemisphere. And it’s located on the Ice Road. Anyone seen Ice Road Truckers on the History Channel? Neither have we but we’ll watch a few before we go.

Seeing the northern lights has been on Brandon’s bucket list for awhile. I’ve heard about them, but didn’t realize how cool they are until we started researching this trip. The Bettles Lodge website (or tourism bureau? Same thing, right?) claims an 80 percent chance of seeing them. Add this year’s ‘solar maximum’ (a flare up that happens every 12 years) to that and a new moon in the dead of winter and were hoping our rate goes up to 100 percent. We’ll be there several nights to further increase our chances. Fingers crossed! We’re also planning on exploring: cross-country skiing, on a dog sled excursion and maybe snowmobiling.

I picked up some books about the Northern Lights today at the library (of course I did, right?) and I’ll start researching camera lenses and cases so we can adequately capture the views in the potentially -60 degree weather. Brrrrr. More updates to come as we get closer. Until then, enjoy these sweet shots of the Northern Lights that I found on Pinterest. Love Pinterest.

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Pizza, pizza: We’ve got a ceiling!

We’ve been busy planning for our big backyard debut party this weekend (menus! decorations!) but managed to make some progress on the backyard pizza oven. What do you think?

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We took out the first round of supports and… It held! I was pretty nervous about it. In fact, I freaked out a bit about not having a “keystone.” As it turns out, you don’t need a keystone if you’re using grout. (Thanks, Dad.)

We got inside the oven (so did one of the cats) and chiseled off some of our grout drips. We filled in the seams on the first bend of the arch and then added the remaining two rows. Ta da!

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Clearly the oven is on my mind: I designed the entryway in my dreams last night – along with something about Sesame Street, which I haven’t thought about or seen in at least 10 years. I think it was that the letter of the day is “s.” Somebody analyze that and let know. Maybe it means that I need to enjoy a “S”yrah tonight? Anyway, I took some remaining measurements before I left for work and will continue designing it in my head today.

We’ll buy bricks tomorrow after work and hopefully get the firebricks covered by Friday and the forecasted rain. Hopefully it rains just enough to refresh the plants, but not so much that it ruins the backyard’s debut party on Saturday!

Happy wine Wednesday!

Pizza, pizza: We’re making progress…

IMG_5121In anticipation of the great work and progress that Brandon and I are going to make on the pizza oven this weekend, I’d like to give us a hearty pat on the back! (We’re already making great progress and I’m excited to share it with you guys soon!)

Here’s the update:

We’ve bought the materials and Brandon’s Dad came up to Seattle to visit us this weekend, complete with his masonry skills and brick cutter. We’ve got a plan and the weather has been cooperating, meaning we’re making great progress on our backyard wood-fired oven project. We won’t be ready to make pizzas for tonight’s True Blood party, or for our party next week, but soon!

We’ve also been testing different dough and sauce recipes — it’s a tough job, but someone has to do it– and have settled on winners!

Our favorite dough comes from Forno Bravo, our favorite everything-to-do-with-building-a-pizza-oven website:

Authentic Vera Pizza Napoletana Dough Recipe

Ingredients

  • 500gr (4 cups) Molino Caputo Tipo 00 flour
  • 325gr (1.5 cups) water (65% hydration)
  • 10gr (2 tsp) salt
  • 3gr (1/2 tsp) active dry yeast

We highly recommend cooking by weight. It is fast, and easy to get the exact hydration (water to flour ratio) and dough ball size you want.

Personally, I do not use recipes or a mixing cup when I cook dinner for the family, but pizza and bread dough is different. Being exact counts, and nothing works better than a digital scale.

Mix the dough in a stand mixer, by hand or in a bread machine. If you are using a stand mixer, mix it slowly for two minutes, faster for 5 minutes, and slow again for 2 minutes.

Cover the dough and let it rise for 1 1/2 – 2 hours, or until double. Punch it down and push out the air bubbles. Form the dough into a large ball, then cut it into three 275 gr equal pieces.

To make your pizza balls, shape each piece of dough into a ball. Gently roll your dough into a ball, then stretch the top of the ball down and around the rest of the ball, until the outer layer wraps around the other side. Pinch the two ends together to make a smooth ball with a tight outer “skin.” Set your ball seam-side down where it can rest. Dust your pizza balls with flour, and store them under a damp towel, in a proofing tray, or under plastic wrap. This will prevent the outside of the ball from drying out and creating a crust, and becoming difficult to work with. The top of the pizza ball should be soft and silky.

Your pizza balls will need to rest for about an hour to become soft and elastic, so that they can be easily stretched into a thin crust pizza.

If you won’t need your dough for more than an hour, refrigerate it until you are ready to start.

If you won’t have an hour to let your dough rest, read our Dough in a Hurry strategy. By cutting back each phase of dough preparation by the right amount, you can make great pizza or focaccia dough in as little as an hour.

We normally don’t measure when following recipes either, but Brandon busts out my Little Britches Bakery postal scale for dough measurements. He means business! (I so want to make fun, but I can’t, since the dough is that good!)

And our favorite sauce recipe, also from Forno Bravo: 

Smashed Tomato Sauce 
1 can (28 oz) San Marzano tomatoes 
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper 
1/2 teaspoon of salt 
1 teaspoon of oregano 

Options 
1 teaspoon dried basil or 2 tablespoons of fresh basil 
1 tablespoon garlic powder 
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar or lemon juice 
1 tablespoon olive oil – done forget to swirl excellent extra virgin olive oil on your pizza right before you put it in the oven

 Watch the Forno Bravo Pizza Sauce Video on YouTube.

I love to provide recipes, but I also love to provide facts. Here is the latest infographic I found on pizza. I have no idea how truthful or valid it is, but it makes me hungry for pizza, so it’s ok in my book… Happy pizza eating and I’ll be back soon with some photos from our weekend of building!

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{Gone Pinning} True Blood finale

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Our ‘Gone Pinning’ feature is back! This week we’re focused on vampires. Yes, vampires. Brandon and I discovered True Blood four years ago and burned through DVDs until we were current– like an episode each night. Ever since, we subscribe to HBO during the summer, so we can watch our favorite vampires in real-time. (Note: I have watched but not read the Twilight series and it doesn’t even compare to the vampires in True Blood…)

The season six True Blood finale is coming up this weekend (HBO, Sunday, 9 p.m. pacific) and we’re having some friends over for a viewing party. Since we’re on a pizza kick, we’ll be making pizzas from scratch (not very vampire-y) and a vampire/True Blood inspired dessert. We will, of course, be serving “True Blood” but ours isn’t carbonated and instead will be red wine. (We went to NYC for our honeymoon and happened upon the HBO store. What did we get? Two bottles of the “real” True Blood. (It’s like blood orange soda in a red plastic container, but we’re keeping it sealed. Plus it was cheap. I was a week into being married to an accountant!!)

First, let it be known that I checked this book out from the library this past spring. I had intended to throw a True Blood season premiere party, but, alas, life got in the way and that didn’t happen. Hence the season finale party. There are some fun recipes, but we’re not planning on going fully all out for Sunday.

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And then there is dessert. Ah, dessert. Looking on Pinterest, there are so many ideas! This dessert is currently “winning” and I think I’ll make it. How perfect is it, right?!

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I love decorations and perusing the options on Pinterest totally made me want to really plan a full-fledged vampire party. We’ll likely end up doing a mini hybrid of some of these ideas, but they were so amazing,I had to share. (Click on the images for their Pinterest links.)

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Check out my inspiration board on Pinterest. I love Pinterest. Not on it yet? Do it. But beware of the time-suck you’re about to enter. (It’s so good, it’s bad!)

I’ve got a few other ideas up my sleeve (got to keep those guests guessing!) so check back for photos soon… hopefully next week. And make sure you tune in and catch our favorite vampires on HBO on Sunday evening!!

Winning at The Whale Wins

Chef Renee EricksonI’ve been meaning to write this post for awhile (I’m a broken record, I know) but this article spurred me into action.

A few months back Brandon and I joined some good friends of ours at an Alaska Airlines culinary cocktail/signature cardholder event at The Whale Wins, a hot new restaurant in Seattle. I had heard great things about the place and this event was the perfect opportunity to try it out.

We didn’t know it at the time (because neither did the judges) but we were sitting at the ninth “Best New Restaurant of 2013 in the COUNTRY,” as named by Bon Appetit on August 13. (!!!!!)

IMG_4703Anyway, this cardholder event was AWESOME! Renee Erickson, the head chef at the Whale Wins (and Boat Street Cafe, The Walrus and the Carpenter and Narwhal) was our host for the evening and spoke to the group of about 75 individuals (this private event occupied the entire restaurant) about the concepts behind her cooking and how the dishes we were to eat that night came about. All of the cooking at The Whale Wins is done in a huge, beautiful wood-fired oven and served at room temperature. It’s an interesting concept and one that we try out, often accidentally.  Much of her inspiration came from London.

This was our menu for the evening:

THE WHALE WINS
Culinary Cocktail Event

FIRST
Fave beans, ricotta and mint on toast
Egg salad and tarragon on toast
Chicken liver mousse and Boat St. pickled plums on toast

SECOND
Fire roasted hama hama clams with mustard greens, cilantro and cream
Merguez sausage with shaved fennel salad, chickpeas and spiced yogurt
Oven roasted Washington wild king salmon with cucumber, sea bean and chive butter
Potatoes with herb butter
Turnips and radishes roasted with brown butter and preserved lemon
Columbia City baked bread and butter

THIRD
Almond cake with poached cherries and rhubarb

Dark 'n Stormy cocktailAnd our cocktails for the evening:

Guiding Light with Big Gin, Lillet, orange blossom water and St. George Absinthe
Dark ‘n Stormy with house made ginger beer, dark rum, lime and bitters
R&R Cocktail with fresh rhubarb, Reposado tequila, lemon and sparkling wine

We were served the first course at our seats, an open-air dining space in the front of the restaurant. The second course was buffet-style at the main counter near the wood-fired oven. The Chef was talking to folks as they dished up and Brandon and I took the opportunity to talk about the oven. She was very conversational and we felt totally cool for being able to talk to her and actually say something educated. (We had been studying up on our own wood-fired oven.)

IMG_4694After we were done with the second course, we headed over to the bar where we were taught how to make the Dark ‘n Stormy, by bartender extraordinaire, Anna Wallace, from the Walrus and the Carpenter. All of the ingredients were provided and we mixed our drinks and enjoyed them, over the third course of almond cake.

Now you can make your own Dark ‘n Stormy:

2 oz Gosling’s black seal rum
1/2 oz lime
3 oz ginger brew

Build over ice. Garnish with mint and 2 dashes of aromatic bitters. And, enjoy! 

Man, what a night! Have you been to The Whale Wins? Have you been to a fun dinner with a chef before? Tell me about it in the comments!

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Library love: Party books!

As I mentioned before, I’ve got a thing for the library and my latest kick has included party planning books. I brought my stack of books to the cabin over the weekend, poured myself a glass of wine and dove right in.

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And since I’m married to a soon-to-be accounting professor, I had to calculate the total value of the books and see what I “saved” by checking them out from the library instead of buying them: $142.88. Not too shabby. Not too shabby at all.

Now, let me save you some time and share my recommendations on my latest library picks:

Around the Table: Easy menus for cozy entertaining at home by Ellen Wright (Retail: $27.95)

I had high hopes for this book and was moderately disappointed once I started reading. I was pleased to find out that Ellen and I have similar party planning philosophies and the same idea when it comes to keeping ingredients on-hand for surprise guests. I also liked how the recipes were laid out by ‘event’ and each menu was fully detailed. I did manage to find a couple of recipes that I’m really looking forward to trying: stuffed mushrooms with shallots p. 87, piroshkies p. 105 and Soni’s Chicken Provencal p. 150.

I’d save your money and recommend checking this book out of your local library rather than buying it.

Easy Entertaining at Home by Sandra Lee (Retail: $14.99)

I sort of love Sandra Lee and her semi-homemade philosophy. I have not-so-secret hopes of being the Sandra Lee Semi-Homemade of the crafting/DIY world, since no one has much patience these days. I used to subscribe to Sandra Lee’s magazine until they stopped publishing. Anyway, back to the book.

This book really focuses on cocktails which isn’t a bad thing, it’s just not really my thing. I did mark at lot of booze recipes (sorbet shooters, p. 16, Sandy’s spiced wine, p. 41, ‘Born this way’ tequila-limeade-raspberry slushy, p. 49, ‘Pear bella’ pear brandy-peach belllini-champagne drink, p. 114, so that’s a plus.

Some other soon-to-be favorites that I marked include: prosecco cake, p. 12, maple cakes, p. 42, pear puffs, p. 46, and ‘Blushing berry cupcakes,’ p. 138.

I’d save your money and recommend checking this book out of your local library rather than buying it, although there were quite a few great ideas!

Party Confidential by Lara Shriftman and Elizabeth Harrison (Retail: $29.99)

I had no idea what to expect with this book, but I was intrigued, the cover included some classy parties and some tacky parties and a photo of Serena Williams. I really liked how each party theme is detailed and they discuss the menu, lighting, playlist, favors and “steal it” ideas for DIY’ing the parties for yourself.

Party Confidential also lists some themes for parties and one of them I think was stolen from me: Come on Barbie, Let’s go party! Here is a gem of me from my Barbie party, circa 2008. I was Birthday Barbie and I had a great time. Best party ever.

There were interesting sections about giving toasts and hostess gifts, but other than that, I was less than impressed. Save your money on this one too and pick it up at the library.

Celebrate: A year of festivities for families and friends by Pippa Middleton (Retail: $50)

This book was heavy (400 pages). Lots and lots of good information, most of which didn’t apply to me since I don’t have kids. However, Pippa does keep a dress up box, crafting toolbox and party cupboard, p. 174, so maybe we are meant to be friends. I really liked the ‘creepy cocktails,’ p. 34, including blackberry collins and the blood and sand. I also thoroughly enjoyed Pippa’s countdown to Christmas and edible gifts, p. 92. I’m looking forward to making her Christmas truffles and gingerbread stars this holiday season. (Yes, I’m already planning the holidays…) It appears as though Pippa also plans a great Valentine’s Day. Her chocolate truffles and rose-petal martini, p. 197, may make it to our house come February 14, along with the nutella madeleines that she has slated for ‘afternoon tea.’

Brandon is a chocoholic so Pippa’s “the chocolate game” caught my eye. This game includes a large chocolate bar, some winter layers, and dice. You roll the dice and when a six is thrown, the player puts on their ‘winter layers’ (including mittens) as fast as they can and then they cut and eat a square of the chocolate bar. You keep on going like this until all of the chocolate is gone, or something. This game was on page 301, so I was tired of reading at this point.

Should you buy the book? I wouldn’t. $50 is a lot of money! But there are some good haggis recipes. (Ick.)

Sandra Lee Semi-Homemade gatherings by Sandra Lee (Retail: $19.95)

I had really high hopes for this book (see my ode to Sandra above) but this one was pretty disappointing. I really liked the idea of party themes and had hoped for some great ideas but instead I found a daisy-themed party and a wine and cheese party with ROOSTERS. Some people really like faux roosters. I’m not one of those people. Plus I’m highly critical of wine and cheese parties, so I was pretty let down.

I did find a recipe that I will use come the holidays: a gingerbread martini, p. 118. I also thought the avocado shrimp salad, p. 242, looked pretty tasty. I also was a fan of the napkin folding instructions and place setting examples in the back of the book, of course, those are easy to find thanks to Google Images and Pinterest.

Definitely don’t buy this book and instead check it out of your local library.

Phew. Long post! A special shout out to the Seattle Public Library for having such a great catalog! Based on my above research, it’s clear that you should really pop by the library to check out books before committing to buying them. (Literally! Get it? Check out. Heehee.)