Friday, August 10, 2012

3rd Anniversary - Iron Springs

Next stop on our backwards review of what we've been up to during The First Age of No Posts is the weekend of July 27th through the 29th. We got married on August 1, 2009, so the purpose of this trip was to celebrate our third anniversary. Awful traffic through JBLM and a stop for lunch at Fish Tale Brew Pub acted as time-killers as we counted down the time until check-in.

On our way we passed through such exciting cities such as Montesano (Greta's home town) and Aberdeen. There are some cool sights along the way like the abandoned cooling towers of the Satsop Nuclear Power Plant and... well... THE STAR WARS SHOP IN ABERDEEN. I haven't convinced Katie yet to let us stop here, though most of the time it is me that wants to keep on going since we've already been in the car for few hours.

We pulled in to Iron Springs Resort right around 5pm, just enough time to unpack, get settled, start dinner, and turn on the London 2012 Opening Ceremonies. I loved the quirky bits with Daniel Craig and Rowan Atkinson that reminded us all to not take everything too seriously. We called it a night once the cauldron was lit.

So why Iron Springs? Well, previously in the year we were here for a razor clam dig...

Probably not proper technique.
Definitely not proper technique.
...and despite the gray, wind, and rain, we thought it would be awesome to come back in the summer.

Not the best conditions for razor clamming.
That trip in the winter was kind of a bust in terms of finding clams. Even if I could see their tells in the sand (which was very difficult because of the wind and rain), I figure I had about a 50% to get them. If I remember right, I got 5 clams over two days. It does make me sleep better at night knowing that I was using a shovel instead of a clam gun. It builds character, doing it the hard way!

Besides clamming, there were a healthy doses of puzzling, Magic playing, needle felting, and failing to start fires all around. We had a great time.

It's a long process with lots of stabbing...
...and the final product
About 5 minutes later the whole thing died out.
Swinging in for the attack!
Disgusted with myself for my fire failure.
And back to the present. Luckily, our hunch that it would be pristine in the summer was very correct.

This is actually on an airport.
We spent a majority of Saturday afternoon sitting on the beach. It was the perfect temperature with just the right amount of breeze. Greta even went for a swim. Well, as much of a swim as she can considering she's deathly afraid of water. There's a very fine line with Greta - the water level can go from ankle-deep to you're-drowned in an instant.

Every end is the deep-end when you're Greta.
There was a charcoal grill at the cabin, which was something I hadn't used in a long time. These things get way hotter than any gas grill I've ever used. Like, "I can't even flip the burger without burning all the hair off my arm," hot. The first night we had some awesome steak that I cooked for juuust a minute or two too long from perfection. The second night we had pork tenderloin that took much longer than I thought it would. I am chalking it up to screwing up the distribution of coals. Whatever, the food still turned out great.

At this point I really had no idea what I was doing.
FIRE! A really, really hot fire!
It was a very relaxing weekend, though like most was far too short. Having only one full day there really isn't enough. I look forward to our next stay there, whether it be another (hopefully more successful) razor clam hunt or a peaceful mid-summer jaunt.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Camping, Take 2: Dosewallips State Park

On our way home from work last week, Katie and I were discussing some of the blogs we follow when I had the sudden realization that we have our own blog. It has seriously been over half a year since either of us has posted anything. And of course when anyone asks me, "So, what have you been up to lately?" my answer is unanimously, "Oh not much." That isn't entirely true, so let's get going on writing that wrong.

There will be a series of posts over the next week or two that will cover what exactly we've been up to the last few months. To confuse everyone as much as possible, I'm going to start at the present and work my way backwards.

The Great Outdoors wasn't something I was exposed to much as a kid, and that's been something Katie has taken a great interest in changing. It combines a couple of her passions: connecting with nature, going places never visited before, mini-road trips, and going to REI and spending a ton of money.

We went camping two summers ago at Lake Wenatchee State Park, where I got about a dozen mosquito bites while unloading the car. I spent 2 days covered in some surely toxic mixture of DEET, mosquito coil smoke, sunscreen, and calamine lotion. The experience didn't leave a sour taste in my mouth so-to-speak, but it was definitely tart.

My feet had so many bites I had to wear shoes in order to deter my constant need to itch. Not even the mosquito coils helped. The Rainier helped a little. (July 2010)

This past weekend we trekked over to Hood Canal (which is a fjord!) to camp at Dosewallips State Park. It's a very different camping experience than Lake Wenatchee: pretty flat, less privacy, and most importantly: a lot less mosquitoes.

Katie patiently waiting for her campfire. Thanks goes out to the previous campers who left the gigantic log in the pit which we took full advantage of in building our fires both nights.
There was one party a few campsites away from us that appeared to be a weekend getaway where all the dads took their sons for some camping debauchery. One child, let's call him Logan, because that is what his dad screamed every five minutes, was the King Terrorizer of the group. He would ride his bike in the opposite direction of the rest of the kids, try to do tricks on his Razor scooter (which always resulted in failure and him doing several barrel rolls across the pavement), and shot anything and everything with his water gun. At one point he even pistol-whipped one of the other kids.

My run-in with Logan happened at the water tap where I was rinsing off a cutting board. He was there standing defiantly with his pump-action water shotgun. As I was finishing up he looks at me square and says, "I'm going to shoot you," like he's some sort of cold-hearted-son-of-a-bitch 7 year-old Russian mobster. Knowing that there wasn't really anything I could do if I wanted to avoid a situation with Logan's dad, I threw my arms up and said, "Okay..." and of course he blasts me right in the front of my shorts so it looked like I peed myself. In retrospect I bet I could have got a high-five from his dad if I would have done the, "hey cool super soaker dood, can i see it for a sec?" and drowned him with his own gun, but I took the higher/wussier road.

We decided to take Greta along for the trip, mostly just to see how she'd handle it. Turns out that she can be an actual dog: playing around in the dirt, lying in the grass, and "protecting" us from all those other evil people and dogs at the campground by barking without remorse. It also turns out she can't handle more than about 5 minutes of direct sunlight before she gets so hot she begins uber-panting.

On guard

On Saturday, in between grilling, drinking beer in fold-up camp chairs, and enjoying a couple great campfires, we ventured out to the park's beach. We both thought that it would be pretty close to the campground, but in actuality it's about a mile. It was a nice, flat trail with a pretty mucky section near the end. There were a few dozen folks hanging out at the water's edge.

Beach at Dosewallips

While we didn't make it that far our, we did spot a seal pup nestled in between a couple of pieces of driftwood. We were sitting on a piece not too far away when I kept hearing some sort of shuffling behind us. Finally I got a glimpse and figured out what it was.

See! It's that gray lump underneath those other gray things!

After an inappropriately long nap in the shade, we hopped in the car to see what else the area had to offer. There was another state park, Triton Cove, not too far down the road which consisted of a small rock beach and a boat launch. I skipped rocks (doing the prerequisite try-to-skip-a-ten-pound-rock joke) while Katie soaked in the views. It's really a beautiful area with high peaks plunging right down in to the water. She also found this tiiiiiiny (albeit dead) crab.

Triton Cove
Pretty dead.
Here's a short tour of our campsite #67 and a shot of what it looked like in the morning. We both had a lot of fun and look forward to the next time we camp there!

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Snow Day = Sugar Cookies

At 7:00 this morning, I received the phone call I'd been dreaming about all night: my office decided to close for the day. With a small cheer, I grabbed the dog and bounded downstairs to continue watching the news broadcast on this iteration of Snowmageddon. After about 30 minutes, it hit me. What, exactly, was I going to do all day?

After shuffling around the living room and brainstorming for a few minutes, I realized nothing could make the morning more complete than a batch of warm, fresh cookies. My only hurdle was a lack of ingredients. For the most part, I consider myself a cook and not a baker. I like the randomness of cooking - being able to take a few basic ingredients, throw in a few random ones and (for the most part) have it turn out. Baking is so...directions follow-y. I make cookies once every 2-3 years - the last time being in 2009 during that year's Storm of the Century. Luckily, I was able to scrounge up some sugar (lumpy, but workable), flour (I keep this on hand for lefse, duh) baking soda and vanilla. Bam! Sugar cookies were in my future.

Adam worked from home, but he managed to help me measure some ingredients before "clocking in"
Hard at work
Proof of our snow. It might not seem like a lot, but considering I saw facebook status updates such as "it's up to my knees!" while I had nothing, I felt pretty good about the 2-3" we accumulated today

Due to my previously mentioned lack of baking experience, putting the dough together took some time and pep talks on my part. An example conversation (with myself) went something like this:

"Combine butter and sugar and whip with a mixer until light and fluffy. Light and fluffy? How the h#ll do I know when it's fluffy? Alright, then. Batter, let's do this. Let's grab the mixer. Oh that's right. Let's turn it up a speed. You can do it. Fluff it up. Would you consider this fluffy? Who even knows. Keep mixing."

Adam considered it more of a trash talk to my dough. But hey - there was a large amount of uncertainty on my part and only so much lumpy sugar. I only had one shot.

After I successfully finished the dough, and let it sit in the fridge for an hour and a half, I started the rolling process. The first couple times I did it were sketchy at best, but after a few rounds of cutting out shapes and remixing the scraps, I got the hang of it. Thankfully I ransacked my parents' old kitchen in Everett years ago, and had in my possession all the cookie cutters from my childhood, plus a few I seemed to have collected over the years.
My first attempt at rolling the dough - not so great
First round of cookies in the oven. Yum!
I'm getting better at rolling, though making a huge mess
Once the cookies were out of the oven and cooling, I attempted some frosting. In my head, I was going to make 4 or 5 different colors, use my sprinkles, and get super creative. I quickly realized I was not making enough frosting to do more than 2, my feet hurt, and my sprinkles were somewhat lame. I chose what was supposed to be mint green and purple. 

A little treat for Adam and I once the cookies were complete

All in all, the cookies were a success. After all the rolling, mixing frosting and epic kitchen cleaning, I took a nap to celebrate. Happy Snow Day!

Saturday, January 7, 2012

My first shot at homebrewing

Making my own beer has always been a hobby that is in the back of my mind. I drink a lot of beer, why not make some myself? My friend Jon and my father-in-law Barry both homebrew regularly, and I've definitely drank more than my fair share of their labors. It's time to return the favor.

But, but... baby steps! Anything that has any sort of process (be it playing a game, building a Lego model, or cooking anything [yes, even ramen]) tends to lock me up. I look over the instructions numerous times before I feel like I'm ready, even if the smartest thing to do is to just dive in and learn as I go.

Thankfully, Woot put up a Mr. Beer kit a few weeks ago, and I took the bait. I like to think of it as a paint-by-numbers for making beer. A trial run at homebrewing, if you will.

I was kind of kicking around the house this morning, wondering what I was going to do with my afternoon. When I opened the door to go get the mail, the answer was sitting on my doorstep: Mr. Beer had arrived.

Included in the kit is a 2 gallon keg, 8 1-liter bottles, a bag of "booster" (which it turns out is just corn syrup solids), a can of hopped malt extract (West Coast Pale in this case), a little bag of yeast, a packet of sanitizing solution, some stickers, and my favorite: the instructions! The keg and bottles are all plastic to keep it simple and reusable.

Here's a few shots of me inspecting the kit. Nothing really exciting going on here.

First step: reading the instructions! Seems easy enough: sanitize your stuff, put some water in the keg, mix the booster with 4 cups water, boil it, add the HME, throw it in to the keg, add more water, add yeast, cap the keg, then wait two weeks.

Second step: sanitize your stuff. This involves putting water in the keg, dumping some powder in it, swirling it around, and putting all your brewing tools (measuring cup, can opener, whisk) on a plate that you also sanitized. Here's a couple of non-action shots of this step:

Third step: put some water in the keg and some water in a pot. Mix the booster with the water in the pot. This took forever, as the instructions say to pour & mix the booster SLOWLY (in scary capitalized and underlined text) in to the water. It didn't really clump up like other mixes do, but it took a long time to dissolve. After that, I cranked up the heat and waited for it to boil. The booster apparently adds both alcohol and body as its packaging states, which is what beer definitely does to you when you drink it.

Fourth step: juggle!

Fifth step: add the can of beer goop to the boiled boosted water. The can of beer goop, officially Hopped Malt Extract, looked and smelled like teriyaki sauce. I love me some teriyaki, but if my beer ends up tasting like it I'm not going to be thrilled. I put my trust in Mr. Beer to make my beer not taste like teriyaki.

Sixth step: throw the mixture into the keg, add more water, then add the yeast. Pouring the hot, goopy liquid into the small hole at the top of the keg was a bit tricky. I came this close to pouring the crap all over the kitchen. When I added the yeast it started to get all bubbly and looking like I actually made Real Beer.

Seventh step: wait a couple weeks, storing the keg out of direct sunlight in an area between 68-78 degrees. I opted to put it over by our fireplace, which has a little pilot light which tends to keep the area right around it a little warmer than the rest of the house. That spot is also shielded from sunlight, so it meets the criteria.

So there it will sit, for two weeks. At that point, I'll sanitize the bottles, add a bit of sugar to each bottle, then fill it with beer. Then I have to wait another two weeks to condition the beer (a.k.a. just wait more), which takes two more weeks! Mid-February is when I'll be enjoying this.

All in all, this process took me a little over an hour and I had as much fun as you can have stirring and boiling water. I've watched Jon do The Real Thing and it is much more exciting and of course you can improvise a lot more than you can when you are pouring a can of goop into a pot. If this works out okay, I'll get a few more kits from them. Then, I'll do it The Real Way, without all the weird, canned beer goop.

Here's a preemptive "Cheers!" for six weeks from now.