Tag Archives: fun

eggnog popcorn balls & a Hitchcock double feature

We run around in search of family fun an awful lot. Recently I’ve been thinking about the concept of cheap family dates. Last weekend we ran to Seattle for an exhibit on Horror Film at EMP. We had a ton of fun, but when you’re spending $15 a pop, buying gas, and eating out, suddenly family fun is really expensive.


Rear Window

The three of us have developed a sudden obsession with Alfred Hitchcock. Jess and I got to see Rear Window on the big screen in Portland. It was thrilling to applaud the Hitchcock cameo with a crowd. Randomly, the next week our local theater was showing Dial M for Murder in 3D, complete with a vintage piece of equipment to synchronize two projectors. We let Levi stay up late on a school night and didn’t regret it. Hitchcock films are so suspenseful and clever, and his artful shots at times take your breath away.

I realized we practically have a library of Hitchcock available on Netflix streaming, and even more titles for rent from Amazon. I decided a stay-at-home family date was in order. If we were going to have a proper double feature, we would need popcorn. The stars were aligning perfectly because I’ve been waiting since last year to try this recipe for eggnog popcorn balls.

These do not contain actual eggnog, or even eggs. They do contain a lot of nutmeg and taste delightfully like holiday nog. I made a double batch, and luckily Levi wandered into the kitchen in that way he does once in a blue moon, asking, “What ya making?” followed by, “Can I help?” We had to butter our hands every other time we formed a popcorn ball. It was a sticky mess, but so worth it.

These things are killer. You should make them. And you could even pop your popcorn in the microwave in a brown paper bag like I did yesterday. Despite the sugary mess, the recipe was pretty easy.

So, which Hitchcock films did we pick?

North by Northwest. Perhaps Cary Grant will be our next obsession. And we have always wanted to see Mount Rushmore.

The second was a no-brainer. Psycho, of course.

What have you been doing lately for family fun? Bonus points if you are successfully entertaining teenagers.

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Halloween in Astoria

We just got home from an incredible weekend away in Astoria, Oregon. I swear, everytime we go there I fall in love with that place a little more. One of the highlights was Talking Tombstones, an event put on for the last 8 years by the Clatsop County Historical Society. We showed up at the Astoria Pioneer Cemetery near Coxcomb Hill to check it out.

First we met the ghost of Susan Pitkin. She cried real tears as she told the tragic tale of becoming the town recluse after two of her sons drowned in the Columbia River.

The stories didn’t get any happier as we met Lillian Hendrickson, who talked of being the first woman to work at the cannery only to be shot to death at age 17 by a guy she turned down.

Laura Ferrell sat next to her family plot and talked of the booming 1870s in Astoria, losing her first husband to an accidental shooting, three marriages, fifteen pregnancies, and thirteen kids.

I had no idea that cable TV was invented in Astoria, but the ghost of Ed Parsons and his wife, Grace, showed us how he put an antenna on the top of the Astoria Hotel and ran coaxial cable to his home. Soon after he had to set up the first cable TV system to keep all his neighbors out of his living room.

Henry Sidlinger seemed like a happy fella and talked of being a tinsmith, but he still holds a grudge against the newspaper for making it sounds like he had been hiding his past and ended his own life.

A young Emma Burke died alongside her father by a fallen tree.

The last three ghosts’ stories managed to tie together. There was Gabriel Franchère, who came to Astoria with John Jacob Astor’s Pacific Fur Company.

Donald McTavish also worked in the fur trade, and brought the first European woman to Oregon, Jane Barnes. He complained of his remains and tombstone being moved too many times, though apparently the tombstone ended up in a museum downtown.

Jane Barnes became known as the “First Lady of Astoria”. Though she was brought by McTavish for companionship, she ended up on the arm of another sometime during the 13 month journey. Eventually both men died on another boat when it capsized.

We kept our distance from the other spirit we saw lurking around.

Happy Halloween, y’all!

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Northwest Chocolate Festival: Part II

Did you miss Part I? For some of our favorite vendors and our thoughts on coffee & chocolate, basil & chocolate, and even broccoli & chocolate, check out the first post.

Before anything else, I’m just going to get this out of the way:

Some sensual body art happened. In case you’re wondering how those thin slices of vegetables stick, the answer is that the artist licks them. And yes, we did watch for awhile.

These are cacao pods:

We saw lots and lots of cacao pods. They come in different varieties and therefore a variety of colors. They also change colors as they ripen. It wasn’t all that long ago I really had no idea how chocolate was grown and processed. Then we went on a tour of the Theo Chocolate factory in Seattle. I always recommend this to people visiting town or as a fun date or family activity for locals. They show you where chocolate comes from and how they roast it. Oh, and you get to eat a lot of their amazing chocolate.

At the Northwest Chocolate Festival, we learned even more about how chocolate begins. We got to see the parts of the cacao pod up close and personal. As gardeners and bee keepers, it was interesting to learn there is only one pollinator, the tiny midge fly. The flowers are open for only two days before they drop off. In that time a tiny midge fly has to pollinate it, and it takes five or six months to form one of these pods that each contain only 20 to 40 beans.

Above is a pod with the beans removed. I was fascinated when a volunteer told us the piece left in the middle where the beans had been attached is called a placenta. And next are the beans removed from the pod, still covered in mucilage:

Mucilage sounds pretty gross, right? It seemed a little less gross when we read the description on one of the posters at the fest: a sweet fruit called mucilage that tastes similar to a mix between peach, marshmallow and lechee fruit.

Okay, yum. In the photo above they were doing a little fermentation experiment in a beaker on a heating pad. In reality, at the plantations where they are grown the beans still covered in mucilage are carefully fermented and dried. Without fermenting, the beans are bitter. Pretty cool, huh?

We also got to see cacao nibs turned into chocolate old school style. Stone ground! They just mixed in a little bit of powdered sugar, and we got to try a taste. Stone ground chocolate has a grittier, toothsome texture that is actually quite good. We tried and really enjoyed several flavors of stone ground chocolate from one of the vendors, Taza.


Taza Mexican-Style Stone Ground Chocolate

I’ve seen this stuff at our co-op here in Olympia and plan to figure out a use for some ASAP.

Our only complaint about the festival would be how challenging it was to get into any of the classes or demonstrations. There was way more demand than seats. We showed up 25 minutes early to the caramel demo and were too late. We learned our lesson and strategized better the next time around. We really wanted to see a cooking demo about the savory application of chocolate, so we stood in the back for half the preceding demo so we could grab seats as they opened up. Chocolate lovers are serious business.

We might have been disappointed after all that effort when the savory chocolate dish was not vegetarian, but at least Levi got to enjoy one of the smoked bacon and chocolate crespelles. He rated it an 8 out of 10, and he is a tough judge. We enjoyed learning more about making crepes from scratch. They used cocoa powder, hazelnut meal, and a little quinoa for texture. The crepes were stuffed with chocolate, sage, and smoked bacon, folded twice and refried in butter. The recipe is online here, and I hope to try it soon. I might even have to attempt a savory chocolate dish using chanterelles and a little smoked cheese. If only there had been a chocolate and cheese pairing demo!

We had tons of fun at the festival. Since it was $20 per person and we ate so much chocolate, we tried not to bring any chocolate home. Levi was so impressed by Ritual Chocolate made in Colorado (with only two ingredients: chocolate and cane sugar), he pulled out his own money and brought home one of these bars:

This kid rarely has money to spend, so that’s a strong statement.

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Northwest Chocolate Festival

Somehow this is the third year we’ve had a chocolate festival nearby and we just found out about it this year. The three of us piled into the car and headed to Seattle with high hopes. We were not disappointed by the Northwest Chocolate Festival.

First we managed to squeeze our way into the chocolate and coffee pairing demonstration put on by Zoka Coffee and Intrigue Chocolates Co.. What exactly do you look for in a good pairing? What I took away was that each one should make the other better, and what fun to experiment with different flavors. It was most notable when we slurped our coffee (I wish I could recall which one) with the earl grey truffle. Whoa, suddenly there were brand new layers of flavor in my mouth!

We made sure to stop by the Intrigue table so we could try the basil truffles. The chocolatier had talked them up; basil bringing up the nostalgia of grandma’s kitchen and a summer garden. Basil and chocolate – who knew? It’s incredible. We will be taking a field trip to the Intrigue shop in Pioneer Square for sure.

As we wandered from one vendor to the next, I pressured Jess and Levi into trying samples of chocolate with broccoli. They hated it. I thought it was… interesting. Not terrible, but certainly not something I plan to explore further.

Nobody had to twist my arm to try Olive and Sinclair’s Salt & Pepper chocolate. I loved it. No surprise there, really. I love good ol’ cracked black pepper. I’ve tried black pepper soda, so why not chocolate? This company is from Nashville, and they have some quality southern chocolate. I see on their site they have a buttermilk white chocolate bar coming soon. I need to try that. And maybe order a whole bar of salt & pepper, too.

So what makes chocolate exceptional? After reading a lot of informational posters and tasting a lot of chocolate, we all agreed that we truly appreciate these chocolate nerds artisans who perfect their roasts. We tried some raw chocolate samples and hated them. Levi couldn’t stop talking about how you couldn’t really taste the chocolate, you were just tasting the flavors they added. Then we tasted some chocolates made from the same variety of beans from the same part of the world roasted different ways. Mmm, dark roast!

Next we fell in love with Hot Cakes Confections.


Exhibit A: they were smoking chocolate outside. We never did get to try any, but how cool.


Exhibit B: their vintage van


Exhibit C: take and bake molten chocolate cakes in MASON JARS!

It looks like we will have to visit some Seattle area Farmer’s Markets to find more.

It goes without saying, we ate a lot of chocolate. In fact it was so much chocolate, we had to take a lunch break and go get some vegan Chinese food before going back for more. There is so much to show you, it is too much for one post. We will have a little more of Northwest Chocolate Fest to share with you tomorrow.

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our fall tradition: the local cider mill

Every October we head over to nearby Lattin’s Country Cider Mill. There’s a pumpkin patch, an apple slingshot, tractor-pulled wagon rides, and all the adorable farm animals you can handle. The real reason we go (and the teenager still comes with us): fresh from the fryer apple fritters.

This year and last we ended up going on the weekend, which means a lot of patience and determination are required. People for miles around know about these fritters. First you wait in a long, slow line to pay for the fritters. Then you get a number and have to wait with a crowd of people until yours are ready and your number is called. We figured out a couple years ago how to pass the time: apple cider slushies!


Apple cider goodness in slushy form. Genius.


Levi & Jess saved their appetites and got smalls. I went for the large. No regrets!

The other way to pass time while waiting for your fritters is to watch them being made. It is mesmerizing. They have them already prepped, and then lower entire trays directly into the fryer. Then they stay nearby with what look like giant chopsticks to flip them over when the first side is golden brown. Once they are pulled out they dump them off the tray and literally pour a pitcher of glaze over them.

The glaze melts before your eyes and the gleaming apple fritters are ready to go. Once we have our bag of fritters in hand, we make a beeline to the nearest spot to sit outside and eat them while they are still nice and warm.

Levi took the first bite and declared that not only were they worth the wait, they would be worth 10 times that wait. Then he did the math and we decided maybe they wouldn’t be worth that long a wait, but they most certainly were worth the 30 or 40 minutes we waited and then some.


Warm and gooey sweetness with bits of fresh apple. There is nothing quite like it.


I have no idea how Levi made himself this short but I appreciated it.

There is so much to see and do. I’m so glad we were able to fit this into our busy weekend. A few more highlights:

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day-tripping

I’ve had regular people weekends off all summer, but I’ve now reached the part of my schedule where work overlaps the Saturday/Sunday weekends that Jess has off. Boo. We debated what to do with my last Sunday off. Tackle a project around the house? Do something really fun? We opted for the latter, and took a quickie road trip for the day.

Satsop Nuclear Power Plant, Satsop.

Don’t worry, moms, it was abandoned before it was ever used.

Kurt Cobain Riverfront Park, Aberdeen

I remarked on how the neighbors must hate having the park there, but turns out one of them made it happen.

Zelasko Park, Aberdeen

Chainsaw carvings and one of them a lumberjack? This combines some of my favorite Pacific-Northwesty things. We had to stop. The carvings have plaques that say “Louis Benanto Jr. 1971.” I couldn’t find a lot of information about them or the park online.

Ruby Beach, Olympic National Park

I cannot say enough good things about this gorgeous beach.

Hoh Rainforest, Olympic National Park

Where we saw lots of moss, elk, slugs, and billions of mosquitos.

What a spectacular day. Staycation for the win.

Want to see more photos? Yes, there are more. Full Flickr set here.

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