Monday, July 30, 2012

My Mom is So Creative!

My mom has been sewing for a long time and is a member of several guilds (sewing clubs, essentially). I forget when, but for one of her guilds, she made this piece. It is my parent's house under the northern star. I saw it hanging up in the house when I was back home recently and I was reminded of just how talented my mom is!

When my mom originally made the fabric piece, the house was painted yellow. It was hard to capture in the picture, but there is a giant tulip tree and a smaller pine tree on either side of their house, just like in the fabric piece. I just think is so neat.

New Haircut

I decided it was time for a summer hair cut, so I went blonde and short. What do you think?
Joel likes my haircut so much he says it feels like he has a new wife! 

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Backyard Visitor

Check out the little visitor we had in our backyard over the weekend!

A wild rabbit!
The bunny was even climbing up and down our rock walls!
I was so excited, that I even took the little bunny some carrots, hoping to make him want to stick around. Joel was not happy when I told him what I did, because he didn't want the little bunny to help himself to our veggie garden. Oops.
What nice manners, cleaning up after eating a carrot!

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Joel's Famous Pico de Gallo

If there is one thing that Joel loves in this world, it is chips and salsa; in addition to his wife of course! If I'm not home to make his dinner, he will often resort to a bag of tortilla chips and a bowl of salsa. "What's wrong with that, it is vegetables!", he always says. Well, you can't argue with that. Although I think he would be shocked to know how many bags of chips he eats in a year.

Joel has been making his own salsa since he was kid, and recently has been matching batch after batch of his pico de gallo.  He recently made a batch for the James Family Picnic and it was a big hit!

Joel's Pico De Gallo

8-9 tomatoes
7-8 tomatillos
2-3 serrano peppers
1 onion
1-2 limes
1 bunch of cilantro
2-3 cloves garlic
freshly ground black pepper
  1. Dice the tomatoes, tomaatillos, garlic and onions into small peices and place in a large mixing bowl.
  2. Remove the stems from the cilatnro and finely chop the leaves before adding to the tomato mixture.
  3. Remove the seeds from Serrano peppers. These are hot peppers, so be careful not to touch your eyes, mouth, or face while handling them. Finely chop the Serrano peppers and add to the tomato mixture. To make a spicy batch add as many Serrano seeds as desired to the tomato mixture. 
  4. Add freshly squeezed lime juice to taste.
  5. Add freshly ground black pepper to taste.
  6. Mix all ingredients together and serve!
The ingredients are so brightly colored, and I know how fresh they will taste! Yum!
Removing the cilantro stems always takes the longest, so Joel does this job first.
All washed and ready to chop with "the chopper".
My nephew Kaleb was facinated with "the chopper" and couldn't be bothered to eat his lunch.
Joel, using "the chopper" to dice a tomatillo.
Julie helped by dicing up the cilantro while trying to Kaleb to eat his lunch.
Joel loves his pico de gallo spicy, so he uses lots of serano peppers.
It is ready to eat!
Joel & Jessie's Tips and Tricks
Make sure you drain as much liquid from the tomatoes as possible. Otherwise you end up with a soupy salsa, which isn't the point of pico de gallo.

We typically use kitchen scissors to cup the cilantro. This trick makes quick work of chopping that much cilantro.

We have what we call "the chopper" and if you plan to make this as much as we do, you will want to get one too! You can get it at Bed Bath & Beyond. Even if you don't plan to make lots of salsa, this little gadget for great for any big chopping job. It is used at least weekly at my house and saves so much time!

I like to use the pico de gallo as a topping for some of my healthier dinners. I add pico de gallo to quinoa for a southwestern style quinoa, or with chicken slices for a fast fajita-like dinner. It is great to have in the fridge when you can't decide what to eat for dinner.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Jessie's Famous Spinach Pasta Salad

Back when I lived in Bellingham, I would often treat myself to Haggen's Spinach Pasta Salad from thier deli counter. Then one day I decided I would try to make it myself. It seemed so simple, I figured I could give it a go. After some research online to get an idea of where to start, and I came across the actual recipe! I was so surprised and excited to be able to make this salad myself whenever I wanted.

Spinach Pasta Salad

For the Pasta:
5 cups (1.5 pounds) rotini pasta
3 cups raw baby spinach
½ cup shredded Parmesan cheese
1/3 cup toasted pine nuts

For the Dressing:
¼ cup olive oil
½ cup golden balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon fresh chopped garlic
1 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  1. Cook pasta by package directions until al dente; rinse with cold running water to cool. Don't overcook, as the pasta will break apart and be mushy. Drain well. Place in refrigerator to chill in large mixing bowl.
  2. For the dressing, whisk all ingredients together well in a separate bowl.
  3. When pasta has chilled, combine dressing with the pasta. Add spinach, cheese and nuts. Mix gently.
  4. This will serve eight people as a side dish and four people as a main course.
I've got all my ingredients ready to mix up.
Fresh pine nuts; it is really, really easy to burn the pine nuts. So I toast them first, never letting my eyes leave their sight. I have burned way too many pans of these expensive little nuts!
Perfectly toasted pine nuts.
Spinach, pine nuts, and cheese; all we need now are the noodles and the dressing.
I measure all the dressing ingredients into the same measuring cup. Doing this cuts down on dishes and I can mix and pour the dressing from the same container.
All mixed together and ready to eat! When I can't find the correct kind of noodles, I like to get noodles with lots of curves that will hold the dressing nicely.
I made this batch of salad at my mom house before the James Family Picnic and I found muffins in the dishes cupboard. I guess she was rushed to get cleaned up for the party and had to find a home for these two quickly. I thought it was funny.
 My Tips and Tricks:

When I am running short on time, I will rinse the cooked pasta in cold water until they are cooled. This way I can skip having to put the pasta in the fridge.

When traveling, I will cook the pasta and mix the dressing ahead of time. I keep the cooked pasta in one container and the dressing in another container. I mix the salad, cheese, and pine nuts in a third container. Then when I reach my destination, I mix all three containers together.

This is a great item for camping trips because everything can be made of head time and mixed together on site. I will mix everything together in Ziploc bags, cutting down on my dishes. Although you do have to remember to pull the dressing out of the cooler long enough in advance to let it thaw. The ice in the cooler can make the dressing more solid.

Sometimes I add diced chicken to make this salad a one dish dinner.

When making enough of this salad to last for several dinners, I will leave out the spinach. I wait to add the spinach until I have served up a bowl of the salad. I do this each night, adding enough spinach to my serving for the meal. This way the spinach won't wilt between meals.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Determined Little Pansy

We were up visiting my parents and look what was growing in the driveway! Yes, in the middle of the drive was a determined little pansy. My mom just didn't the hear to pull it out, so they just drive around it. I love it!

Oatmeal Lemon Creme Bars

I found this recipe for Oatmeal Lemon Creme Bars on this blog through Pinterest. They looked so good and I love lemon, so I was waiting for the perfect time to give this recipe a try. I have been working really hard on loosing weight and getting in shape, so I didn't want to make a whole batch for myself.  I decided the James Family Picnic would be the perfect time to try out this recipe.

Although Just Call Me Maria does have a shortcut recipe, I decided to use the from scratch recipe she provided from The Pioneer Women.

Oatmeal Lemon Creme Bars

1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 cup butter, slightly softened
1 cup brown sugar, lightly packed
1 cup oats
1 can sweetened condensed milk
1/2 cup lemon juice
zest of 1 lemon
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees and lightly grease a 8x11 pan.
  2. In a large bowl mix the butter and brown sugar until they are well combined. 
  3. In a separate bowl sift together flour, salt, and baking powder.
  4. Add oats and dry ingredients to the butter mixture and mix to combine.
  5. Press half of the oat mixture into pan. In a small bowl mix together sweetened condensed milk, lemon juice, and lemon zest. Spread evenly on top of the oat mixture in the pan. Top with the remaining oat mixture.
  6. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until the top is golden brown. Let cool and refrigerate for 30 minutes or until set. Cut into bars and store in the refrigerator.
Getting all my dry ingredients together, ready to mix up!
Fresh out of the oven. It smelled so good!
Ready to eat! They were sooo good!
This desert is a great combination of cream and crunch with the creamy lemon filling and the oatmeal crumble topping. The lemon flavoring is perfect, not too strong, but not too weak. I really liked this desert and I will be making this again soon!

Saturday, July 21, 2012

James Family Picnic

My mom decided we should have a James Family picnic in an effort to get everyone together to enjoy some sunshine, each other's company, and of course, food! So on July 21st, everyone headed to my Mom and Dad's house for some fun.

Enjoying the food is Sean, Julie, Joel, Chris, Mom, Leann, Jackie, and Uncle Clint
 Lots of family was able to make the event, which is great considering two cousins had whopping cough, so they had to stay home, two other cousins were competing in the (add event) so they couldn't attend, and it was July, the time for vacations!

Jaisha and Dad grilling up some BBQ on Dad's new smoker.
For Dad's birthday this year, Mom gave Dad a new BBQ. But this is no ordinary BBQ-er, this one is half traditional propane BBQ-er and half smoker. We were excited to try out different meats with different wood chips and I think Dad was too, since he barely the side of his new baby!

Joel couldn't wait to try out the BBQ Chicken that Jaisha brought over. He gave it two thumbs up!
We had so much food, it was hard to stay on track with my weight loss goals. But if you don't have cheat day every once in a while, you are asking for trouble! So I just watched my portioned sizes and grazed throughout the day, tasting a little bit of everything there was to eat. We had my Famous Pasta Salad, Jackie's Strawberry Spinach Salad, Joel's Pico De Gallo, Leann's Lemon Dill Potato Salad, Mom's baked beans, Smoked Salmon, BBQ-ed Chicken, and so much more I can't remember! There are so many good cooks in my family that each gathering is a chance to learn a new technique, share a recipe, and eat some amazing creations!
There was so much food, it was hard to pick which to eat first!
Joel made his famous Pico De Gallo. He likes it pretty spicy so we made sure to label the spicy batch, so it was mixed up with the mild batch. A big hit every time he makes it.
Joel and I brought a Salmon for Dad to smoke on his new BBQ. It was so good!
I made Lemon Oatmeal bars. They disappeared so fast, they were such a hit.
To help burn off all the food we ate, we decided to have some fun. The little kids got everyone stated when they decided they wanted to play baseball. It is so adorable to watch the "Grandpa's" try to teach the toddlers how to play. All the toddlers wanted to do was knock the ball off the stand because it made all the Aunties cheer!
Dad and Uncle Gordy try to teach Kaleb how to play T-ball.
Porter wanted to give it a try too!
Inspired by the little kids, the older kids decided to play Ultimate Frisbee. Joel could hardly stand his excitement at the thought of playing his favorite game, that the directions were a bit confusing. We finally got everyone caught up on the rules of play, picked teams, and starting playing. It was so much to fun to play with my siblings and cousins. We haven't done anything like this in a long time!
Ultimate Frisbee
Jackie trying to block Joel from making a catch.
I was trying to throw the Frisbee but Chris was doing a great job of guarding me!
Jackie and Joel got really competitive!
We even had to break them up a couple times!
 After we had successfully worn ourselves out, we headed back to the deck for some dessert. The weather was great and we had a great time hanging out with family. We should really get together more often!
Cousins! Leann, Me, and Jackie!
Joel tried a little bit of every dessert and couldn't decide which he liked best.
Sisters! Aunt Karen and my Mom
Cousin Tiffany and her son, Porter, getting some dessert.
Guess we were short on chairs and Joel decided to sit in Kaleb's chair! I'm surprised he fit!

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Visiting Tutankhamen: The Golden King and The Great Pharaohs

With the entire family in town for Julie's Graduation, we decided to visit the Tutankhamen: The Golden King and The Great Pharaohs exhibit at the Pacific Science Center. So on Saturday morning, all ten of us loaded up into two cars and caravaned to downtown Seattle for the day. We arrived at the ticket booth for the exhibit at about 10:00am, only to discover that the next available showing of the exhibit wasn't until 5:00pm that evening! What were we going to to? We had nine adults and a toddler to entertain all day if we wanted to stick around until 5:00pm. After a lengthy discussion and lots of assurance from Jaisha that Kaleb would last the day just fine, we bought our tickets. Check out this post to find out how we entertained ourselves until time to see King Tut!

We decided to spring for the audio tour of the exhibit, which I strongly recommend for everyone who visits this exhibit. Narrated by Harrison Ford, the audio tour gives additional information behind some of the artifacts and features stories and details from the archaeologists themselves who were present when the artifacts were discovered. It was enthralling to be surrounded by these ancient relics and listening to the stories of their discovery taking us back 5,000 years in time, experiencing what it was like to live during the Golden Age.
A golden mask of a jaguar.
A children's game found in King Tut's tomb.
We saw over 100 objects from King Tut's tomb and other ancient sites. Some of the items we saw were the 10-foot quartzite statue of King Tut, which was found among the remains of the funerary temple of two of his officials, King Tut's jewelry, furniture (bed and chair), and ceremonial items. We even saw his golden sandals which were created specifically for the afterlife and covering his feet when his mummified remains were discovered in 1922. In addition to his golden sandals, he had golden finger and toe coverings that were placed on his toes and fingers before he was wrapped up.  We examined the golden canopic coffinette which contained King Tut's mummified stomach! There was the exquisite gold death mask of Psusennes I and an impressive colossal bust of Amenhotep IV, who was King Tut's father. We even saw the status of Khafre, the builder of the Great Sphinx and one of the pyramids at Giza, Hatshepsut, the queen who become a pharaoh, and Ramesses the Great.  Although the mummy of King Tut is not included in the exhibit, there is an exact replica of his mummy on display. The replica was created from recent CT scans and is incredibly life-like. The real mummy of King Tut has never left Egypt, remaining in a sacred resting place inside the tomb in the Valley of the Kings near Luxor; as it should be.
A piece of jewelry found in King Tut's tomb.
An earring found in King Tut's tomb.
King Tut's golden sandals, to protect his feet in his journey to the afterlife.
King Tut's golden finger and toe protectors, to protect his fingers and toes in his journey to the afterlife.
The exhibit featured six different rooms;
  • Pharaohs of Ancient Egypt; which explored what Egypt was like during the Old Kingdom and the New Kingdom.
  • Pharaoh's Family; the role of Pharaoh's family and the private lives of Pharaohs
  • Pharaoh's Court; how power was distributed among various members of the court and other roles in the royal kingdom.
  • Pharaoh's Religion; explanation of the beliefs and the role of the Pharaoh on earth, the various gods and goddess, the supernatural, and the after-life.
  • Pharaoh's Gold; featuring the amazing abundance of gold that the Pharaoh's posed and the role that gold plays in the after-life
  •  and Discovery of Pharaoh; the discovery and excavation of King Tut's tomb in the 1920's which is set up to resemble the four rooms of the actual tomb, the antechamber, annex, treasury, and burial chamber.
King Tutankhamen, also known as King Tut or the "Boy King", has fascinated people for centuries because he was such a young king who died mysteriously at the age of 19. To this day there are many theories about why King Tut died.
King Tut's golden sarcophagus (or coffin).
King Tut's tomb was discovered by Howard Carter and when he first peered in to the tomb and asked if there was anything within, Carter responded, "Yes, wonderful things".  There was evidence that robbers had entered the tomb at least twice in ancient times, but for the most part the tomb was undistributed.

Each Pharaoh had many names, but the most important two names were the nomen (birth name) and their prenomen (throne name). Each name appears in a cartouch which is an oval ring containing a royal person's name in hieroglyphic writing. King Tut's nomen was Tutankhaten but he changed it to Tutankhamen to honor the god Amun. His prenomen was Nebkheperure, which means "Re is Lord of manifestations". 
The two ovals in the center of this carving are how names were written, one oval for the nomen and one oval for the prenomen.
King Tut came to power during a particularly unstable time in Egypt's history. His father, Akhenaten, had declared the public should worship only one god, Aten, the sun disc. This is radical turn from the previous practice of worshiping many gods. Priests of the traditional gods were stripped of their power and influence and many temples were closed. The religious capital was closed and moved from Thebes and Memphis to a newly built city dedicated to Aten, called Akhetaten. When King Tut's father passed away, the city of Akhetaten was abandoned and the old gods and their priests were reinstated. This is when King Tut and his queen changed their names to honor the traditional god Amun.
This statue was huge! It was hard to capture on film, but it made quiet the impression.

Artwork of royal individuals were not intended to look like specific people, rather they were made to look like perfect beings as Pharaohs were considered gods on earth. Often Pharaohs were shown with symbols worn only by the royal or gods. This was often a crown, the uraeus, and the false bear and crook. Different geographical areas had different crowns worn by the reigning Pharaoh; the red crown of  Lower Egypt, the white crown of Upper Egypt, the blue war crown, and the double crown of united Upper and Lower Egypt. The uraeus is a cobra on the figures brow which often appeared with a vulture.
This shows the uraeus, often found on crowns.

This was an amazing exhibit, filled so much history. I found my self lingering in front of each item, imaging how long it must have taken someone to carve out the intricate designs, marveling at the size of these statues, the impressive skill to create such lifelike artifacts with simple tools. I highly recommend this exhibit to everyone, even if you don't have a passion for history, everyone will find something they will find intriguing. Not to mention this is the last top for this exhibit before the artifacts are returned to Egypt for a long time. It is truly a chance of a lifetime!
One of two statues of King Tut
The replica of King Tut's mummy.
I had a hard time deciding on which pictures to include in this post, as I didn't want to give everything away for those who have not yet visited the exhibit. Can you believe these wonderful items are just a teaser! Seriously, everyone should visit this exhibit before it is gone! Visit the Pacific Science Center's website for more information and tickets. I strongly recommend buying tickets in advance, so you don't end up the same situation as my family!