Fried Clams Clam Box Ispwich

Eat Better on the Plane & Other Musings

IMG_1093Hello all! I’m so happy to be blogging today–I’ve been dying to post the snack boxes I put together for our plane ride to Massachusetts last week for Spring Break (Spring Break!).

Now when I say “eat better,” I don’t necessarily mean we ate healthier–that’s not usually my primary goal in life. However, I was tired of spending too much money on food that wasn’t that great and came in too much packaging. I knew that if I could find the time, I could make us homemade in-flight snack boxes that would be tastier, cheaper, and offer more food.

I took my inspiration from one snack box that I actually love: Alaska Airline’s fruit and cheese platter: a triangle of brie, Beecher’s Flagship cheese, Tillamook cheddar, grapes, apples, Partner’s crackers, and a Seattle Chocolates truffle.

I only have two problems with this delightful platter: one, it tends to sell out (and I tend to be in the cheap seats in the back of the plane), and I need more cheese (on my headstone: Here lies Elisabeth Allie. Needs more cheese.).

I started with our longtime lunch containers from EasyLunchboxes.com, which I bought five years ago and use constantly. The large, medium, and small compartments make it easy to pack a lot of different types of snacks without them getting gross.

Next, I hit the grocery store for supplies. Here’s where I went:

  • The $5 and under box at my local supermarket’s cheese counter: here, I scored brie and some lovely estate gouda.
  • The salad bar: this is a great way to get just what you need with minimal packaging. I packed one of their large containers with salami, baby carrots, cherry tomatoes, chickpeas, and chicken.
  • The bulk section: using my own containers, I gathered nuts, veggie chips, and yogurt-covered pretzels.
  • I also picked up some Babybel cheese, tangerines, and Ritz crackers (all favorites in our house), as well as some braunschweiger.

Here they are!

IMG_1093My box! Clockwise from top left: a tangerine, Ritz crackers, mixed nuts, brie, salami, cherry tomatoes. I asked for a plastic knife from an airport restaurant, since I doubt I could have gotten a metal one through security!

IMG_1094 (1)Sarah’s box: tangerine, Cadbury mini eggs (so irresistible), chickpeas, chicken, braunschweiger, baby carrots, estate gouda.

IMG_1097 (1)Scott’s box: My husband is, horrifyingly enough, forgoing cheese. So we have veggie chips, Ritz crackers, salami, chickpeas, tangerine, mixed nuts, and baby carrots.

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Sid’s box: Yogurt-covered pretzels (my son loves them), Ritz crackers, salami, mixed nuts, cherry tomatoes, tangerine, Babybel cheeses.

I put all the boxes in our sole remaining lunchbox cooler, popped them in our larger soft-sided cooler, and brought it on as a carry-on. Easy! When everyone got hungry, I passed out the boxes, and we were able to seal up the leftovers and minimal trash back in them to take them off the plane! Plus, portions were generous enough that we had leftover snacks to eat once we reached our destination, which was great!

So we spent a week in Ipswich, Massachusetts, visiting my in-laws. My brief notes (mostly food related):

The Clam Box has the very, very best fried clams I’ve ever had. Ipswich is known for its clams, and these were fresh and delicious. Look at them! Whole-belly fried clams are hard to come by in the Pacific Northwest, so I treasured my time with these.

Fried Clams Clam Box IspwichThe correct way to order coffee (or rather “a coffee”) at Dunkin’ Donuts: size, temperature, style. For example: a “medium cold coffee, black” is an iced black coffee, no sugar. A “medium hot coffee, regular” is a hot coffee with three cream, three sugar. I’m sure there are countless variations! And yes, we went to Dunkin’ Donuts with my in-laws for breakfast every single morning, where I got a “medium hot coffee, black” and a plain glazed donut. Yum.

The Ipswich Museum is delightful! They have a large collection of paintings by Arthur Wesley Dow, and their winter exhibit features a historically correct model train set that takes up an entire room and depicts Ipswich’s railroad in the 1800s. My son had a blast operating the trains and picking up cars! Also, one of the volunteers’ wives baked some incredible chocolate-chocolate chip-sea salt cookies that they gave out to visitors. Always back to the food with me!

It was a delightful trip, but I’m very happy to be home! More blogging soon, especially about a cool project that I have in the works that I am very excited about!

 

Foolproof Vacation Cooking

BurritoWhile I believe in relaxing while on vacation, I also prefer to cook most of my own meals. And not just because I prefer my own cooking. Not only is eating out for every meal expensive, but . . . it’s just not that great. Let’s be honest: how many mediocre sandwiches or breakfasts or plates of pasta have you eaten just because they’re there? This is why I prefer rental houses to hotels when we’re staying somewhere for more than a few days. But there’s a trick to cooking on vacation–here’s how to make it foolproof:

  • Choose recipes that are simple to prepare: you can’t count on a rental house to have a food processor or stand mixer (heck, I always travel with a chef’s knife and serrated knife). Not only is it better not to rely on specialized tools, but simple meals are usually quicker to prepare.
  • Select dishes that don’t require a million ingredients. During our recent trip to Wyoming, I was tempted to make my grandma’s famous spaghetti sauce, before I realized all the things I’d have to buy: dried spices, brown sugar, etc. Then I’d be faced with two choices: lug it all home, or leave it (knowing there’s a good chance housekeeping would throw it away).
  • In a similar vein, try to select a group of dishes that use the same ingredients. The cheddar cheese I bought on our recent trip to Wyoming went in our eggs for breakfast, and in burritos, cheeseburgers, and macaroni and cheese for dinner.

Sample Menu

I feel we really got vacation cooking right in Wyoming a couple weeks ago! While we did go out a few times, we mainly ate at the condo (and packed picnics for day trips to Yellowstone and the drive home). Plus, I figured out a trick for our final night’s dinner that I will do every time in the future!

Breakfast
Bagels and cream cheese (or peanut butter, or butter)
Yogurt (full-fat Greek mixed with jam or fruit–I also used it in place of sour cream in burritos, below)
Cereal
Scrambled eggs
Fruit

Lunch
Ham and cheese sandwiches
Peanut butter and jam sandwiches
Fruit
Veggies (carrots, sweet peas, jicama, cucumber spears)

Dinner
Burritos
Burgers (twice, to help use up the condiments we purchased and because they were so good)
Roast pork loin with garlic (a very simple recipe that was delicious), macaroni and cheese (my special doctored-up Kraft version), grilled corn on the cob
Veggies (carrots, sweet peas, jicama, cucumber spears)

Condiments/Extras
Salt and pepper
Mayonnaise
Ketchup
Dijon mustard
Pickles

Dessert
Oreos (helpful in “using up” extra milk)
Ice cream bars (so fuss, no muss, no bowl or utensils required)

As you can see, we ate pretty well–and had plenty of “picnic” supplies to take along on day trips to Yellowstone, letting us avoid long lines and high prices for mediocre grub. But at the end of the trip, we stumbled into two easy ways to use up the rest of our food before packing up.

The Cleanup Crew

aka, use it before you lose it (or have to take it home with you)

The Burrito: We did something so smart and yummy for our last dinner that I’m always going to plan on this for future trips. We still had leftover tortillas, so we took everything relevant out of the refrigerator–leftover burrito fixings, roast pork (sliced up), some hummus and tabouli we had for snacks, veggies, cheese–and laid it all out on the counter, heating up things like meat and beans. Then everyone grabbed a tortilla and put whatever they wanted in it. We came up with some pretty cool combinations and got rid of almost everything.

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This is a smoothie I made at home–I didn’t take a lot of photos on my trip, I was on vacation!

The Smoothie: In my experience, the one countertop appliance you can usually find in a vacation rental is a blender. Perhaps rental agencies think we all want to make strawberry daiquiris while on vacation (actually I did that once). But! For our final breakfast, we whirled up all of our leftover yogurt, fruit, and juice into a quick, delicious breakfast that didn’t require a lot of cleanup. We felt very clever.

So what are your vacation cooking tips? Any simple recipes you keep in your back pocket when you need to cook on the fly? Share them below!

Roast pork loin with garlic

Roast Pork Loin With Garlic

Roast pork loin with garlic

Roast pork loin with garlic, so pretty–so tasty–so easy!

This is a very simple recipe–barely a recipe, really–that I put together while on vacation this summer. I wanted an easy dinner I could cook in our rental condo that didn’t require a lot of ingredients that I wouldn’t use up before we went home!

So play it loose. You can use pork loin, as I did, or you can use pork tenderloin. You could add fresh herbs or ginger, whatever you like–or if you’re staying at a rental house, you might have a bunch of “interesting” ingredients at your disposal. Salt and pepper is necessary, of course.

Roast Pork Loin With Garlic

You need:

3 lb pork loin (I used two 1.5 lb pork loin “cutlets,” or you could use pork tenderloin)
10 cloves garlic, minced
Salt and pepper
Drizzle of olive oil (or a bit of butter)

Preheat your oven to 425. Place your pork on a rimmed baking dish or sheet and rub with the garlic, then sprinkle with salt and pepper and drizzle with oil (or top with a little butter).

Roast for approximately 35-40 minutes, until done. I didn’t have a meat thermometer (vacation rental), so I took my pork out on the early side and cut into it to make sure it was cooked through–but not overcooked. Don’t overcook your pork, modern grocery store pork has so little fat in it that it goes tough and dry easily.

When it seems just done, take it out of the oven, cover with foil, and allow to rest for 15-20 minutes. Slice and serve!

Enchanted Forest Map

Enchanted Forest: How to Have the Best Time Without Spending All Your Money

Enchanted Forest Map

An outdated yet charming map of the Enchanted Forest! Image via the Enchanted Forest.

Oregon’s Enchanted Forest is a very special, deeply weird place. Created by Roger Tofte, who opened the park in 1971 after working on it practically single-handedly for seven years, the Enchanted Forest is still family owned and operated, and it looks it. This is not a dig. The description on the Google map is “enduring children’s theme park” which is perfect (but it’s not just for children).

Walking through this fairytale-themed wonderland, you can see the evolution of a singular vision: from the old, creepy animatronic dioramas of Goldilocks and the Three Bears, to the mid-sized but still very effective Ice Mountain Bobsleds roller coaster, finally arriving at the thoroughly modern (and cool!) Challenge of Mondor ride. I love it all. However, when we went last summer, I was shocked–shocked!–at how much money we spent without even thinking. So I analyzed the features of the park so I (and you) could strategize for the future!

Note: The purpose of this article is not to be as cheap as possible. I support the Enchanted Forest and want it to thrive for decades to come. This is more about allocating your funds in a thoughtful matter and prioritizing what you and your family will really enjoy. Think of this as a way for you to go to the Enchanted Forest more often, because you didn’t blow your budget the first time. So let’s get started!

Enchanted Forest

The Enchanted Forest is DELIGHTFUL. Photo via Wikipedia.

Arriving at the Enchanted Forest

You’re not getting in the door without paying admission: $11.75 for adults, $10.50 for seniors and children 3-12. This is also where you can buy ride tickets and bracelets. Danger Zone!

Big Timber Log Ride Enchanted Forest

The Big Timber Log Ride! Photo via PDXFamilyAdventures.com.

Ride Bracelets: Yea or Nay?

With ride tickets at $1 and rides ranging from two to four tickets, the unlimited ride bracelets can seem like a good deal–but check out the park and your kid’s tolerance for rides and long lines first! EF has two bracelets: a Regular Ride Bracelet for $25.95 (about 10 rides if you spent the equivalent in tickets and went on each ride once or so), and a Kiddy Ride Bracelet for $15.95 (about seven rides’ worth of tickets).

So, if your child (or, er, you) wants to go on more rides than that–or they prefer to stick to the more expensive rides (Big Timber Log Ride!), a bracelet can be a good deal. Check out the lines. Do you have enough time to get your money’s worth? Are you tall enough to go on all the rides? Go forth and spend your money! The last time we went, we bought Sid a regular bracelet without considering that 1) he doesn’t like roller coasters or log rides and 2) the line for Challenge of Mondor was really long. We would have been better off spending $8 for him to fight wizards and dragons twice.

Enchanted Forest

Good makeout place. Not in front of the kids! Photo from PDXFamilyAdventures.com.

Free Things to Do at The Enchanted Forest

If you’re on a super-limited budget (or have a goal of hitting EF every single weekend), you are in luck. There are tons of things to do at the Enchanted Forest that are free, once you pay admission:

  • Storybook Lane – The old-school part of the Enchanted Forest. Visit Snow White and see the Seven Dwarves’ mine, walk through the Little Crooked House, listen to Hansel, Gretel, and the Witch (super creepy), fall (or rather scoot) down Alice’s rabbit hole, and more. This is equal parts magical and kind of horrifying.
  • Tofteville Western Town – Includes a “town” with wooden sidewalks, Fort Fearless, the Indian Caves, and the Opera House gift shop (not free unless you shoplift–do not shoplift, there is a jail in Western Town).
  • Fantasy Fountains Water-Light Show – A water show with pretty lights set to music! Plays throughout the day. I find this very soothing.
  • Summer Comedy Theater – Each year, Roger Tofte’s daughter Susan Vaslev writes her own comedic take on a fairy tale, and high school drama kids perform it twice per day. Last year’s Emperor’s New Clothes was a crack-up (and also a musical)!
  • Smooching. I’m serious (not for children). The Indian Caves and inside the Witch’s Head are primo makeout spots!

Food: Bring Your Own

The food at the Enchanted Forest is not bad: typical plain-Jane fast food burgers, nachos, corn dogs, etc. It’s just not good. The Enchanted Forest is perfectly fine with people bringing picnics, so why not just pack a lunch and buy an ice cream cone while you’re there? You won’t be missing out on much. Just remember you’ll need to carry your stuff around–a backpack is good. This is why people keep using strollers when their children can walk just fine, by the way. I know this now.

Enchanted Forest Plate

Do I need this Enchanted Forest plate? No. Do I want it? Kinda. Photo via Etsy.

Do You Need Souvenirs?

This is a personal question that everyone must answer for themselves. I am currently in a life-or-death struggle against junk at my house, so my answer is no, I don’t need another mug or water pistol or whatever branded dollar store goods the Enchanted Forest has to offer. EF has expanded its offerings to include The Best Little Facepainting and Costume Shoppe (the name of which will never not make me laugh, hello Dolly Parton), which I think must be in response to Great Wolf Lodge’s similar offerings.

Didn’t You Forget Something?

Do not go in the Haunted House. It is super scary and I will never go in it again (the last time I was 22 and nannying two 8-year-olds and a 4-four-old, it did not go well). Stop reminding me. No I will not post a picture.

The Enchanted Forest is located in Turner, Oregon and is open daily from May 13 to September 5 (open weekends until September 25). Go forth and enjoy this unique, magical wonderland–wisely.

Happy Tuesday! Oh I Am Tired

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Sharing secrets!

Happy Tuesday, everyone! I missed posting yesterday because my husband, kids, and I had an epic weekend: a two-part flight from Portland to Washington, DC for my husband’s sister’s wedding, followed by a 10+ drive to Ipswich, MA to see my husband’s mother and stepfather, followed by a two-part flight from Boston back to Portland.

My groggy thoughts after about six hours of sleep:

  • Delta sucks. It took us an hour to check in and check our luggage in Portland–not because of the lines, but because we were sent to three different places and then watched, helplessly, as two of the three counter people went on a break while the line piled up. One person behind the counter at “Special Services”! Other mishaps: a pilot not showing up and our stroller not making it back to Portland. We were traveling with a mountain of gear: fancy suits and dresses in a hanging bag, Sarah’s playpen (since she slept in three different locations on the trip, we figured it would be best if she at least recognized her bed). Having to hold a wriggly toddler on top of everything was a huge pain in the butt.
  • Sid is the best big brother/son/nephew/grandson ever. Sid lugged bags, entertained his sister, indulged his grandparents, and was the best ringbearer ever this weekend–without complaints.
  • The wedding we went to was awesome. I was a little worried about a formal wedding with hats required–I needed to get a long dress, really? But oh, it was so much fun. I found a video that showed me how to make a cool fascinator, picked up a dress that wasn’t crazy expensive and which I will wear more than once, and I finally pulled out and wore my Grandma Benge’s mink stole. The boys were in suits, Sarah got gussied up in wine-colored lace, and we went to town!
  • It turns out taxes can be romantic: the bride and groom are both tax lawyers and professors, so the ceremony took place at the US Tax Court.
  • Oh, Apple Maps sucks, too–more than Delta. I’m embarrassed to say I got us totally lost in DC more than once and made us late for the wedding. Google Maps or GTFO.
  • I realize that most people already knew that Delta and Apple Maps suck and now I’m extra embarrassed.

On a serious note, the terrorist attacks in Paris last week were heartbreaking and absolutely terrifying. Unfortunately, one of the worst after effects has been the wrongheaded aspersions cast on Muslims as a whole. Australian TV host Waleed Aly broke down how this reaction actually plays right into ISIL’s hands, and how weak they actually are. I found Aly’s video incisive and persuasive, and I hope you can take a moment and see if you agree.

Finally, to end on a feel-good note: I don’t know if I’ve said this decisively on this blog, but I’ve gone on a book-buying fast since this summer, when I got my library card–and I’ve been reading tons more books than normal! Before this weekend, I’d only broken my fast for two books that I knew I wanted to own: Step Aside, Pops by the incomparable Kate Beaton, and Polish Your Poise With Madame Chic, by Jennifer L. Scott.

However, I finished my library book too soon on the trip (Career of Evil by Robert Galbraith, a.k.a. JK Rowling) and . . . had to buy a book at the airport. And since the selection at the airport was . . . about what you’d expect, I went to an entirely guilty pleasure: Winter Street, by Elin Hilderbrandt. Imagine a Hallmark Christmas movie with a sprawling, squabbling blended family coming together at a quaint inn on Nantucket amidst multiple life and romantic dramas. That’s basically the whole book. Not a surprise on any page, but it was well done, for what it was, and so Christmassy . . . I put a hold on the sequel at the library. Hey, my tastes were never highbrow to begin with.

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Sid! SIIIIDDD! Whatcha doing?!?

Oy! The baby has snapped right back on schedule (lovely Sarah) and is napping, but I’d better wrap things up. More to come tomorrow!