Leaving, in a Tahoe! – Baltimore Trip Pt 1

When Ben and I first got together I knew less than nothing about football (American, that is…not to be confused with footie (Australian football), or soccer, or any other iteration). I knew it included a football, but that was it. I distinctly remember “playing” football in Grade 8. Our teacher put us on the field and then expected the magic to happen. For every other kid there, it did. For me, I stood in the middle of the field, completely lost and confused.

Imagine my delight and surprise when I discovered my boyfriend, a.k.a. my now husband, LOVED football, LOVED the NFL, and LOVED tackling people. Yay! (Insert sarcasm here…and there…and above…everywhere, really.)

Over the 11 years of being together and the 8-almost-9 years of marriage, I have learned A LOT about football. I still can’t tell what kind of play the offense is going to run, or the defense is going to set up in answer, but the fact that I know who the offense is, who the defense is, which direction the ball is going, what down it is, and how many yards they have left until they get a fresh set of downs, is incredible…and is the result of hours and and hours and hours of watching football with my man. Also, bugging him incessantly with questions (like, why is it called the first down when it’s the 80th down they’ve had…or they ‘get a first down’ when they were just on a second down…and what the hell is going on?!). I can proudly say that I can hold my own in conversations about the game, that I have a favourite player (Hi, Peyton!!) and that I can cheer alongside Ben confidently, although I still pick the team he’s not cheering for just to be a pain (old habits, dying hard, you know).

So when Toni and Jacqueline hatched the plan to take the boys to a Baltimore Ravens game for a Christmas gift, it was an easy HELLS YEAH! The Ravens are Ben’s team and, in a funny coincidence, also Cody’s favourite team. Mike loves the NFL period, so it was a win-win-win (Andreah and Joe couldn’t come because of monies…and because none of us are rich, we couldn’t swing the coverage for them…it SUCKED that they couldn’t be there, but life is life, regardless of the NFL and the Ravens, and ROAD TRIP!).

A road trip means FOOD. And to kick it off, I baked a few treats…some scones, some delicious cranberry oat muffins, some healthy banana oat cookies, and, of course, some terrible for you but SO YUMMY milk chocolate chip cookies. Snacks were COVERED.

OH YEAH

YUM

For us to go, of course, it meant finding a babysitter that would be willing to hang out with our crazies for THREE DAYS. We have three kids under 6…that is not a small thing to ask. Luckily, we’ve got points with the mothers, and between our mom and Ben’s mom, along with some uber support from Grandpa Mike, we were able to leave our babies and embark on the 9-hour trip to Baltimore, Maryland.

The willing victims...I mean ROCK STARS.

The willing victims…I mean ROCK STARS.

We left at crazy-o’clock in the morning…can you see the clock in the above picture? That says 4:50 a.m., people. We mean business. Toni and Mike picked us up and drove the white Tahoe that they rented for the trip – it was the only vehicle big enough for everyone (all 6 of us) and our STUFF (Mike couldn’t see out the back, but that’s not THAT important…) – to get Jacqueline and Cody. Mike had actually won the rental at his work Christmas party the weekend before, which was a stroke of luck that saved us OODLES of money, considering we were taking the rental over the border and putting 837487436750 km on it. Even the Christmas party gods wanted us to go! SIGNS, BABY!

Jacqueline had never driven as far as we were driving, or traveled for as long as we were travelling, so she didn’t know what to expect. She DID however win the ‘best seat partner’ award from me, because she brought 14 pillows and 56 cozy, thick, soft, fuzzy blankets.

Hello, beautiful.

Hello, beautiful.

Our backseat was tight, because we have the shortest legs, but it was the most comfortable seat ever. Take your shoes off, put your head down, close your eyes, and voila! Road trippin’ naps.

The cool kids sit in the back

The cool kids sit in the back (our view)

Mike was driving, which he preferred AND it was what the insurance on the rental covered, Ben was his front-seat passenger, because this way he could hear conversations (otherwise, it’d be an isolated trip for him), Cody and Toni were in the middle, and Jacqueline and I were in the waaaaaaay back. Cramped, cozy, ROAD TRIP.

The middle trying to sneak into the back...everyone wants to be the cool kids.

The middle trying to sneak into the back…everyone wants to be the cool kids.

The first stop was for coffee. Exactly 15 minutes away from Jacqueline and Cody’s house. People peed, caffeine and breakfast were obtained, and then we were on our way.

The border was by far the most nervous part of our trip and happened within the first 90 minutes of driving. The border guy, who we weren’t dumb enough to take a picture of, was full of tight-lippedness. He couldn’t see Jacqueline and I in the back seat, so we had to pop up and say, “Here!” just like during attendance at school. He asked why we were going to see an NFL game…to which we had trouble answering because the answer was obvious. Mike said, “Entertainment.” Everyone held their breath. Then the super serious border guy relented and said, “Yeah, but why Baltimore?” Ahhh! Breathing can commence – he’s being FUNNY. (So scary). Big hump hurdled, onto the next!

Our first gas stop was called the Fractured Prune. Can't make this stuff up.

Our first gas stop was called the Fractured Prune. Can’t make this stuff up.

The next hurdle was crossing through New York state into Pennsylvania. While we were in the great state of Pennsylvania, we witnessed a car accident – the guy turning left decided to go regardless of the fact he had a red light…and the guy going straight through slammed into him, surprisingly. Moments after we left that intersection, we were almost hit by someone else running a red light, again trying to turn left. We decided to get out of that city and stop for some lunch. At this point I’d already had TWO naps (a Canadian side one, and a New York one…all in all, a GOOD DAY).

We decided to go to Hardee’s, a burger place that Mike had heard of and wanted to try. The hamburgers were just all right and the fries were CRAZY salty. In the end, it wasn’t anything special, and we all got the gift of fun pooping later that evening (TMI? TOO BAD).

Never heard of it. Made everyone POOP.

Hardee’s: Never heard of it. Made everyone POOP.

The best part about the road trip so far (you know, besides the lack of children and the napping)? The fact that it was SO warm. We left Ontario with winter coming at us, negative temperatures and lots of bundling required. We got to the States and discovered temperatures that required no coat and no boots. It was like springtime. SO AWESOME.

I had another nap (OH YEAH) and we made it through Pennsylvania, land of the no-stop-red-lights, and into Maryland, land of everyone-honks-while-driving. Our hotel was right downtown Baltimore and a mile away from the stadium, meaning once we got there, we could park and not have to drive again until we headed home.

You must say the name of the hotel in a British accent, EVERY. SINGLE. TIME.

You must say the name of the hotel in a British accent, EVERY. SINGLE. TIME.

The hotel was beautiful – it had just been redone, so everything was clean and new and the staff were lovely. They originally booked us on two different floors, but then totally switched us all to the 12th floor so we could be near each other. Even though it must have been a pain, they were so kind about it.

Branded sheets? Fancy!

Branded sheets? Fancy!

Our room was lovely. Spacious. Had lots of room to sit on the floor, a huge king-size bed (we are queens here at home), comfortable chairs, a closet and bathroom. The only trouble? No fan in the bathroom. So all of those Hardee’s poops? Fodder for everyone. BLEH.

After we had settled in, we decided to go exploring and find some dinner. The first order of business was figuring out where the game would be the next day.

The Baltimore Ravens play at M&T Bank Stadium, which is right beside where the Baltimore Orioles play at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. They share a parking lot, they’re so close to each other.

(From top left, clockwise): Home run landings marked by bronze baseballs in the concrete; the stadium lit by the Baltimore sunset; entrance to the stadium; A.L. East Division Champions banner

(From top left, clockwise): Home run landings marked by bronze baseballs in the concrete; the stadium lit by the Baltimore sunset; entrance to the stadium; A.L. East Division Champions banner

To get to the Baltimore Ravens’ home, we had to walk through the Orioles’ stomping ground. Did you know that Babe Ruth was born in Baltimore? We didn’t either!

The boys posing with Baltimorean, Babe Ruth.

The boys posing with Baltimorean, Babe Ruth.

A beautiful war memorial right after Oriole land and right before Raven land. It reads, "Time will not dim the glory of their deeds."

A beautiful war memorial right after Oriole land and right before Raven land. It reads, “Time will not dim the glory of their deeds.”

And then, once we were steeped in Oriole and baseball lore, we made it to Ravens Walk, M&T Stadium, and all things FOOTBALL. Ben (and the boys) were in HEAVEN.

We MADE it.

We MADE it.

Statues of Ray Lewis and Johnny Unitas

Statues of Ray Lewis and Johnny Unitas in front of the stadium

Ben v.s. Ravens' football helmet garbage cans - who will win?

Ben v.s. Ravens’ football helmet garbage cans – who will win?

M&T Stadium, empty and gearing up for the big game

M&T Stadium, empty and gearing up for the big game

After getting our fill of Ravens’ pregame show, we headed off in search of dinner. We were all starving and tired (regardless of the 4587634 naps we had on the way down).

Who can name the sitcom this references? Anyone? Bueller?

Who can name the sitcom this references? Anyone? Bueller?

We settled on 17 Light, which was a restaurant in another hotel on Light Street. We had tried another restaurant, but the host didn’t seem too keen on doing his job (he answered the phone right after saying “Hi” to us), and then told us it was a 45 minute wait to be seated, even though it looked empty.

This restaurant, the one that served us delicious food, had a bartender/host who greeted us warmly. When he found out we were from Canada, he instantly said he had started watching a Canadian show and LOVED it. All of us were bracing for it – Corner Gas? Red Green? Nope. Trailer Park Boys. We told him that it wasn’t entirely indicative of what life in Canada looks like, but it was the perfect ice-breaker.

Our dinner spot...where we left our mark.

Our dinner spot…where we left our mark.

After dinner, we got some beer, some wine, and hung out in Ben’s and my hotel room, decompressing after the loooooong day. We watched the tail end of Fast Five, where Paul Walker was alive and Vin Diesel still had no neck (it was a no-neck off between him and The Rock…ripped, big, and neckless).

It was heaven to be away from home, to hang out with (some of) the sisters, and have no babies to care for. It was the perfect start to a vacation much-needed and football-filled.

Tune in tomorrow when Toni will regale you with tales of GAME DAY!

~ Julia

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Banana bread baking bonanza!

There are certain foods, desserts, breads, dishes that invoke memories. Some of childhood, others of your fiance and one of his friends making banana bread in your oven and almost starting a fire because the two of them have never baked before and therefore were not aware that banana BREAD rises (Needless to say, the mix ran over the side, and all over the bottom of my oven. Thank GOODNESS for self-cleaning ovens! That being said it was some pretty amazing banana bread). I couldn’t tell you what provoked them to bake, but now whenever I have bananas left over from the bunch, I remember the smoke…the horrible smell…my smoking oven… and how good that banana bread was.  If you ask Cody, bananas should only be bought to turn old and to then be put in the freezer to await the great baking of banana bread. So I thought I would share with you the adventure that our latest batch of bananas took.

There are some key components to making anything… first, it’s always more fun if you have people to bake with – I enlisted my sisters (duh) except Dee, as that trip would be ridiculous to just make banana bread and then have her go home…so we thought of her in spirit!

Toni arrived late…shockingly enough…but she came with about 20 bananas, and there is this thing called unconditional love!

Better late then never ...

Better late then never …

You can’t stay mad at that face – she was in charge of taking pictures for this extravaganza

First we peeled our bananas – we doubled our recipe, this way one pan would have chocolate chips…dark chocolate chips…and the other plain Jane for Cody who is lactose intolerant.

They look gross... but it will taste GREAT!

They look gross… but it will taste GREAT!

They look more slimy than normal because they were still slightly frozen.

We added our eggs, our oil, and the sugar

Banana, Eggs, Oil, Sugar ...

Banana, eggs, oil, sugar…

Combine your ingredients so they are still lumpy.  When I combined them, I used a fork and mushed the banana chunks a bit because they were still a little frozen.

Mushy and chunky!

Mushy and chunky!

In a separate bowl, add your dry ingredients, other than the sugar which was previously added with your banana and oil mixture – flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt cinnamon and nutmeg – and combine them together.

"No honey's no jam's .... just  dry" Ingredients that is

“No honeys, no jams, just dry”…ingredients that is!

I should tell you that at this point you should ensure that your “photographer” isn’t taking selfies…and that they are PAYING ATTENTION!

PAY ATTENTION!

PAY ATTENTION!

You are going to pour the wet ingredients into the dry! Normally it’s the other way around – banana bread can be a sneaky bitch!

Look at that action shot!

Look at that action shot!

Stir your wet and dry together just to combine them – you want this mixture to still be lumpy like pancake batter.

Lumpy yummy-ness!

Lumpy yummy-ness!

Toni and Julia at this point were delusional with giddiness – and constantly taking pictures of themselves, instead of the master pieces we were making!

Our resident baker and resident picture taker!

Our resident baker and resident picture-taker!

Back to business – grease two (because we doubled the recipe)  bread pans so your delicious-ness will sliddddeee right out!

We used butter ... mmmmm butter!

We used butter…mmmmm butter!

Pour your mixture into both pans about halfway. If you fill them to the brim then they will over flow, and make the biggest smokiest mess EVER! So half way… (Editor’s note: if you just make a single batch, put all of the batter in one pan. It’ll be fine. I promise. And if it’s not, just offer the firemen some banana bread. They’ll LOVE it.)

Half way! Take heed!  Half  Way

Half way! Take heed!
Half
Way

 

They looked SO Yummy!!!

They are going to be so yummy!

We added a 1/2 cup of dark chocolate chips to one of our pans, and mixed it without disturbing the mojo of the mixture!

Adding our sweetness!

Adding our sweetness!

Pop those bad boys into the oven and let them cook to delicious perfection!

Two buns in the oven!

Two buns in the oven!

Let them bake for 55-60 minutes, which is just enough time to plan a little something something! Which you should stay tuned for a little later on this year!

Shhhh it's an EXCITING secret!!!!!

Shhhh it’s an EXCITING secret!!!!!

Okay, so 60 minutes have passed, the secret has been planned and now it’s time to take out those delicious treats we made!

Yum yum yum!

Yum yum yum!

I would suggest eating it warm – the chocolate chips are ooey and gooey, the top is crispy and there is nothing like a fresh out of the oven treat! YUM. Pair it with a cup of coffee and you have yourself pure morning bliss!

IMG_1403[1]

And enjoy!

~ Jacqui

Yummy Banana Bread

  • Servings: 16/1 loaf
  • Difficulty: easy-peasy
  • Print

Ingredients

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp ground nutmeg
2 beaten eggs
5 very ripe bananas, mashed
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup chocolate chips or walnuts (optional)

Directions

Grease loaf pan with butter. Preheat oven to 350°F. Combine all dry ingredients together in a large bowl. Make a well in the centre. Set aside. Combine the rest of the ingredients, minus the chocolate chips or walnuts, in a medium bowl and mix until blended. Add egg mixture all at once to flour mixture. Stir until just moistened (batter should be lumpy). Fold in chocolate chips or walnuts. Pour batter into prepared loaf pan. Bake for 55 to 60 minutes until a wooden toothpick inserted in the centre comes out clean. Cool in pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Remove from pan. Enjoy!

Adapted from Better Home and Gardens Best Banana Bread Recipe

My name is Julia. And I love pie.

I do.

Oh, hi innocent-looking flour

Oh, hi innocent-looking flour

I LOVE PIE.

Mmm...salt. Totally healthy.

Mmm…salt. Totally healthy.

I don’t care who knows it.

Just a spoonful of sugar...and then some more.

Just a spoonful of sugar…and then some more.

I don’t care what cake hears me.

Ben's favourite cooking tool...the humble fork...doing some 'whisking'

Ben’s favourite cooking tool…the humble fork…doing some ‘whisking’

I will take a pie over a cookie, over a cupcake, over a croissant, over a bagel, over anything any day of the week. Because pie, for me, is IT.

Butter. 'Nuf said.

Butter. ‘Nuf said.

When I was younger, I attended the funeral of a lady I didn’t know (I knew the family and was there to be a support). Often what happens when you get to hear loved ones speak of the person who passed away, you wish you had known them. That you could have seen them in action because (generally) you don’t talk about the crappy stuff at funerals. You focus on all the good stuff (and usually it’s a lot) that you’ll miss.

Ready for some cold water!

Ready for some cold water!

One of the things that was mentioned over and over again was how this particular lady was famous for her cakes. That you would hear that she would be bringing her cake to an event, and you couldn’t wait to try it.

Oh, it's happening...

Oh, it’s happening…

I wanted that. I wanted to be known as the lady who brings…pie. 

It happened.

It happened.

Growing up pie was feared. Not revered.

And then there were two.

And then there were two.

I vividly remember my mom trying to make pie and crying because her crust was breaking or not working.

Five cups of each, Granny Smith and Gala

Five cups of each, Granny Smith and Gala

As a kid, one of the scariest things ever is to see your parents cry. Your parents are supposed to have it all together. And my mom was losing it.

Getting 'er done

Getting ‘er done

Over pie.

Peeled...sliced...

Peeled…sliced…and Lillian’s hand…

So when I set out to make my first pie (because who doesn’t like a challenge), I remember being terrified.

Sha-zam!

Sha-zam!

I remember thinking that if at any point I’d start to cry I would just give up. And throw away the dream of being The Lady Who Brings Freaking Awesome Pie.

Sugar and apples...

Sugar and apples…

Thankfully, I made my first pie when I had no children. And therein lies the rub.

Sugar and spices and lemony goodness and apples, oh my.

Sugar and spices and lemony goodness and apples, oh my.

I’m pretty sure my mom wasn’t crying because the pie wasn’t working. I’m pretty sure she was crying because the children were screaming, and she wanted to do something nice/had to bring something nice somewhere, and was trying to make pie in a kitchen that didn’t have enough counter space/air conditioning/clean dishes/patience, and the crust wasn’t working and her life was hard because she had four young children and…yeah.

Bringing back our first star

Bringing back our first star

I would cry too.

Ta-da!

Ta-da!

Ben asked me once while I was making the crust, taking my time putting in tablespoon after tablespoon of water, how I could have patience for it.

All wrapped up with a place to go

All wrapped up with a place to go

Some people get to that zen place doing yoga…

Not an empty pie plate anymore

Not an empty pie plate anymore

…or creating pottery.

Round two!

Round two!

For me, making pie is so relaxing…

Because I love pie, ya'll.

Because I love pie, ya’ll.

…at least it was, before I had children.

Gotta let the steam out

Gotta let the steam out

Now I work very hard to keep the stress out of my shoulders and neck so it doesn’t go into my pie.

Don't forget the apples!

Don’t forget the apples!

I don’t know if that’s a real thing, but I don’t have enough time or energy to try baking an angry, anxious pie and a happy, peaceful pie and then perform a taste test and tally the results and write a report and…so, let’s just go with I try hard to be a merry pie-baker.

Another wrap of love.

Another wrap of love.

Not a grumpy one.

Unfurling some magic

Unfurling some magic

Some of them have turned out underdone (blueberry seems to be my most not-cooked-enough pie, for some reason) and had to be popped back into the oven.

So darn pretty...yet a little undone still.

So darn pretty…yet a little undone still.

Some of them have had a crust that looked too brown (putting foil around the edges and pulling it off for the last bit of baking seems to help…also baking in an oven that’s not trying to be a volcano also helps…).

Tucking everyone in for the big bake.

Tucking everyone in for the big bake.

Some of them need lots of attention (like lemon meringue…holy high maintenance. This one I tried baking with just Sophie around. STRESSED does not even begin to cut it).

Edgy AND (about to be piping) hot!

Edgy AND (about to be piping) hot!

Some of them, like this apple pie, just require some assembly.

Some brushing...

Some brushing…

But all of them have been yummy.

...some magic...

…some magic…

SO YUMMY.

...and we're ready.

…and we’re ready.

Did I mention that I love pie?

Because I do.

*sigh* *swoon* *drool*

*sigh* *swoon* *drool*

I’m just not sure how pie fits into my current weight-loss quest. Maybe if I think about it while baking another pie the answer will come to me.

~ Julia

Deep-dish Apple Pie

  • Servings: 8-16
  • Difficulty: tricky
  • Print

Ingredients

Crust (for two-crust pie)

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp salt
3 tsp white sugar
1 cup (1/2 pound) frozen butter, grated (I used salted)
ice-cold water
milk
white sugar

Filling

10 cups peeled, sliced apples (I used Gala and Granny Smith)
3/4 cup white sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar, packed
2 tbsp flour
zest and juice from 1 lemon
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
pinch of salt
butter (I used salted)

To make the crust:

Whisk the dry ingredients together in a large bowl. Put the grated butter into the flour mixture and toss it gently together with your hands, being careful not to over-toss or over-warm the butter. Add water 1 tablespoon at a time, stirring the dough with a fork until the pastry can be formed into two balls, but is not too wet. If the dough is crumbly and isn’t sticking together well, add more water a tablespoon at a time. If the dough is too wet and sticky, add flour a little at a time until it isn’t so sticky (it shouldn’t feel overly wet). Cover the bowl with the two balls of dough with plastic wrap and place in the fridge to chill for at least a 1/2 hour.

To make the filling: 

Combine all ingredients into a bowl, minus the butter, and toss gently until all the apples are coated evenly. This will smell heavenly. Avoid eating all the apples before you get them into the pie.

To make the pie: 

Preheat oven to 400°F. On a lightly floured surface, roll out one ball of the chilled dough until it is a circle large enough to cover the bottom, sides, and the lip of the pie plate. Place dough into pie plate (I wrap the dough around the rolling pin and unroll it into the plate). Pour in your yummy apple filling (the leftovers, anyway) onto the dough. Dot the top of the filling with butter (at least 1 tbsp of butter, not more than 1/4 cup of butter). Roll out the second ball of chilled dough on a lightly floured surface until you have a circle roughly the same size as the first. In the centre of the dough, cut an x or use a small cookie cutter to make a hole. Place dough on top of filling, making sure the hole is in the centre of the pie. Tuck the top crust edges under the bottom crust edges and using your fingers crimp along until the pie is sealed. Brush milk all over the top of the pie. Sprinkle white sugar over the crust. Place a pan on the rack below the pie in the oven to catch any drippings, and bake pie for 10 minutes. Turn the temperature down to 375°F and bake for 40 minutes, or until you can see bubbling in the hole in the centre of the dough. Let cool for at least one hour before eating. ENJOY.

Crust recipe adapted from: Michael Smith’s Old-Fashioned Apple Pie

Filling recipe adapted from: Anna Olson’s Country Apple Pie