Pronounced Di-NON-a-kus


Waiting for the paint to dry on the back porch.

The boy decided on his Halloween costume fairly late- he usually has lots of ideas, then settles on something with a few weeks lead time. Not this year- On Tuesday, he decided on dinosaur, specifically a Deinonychus (which I want to day dino- NIGH- kus but he assures me I am wrong. He is the expert.)

You would think that was a week of lead time, but not really, because he had an event Friday. Ack!
His thought was originally a wire framed puppet mask/hat thing, and he sketched and planned, and kept asking me to go wire shopping. He wanted the jaw to contain his candy bag, so people would be throwing candy into the dinosaur’s mouth.
It seemed complicated. And maybe not safe, what with the wires, and the not being able to see, and a jaw full of candy…
On Wednesday night we had a brainstorm. Why not sculpt it out of foam, instead? We made a paper model, and started cutting up a blue closed cell foam camping pad that the kitty has been chewing on.

We chose 2 shades of spray paint- light brown and olive drab, and sprayed in a kind of mottled pattern.  The fact that the pad was scarred and battered by the cat meant that it looks like the dinosaur has been in some battles…maybe that’s just my imagination.

Say, did anyone ever tell you your pupils are round? That’s a dinosaur pick-up line.

The part I love the most is the eye detail- we used some cat’s eye marbles and duct tape to create lids and folds. I put mineral oil on the marbles, so the paint wiped right off.
To make the hinged jaw, I used 2 buttons sewn together through the upper and lower jaw. The Boy can see through the mouth. The lower jaw can tuck into the top to qualify as a hat for events where masks are banned.

Quote of the day, “Wow, Stephen Spielberg would say you’re a naturalist.” I think he meant natural. I hope he meant natural.

Luckily for me, the Boy has just decided that he can wear his camouflage hoodie, so I don’t have to worry about how to make the rest of the dino tail, body, arms and etc. That’s a relief.

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Bojagi is Korean for Furoshiki


Merry Christmas! Can I have the scarves back?

I probably don’t count my blessings enough, but here’s one- DH gets me. He gave me tons of surprising presents, including earrings with the kind of back I like, dove chocolate, a marble pastry board (!) and he laid out and had printed a book version of this blog. I am amazed.
He also gets my quirks- like the wrapping paper thing. Or, if he doesn’t get them, he puts up with them. I hate wasting paper- throwing away garbage bags full of wrapping paper on Christmas morning- ack! Why are we, as a nation, as a culture, wrapping presents in pretty paper, then throwing the pretty paper away?!!!! He gets it- this year, we wrapped everything in scarves or bags- that’s the Bojagi and  Furoshiki of the title.  We had to scramble to make sure we had enough scarves at the end, but everything we took to Christmas morning at my MIL’s house was wrapped in something reusable.
It was my idea, and even I thought, “well, when we run out of bags, we’ll just do the last ones in paper…”
Umm, no, we did all cloth bags and scarves.

I tried to color code- so the Girl had her presents wrapped in pink, the Boy was either blue or orange, DH was green, and I was purple. By the end, it was just all random scarves out of the scarf box.
All year long, when I have gone to thrift stores, I swing past their scarf display, and usually pick up one or two for a dollar or less. Sarongs are good for larger items, like my marble pastry board (squee!).
Peeking might be a problem if you wrap way in advance. We’re never organized enough to get anything under the tree much before Christmas eve anyway.
I tie most things up like a hobo bundle, diagonal corners tied in a granny knot. This works best for square and rectangular boxes, but it is even good for randomly shaped things, like plastic covered airplane models and stuff.  It is way easier than cutting and taping paper.

Easy Fudge Recipe


The kids’ Tae Kwon Do school has a dessert potluck for their promotions ceremony, and the Girl wanted to bring fudge, like Grandmother makes. This is something my mom has memorized, and she will rattle it off rapidly whenever you ask her, but I have never been able to memorize it.
I emailed her, and was surprised to find out it is in a cookbook I actually own- Creme De Colorado, which was put out by the Denver Junior League years ago. Those junior leaguers- they know how to make fudge…I’m not even sure what I mean by that.
The note on the recipe that my mom sent was “doubles easily” and I’d like to suggest that if you don’t double it, you’re crazy. As many dessert potlucks and choir thingies, and classroom parties and brunches as you get invited to this time of year, you might as well, because it is the same amount of dishes to wash, and same amount of time put into it.

Torque!!!

My mom uses a hand mixer for this- not the crank kind, the plug-in kind, and by the end it always smells like it is going to catch on fire. I have a kitchen aid stand mixer (best Christmas ever!) and it has the power to do it- you really want to have something with power, rather than using the brute force of your own muscles.

The Girl likes to help with this- the dangerous part is pouring molten chocolate, so an adult should do that, but otherwise this is pretty kid-friendly.

Easy Fudge- double it!

1/2 cup butter (or margarine, but why bother?)

12 oz bag of chocolate chips

2 eggs

4 cups powdered sugar

1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla

nuts- optional ( I hate nuts in fudge, so I didn’t even bother to write down how much…sorry.)

Melt chips and butter in a saucepan. Meanwhile, in a large bowl beat eggs until light in color, then add powdered sugar and mix well. Add melted mixture and mix well. The heat from the melted chocolate will cook the eggs, but the sugar will help prevent them from scrambling.  Pour this into a 9″ square buttered pan. Cool in fridge and slice.

It's handy to put in the box, because I don't have to mess with plastic wrap, and can stack stuff on top of it in the fridge. DO store in the fridge, because of the eggs.

I did this in two containers- one plastic box because it was for a weekend brunch, and a parchment-lined pan for the Tuesday Tae Kwon Do thing. My mom pours all of it into plastic boxes, because it’s easier to store and give away.

I wonder about using part white chocolate, or cherry chips? If you wanted to maintain the swirl effect, you’d have to use separate pans to melt, it might be worth experimenting. Let me know…

 

Edited to add- I am doing another batch (single batch- we’re not superhuman!) of this to bring to treat day in the teacher’s lounge, and I am adding orange extract instead of vanilla. I am realizing that this is very much a “bag of chips, half bag of powdered sugar” type recipe. When my mom would rattle it off, I got lost, but having done it once, it is pretty much memorized. Tryyyyy iiiiiittttttt… you know you want to.

The Gingerbread Contest


Wow. There are people who are much better at building things out of cookies than we are.

Seriously.

There is a model of the new library re-model, with some of the rectangular parts of the building designed to look like books, and the front windows represented by animals made out of fondant.

This is in the professional division, because the maker is an architect. This is his first time working with fondant.

There’s a lighthouse inhabited by mice. The builder had to make a special mold to create pieces for the rounded lighthouse. Holy moly.

No, the Girl is not biting off pieces of the house- she is having an authorized candy cane.

Here’s a close up of the mice who inhabit the lighthouse. Not sure what it is a reference to? Is there a story about the lighthouse mice? Maybe there should be.

Notice that the mice underground are watching a scary movie- it's about a cat.

There’s a model of District 13, from the book Mockingjay, by Suzanne Collins, as imagined by a teenage book club. Sorry, no picture.

There’s a model of The Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe, by an entire kindergarten class.

Can you imagine 24 kindergarteners with this much candy and icing. Sticky.

We have ideas for next year- like an ice fishing shack on a glass candy lake, with some goldfish crackers visible under the water. Also, Aunt Beru and Uncle Owen’s moisture farm on Tatooine. Just give me time to forget the misery of this year.

Update- we actually placed! The Girl got 1st in the youth division, and the Boy got 2nd. I got 3rd in the adult amateur division, which considering the other entries, is no shame. Okay, there were only 3 in my category, but I’m still not ashamed.

 

edited to add- The Girl accidentally sat on her house. Maybe I should have said something when she put it on the chair? Yeah, it’s my fault. We knew we were going to compost them eventually, but she was still pretty upset.

 

Gingerbread House Madness


Every year, I think it would be fun to make gingerbread houses, and then we do, and I make it so it isn’t fun.

At all.

It takes a full 12 months for me to forget how terrible it is, and then I do it again.
This year we added the variable of a contest. http://www.friendsofthelovelandlibrary.org/index.php/events/gingerbread-challenge  So we have a brand new way to make it not fun- competition. yea…..

I had a great idea- mine would be a greenhouse, using glass candy for the windows, and candy plants inside that you would be able to see through the windows. The Boy had a cool idea too, a house under construction, using candy canes as the studs of a house. The Girl wanted to stick with tradition, no theme, just a house, but also with windows, and a tree inside.

Okay- the 6 day process begins.

Monday- make dough, last minute trip to grocery for Crisco, not a pantry staple at our house, to make the “construction grade” dough. Chill dough overnight.
Tuesday- roll half the dough, cut out windows and doors, bake and then use every inch of counter space to cool foil sheets of house pieces, for three separate houses. After oven is off- I count up and realize I am 1 piece short…Deadline for entering contest passes, and I feel a little relieved.

1 cup sugar, 1/2 cup corn syrup, 1/3 cup water. Boil for-freaking-ever, or until thermometer reads 260.

  • Photo credit- The Girl
  • How cool is that? Candy you can see through!

Wednesday- Good news- they are extending the deadline…We boil the sugar syrup to the hard crack stage, 260 degrees, and pour it into the windows I cut into the gingerbread. Both kids are watching closely- thankfully no one gets burned. Roll out other half of dough to make more panels and windows. Recount- still not enough panels- resolve to fill in with graham crackers. As the sugar cools, I repeatedly caution the kids not to touch, Not to Touch, Not To Touch!!

Put myself into time out after 2 walls break due to touching…NOT TO TOUCH!!!!

Technically, a box of candy canes was dropped on it. I really lost it- you know it's bad when your throat hurts from yelling.

Thursday- I attempt some repair with sugar syrup- it is partially effective, if by partially we mean wobbly and sticky. (Also, the fruit flies are having a field day). We did have some fun playing with the decorating kit, including making trees out of ice cream cones.

The Girl tinted the icing, and piped it herself- I love this tree.

Friday- Okay, with enough royal icing, the Girl’s graham crackers attach to the sides and form a cohesive house.  The Boy creates a toilet out of a marshmallow and a life saver. Classy.  My greenhouse roof slips twice, then cracks, then finally sticks.

Contest Saturday.

I have second thoughts.

Both kids have nightmares of dropping their houses.

Why are we doing this?

 

Edited to add- if you do glass candy windows, make sure you get the temperature up to 260, or hard crack stage- my windows were not, and they have slumped over the past weeks.  Not quite a solid, they are a supercooled liquid. The Girl’s windows cooked longer, and are slightly amber colored, but much harder. This is easiest if you have a candy thermometer. We used an instant -read thermometer.

Blueberry coffee cake


We go to DH’s aunt’s house in Nebraska for Thanksgiving every year. We love it. It’s quirky, it’s fun, it’s conservative in every sense of the word.

In one of those senses, it is very difficult to add different things to the menu, or leave anything off. This is probably true of Thanksgivings everywhere, it seems to be a menu we are married to, for better or for worse.

So, I like to bring things that fill in the gaps, stuff for breakfast, stuff to snack on with leftovers.I avoid anything that is too traditional, because when you mess with tradition, people are always disappointed. Nothing with sage, nothing with pumpkin.

DH brings avocados and makes his world- famous guacamole- (the secret ingredient is love).

Last year I brought cinnamon twists, which I baked on Tuesday night, brought in the car Wednesday, fed to people on Thursday and Friday morning, then when we were getting ready to leave, people hugged us, and murmured, “are there any of those cinnamon things left?” To my mind they were kind of stale, but how often do you get real homemade sweet rolls?

This year, I am trying coffee cake. I don’t know how it will go over, will people reminisce about the cinnamon rolls? Is that how menus become fixed?

I seem to remember an old issue of Cook’s Illustrated with a perfected coffee cake recipe. I’ll have to dig through my copies of the magazine, because the coffee cake story on the Cook’s website is behind a pay wall.

You won’t get my credit card number, Christopher Kimball!!! Actually, he probably will eventually, but not today. Even though I complain that Cook’s Illustrated is mostly just American food, and pretty meat-heavy at that, sometimes you want, even need, Meat Heavy American Food. Particularly at Thanksgiving in Nebraska.

I SAID NO PUMPKIN!

Gratitude


Yes, that is a pink venus flytrap...

The boy brought home a piece of art created in computer class the other day.
I love it. It goes without saying that I am thankful for photosynthesis myself. I am also thankful for my favorite planet, Earth, and the sun that shines.
I am thankful for my boy with a quirky sense of humor, and my girl who is balancing the twin loads of trying to make her parents happy and trying to become independent.

I am so grateful for DH, who can somehow get like 5 hours of sleep, and still wake up dutifully to drive carpool. Notice that I didn’t say wake up “cheerfully.” He’s not superman.
I am grateful for the kids at my school- that the girl who moved here 2 months ago from Korea laughed at my story of hitting the coyote with a rental car, because that means she understood the story. I am also grateful for the other kids, who know more English than she does, and were able to explain to her what a coyote is, and how it’s different from a fox or a wolf, and draw a picture on the board, and ask, “Don’t they have coyotes in Korea?” Apparently, they don’t.
I am grateful for the public school system I work for, and the public school system my kids attend. I appreciate the difficulty of meeting all children where they are, and bringing them farther down the road to an educated adulthood.
But most of all, I’m grateful for photosynthesis.

This wetland is close enough to my house to make a lovely walk- one I should take more often.

Pumpkins!!!! Adorable Little Pumpkins!!!!!!


Que pasa, calabasa? That's Spanish for what's happening, pumpkin?

I got a Wee Be Little pumpkin plant last spring, because they are just so darn adorable. No other reason.  We just harvested, in time for a jack o’lantern. We have a total of 7, and 6 of them will go to pie and bread.

Don't fear the reaper- actually, there was an unfortunate mishap with the scythe. It got sliced off, but we plan to replace it...

The Girl brought home a lovely cinderella-coach-shaped squash from a bonfire/fall party, and carved an intricate grim reaper scene into it. We roasted the seeds, and they were really tasty- thin hulls and nutty insides. I may try to figure out what variety it was, and plant it next year, because it is so darn adorable, in its own way.
The wee be little doesn’t take up much space, about a 4×4 foot square. I planted it in the former location of the compost bin, so there was a ton of rich compost for it to feed off of. It did sprawl in the wrong direction, I tried to nudge it the other way, but it kept encroaching into the sugar snap peas. By July it didn’t matter, because the peas were finished anyway.
The Boy was able to carve this independently, which is nice- I really hate getting my hands in pumpkin guts. It’s just gross.
We will probably wind up getting a big grocery store pumpkin, so we can have the classic picture of the monstrous jack o’ lantern eating the tiny one.

And when I said we would make pies from 6, I must have meant 5, because the Boy is carving another one.

He said, "write on your blog that I'm performing plastic surgery."

Halloween Assemblage (art?)


They're so in love, and so grave...

Last year we came across directions for very cool Halloween decorations in Cloth Paper Scissors magazine (click here -I’m a little obsessed with this magazine)
The article was by Michael DeMeng ( click here– I just learned how to make these linky thingies!)- an assemblage artist with a spooky sensibility. The directions were to take dollar store cake toppers and chop their heads off, replace their heads with skulls, also from the dollar store, and apply sparkle paint liberally.

Sparkly.....

Maybe the original directions didn’t say sparkle paint, but we wound up using some. And by some, I mean a lot.

I was reminded that I wanted to blog about them when I found them in the decoration box- the photos have been sitting on my hard drive for a year.

The cake toppers that the dollar store happened to have were African- American. I have to say, it felt awkward chopping their heads off- liberal guilt, I know.

The original directions call for using wire to attach the skulls, so they are adjustable. We decided not to- we just hot-glued them instead. Also, the article called for a Dremel tool to cut the heads off with. I thought this might be my excuse to finally buy one, but tried a handsaw first. Let the record show that a handsaw works fine. I’ll have to find another excuse to buy a Dremel.

The Girl and I mixed several shades of acrylic paint together to get a nice grave shade for skin, and we went beyond just cake toppers, we loaded up on figurines, too. The one that freaked me out the most was the toddler on a rocking horse…one of the rocking-horsemen of the apocalypse? Creepy. But fun.

Wonton Gluttony


I stopped in the grocery only to get milk the other day and somehow by the time I got past produce, I had decided to get the ingredients for dumplings. There had been a story in the paper about Chinese New Year, and it was like a time bomb ticking. (I have mostly had to stop calling it Chinese new year, by the way. I had a Korean student a few years ago who confided that it really bugged him when people said Chinese New Year, instead of Lunar, or Asian. It’s a hard habit to break, though)

I had a roommate just after college, Mei,  who was from Shanghai, and she taught me how to shape these little dumplings. The filling she used was pork-based.

Two dumplings, hot out of the fryer.

I made mine last night with fake crab- krab with a k. My frugality bit me here- crab, or krab, is so mild flavored that I didn’t want to spend big bucks on something that would pretty much taste like ginger and onion. Looking back, though, I only used part of the package, maybe 4 ounces, so it wouldn’t have broken me to use real crustacean. If I lived closer to the ocean, I probably would. When Mei taught me to make these, we steamed them to ensure the pork cooked all the way through. Since the krab is already cooked, this is less of a worry. I steamed about 9 dumplings while the rice for the rest of our dinner was cooking, and fried the rest.

Oh my gosh. They are good both ways, but wow. the filling is bright, and the oil was hot enough, and I was eating them quickly enough, that they were better than I’ve had in a restaurant. I wouldn’t fry these for a party, because they’d lose that texture, and it would be a big pain in the ass.  But to make them for me and DH (and we ate an emabrrassing number) wasn’t too bad, frying a few at a time in 1/2 an inch of oil in a small frying pan. We leaned on the counter and talked about our days after he got off work, to the tune of sizzling oil.

Adjust the heat until the oil is hot enough to sizzle- too hot it just burns, too cool, it soaks up a lot of grease.

I didn’t really use a recipe for this filling, although I did google a bit for proportions. You’ll see from my parentheticals that this is extrememly variable. Put in the things that you like- DH didn’t say it, but he probably would have liked this better with chili paste in it. Watch, this will be the blog post that he comments on! It would be great with ground pork, or beef, or salmon, or scallops. Or tofu, if you insist.

Krab Dumplings (this quantity served 2 shameless people)

4 oz flake style krab (or whatever)

 1 knuckle sized piece of fresh ginger, minced

1 tablespoon minced onion (Traditionally green, but I had purple, so that’s what I used)

2 or 3 drops vietnamese fish sauce

1 splash rice vinegar (or lemon or lime juice)

1/2 package wonton wrappers (use the rest to make Krab rangoon next week)

Finely mince the onion and ginger, shred the krab and mix together. Put it all in a bowl and add the fish sauce (a little goes a long way here- it adds salt and savoriness, but too much and you’ve got 7th grade feet) and a splash of rice vinegar (my rice vinegar is unsweetened, but if you have the sugary kind, use it- I wouldn’t use regular vinegar, because it is way more acidic.)

I like round dumplings, so I use a juice glass to cut the corners off the square wrappers. Keep the wrappers covered so they don’t dry out, and try not to let them touch each other, or they’ll stick. It is surprizing how little filling goes into these. Half teaspoon, really. When you overfill them, they burst, or the liquid leaks out and makes the oil spit and sizzle. 

Now, the girl and I made a video showing how to fill and seal the dumplings, then I discovered I will have to pay extra to upload it to this blog. I balked. Maybe I’ll put it on Facebook.  So, now I’ll narrate the video as if you are watching it. Umm…so take the wonton skin and put a half teaspoon of filling in the center, then dip your finger into the water and run it along the edge of one side. Press together in the center, then dip your finger again and poke in the corners.

Steam: place in steamer basket or colander and put over boiling water with lid. Cook until wrapper is transparent. Some people put a lettuce leaf under the dumplings so they don’t stick, but I didn’t and last night didn’t have any trouble.

Fry:  I use my smallest cast iron skillet, about 6 inch diameter, and heat about 1/2 inch of canola oil til it shimmered.  I was going to check the temperature with my thermometer, but then the boy got upset with me because I told him he spelled Jurassic wrong, and all hell broke loose. Fry a couple at a time until they are goldn brown and delicious, place on a paper towel to cool. DH thought any dunking sauce was gilding the lily, bless his heart, but I used a little orange sauce (from a bottle- I’m not perfect)

Asian New Year is February 3 this year- I love stretching out the holiday season, and I can justify this better than having a big groundhog celebration. Happy New Year to you!

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