Monday, January 26, 2015

Fun with Food

Ever since we were in college, Paul and I have loved cooking together, and when we learned about molecular gastronomy, we just had to try it out. So I got a recipe book, tools, and chemicals, then I planned a menu, and we made some food magic. Last year. And we had so much fun (and leftover chemicals) that we did it again this past weekend. 

These little packages have magical ingredients that make food do weird/cool stuff. 

We also have a few other cool gadgets, like The Smoking Gun, which we used to infuse smoke flavor into an assortment of foods. 
The butter was my favorite. 

This is a mozzarella balloon (who knew you could blow up cheese?!) drizzled with balsamic vinegar, accompanied by a tomato "sponge" and some olive oil powder. 
It was ok. Flavors were fine, but the textures were too weird. 

These are turkey consomme "noodles" with saffron and truffle salt. 
They were shockingly very good! Though we would make the noodles thinner mext time. 
We had a "Lady and the Tramp" moment because we're cheesy like that. 

This was cool. No chemicals needed, just an ice sphere mold and water. We made hollowed out ice spheres and filled them with our beverages of choice (Rumchata and Bailey's). They weren't "on the rocks;" they were IN the rocks!

And for dessert... Cappuccino pudding in a chocolate cup with coffee caviar and whipped cream. 
I thought it was delicious, but Paul only likes to drink coffee, not eat it, so he wasn't a fan. 

Lastly, we did have two (not pictured) failures. We tried to make hot ice cream that melts as it cools, but it was weird and gross and didn't really work. And the cantaloupe caviar with prosciutto still eludes us. This was the second time we tried to make it, and we failed. Maybe next time? Third time's a charm?

It was so fun that I am already looking up recipes for next time. You should try it out some time, but keep in mind that it's basically making many different types of Jello. Fun, sometimes yummy, but not filling. Eat a real dinner first!

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Dance... Even when Everyone is watching

Ellie is in First Grade. So she's six-going-on-seven. In other words, she has entered what I like to call the "goofy kid stage," where they are stuck between being little kids and having to do big kid stuff like growing and losing teeth and learning to read and figuring out social cues...
And Ellie, oh Ellie... She is sweet, helpful, loving, bright, imaginative, independent, cuddly, quirky, and so very innocent. 

So at her school there is going to be a talent show. Each class picks 3 acts to send to the school-wide show. Teachers determine how the acts are chosen, and First Grade "auditions" took place this week. I got the email about it and a note in Ellie's folder, but she didn't show interest in this optional activity, so I figured she wouldn't participate. Until she got in the car yesterday and declared that she needed an act and was going to dance. Despite the fact that she didn't have a dance prepared or music picked out. "I have skills," she said. Despite the fact that her "skills" seem to be, um, late bloomers. "Ok!" I said, because what else would I say? Then I asked her which song she'd like and gave her the CD. I had my doubts but didn't let her see them. 
No practice, no planning, my girl was going to dance in front of her class of 22 students. All by herself. That takes courage. Pardon my crassness, but that takes BALLS. Or maybe just a healthy dose of blissful self-unawareness. I have seen her dance in the living room, and oh what I would have given to be a fly on the wall of that classroom today! 

I think that same lack of inhibitions allows her to have such a free-flowing imagination. She practically lives in her pretend world, only coming up for air into the real world when she has to. It also makes her absent-minded and flighty, but if those qualities shield her from the less pleasant parts of reality, I'll allow it. 
When I picked her up today, I asked her how her dance went. "Great!" She exclaimed, but then some darker parts of the story emerged, and my fears were confirmed. "Did your friends like it?" I asked. "Yes, but [two boys] laughed at me at the end." And made her cry. And made me want to cry because no one makes fun of my baby. Despite the unpleasant end of the story, however, her spirits and self-esteem seemed completely unaffected. She reported that the unkind kids had been reprimanded, so justice was served in her eyes, and that was it. End of story. She went on to play a game with Katie as I drove us home and pondered all these things in my heart. 

Ellie is brave. She is resilient. She is amazing. She doesn't care what others think about her (yet), and she is true to herself and her understanding of the way the world works. "They were rude!" she said, and deemed those kids unworthy of her time or friendship. 
Can she please stay this way forever?! Sure of herself, her goals, her ideals... Allowing herself to feel sadness or disappointment but not allowing those feelings to define her... Not overly concerned about what others think of her... Bold and brave and willing to show what she had to offer because SHE knew it was valuable, all nay-sayers (myself included) be damned! It was important to her, so she did it. And that was it. 

I am proud of her. And humbled by her. I wish I could be like her, see the world through her eyes. I know she is probably unaware of the lesson she taught me and even the significance of her choices today, but she is a light, and I will do everything I can to help her shine. My precious Ellie, you are such a treasure. 

Friday, January 16, 2015

What I've been up to

Time for a catch-up post. After the holidays, I took a little while to get back into my groove. But now my New Year's resolutions have finally kicked in, and I'm ready to take on all sorts of projects. 

Not that I have been entirely idle. I did a little work for hire for a Frozen party... Just some cake decorations, nothing huge. 
Gumpaste snowflakes (Elsa is a plastic toy, but I'm sure I'll get the opportunity to make her at some point this year!)
And a sugar icy palace. I'm not in love with the sugar ice shards (and I made some sharper gumpaste ones too for my client), but I'm figuring out how to work with different mediums, so it was a good learning opportunity. 
The party is this weekend, and I am looking forward to seeing the final pictures of the cake.
UPDATE: here it is!

I also got to test out my airbrush on these cute little guys. 
We have a long-standing silly joke/gift exchange with some friends. They gave us a, um, lovely pewter serving dish shaped like a crab for our wedding, and ever since then, we have been exchanging crustaceans at Christmas. So this year, I made them some "pets."
In a bowl, with graham cracker crumb "sand" and a tree. 
Two because they have two kids who I'm sure will enjoy eating these little guys. 

And in non-cake-related crafting... I actually made this tooth pillow a few months ago in anticipation of Ellie's first lost tooth, and she finally got to use it! 
Of course she was super excited, even tried to set a trap to catch the Tooth Fairy. 
Instead of finding the fairy in her trap, she got a book (which was so perfect, like it had been written for her), a glittery $2 bill, and a tiny note (written with a very sharp pencil) that she could actually read. 

I have also been working on a cloth book for Anthony, but it's slow-going. I would like to have it done for his birthday, but I don't know if I can pull it off. After all, I also need to start his cake and party preparations soon! 

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Rosca de Reyes

I am a very bad Mexican. I don't always have beans in my fridge. I don't speak Spanish to my kids. I hardly ever cook or even eat Mexican food. I don't celebrate Mexican holidays... But I do selectively hold onto a few traditions I grew up with... Like eating Mexican King Bread--Rosca de Reyes (with hot chocolate!) on Epiphany. Sidenote: it's an excellent way to derail any weight loss resolutions early in the year. 
Anyway, I love Rosca. It's a yummy, lightly sweet yeasty bread topped with just the right amount of crumbly sugar and dried fruit, and I have been inviting friends to join me in eating some for the past few years (you know, so I don't end up eating it all myself). I didn't really know how to bake one, so I had been buying my rosca at a little Mexican bakery not far from home. Then last year, I needed it a day or two early for our little gathering, so I went in, asked if they would have one ready when I needed, ordered it, paid a deposit, and waited for the agreed-upon day. You can see where this is going, right? Yeah, they hadn't started making roscas yet (crazy bad Mexican me for wanting rosca too early), and they clearly didn't want to be bothered (or my business ever again), so after demanding my money back and panicking ever-so-slightly, I improvised with a buttery pound cake from Kroger (so not the same thing) with a plastic baby I had from past years stuck in through the bottom. It got the job done for the day, but I swore to never go back to that bakery again. 
Thanks to that experience--and Pinterest, I was moved to look for a recipe that would tell me how to make one myself, and the one I found took me right back to Mexico. It was perfect! This is it, in case you want to try it yourself: (Sorry for the long URL; the blogger app doesn't let me make pretty links--or I haven't figured out how to do it yet).

Making it was as easy as making any other yeast bread... The only part that was more time-consuming was making the candied fruit. I just did plain orange peels and orange peels with maraschino cherry juice/cherries for the red ones. I also got my measurements wrong on the sugar dough... I put in too much sugar and not enough flour, so it melted away a little (and made a huge mess in my oven).
Another thing I hadn't anticipated was how much it would grow (duh) as it baked. Next time, I will roll out the dough into a thinner log so that the center won't close up after baking. I ended up taking a round cutter and cutting out the merged middle to keep the donut shape. 
Then I stuck two plastic babies into the bottom. 
In the end, it could have been prettier, but it tasted exactly the way I remembered. I ate too much of it, shipped some to my parents, and watched my delighted kids find the plastic babies inside. 

Gingy Demo

All good thing must come to an end, so as we traditionally do on Epiphany, the gingerbread house was destroyed. And we do it with gusto. 
And hammers.
 And teeth. 
It's fun and delicious and oh-so satisfying. 
The pieces go everywhere. 
I like finding the tiny details amidst the rubble. 
Goodbye, gingerbread house. Thank you. 

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Last bit of Christmas break

Schoooool's back! For! Springtime! No? Not quite the same... Anyway, we fizzled out at the end of winter break, and "mom and dad can hardly wait for school to start again" was a reality here! The three kids really bonded and loved each other and played together A LOT... So much that they were ready to kill each other by January 3. Good thing school started Monday/today! We did get a few activities done in between the holidays, the fun, and the fighting. 

Like a melting, bubbling snowman. 

(Baking soda, soap, water dough, plus accessories... Then vinegar!)

And glitter slime bubbles

(Glue/borax slime... That we discovered can blow up like a balloon). 

And painting. 
(Liquid water colors on mini canvases). 

And crystal-making. 

(A kit the girls got for Christmas). 

And now that we're getting into the swing of things, there is pretty much zero time for crafting. Which makes me a little sad. 

Thursday, January 1, 2015


I always start the year so optimistic. And this year is no different. I actually have quite a few resolutions/goals/hopes, and it's not ever real unless it is written down, so here we go:
-Lose 15 lbs
-Exercise at least twice a week
-Run a half marathon
-Banish diapers from my house
-Read the ever-growing stack of books on my night stand
-Prayer journal/list intentions for real this time
-Sell 3 cakes
-Use what we have
-Focus on Quality over Quantity

We also made a few predictions for the year... All 5 of us, and I wrote them on a piece of paper, rolled it up, and put it in a champagne flute so we can see if they came true on on the next new year celebration. One prediction I forgot to write is that we won't be drinking champagne again until next New Year's Eve. 

Happy New Year!

2014 was a good year. It had all the usual ups and downs, normal family life, highlighted by some great times, like our trip to Napa and our pool construction. No major changes. I wear the same size clothing, Ellie still has all her baby teeth, Paul continues to work steadily, and the younger two are normal toddlers/preschoolers. Thank God for our uncomplicated life!

In keeping with our newly started tradition, we celebrated the New Year in many time zones. It was a bit more elaborate than last year thanks to extra time for research and planning, but for the future, we would simplify again so we aren't rushing to do everything in time. Of course it was still very fun, and we even included the kids for a few time zones. 

7pm: Portugal
After dinner, we gave the kids hats and noisemakers, toasted with sparkling apple cider and stuffed 12 raisins in our mouths at the end of the countdown. We all put on blue socks and made sure to step with our right feet first when we got out of our chairs to go outside and throw poppers and confetti crackers in the driveway. We learned that in Portuguese, "Feliz ano novo" means "Happy new year" (and is super close to Spanish!). 
Then Paul took Anthony to bed while the girls and I prepared the next celebration. 

8pm: South Sandwich Isles
SSI are uninhabited (by humans... But there are penguins!) and under UK control, so we looked up some UK traditions (and didn't find a lot that was terribly unique), so I took the opportunity to ask the kids a few questions in a "year end interview," which I figure will be fun to read in a few years and see how their answers have changed. Then we made penguin masks and toasted sandwiches for our Happy New Year toast! Katie played "Auld Lang Syne" AKA "Happy New Year Music" on her new toy violin, and then it was time to kiss the girls goodnight. 

9pm: Nuuk, Greenland
We toasted with flaming coffee (which tasted gross) and thankfully didn't burn down the house! Then with a little camera magic, Paul made our own version of the Northern Lights (using floating light balls in the pool and a camera app on his phone). And we wore green. Because it's Greenland. 

10pm: Bermunada (Bermuda and Canada)
We found several fun things to do... Not to mention that we traveled a lot in this time zone! In Bermuda, instead of a ball drop at midnight, there in an Onion Drop. So we had some fun with a big onion, dropping it from the railing of second floor of our house. We even made a slow motion video (it's not on YouTube, so I can't link it here; sorry! Check it out on Facebook if you're my friend!). Then we ran outside in our swimsuits for a Polar Bear swim... Sort of. It was so cold that we just jumped in the shallow beach entry and got our feet wet. I have no idea how people can jump in freezing cold water in places even colder than here! We did toss Mr. Onion into the pool. He had an eventful night. After all those shenanigans, we warmed up by the fire and toasted the new year with a cup of black eyed pea soup. 

11pm: New York City
We dressed up for this one, rigged up a beach ball drop in the living room (another Facebook video), danced, drank champagne, and had a special dessert. 
The cupcake inside the big white chocolate ball was decorated with a 2015, so theoretically, 2014 would melt away to reveal 2015 inside. Cool idea. Failed execution. Tasty result. 

12am: Houston
In pajamas, we set up a balloon drop over our bed, toasted with water, and kissed goodnight. Happy New Year, World!

We had fun, ate too much, drank not-enough, and welcomed 2015 with open arms.