21 November 2010

This Cake is Also Not a Lie

Posted in C-boy, food at 3:40 pm by Tricia

portal-looking birthday cake

The Cake is a Lie

For this weekend’s birthday party /Minecraft multi-player festival, I made a Portal-themed birthday cake. This clash of video games did not seem to bother anyone. Inspired by recent scratch-cake revelations, I searched through some cookbooks until I settled on the following chocolate cake recipe.

Six-Minute Chocolate Cake
Moosewood Restaurant Book of Desserts

1 1/2 cups unbleached white flour
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 cup cold water or coffee
2 tsp pure vanilla extract
2 Tab cider vinegar

Preheat oven to 375F.

Sift together the flour, cocoa, soda, salt, and sugar directly into the cake pan. In the measuring cup, measure and mix together the oil, cold water or coffee, and vanilla. Pour the liquid ingredients into the baking pan and mix the batter with a fork or a small whisk. When the batter is smooth, add the vinegar and stir quickly. There will be pale swirls in the batter as the baking soda and the vinegar react. Stir just until the vinegar is evenly distributed through the batter.

Bake for 25 to 30 minutes and set aside to cool.

Since I needed two layers, I decided to use the “12 minute cake” variation, and mixed a double batch in a regular mixing bowl. I lined the bottoms with parchment, greased the sides of the pans with a bit of vegetable oil, and dusted with a combo of cocoa and flour. The cakes came right out of the pans.

I frosted the cake with chocolate butter frosting from my Betty Crocker cookbook, then topped with shaved milk chocolate. The red orbs are malted milk balls (a Christmas edition, from the local bulk foods store) on squirts of whipped cream. The birthday boy thought it looked perfect. But I’m wondering: is there a secret to making perfect circles of whipped cream? Part of the issue is that they didn’t want to stick to the chocolate shavings. Oh well, it wasn’t an entry into the state fair.

After it was done, I was a bit nervous about how the cake would taste, since it has no eggs in it. They serve it at Moosewood, so it couldn’t be horrible – or else it had to appeal to crunchy-granola Birkenstock-wearing Ithakites… And as mentioned before, children don’t necessarily have the most disciminating tastes when it comes to cake. But it seemed to be well received – all children who have been polled have declared it to be good, and the birthday boy thought it looked perfect.  I even liked it! The texture was dense but not too dense – and it doesn’t taste low-fat/low-cholesterol (but maybe that’s because of the frosting!).

Edited to addcontinuing in the Portal theme, I have been instructed to add the following:

This was a triumph!

I’m making a note here: huge success.

It’s hard to overstate my satisfaction.


9 April 2010

Fun with Phyllo, part 2

Posted in C-boy, food at 11:41 pm by Tricia

Since my Turkish cheese pies didn’t use up my whole box of phyllo, I decided to use some for a dessert. All the baklava-and-cousins in The Complete Middle Eastern Cookbook seemed too intimidating, so I thought I might throw together something vaguely like an apple strudel. While pondering, I came across an intriguing recipe in my Moosewood Restaurant Book of Desserts (source of the impressive looking, versatile, yet easy chocolate fruit purses): nut and fruit filled filo pastry. Then I forgot about this plan entirely, and left the rolled-and-still-thawing fillo on the counter, where it stayed until my husband rescued it the next day and stashed it in the fridge. Today I finally took the time to make this dessert – only to find we had no honey! It required visits to three different neighbors to find some, but then I got to work. (I’ll type the recipe as I made it with original in parentheses.)

Nut and Fruit Filled Filo Pastry

1 cup pecans + 1/2 cup pine nuts (originally: 1.5 cups whole almonds)
8 oz dried fruit – mix of apricots, peaches, mangoes (orig: apricots)
2 Tab packed brown sugar
3 Tab honey {or 2.5 if you want to go easy on the neighbors’ stash!}
2 tsp ground cinnamon
8 sheets filo pastry
4 to 5 Tab butter, melted


2 tsps dried orange rind (orig: peel from 1 orange, cut into strips)
1/4 cup (fresh) orange juice
1/2 cup sugar {I used a mix of demerara and white sugar}


Toast the nuts in a 350° F oven for about 10 minutes. Cool for several minutes, then finely chop the nuts.

If you are using a food processor, process the fruit, sugar, honey, and cinnamon until finely chopped (otherwise, mince fruit and stir with same). Stir in the nuts (you might want to mix them in via the food processor – the recipe wasn’t clear on this!).

(If you used a toaster oven for the nuts, you should start preheating your main oven to 350F about now.) On a dry flat surface, stack 2 sheets of fillo and brush the top sheet with melted butter. In a thin, even line about 1 inch from a long edge of the buttered filo, spread a generous 3/4 cup of the filling. Roll up the phyllo to form a long thin roll. Carefully lift the roll into the pie pan and curve it to fit along the perimeter of the pan. Lightly brush the roll with butter [I didn’t]. Repeat the above procedure to make 3 more rolls, coiling each into the pie pan to form a one-layer, spiraled pastry. Butter each roll as you go. [I brushed on remaining butter at the end.] Nestled close together, all four rolls should neatly fit into the pie pan, with the end of the last roll finishing in the center. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until the pastry is crisp and lightly browned.

While the pastry bakes, make the syrup. Combine the syrup ingredients in a small saucepan and bring to a boil on high heat. Reduce the heat and simmer gently for 10 minutes. Remove from the heat (and strain, if using strips of peel).

Pour the syrup over the pastry as soon as it comes out of the oven, then cool. Serve at room temperature, cut into narrow wedges.

Remember how my fillo got left out on the counter? It dried out a bit, and split apart where it had been folded. Plus, instead of using 10 sheets cut into thirds when making the börek, I’d cut off a third of the not-quite-defrosted stack, so the filo was only 2/3rd the original width. That meant that it was basically impossible to follow the steps as written. So what I did instead was take the pathetic third-width strips, spread a few narrow tablespoons of filling, then roll them up. And even then, the phyllo barely covered the filling, so I would wrap it with another strip or two, then place it in the pie pan. I did end up with a spiraled pastry, but it was not Moosewood Level Lovely by any stretch! But the end result was quite delicious – not as sweet as I feared, and an interesting mix of textures and flavors.

I also ended up with leftover filling, so I decided to make a quick layered version in a square baking pan. For that, I stacked some overlapping layers of fillo (at least 4 deep, buttered after every couple of layers), then piled on the rest of the filling, then topped it with some more layers of phyllo and butter. I baked this 30 minutes as well, and cut it baklava-style while it was still hot. (Cutting method: cut into quarters in one direction, then cut diagonally (5 cuts) to end up with diamond shapes.) I haven’t tried this yet, but unless the filling was much too meager I’m expecting it will be similarly tasty. However, between a pie pan and an 8×8 baking dish, we’re going to have to share this with the neighbors!

Fun with Fillo, Part 3: my oddly creative 12yo son looked at some squares of fillo that I’d discarded, and asked if it was edible. I told him it was basically just flour and water so wouldn’t taste very good, but yes it was edible. Next he took down a tube of food coloring. When I asked what he was up to, he told me he wanted to write a message on the dough then eat it. Why? I still have no clue. But he used a toothpick and food coloring and tried it out. I didn’t get a chance to read the message (or take a photo!), but he was pleased with his experiment and that’s what counts in the end.

17 May 2009

You know times are tough when…

Posted in C-boy at 10:13 pm by Tricia

You know times are tough when 11 year old kids start getting layoff notices.

Delivering the News

My 11yo delivers newspapers. Our local newspaper is going to cease publication this summer (replaced by a web site and twice weekly newspaper, except that is going to be some other company) (and we heard about it on the radio the day before it appeared in print!). About a month ago, he got his first official letter explaining some of what would happen. Yesterday, he got a much more official letter. Part of it reads:

As indicated by your written agreement with [newspaper], and by our actual relationship, you are an independent contractor, not an employee. Therefore, the requirements of The Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification At of 1988, 29 U.S.C. § 2101 et seq. (“WARN”), a law which requires advance written notice of certain layoffs and closings, do not apply to you.

However, as an accommodation to you and to avoid any misunderstandings, and without in any way affecting your status as an independent contractor, we are giving you notice regarding the cessation of publication of [newspaper].

So there it is. Not yet 12 and his first pink slip.

1 November 2008

Those cartoons

Posted in C-boy tagged , , at 9:10 pm by Tricia

i finally got into C-boy’s classroom on Friday. A gang of boys were playing “POW” (the D&D style game they made up) during the Halloween party. I asked if the notebook he was recording info in also had the political cartoons, and he granted me a few seconds to look at them before he returned to recording moves. So here they are, the political cartoons previously mentioned. (Clearly, penmanship is not pushed very hard at our school!) It came out kind of blurry, so if it’s too hard to read the words are back at the other post (although what I thought were 2 cartoons are actually both on the same page). I’m not sure what the 2nd cartoon is about – I’ll ask again and post an update.

Debate #1 as interpreted by an 11 year old boy

Debate #1 as interpreted by an 11 year old boy

Also drawn during Debate #1 - but what does it mean?

Also drawn during Debate #1 - but what does it mean?

And just to show that C-boy doesn’t limit his artistic endeavors to cartoons on lined notebook paper, here is the pumpkin he carved on Friday afternoon. It got many comments from trick-or-treaters (parents and children), and numerous people have stopped to take photographs.

Carved by 11yo artist, using photos from the 'net

Carved by 11yo artist, using photos from the

Portraits aglow (and hard to capture!)

Portraits aglow (and hard to capture!)

2 October 2008

Political Cartoons

Posted in C-boy, fun at 12:42 pm by Tricia

Last week, 5th graders class re-assembled to listen to the presidential debates. Even though they started at 9 PM (unlike the 8 PM initially publicized to the parents), this was possible since it was a Friday night. C-boy and Jonski Papa went, while I stayed home with the sleeping siblings. Neither one was particularly impressed by the debates themselves (“they didn’t really say anything”), but one comment by Obama had C-boy cheering: “so parents will have more money to buy computers for their kids.” Appeal to their hearts and purse strings, that’s the ticket.

Anyway, apparently C-boy drew cartoon while listening to the debates. He left them in his notebook at school, so I haven’t seen them yet, but here is the dialog as it was described to me.

First cartoon:

Moderator: …”the order of which will be determined by the flip of a coin.”
McCain: “I like to save money, can we flip a penny?”

Second cartoon:

Obama: …”so that the parents will have a few extra million dollars to buy their kids computers.”
Audience kid: “Computers – yay!”
Moderator: “The audience has promised to remain silent”
Audience kid: “Sorry.”

They aren’t scheduled to listen to tonight’s vice-presidential debates (presumably since it’s a school night – plus a parent-teacher conference night!), but I would just love to see what cartoons he would come up with, given the cast of characters!

28 July 2008

The inner workings of a 5yo mind

Posted in C-boy, parenting, T-boy tagged , at 1:46 pm by Tricia

(Background: last year our family went to Costa Rica to volunteer on a Habitat for Humanity project through their Global Village project. Some photos available in this Flickr set.)

This weekend, T-boy (5) and C-boy (10) and a neighbor boy (6) were wrapping spider webs around sticks. I said something to T-boy along the lines of “the web is where the spider lives. So when you do that, you are destroying their habitat.” He asked me to define habitat, so I did. Then he exclaimed “I need to go tell C and H!” and ran off to where they were. Then I heard C-boy from over the fence, “Mom, he got it confused with Habitat for Humanity!” Apparently T-boy had told them to stop destroying spider webs because they help people in Costa Rica. Good thing C-boy was there to help interpret!

28 January 2008

Happy birthday, LEGO!

Posted in C-boy, fun, T-boy tagged , at 11:46 pm by Tricia

LEGO bricks turned 50 today. What a cause for celebration!

Party Exo-Toa

This Gizmodo post features a neat timeline, although I must disagree with their dismissal of Bionicles. C-boy especially is a giant fan of Bionicles. His 5th and 6th birthdays featured a Bionicle theme – he even dressed up as a Bionicle character for Halloween. Twice!

Tahu Halloween

Although I should acknowledge that his interest did eventually wane on the 3rd or 4th revision of the main characters. (“Collect all 6!” Jonski Papa used to intone, maniacally. “And again! 6 more!”) On the other hand, he bought 2 of the new models with his own money just last week. T-boy has a burgeoning interest in Bionicles, although his interest is more about playing out scenarios with the characters (it’s all about the building for C-boy – and he combines the pieces in amazingly creative ways, although recently he remade all the original sets [from memory, of course!]).

random Bionicle MOC built when C was 5

This particular piece of LEGO trivia struck me:

There are about 62 LEGO bricks for every one of the world’s 6 billion inhabitants.

because I think our house contains the LEGO allotment for at least 1000 earthlings! 2000? 10,000? And that’s if you don’t count all the little gears and locking collars and pins and such for the Bionicle models!

7 January 2008

Hard Candy Isn’t!

Posted in C-boy, candy making at 12:53 am by Tricia

Hard candy isn’t hard. Of course as a material it’s hard, but it’s not hard to make.

But let me back up. In December, C-boy was doing a project on amber mining for school, while his class was studying Latvia. This was just after I made the apple cider syrup for the first time, so when we were talking about what to use as amber, I came up with the idea of hard candy. I thought about starting with apple cider again (for the color), but then thought it might be easier to start with a traditional hard candy recipe before doing too much experimentation.

I found this recipe at allrecipes.com. Since we wanted the candy to be amber colored, I decided to use dark syrup instead of light. I also used some raw sugar along with the white. I skipped the food coloring and confectioners sugar steps. I made a half-batch, since I was still thinking of it as an experiment, plus he wouldn’t need much for the project. (allrecipes has a neat feature where it will scale the measurements for you)

The end result was indeed amber colored, with a nice molasses-y taste. I used a little lemon extract for flavoring, but it was very subtle and I think it would have been better without (since I liked the dark sugar element).

C-boy ended up using amber beads in his project, so I sent some candy in labeled as “edible amber, certified bug-free!” for a special treat, on the day of the multi-cultural fair. C-boy didn’t like it much (because it tasted too much like molasses), but he said lots of other kids did.

Like I said, this is not hard to make. Boil the stuff, then keep an eye on your candy thermometer until it reaches hard crack stage.

Edible Amber Hard Candy
based on an allrecipes entry by Judith Synesael

1-3/4 cups sugar (mix of raw and white)
3/4 cup dark corn syrup
1/2 cup water
1 tsp lemon (or other) extract

1. In a medium saucepan, stir together the sugar, corn syrup, and water. Cook, stirring, over medium heat until sugar dissolves, then bring to a boil. Without stirring, heat to 300 to 310 degrees F (159 to 154 C), or until a small amount of syrup dropped into cold water forms hard, brittle threads.

2. Remove from heat and stir in extract (if using). Pour onto a greased cookie sheet. Let cool, and break into pieces. (Some recipes suggest making lines in it, to make it easier to break when cool. I’m not sure it helped, but I did a little bit of that as you can see in the photo.) Store in an airtight container. Enjoy!

Amber candy

This link will take you to a detail picture of the amber mine, and you can cruise through the set to see more.

28 November 2006

Cajun Rice?

Posted in C-boy, fun at 10:01 pm by Tricia

Rice Owls logoFor the first time since 1961 (that’s before I was born), Rice football is headed to a bowl game! With a six-game winning streak to finish regular season play, the Owls have earned a spot in the R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl on Friday, December 22. Cajun Rice, anyone?

[cynical aside: The Superdome sounds impressive (if you forget the Katrina aftermath), but R+L Carriers Bowl? Granted, I barely follow college football, but that sounds a bit like scraping bottom. {ouch, more bad puns!}]

If I were really ambitious, I’d search YouTube for the clip of JFK making his “Why does Rice play Texas? … And so we choose to go to the moon!” speech at Rice Stadium. Or else I’d search our meager video archive for C-boy as a 2 year old singing “Fight for Rice”. For now, a transcription must suffice:

Fight for Wice, Wice fight on, woyal sons awise,
when the blue and gway, of Wice today
comes cwashing through the skies
Stand and jeer, victory’s near,
Sammy weads the way!
On we go to CWUSH the foe
and fight foh Wice today!”

Somehow, I don’t think “stand and jeer” is what the original lyricist intended, but it always gets the biggest laugh from those of us who actually attended games and knew what it was like, especially in the 80s…

25 November 2006

Mashed Potatoes and Cranberry Chutney

Posted in C-boy, food, parenting, Z-boy at 1:52 am by Tricia

I’ve been out of my sling for nearly 2 weeks, but I still have some lifting restrictions – about 10 pounds, or not much more than a jug of milk (which is 8 lbs). The doctor specifically warned me against removing heavy turkeys from an oven, or carrying a big pot of potatoes in boiling water.

The former was going to be the biggest challenge to a traditional Thanksgiving, in large part because Jonski Papa and T-boy have been out of town since the 14th. Instead of inviting guests just to have someone to manage the turkey, we accepted an invitation to feast with friends. When I checked with C-boy and Z-boy to find out what I should offer to take, C-boy immediately exclaimed, “mashed potatoes, like Grandmother makes!” So of course I wasn’t too surprised to find this poem in his backpack at the end of the school week:

Mashed potatoes. Yum yum yum!
Ate or eat which one?
Small plate? No, I want a
Huge plate of mashed potatoes!
Eat or ate which one?
Deep down in the bowl mashed

Oh so good!
The yum yum yum potatoes.
Ate or eat which one?
To eat mashed potatoes.
Oh so good!

I’m not big on mashed potatoes myself. I have too many childhood memories of being required to eat cold – and thus unpalatable! – mashed potatoes. But it’s almost a chicken-and-egg conundrum: did my potatoes get cold because I didn’t like them, or did I stop liking them after the first few times I was forced to eat them cold?

So when asked, I told our hostess that I would be in charge of mashed potatoes for C-boy’s sake, and also that I would bring the cranberry chutney that has become a tradition for Jonski Papa and I: not Mama Stamberg’s, but Madhur Jaffrey’s Garlicky Cranberry Chutney.

Garlicky Cranberry Chutney
from Madhur Jaffrey’s cookbook East/West Menus for Family and Friends (Harper & Row, 1987)

1-inch piece fresh ginger
3 cloves finely chopped garlic
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar (I used a mixture of red wine and pear vinegars)
4 tablespoons sugar (I used 3 Tab raw sugar)
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper

l-pound can cranberry sauce with berries

1/2 teaspoon salt (or less)
ground black pepper

Cut ginger into paper thin slices, stack them together and cut into really thin slivers.

Combine ginger, garlic, vinegar, sugar and cayenne in a small pot. Bring to a simmer, simmer on medium flame about 15 minutes or until there are about four tablespoons of liquid left.

Add can of cranberry sauce, salt and pepper. Mix and bring to a simmer. Lumps are ok. Simmer on a gentle heat for about 10 minutes.

Serve warm or cool (refrigerate to store).

That left me with the mashed potatoes. A year or three ago when I made mashed potatoes, they came out all gluey and horrid. Since I knew that some potatoes were better for boiling and some for roasting – something to do with the starch profile, I think – I worried that it might have been from using a mix of potatoes from my CSA, that I’d used the wrong type of potatoes. But after listening to (and calling in to!) Turkey Confidential from The Splendid Table, I’m now convinced it’s because I used my stick blender in an attempt to get lump free potatoes (C-boy doesn’t like lumps).

Although “like grandmother makes” does seem like a high bar, in truth her method is rather traditional, probably about the same as in my Betty Crocker cookbook. The thing is, I favor roast potatoes – less work, plus I vastly prefer the taste and texture (even when cold!). I’ve tried to get them to eat roasted ones, which Z-boy tolerates, but C-boy doesn’t (maybe because of all the seasonings I use, or the crusty bits one gets from roasting). So this past year, whenever I roasted potatoes, I’d also bake a few large ones. I taught C-boy and Z-boy how to scrape out the center, mix it with butter and salt, and voila! A mashed potato-like substance.

Because of my doctor’s prohibition against big pots of potatoes, I thought about roasting, but that’s not really what my child wanted – and it was Thanksgiving after all, the day of family traditions. Betty Crocker‘s recipe calls for 2 pounds of potatoes, boiled in 1 inch of water. Seems like that would stay under my 8 to 10 pound restriction, even if I upped it to 3 pounds of potatoes to serve a crowd. Plus, I’d be cooking them last minute at our friends’ house, so I could get someone else to drain out the pot if necessary.

Both dishes turned out to be successes. All the six children had one or more servings, and actually seemed to enjoy them (although I think a few other adults stuck to the more tasty side dishes, as I did!). The kids weren’t so keen on the chutney (I probably would have despised it as a child, had my mom been able to find fresh ginger in the store!) but the four other adults all raved about it and ate multiple helpings. Everyone was full and happy – more from the offerings of the house (including a fine heritage turkey from a farm on the other side of the state), but also from our small offerings.

Jonski Papa also made the cranberry chutney at his mother’s house. His older brother wouldn’t even try it. Oh well, you’d think we’d be used to such attitudes, with the selective diners in our own house. But when it’s your big brother, at least you can tease him – with your own kids, you’re better off saying “maybe when you’re older and have more sophisticated tastes, you’ll like it,” or exclaiming “great, more for me!” while serving them a huge plate of mashed potatoes and a few slices of turkey.

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