So . . . Here’s What Happened . . .

Yesterday, was my day off. I’d planned to use the gift certificate I received for Mother’s Day to get my nails done and then maybe blog about it because I know how much y’all adore every detail about my nail care routine.

But I also  had to buy a birthday present for Sunny’s friend, dishwashing detergent, pumpernickel bread, a specific birthday gift for my husband, balloons for Jane’s science assignment illustrating static electricity.  I needed to make dinner for a friend who just had surgery (which is why pumpernickel bread is mentioned in the previous sentence) and deliver it.  I then had to pick up the kids from school—because my husband graciously agreed to take them to school that morning—and get them home in time for my husband to take them to their respective music lessons.Dancing Cake

Piece of cake.

I perhaps slept in a little more than I wanted to but I did get on the exercise bike without too much whining.  Showered, dressed, and sufficiently caffeinated, I set off.

The first store had Sunny’s friend’s gift and the detergent,* but no pumpernickel, specific husband gift, or reasonably priced balloons.

The second store had reasonably priced balloons (plus the gift bags and birthday cards I’d forgotten to add to the list), but didn’t carry bread or gifts my husband would appreciate.

I zipped over to my nail appointment, by which I mean I followed at minimal safe distance a series of other drivers who seemed to be unclear about where they were going and how quickly they needed to get there, but were adamant about leaving their turn signals on to save time.  But I did make it with minutes to spare.

Say what you want about the frivolity of manicures, but it’s always lovely to have someone hold your hand for half an hour, add a little color to your life, and then massage pineapple oil into your sore writing muscles.  My nails are now a shade called “Imagination”, which might look beige under artificial light, but sparkles gold in the sunshine.  I like that.

I only wish I’d remembered my gift certificate . . .

The third store had my husband’s birthday present and every kind of bread I could have wished for, as long as I didn’t wish for pumpernickel.

The fourth store had pumpernickel.

I went home, hid some of my shopping,** and started scraping carrots, de-stringing celery, and denuding spuds for a vat of baked potato soup (this one with smoked sausage bits added to the onions—and yes, the cat still considers himself a key ingredient) to feed my friend’s family, plus enough for my family the next night.

Halfway through, my stomach demanded to know what I was going to do about its state of impending implosion, so I made lunch, ate it, and continued making soup.  Once soup had been achieved, I let it cool and called my friend for directions.  Her husband, who is a jwonderful man who fully intends to take on his beloved’s work load but had no idea she did quite this much, answered and gave me detailed directions that depended on landmarks that haven’t existed since well before we moved up here, so I secured the street address to their town house complex and dug out the GPS.

I love my GPS but its suction cup mount and I have a non-aggression pact, which it violated by popping free just as I reached the part of town I knew nothing about.  Figuring that GPSing from one’s lap was worse than texting, I pulled over and got my own back by licking the suction cup and slamming it onto the surface of my windshield, where it stuck . . . upside down.  I pried it free, tried again, and we all went on our way.  I don’t believe I was imagining the disapproval in the GPS’s voice, but I didn’t start it, so I didn’t care.

I delivered the soup, bread, a box of Godiva, and hugs to my medication-goofy friend and her exhausted husband, and went to pick up the kids.  While waiting in the Parental Line, I checked my e-mail and found that Jane’s Humanities teacher had cc’d me on an e-mail that supplied the four assignments Jane had missed that month, all of which were due the following day at 3:30.  To her credit . . . pun woefully unintended . . . she fully acknowledged that she needed to do them and told me she needed my computer.

I agreed, because legitimate excuses for writing avoidance are not to be ignored and I’m not interested in providing her with a scapegoat for her lousy grades, thank you.

Brain FailWhen we got home, my husband had put the potato soup in the fridge, which would have been perfect, except he’d inadvertently unearthed the roast I’d bought, which I’d meant to slow-cook Monday but had instead ended up dropping it into the black hole I have where other people keep their memory centers.  The date label suggested that I either cook it by the next day or lose it in the black hole we keep where other people have freezers.

So instead of spending the kids’ music lesson time doing a post on my busy day, I prepped the roast for crockpotting (it’s a Real Verb, Downith, I swear), and began gently reheating potato soup.

The kids came home, told me they didn’t like potato soup and would prefer Campbell’s, please, and dispersed to deal with their Humanities backlog and top up their RDA of cartoons, respectively, which may well have saved their lives and the state of Illinois the cost of a trial.

So I opened cans and heated things and kissed my husband good-bye . . . I think . . . and ended up burning the bottom of the potato soup, because of course.  But everyone was eventually fed and homeworked (she says) and showered, so I made good use of the dishwashing detergent, and sat down to write a belated post about I don’t even know.

And then my MIL came upstairs to complain that her toilet was bubbling, and the last time it did that, the sewer line outside the house had backed up into her back room.

It did that this time, too.

So that’s why my regular Tuesday post is being posted today and also why there will be no random Thursday post tomorrow.***

Because life is being random enough at the moment.

Time Flies

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*Which was so well-hidden behind a young man examining a bottle of drain cleaner and his full cart that I made three passes down the aisle before I realized he was blocking the shelf I needed.  When I finally stopped and said, “Excuse me,” he smirked and said, “Sorry, I have a girlfriend.”    I gave him Sunny’s best unimpressed look and said, “I’ll forgive you if you move so I can get that green box right there.”  Wait for the pitch before you lob it back, gentlemen.

**Not because my husband doesn’t know exactly what he’s getting, but to prevent the kids from opening the bag if front of him, pulling out the gift and saying, “Mom?  Who is this for?”  Bother birthdays and parenting often depend on plausible deniability.

***That and Sunny’s Girl Scout bridging ceremony Thursday evening.  And I just remembered that I have to iron all her badges on her vest.  And that the ironing board is in the back room of my MIL’s apartment . . .

 

 

 

An Eggstraordinary Baking Adventure

Wanna explode your kids’ minds?

‘Course you do.

Take a dozen extra-large eggs, poke a dime-sized hole in one end of each one, and drain ’em into two bowls—one for the cake recipe of your choice, and one for whatever recipes you have that call for a lot of eggs.

It will be a disgusting, yet fascinating process that you may want to share with any spare kids or sisters-in-law you may have around.

Emptying Eggs

Drinking hot tea from a Wonder Woman mug is recommended, but not required.

Once the eggshells are emptied, rinse them out with water, drain them, swish a few drops of oil inside, drain them, and let them rest a bit while you help your eleven-year old wrestle the egg beaters into the hand mixer so she can make up the cake batter of your choice.

Empty Eggs

Meanwhile, ask any other bored kids you might have hanging around to make little foil eggshell nests in a muffin tin.

Egg Nests

Grab a roll of paper towels.  You will need them.

Fill the eggshells halfway to barely two-thirds.  Many recipes will tell you three-fourths . . . They lie.*

Or use a much denser cake that we did.

Whatever.

Filling the Eggs

Surface tension is NOT our friend.

A strong light can be very helpful in figuring out how full your shells are.

Egg Candling

Portrait of an overfull egg.

Wipe of any spilled batter and put the filled shells into their nests.

Stick ’em in the oven at whatever temperature the cake batter needs for a few minutes shy of whatever the cupcake time for the batter might be.

Ready!

Have your kids help with clean up.

Cleaning up

When the timer dings, pull out the tin and realize we weren’t kidding about overfilling the shells.  Let them cool a bit, which they will do pretty quickly.

Egg Overflow

Snuffleupageggs!

Peel the excess cake from the shells—GENTLY—and use a damp paper towel  and a clean fingernail to scrub/scrape off any clinging crumbs.

Your kids will help with the disposal of the discarded cake pieces.  Like you could stop them.

Grab another roll of paper towels.  Trust me.

Take a tub of the icing of your choice.  Add a little food coloring if you want.

If you have a pastry injector, that’s great.  If not, perhaps you also had a local pharmacist who handed out a lot of extra meds dispensers with each of the stunning number of Amoxicillin prescriptions your kids may have racked up over the years.

Egg Injector

So. Many. Possibilities.

Regardless, fill the injector/dispenser with icing and squirt a couple of cc’s deep into each egg.  See why you made the holes so big?

Finished Eggs

They will not be pretty because this is your first time doing this, but turn ’em over and no one will know.

Until they pick ’em up and their eyes go big because “Is that what you were doing all afternoon?”

Yes.  Yes it was.

Clean up the kitchen.  You’re probably on your own here, but it you really minded, you wouldn’t have started all this in the first place, right?

So . . . are these things really worth the hassle and the mess?

Let’s go to the judges:

Peeling the Egg

Fun!

Nekked Egg

Cute!

Eggstraordinary Yum

Yum!

Oh, yeah.

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*Use the leftover batter for more conventional cupcakes.  Even with all the stuff you’ll waste getting the batter into the eggshells, you should have enough left for about eight . . . or four really big ones.

Cupcakes

Cooking with my Eleven-Year-Old: Accidental ButterMaple Bars

Janie’s Spanish class held a bake sale last Thursday to help pay for a field trip in April.

This meant that we had to bake something in the middle of one the busier weeks we’ve had lately, because one of the downsides to sending your kids to a school with a 12:1 student teacher ratio is that everyone will quickly figure out it was you who chucked a handful of  Oreos onto a paper plate and set it down in the middle of all the artesian breads and cakes and homemade chocolate croissants, even if you attempt to file the serial numbers off the Oreos.

Luckily, Janie has a favorite cookie recipe and a deep, abiding love for my Kitchen Aid mixer.  In the interests of time, I manage to talk her into making one pan of bars, so I wouldn’t have to shovel cookie sheets in and out of an oven all evening.

So we rushed home Wednesday and starting pulling things out of cupboards and the fridge.

The standard recipe, as made by people who are not us, calls for the following ingredients:

2 ¼ c. all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda19th Century Kitchen (Not.  Powder.  They aren’t the same thing)
1 teaspoon salt
2 sticks margarine or butter
¾ c. granulated sugar
¾ c. brown sugar, packed
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 large eggs
1 c. chocolate chips
1 c. butterscotch chips
1 c. nuts (too many kids are allergic)

1. Tell your eleven-year-old to measure out the flour, which she will do until she runs out a cup shy of goal.  Decide to use bread flour for the rest and ignore all potential over-glutening problems, because cooking is an adventure.  Add the salt and baking soda and mix gently.

2. Hear your MIL call from the living room that she made chocolate chip-walnut cookies that afternoon because no one told her we were going to bake that night—but you’re welcome to use them for the sale since she probably used up most of the flour.  Look at the calendar, which has BAKE BARS FOR BAKE SALE on it in red marker, and sigh.  Look down at the bowl of flour, salt, and baking soda that you can’t put back in their respective containers and listen to your indignant eleven-year old list off the number of her classmates who will die if they even think about eating walnuts and she wants to bake something herself and you told her the other day she was a good cook—did you lie?

3. Carry on.

Kitchen Aid Mixer4. Ask your eleven-year-old to cut the two sticks of margarine into the appropriate number of tablespoons to sneak in a little practical math practice. Discover that there isn’t any margarine to be found in fridge or freezer, but there are two pounds of Real Butter, because your sister-in-law has a Thing about it. Think about  having your eleven-year-old smoosh all the margarine bits back together into a stick so you can switch to butter without a lecture from your MIL about wasting food (or food-like products),  but suddenly remember that one Good Eats episode where Alton Brown used butter and shortening in biscuits—illustrated by punching nun puppets, because Mr. Brown is the King of Effective Mnemonics—and steal borrow a half a stick of Real Butter from your sister-in-law’s stash, even though you’re fully aware that biscuits are not cookie bars in the country you live in and shortening is not margarine. Maybe? Pledge to find out later and drop it all in the mixing bowl.

5. Let your eleven-year-old measure out the brown sugar, because watching it slide into the mixing bowl without losing its shape is the fun part. Measure out the granulated sugar yourself to save time, but dump it in the flour bowl instead of the mixing bowl because that seems to be the day we’re having.

6. Scoop out the granulated sugar and some inadvertent flour into the mixing bowl, while ignoring the taunts of your ungrateful progeny.  Screw the bowl firmly onto the base of your mixer—remember last time you forgot?  Right—and begin searching for the appropriate mixing paddle attachment, in the traditional way of your people. Reluctantly decide that the addition of the bread flour probably doesn’t mean you can use the bread hook.  Find the paddle attachment in the dish drainer, where it’s been waiting patiently since the last time you used it, and attach it.

7. Cream the margeributter (buttgerine?) and the sugar on low/medium speed. Use a rubber spatula to make sure that there are no rogue lumps in there—turn off the mixer first.

8. Allow your eleven-year-old to crack one egg at a time into the mixing bowl—turn off the mixer first—incorporating the first one into the sugar mixture on low speed before adding the second.

9. Go to add the vanilla, which you forgot to add in step six.  Discover that you don’t have any vanilla  because your MIL baked that afternoon, but you do have an elderly bottle of maple flavoring you must have bought for some recipe, possibly before your six (and three-fourths, Mommy!)-year old was born. Dump in two teaspoons and hope for the best.

10. Ask your eleven-year-old to add the flour a little at a time. Leap across the kitchen to keep her from tilting the whole bowl of flour into the mixing bowl and turn off the mixer.  Pick up the fourth cup measure, hand it to her, explain the process carefully and clearly, and watch her like a hawk as she actually does add the flour a little at a time without covering the kitchen in a fine layer of the stuff.  Bask in parental pride.

Bowls of Chocolate Chips11. Measure out the butterscotch and chocolate chips into a bowl yourself because you weren’t born yesterday and the moment you opened the bags, an extra child materialized between you and the counter and four small hands got the grabbies.  Allow the pilfering of three chips each and defend the rest with your rubber spatula as you carry the bowl to the mixer.  Dump in the chips without turning the mixer off first because you want to be done.

12.  Belatedly heat the oven to 375°F, or whatever your oven says when what it really means 375°F.  Take out your jelly roll pan and have your eleven-year-old use nonstick spray on it with great enthusiasm and questionable aim.

12. Begin spreading the dough and realize that the pan is too big for a single recipe.  Debate moving it into a glass pan,which will be too small. Shrug and carry on.

13. Shove the pan into the oven and ignore for 17 to 22 minutes.

14. In seventeen-ish minutes, pull the pan out of the oven.  Turn off the oven.  Blink at the pan for a while.  It smells good, but looks a bit . . . beige, except where it kind of scudded into the empty part of the pan. Turn off the oven—remember last time you forgot?  Right.

15. Take your pizza cutter and slice off the overbrowned scudded part.  Sample.  Blink.  Offer some to your eleven-year old.  Watch her blink, then smile.

16.  After the pan is cool, cut the rest into bars and pack them up in foil-covered pie plates, while arguing with your eleven-year-old about whether you’ve made brownies, blondies, or beigies.

17. Decide to name them ButterMaple bars and vow to try again with perhaps a little less bread flour and younger maple flavoring.

18. Write it all down before it gets away.

A Randomly Mathematical Thanksgiving Thursday

It’s Random Thursday time again, even though the little map on my stats page suggests that most of you probably won’t be reading this until Friday, what with all the cooking and carbo-loading and the tryptophan overdosing and dishwashing and so forth.

But that’s okay, since this post isn’t going to be all that random, either.

Jane, my ten-year old, who is addicted to the Youtube offerings of mathemusician Vihart,* showed me this video a couple of days ago:

“That’s perfect!” I said.  “Does she have any side dishes?”

“Sure,” she said, clicking. “There’s Mathed Potatoes . . . ”

” . . . Or a Green Bean Matherole.”

“Wow,” I said. “Let me guess–Pi for dessert?”

“Well . . . Yeah, but that one gets really complicated. I want tau, instead.”

“What’s tau?” I asked, having passed trig by the grace of an extremely generous bell curve.

She grinned.  “TWO pi.”

Tau Pie

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*And ASAPScience, MinutePhysics, and, unfortunately, Myfroggystuff, because she likes math and science, but her heart and piggy bank belong to the American Girl® Company.

Cooking with a Ten-Year Old: Caramel Icing

To replicate this recipe exactly as we made it, you will need:

1  loved-to-pieces and slightly encrusted 1975 edition of The Joy of Cooking, which falls naturally open to the recipe for Basic Pancakes, but also contains a recipe for Caramel Icing

Joy of Cooking2 cups of lightly packed dark brown sugar

1 cup of cream

3 Tablespoons butter

1 teaspoon vanilla

A saucepan that is too small for this recipe

A saucepan twice as large as you think you’ll need

A whisk

A candy thermometer with a useless clip

An electric handheld mixer

Several oven mitts and hot pads

An assortment of rubber spatulas

1 ten-year-old who wants to make her own icing in the worst way, and has finally settled on Caramel Icing after being talked down from recipes that would have made Julia Child a bit nervous and Warren Buffett check his grocery budget

1 adult who has never made a boiled icing in her life or used a candy thermometer and doesn’t really remember how she was talked into all this

A completely cooled 9″ by 13″ vanilla cake, successfully prepared from a respectable mix by the ten-year old with minimal help

___

Instructions:

1. Combine the brown sugar and cream in the smaller saucepan, despite the suggestion of the ten-year-old that the larger saucepan be used instead.

2. Turn up the heat and have the oven-mitted ten-year-old hold onto the handle of the pan and whisk constantly.

3. Locate the vanilla in the cupboard and a clean set of measuring spoons.

4. Turn around and explain to the ten-year-old exactly what constantly means, as you’re pretty sure the authors of The Joy of Cooking probably didn’t define it as pausing every three seconds to lift the whisk high over the pan and watch the drips.

5. Take over the whisking, as ten-year-olds stir things with their entire bodies and therefore tire fairly quickly.

6. Clap the lid on the saucepan, reduce the heat and cook for three minutes, because the recipe says so.

7. Remove the lid and attach the candy thermometer to the side of the saucepan.  Turn up the heat so the syrup just comes to a boil.

8. Straighten the leaning candy thermometer and eye the rising line, which needs to reach the 240° mark—which you hope is the infinitesimal dot under 250°, or this could get ugly.

9. Straighten the leaning candy thermometer again and go to the fridge for the butter.

10. At the ten-year-old’s warning, run back and hold  the %$#&ing thermometer upright.  As a reward for having the sense to call for adult help instead of grabbing the end of the thermometer herself, allow the ten-year-old to measure out three tablespoons of butter.  No, the butter.  The butter.  What does the box say?  Imperial what?  Right—margarine’s not the same as butter, is it?  Okay, yes, fine, I did say that, but not for this recipe.   Yes, the yellow box that says butter.  Good.  Look at the side of the stick.  We need three tablespoons of that.  Use a knife, please. There you go!

11. Watch the line creep toward 225° . . . and the syrup rise up a lot faster.  Take one precious second to reflect that you may have miscalculated the size of saucepan needed before yanking out the thermometer, lifting the saucepan off the heat, and pouring it into the larger saucepan just in time.

12.  Admit to the ten-year old that she was right, move the new pan to the burner, attach the candy thermometer, and hold onto it, because you’ve been down this road before.

13. Wait until the syrup goes thick and bubbly and dark—which should happen just after you suspect that your whole hand has been encased with a fine crackle glaze by the rising steam—and ask the ten-year old to confirm that the line has reached the probably-240° dot because your contacts may also have acquired a glaze.

14. Remove the candy thermometer and ask the ten-year-old to add the butter, a tablespoon at a time, while you whisk constantly.

15. Ask the ten-year old to add the next two tablespoons a tad more gently, honey, please.

16.  Once the butter has been incorporated, remove the pan from heat, and have the ten-year old measure out and add a teaspoon of vanilla, while you whisk, say it with me, constantly.

17.  Bring the saucepan to the place where you’ve set up the electric handheld mixer, and tell the ten-year old to go to town on low.

18.  Approximately forty-five seconds later, take over (see Step 3).

19.  When the icing is what you hope the authors of The Joy of Cooking  meant by correct consistency, because they certainly didn’t bother to define that, grab a rubber spatula and empty the saucepan over the prepared cake.  

20. Hand the spatula to the ten-year old so she can spread the icing over the cake.   Busy yourself with cleaning up, until you hear cries of frustration.

21. Grab another spatula and help.  Immediately tear up the top of the cake, because you clearly screwed up Step 19.

22.  With delicate motions—and the extensive assistance of your amused MIL—sort of silly-putty the stuff around to cover as much of the cake as possible, while keeping the ten-year old occupied with suggestions about what you can do next time to make the icing a little looser.  Decide to add a little more cream at the end, not beat  it for quite so long, and, if at all possible skip Steps 11 and 12.

23. Hand the cooled saucepan, the beaters, and the rubber spatulas to the ten-year old for taste-testing/consolation/preliminary clean-up.

24. Before washing up, snap off a bit of the icing that made it onto the cake and sample.

25. Decide that the flavor is perfect and that’s what counts—that and the ten-year-old sitting at the kitchen table with a mixing beater stuck in her mouth, paging through The Joy of Cooking for the next thing to try.

Caramel Icing on the Cake