Saturday, March 27, 2010

International Epilepsy Awareness Day (Purple Day!)

Friday was Purple Day, the International Epilepsy Awareness Day. Created in 2008 by 9 year old Cassidy Megan of Nova Scotia, Canada, to increase awareness of epilepsy and help children with seizures feel less alone.

On Thursday night Dean and I stayed up past midnight baking cupcakes and mixing purple icing. Friday, we both wore purple(ish) shirts and handed out cupcakes.

For a day started so recently (it began the year L. started having seizures) it's spread pretty far with articles in most major newspapers and sponsorship from many cities and schools.

Thank you for your support! It's meant a lot to use as a family the last 2 years.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Getting Started on the Season

My seed starting station. Dean was nice to move the 3x3 cube of boxes that obscured it. I planted lettuce (a mix), basil, broccoli (DiCicco and Premium), cilantro, and dill. 

Yes, it is an old washing machine. 

Everything is coming up outside.

Wash is on the line.

Boys are outside.

I'm even boiling down some maple sap, but with the nice weather and mild nights its not running too well this year. Ah well. I'll take the warm weather.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

March Birthday Extravaganza...and some reviews


We have a lot of March birthdays in my family~extended family, by marriage family, and friends-that-count-as-family.

I pushed Dean to take a little jaunt this weekend. My motivation was the delivery of a few treats I'd baked.

My sister had a birthday 2 weeks ago. She's on a gluten-free diet. She's a great baker but she's also one who doesn't do it for herself. For her I baked Chocolate Feather Bed. For my mother (birthday last weekend) I baked cream puffs from Beranbaum's Pie and Pastry Bible. She has many fond memories of the ones at the Wisconsin State Fair.

I also made baked low-fat apple donuts from the Sweeter Side of Amy's Bread for my father-in-law. They're fun baked in a mini bundts pan.


I have two of Beranbaum's books, and I have others on my wishlist. She's an excellent baker, not just a recipe writer or interesting personality. Her books spend time on why she does things, and she's not adverse to systematic experimentation to find out the best way to crack an egg or why different flours affect cakes differently. I highly recommend her blog.

In this case I've made one cake from her new book. It was fiddly, anything but healthy, and fantastic. When baking for someone who can't eat cake normally it was completely worth it. It was not dense, crumbly, or healthy-tasting and my sister deserved every bite. I did two different recipes for cream puffs, and while the first set came out to the minute and deflated, I learned for the second set. They both tasted wonderful and were easy to make. One set I made with chocolate cream. Yum.

My only hesitation with Rose's Heavenly Cakes is that it has fewer 'regular' cakes and frostings. It has wedding cakes and ingots and ganache galore. This may mean that her first cake book (The Cake Bible) has many more standbys and there isn't much repetition. I haven't read that one yet. And while I'm not sorry I bought this one (Goodwill, remember? :) ) it isn't something I can pull out for a straight chocolate cake with cream cheese icing. I've also noticed through the two books I have that because there is so much information, so much mix and match, sometimes it is difficult to find things. The filling for cream puffs is over 10 pages after the recipes for the puff. Recipes which build on each other aren't next to each other. They don't always have a page number to flip to either. Because of the informational content the books work better when read from beginning to end (or the entire section) rather than flipping and doing a single recipe. While this is wonderful for dedicated bakers, not so easy on the newbies. (I did like the index though. It's nice to know which cakes need egg whites or yolks and how many.)

The low-fat (baked) donuts are excellent, but very sweet. In fact, low-fat though they may be the largest ingredient is sugar (brown, maple syrup). I can't eat fried things though, and I can eat sugar, so we make them every so often. I decrease the sugar and maple syrup, trade off applesauce for apple juice, and add lots of apple chunks (and possible chopped pecans).

More birthdays to come, and a fascination with bundt cakes (in my past experience rather dry and lifeless but Beranbaum's book is making me rethink that) and Scandinavian baking. Krumkake? Aebelskiver? Lefse?

Big Ideas

I get excited about ideas, especially the free exchange and development of ideas in the public domain. In my husband's line of work this is known as Open Source, more creative types see it in Creative Commons licensing. 

Here's a few that have entered my imagination in the last few months.

Window Farming in Brooklyn, NY

This one involves vertical hydroponics in apartment windows. It's a group effort to build, experiment, and share techniques to improve window growing. Brought to us by the vigilant surfing of This Garden is Illegal's Hanna.

The second one involves the use of compost to heat homes and generate methane-based fuel to run cars. A French gentleman named Jean Pain did this in the '60s.

Link to the German documentary (w/ English subtitles) @ Pain

It comes in 2 parts and lasts @ 15 minutes. Brought to us by my husband's coworker Jim A. who was researching in that direction. If subtitles aren't your style click on the link and see the other experiments on YouTube regarding the Jean Pain method.

Within a week of Dean sending me this link I read a post on creating a compost-heated greenhouse/hoop house for worm farming or winter planting.

One Straw--winter vermiculture (worm farming outdoors in WI using compost heat)
One Straw--Rob discovers Jean Pain (and picks apart his methodology in the comments)
One Straw--end of January follow up to 2 months of work using compost for heat, worm growth, and sprouting

If you're a serious environmentalist or an intellectual gardener, I highly recommend Rob's blog. I don't always agree with him but he has the mind of engineer and is interested in real hands-on application of concepts like bio-fuel generation and sustainable farming. There are always a lot of interesting ideas floating around his blog which he is putting to work in his Wisconsin allotment. How he has the time, I don't know.

No plans, as yet, to apply either of these ideas but they intrigue me. Any new ideas where you are?

Friday, March 12, 2010

A Really Boring List to Help Me Get Motivated

This year I will be sure to plant:

envy soybean
yellow wax (snap)
Kentucky blue (snap)
empress green (bush)

sugar snap peas
loose leaf mix of lettuce
curling cucumber
a bell pepper
yellow straightneck squash
acorn squash

black krim
aunt ruby's german green
yellow heirloom
black cherry
yellow pear


and asparagus...if it comes.

There are a lot of other possibilities to plant (potatoes, hard shell beans, melon, spinach, carrots, and a ton of other tomatoes) but this is my minimum right now.

I'm also expecting a lot of strawberries this year. We picked off so many blossoms last year and they were nice and strong in the fall.

Could it be Spring????

I've been meaning to write a blog post about this all week. Last Sunday Dean tapped our front maple tree. 

At that point I was running a checklist of Winter vs. Spring.

*Snow covering the back and side yard.
*Still need mittens or gloves.
*Boys still wearing snow pants.
*No mud.

*Temperatures rising, sap rising.
*Snow melted off the front (western) side of the house.
*Bulbs starting to poke through (in the front).
*Boys trying to get away with no mittens, hats, or even coats. That's what 40 degrees does to Wisconsin kids.

Since then a lot of things have changed. It night..and then all day the next day. Puddles are everywhere. Mud is everywhere, and even the backyard has lost most of its snow cover. Soon I will have to start wiping down the dog when he comes inside. If that isn't Spring I don't know what is.

So I'm starting to lean toward Spring, in a very Wisconsin way. That means that I expect snow. It will snow again, probably at least twice more, before the ground thaws.

Until then I need to find my camera, clean out the seed starting area, and get some seeds started!! They'll be a little behind this year but I'm not going to sweat it.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Quick Game Review

Dean and I picked up Ubongo: the Deul over the weekend right before everyone got sick.

It's a puzzle game, something like Tetris, where you roll the dice, use the pieces listed for that number and then race each other to see who can make them fit in the space provided. There are several sheets and 20 combinations per sheet, so it never gets boring (that is--if you're into puzzle games to begin with). It's also great fun solo.

Half of us were sick, laying on my bed. Dean is trying to get L. to eat something and we were sitting around doing the puzzles solo and gloating to each other. So fun to see the boys enjoy that.

My only criticism is that all the pieces do not nest or snap together well. They're cardboard so I didn't expect the world, but I did want them to fit nicely together. Frustrating.

Last month I wrote about Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day. I was less than sparkly about their general bread...too much yeast I thought. Definitely an odd aftertaste to me (the bread snob), although most of the loaves went quickly enough.

I made the Apple and Honey Challah a few weeks ago. I halved the yeast at the beginning, used 'white' whole wheat (it's not really white but it's a lighter form of wheat which looks and tastes lighter), and actually had vital wheat gluten.  This time I also glopped the wet, wet dough into an oiled bread pan (next time parchment on the bottom) and folded it right in there instead of watching it fan out foccacia-like.

It was fabulous! Very high marks, although both my husband and I thought double the apple might be better. Or maybe some apple butter to eat with it (it's definitely March and I miss it).

We also got a little crazy and went out to dinner at a local cafe and hit up Goodwill on the way home. Sitting on the shelf was Rose Levy Beranbaum's new book. I've been reading the back and forth about it on Joe Pastry over the last few months (starting at the post on 1/5/10). He did a review of the book, Beranbaum responded personally, and it touched off an interview and back and forth over the month of January.

I'm not a pastry girl (although I did make those gougere in his blog). I have enough carb love. I don't need to branch out into butter and sugar as well. However, I don't have a good cake book yet and I've moved past boxes. It seemed like a fortuitous moment. Goodwill. Cheap. Me. Cheap. Cake. Yum. All the right components.

I have not baked from it yet. But my sister's birthday this week...and my mother's next week. Perhaps I can get a little practice in. No-gluten for Sis and cream puffs (not in this book but from another Beranbaum recipe) for my mom. I'll keep you updated.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Recap: now that I have pictures

I think I mentioned the many seed catalogs I got this year. Here are the 7-8 I had in January when I did my ordering. Three of these arrived before Christmas. I've received 3 or 4 since then as well.

The great bean-shelling of 2010. I had a basket of seed I picked in September or October that I'd let sit in an outer (ie cold but not freezing) room. L. helped me shell and pile everything. I then tossed them into envelopes. 

I should be getting ready to start planting seed but my basement seed stand (an old washing machine) is covered with stuff. Hopefully I'll get around to clearing it away soon so I can start getting excited about tomatoes, lettuce, and beans again.