Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Slippery Slope

Mike gave me his bonus--a Google phone with a data plan--for Christmas.

Which means--for better or worse--I can now blog from anywhere.

Including a chair lift at Lake Tahoe.

Happy New Year!

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Making Merry or Arsenic and Embroidery Floss

I was packing up some gifts to send when an email popped into my inbox. It was forwarded mail. Forbes Most Toxic Toys list. I clicked on the link and then looked at the slideshow of photos.

Wouldn't you know it, some presents I had just wrapped were pictured there. Friendship bracelet kits contaminated with arsenic. The U.S. is set to pass laws limiting the amount of arsenic in toys to 25 ppm. The amount in the friendship bracelets I was planning to give my own children and the children of friends: 630 ppm.

Here is one of the kits photographed on our tree, already adorned with its lead pvc light strings.

Let me say that this put a chill on my already weak enthusiasm for buying toys.

I am so glad that I am rotten at getting to the post office and was able to recall these toys myself and did not have to call my friends to say, hey, howzit going, I've been poisoning your kid.

The kids and I had a great time making presents this year. But you do have to wonder. If embroidery floss and a piece of foam are not safe, is anything? I am not generally paranoid about toxins. Everything is toxic in large enough quantities and everything is not toxic in small enough quantities.

But this made me think about everything we were making.

Evelyn made this snow globe and Clementine made the ducky out of Sculpey. Mmm. Baked plastic. That is sure to be good for you.

Greta picked out the beads for this spoon and I helped her wrap it. This is the only one of these gifts that truly worries me. Is that wire pure copper? What else might be in it and in the beads that I wouldn't like my father-in-law to be stirring into his coffee? A hot, acidic, liquid bath is just the ticket to get the toxins off the spoon and into him.

The aprons I made for my niece and nephew are probably not any more toxic...than, say, embroidery floss.

Freezer paper stencils are just as fun and satisfying as promised. But what about ironing that plastic-coated freezer paper? And what about the paint? And the glue for the rhinestones and jewels?

Clementine's fairy for her cousin Grace:

Evelyn's present for her cousin Amelia.
Evelyn's drawing about to be made into a stencil.
The stencil ready to be painted.
Painted and drying.
The finished shirt with two more stencils: a cave of jewels on the left shoulder and a bejeweled sword on the right arm.

Our honey. Well, we can't say it is organic because our neighbors might use pesticides. Still, I'm thinking this is a pretty safe gift. Except for the botulism spores.

The girls' gift to the squirrels and birds is among our safest gifts, I'm guessing. Peanut butter and bird seed on a pinecone.
The squirrels seemed to enjoy the gift.

And the girls enjoyed the squirrels.

Next year it will be peanut butter, birdseed and pinecones for everyone.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Bowled Over

The lacy thing you see on the left is a bowl made of parmesan cheese. A bowl! Made of cheese!

Clementine loved making these. And eating them, too.

The ingredient list is short:

Reggiano Parmesan cheese

And they take about 5 minutes to make.

Heat the oven to 350.

Pour a measured 1/4 cup of coarsely grated Reggiano Parmesan cheese on a non-stick baking sheet. Spread it out to form a circle 6 inches in diameter. Make up to 4 at a time.

Put them in the oven and watch till they melt and start to brown at the edges. Watching the circles is a great kid job. When they are just browning at the edges take the tray out of the oven.

Ok, this is the only tricky bit. You've got to get them off the tray after they are so hot and gooey they fall apart and before they are so cool and hard they won't bend.

So let the cheese circles cool for about a minute until with a thin spatula you can lift them off the tray.

Drape them over the bottom of a narrow glass and let cool.

Voila! Bowls made of cheese.

We filled them with orzo sprinkled with chopped parsley.
Eat the bowl and its contents together.

The recipe is from this book:

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Look Out Hansel and Gretel

Evelyn and Clementine had their hearts set on designing and baking their own gingerbread houses this year. I can't say my heart was in it at first, in fact, I can say unequivocally that my heart was not in it.

But it was so important to them. So I tried to view it as an excellent learning experience.

First they each made a prototype out of paper. Topics covered: Design, Measurement.

Then they arranged the papers in the baking trays like a tangram puzzle to see how many sheets of gingerbread we'd need. Topic: Math.

I found a recipe.

Evelyn quadrupled the recipe. Topic: Fractions.

Ev and Greta did the dry ingredients. Topic: Counting (14 cups of flour!).
Oops--no ground cloves. We'll have to grind them ourselves.

Clem did the wet ingredients. Topic: Centrifugal Force. My mixer's lowest setting is fling, as in fling stuff all over the kitchen. The highest I think is tornado, but I'm scared to try it.

I had to step in to do the final stirring of the stiff dough.

The assembly had its rocky moments, and there had been some slight miscalculations, but with a lot of royal icing and perseverance, they held together.

Clementine calculated the number of sweet tarts in her garden path. Topic: Multiplication.

Evelyn used some of the green not taffy we made to make windowpanes. Topic: Recycling and Resourcefulness. The light she put in the window is more witchy than welcoming, I think.
Evelyn's design.

Clem's design.

Greta used a Trader Joe's kit.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Bilious Green Goo

Or How Not to Make Taffy, but Have a Lot of Fun

First put the sugar, corn starch, corn syrup and butter in a saucepan that is obviously too small:

Stir:Then add water. This water has to be added so that you can boil it off later, concentrating your mixture to 95% sugar:

Stir again:
Now put it on the stove and bring to a boil, stirring constantly:

When it boils over, pour it carefully, into another pot, because you don't want this to happen.

Now boil, undisturbed, until it reaches 270 degrees. Oh, but you are running out of time and it won't get any hotter than 220. Assume your new professional candy thermometer is a piece of junk instead of realizing the candy won't reach 270 until it is 95% sugar.
Add green food coloring and flavoring. Flavoring in this case, under the children's insistence, will be homemade mint extract made from mint from your garden and Skyy vodka. Pureed.

Pour the goop into a tray and see if when it cools it is thick enough to pull.

Umm, no.

The next day put it back in the pot. Patiently wait for it to reach 270.
Is it still goo?

Nope, it is candy.

Decide your new professional candy thermometer really is a piece of junk.

Quick! Make candy canes before it hardens.