Bakin’ Pixelation

So my wee niece — the wee one, not the wee-est one — is apparently in love with Minecraft. Which I don’t get. It smacks of an endless game of hide-and-seek where you hide from weirdly pixelated creatures while seeking weirdly pixelated gemstones in weirdly pixelated mines. Pixelated.

86px-BabyMooshroom

A MOOSHROOM a cow-mushroom hybrid from Minecraft. A pixelated one.

Cakes, however, and cookies and whatnot are things I do get. And the wee niece’s birthday turned out to be a time to attempt several challenges at once: cookie pops, marshmallow fondant, and carving and stacking cakes…to make a MINECRAFT cake. WOOT!

Time management tends to be my downfall, so this time I planned things out thusly:

DAY ONE:

My day to make the marshmallow fondant, which has to sit overnight and which turns out to be a tasty confection — much, much better than the fondant you’re thinking of — and happily easier than it would seem. I colored it as closely as I could with Minecraft colors, even leaving some streaks to provide a sort of — you guessed it — pixelation.

Pink and blue and green and brown and green and brown...

Pink and blue and green and brown and green and brown…

Use gloves. Seriously. Use gloves! I found a box of latex-free food grade gloves at a local restaurant supply company that is open to the public, and I highly recommend them. ( the gloves AND the restaurant supply!) Avoid fingers tinted an odd color that will spark stares and unwanted conversations.

I wanted to add as many (PIXELATED) cookie characters as I could. I eyeballed the Fat Daddio square cookie cutter set before realizing that it was an unneeded purchase. *SIGH*

Instead, I dug up the fabulous Sweetapolita cookie pop recipe and threw a buttery batch together and chilled it, then rolled it out and cut squares with my trusty pizza cutter. Huzzah for multi-taskers!

The tiny rectangles are for the pixelated piggy snouts.

The tiny rectangles are for the pixelated piggy snouts.

All baked up, these will keep until I’m ready to decorate them!

Then, make up a batch of Rice Krispie treats and press those suckers down flat so they can be cut into squares…to create pixelated peeps.

(and I’m done for day one!)

DAY TWO:

Cakes. Bake those suckers the day before so you can chill them. I looked for dense, tasty recipes, so of course I wandered over to my foodie crush, Alton Brown. I’ve had exceptional success with his trés leche cake, and I’ve been dying to try his devil’s food, so I was all set. Two batches of trés leche and one of the darkest, deepest, most decadent devil’s food EVAR.

All of these plus one in the oven!

All of these plus one in the oven!

You’ll need about a dozen eggs: five for each the trés leche and four for the devil’s food…but it’s worth it. Oh, yes. It’s worth it.

DAY THREE: Oh, the fun stuff!

Give those lovely cakes a crumb coat (I used a basic vanilla buttercream for both), roll out the fondants, cut them, and apply to cakes. Sculpt the Rice Krispie treats into trees and pigs and monsters and that Steve dude that apparently wanders about as pixelated as a daffodil.

These steps so consumed my day that I have no pictures of the process. But please enjoy this photo of a Minecraft pig:

Piggity.

Piggity.

The square cookies turned into piggies and creepers (these weird pixelated green things that explode. or something), but the tiny piggy nose cookies went away. Didn’t work. Best to draw the snout on with royal icing.

DAY FOUR:

BIRTHDAY PARTY DAY!

Rolled out the blue fondant for “water” pixels and threw everything into boxes and rushed cake to party site.

Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaand here they are:

Devil's Food on the left; Vanilla on the right

Devil’s Food on the left; Vanilla on the right… please to notice the “torches” in the “stone” on the DF cake.

Piggies and creepers!

Piggies and creepers!

A close-up in which you can see the (saddled) pig and Steve and a wee Minecraft "cake."

A close-up in which you can see the (saddled) pig and Steve and a wee Minecraft “cake.”

IMG_2241[1]

The DF Creeper cake…note the angled “torches,” please. And the pixelated water and…um…grass?

Well, that’s that. Awesome fun foodie adventure, plus fondant usage is finally under my belt. Plus, it’s good to be back online taking random foodie pics and accompanying them with dialogue…

What fresh, new (preferably unpixelated) challenge awaits, lurking on the horizon?

I mean, of course, other than catching up on grading…urk.

Sincerely,

Bonnycate

Back in the (curried) Saddle Again

While visiting with Dr. Nancy in the lovely seaside village of St. John’s, we snacked on something called Curried Vegetable Spread. Every afternoon.

She found it at the local Farmers’ Market. This was seriously good stuff. Made by a sweet lady doing business under the name of Soups, Spreads, and Such – St. John’s.

The puzzle

Now, since I came to expect this wonderful mélange of veggies and tastiness AND since I can’t fly almost nine hours to retrieve some, I decided to deconstruct the ingredients and make my own.

There aren’t recipes for this on the web, my friends. At least not where I can find them. Perhaps they hide in dark corners of the Internet, showing themselves to only the most expert of searchers.

Either way, the day after I arrived, I rushed to the store and collected all the ingredients listed on the lid. Then I napped. For about 18 hours. Then, today, I felt the curried monkey on my back. I was jonesing for my afternoon hummus and spread snack… So I made hummus and prepared to attempt the veggie spread…

No more chickpeas. Used them all in the hummus.

Which was tasty…but I needed that curry tastiness. I wanted that spread.

So I began:

Sliced the eggplant on a mandolin first to assist in speedy dicing

See? MUCH easier to dice after the mandoline slicing

Cauliflower chopping — vair difficult to make it uniform

Tomatoes? Much easier to dice to perfection

Cremini? YUM-ini!

I used 1/4 of this seriously ginormous onion

BLORP! Love that sound…

The end result? Just as fresh, just as satisfying despite the differences. Spicier than the original, but tasty nonetheless. Veggies a bit crisper in texture, but fabulous nonetheless.

Here’s the original inspiration:

Super-terrific spread, no? Look at those COLORS!

And my copycat:

The end result! Awfully close, no?

Dr. Nancy, here’s the recipe! I’ll need another obsession now. Besides beer. Ice cider. Yellowbelly. Kayaking…remind me why I left again?

Sincerely,

Bonnycate

An homard in every pot

Lobster day today. It’s dirt cheap here, and just sitting there in the store, waiting for us to cook it and dip it in butter and suck it down noisily.

Off to the store. Walking. What’s that? WALKING. Seriously. Walked up to the store to get our dinner bugs:

Lobsters in their version of a gladiator’s den…

you shall…BE DINNER!

The choosing finished, our lovely wee lobsters were hospitably collected into a plastic bag…

Hospitably confined…

and taken home to chill in the chill drawer while we gathered supplies.

Sel toujours sec, claw cracker, butter, Quidi Vidi beer, and chocolate: all necessary lobster-cookin’ tools

Time for more prep: 2 1/2 quarts of water in a pot with 5 tablespoons of the sel (that’s salt in French), set it to a boil, then grab the lobsters from the chill bin…

Stunned by the chill and ready to become dinner

…and drop them in head-first…

Thank you to my hand model and co-chef, Dr. Nancy

and boil them for 15 minutes. Unless they’re male. Then cook them for 17 minutes. Good luck to you in finding out before the fact.

A lobster in every pot (this place only had two sort-of-large pots…)

Run them under cold water (ironically, didn’t have ice) to stop the cooking process.

How awesome is this shot, may I ask? Just freaking awesome, I may answer.

All set up with Dr. Who on the telly and tasty lobster dinners on the table. And beer.

Almost didn’t get this shot in. Too excited. Dr. Nancy reminded me.

How gorgeous is this claw?

NOM.

Did I mention the beer?

Fighting Irish Red: the most non-PC likker in all the land!

And the aftermath…

Oh! The humanity!

And now off for British Butter ice cream at MooMoo’s. Yes. You heard me. Butter ice cream for dessert. Jealous much?

Sincerely,

Bonnycate

The _____________-est ___________ in St. John’s

So I’ve been in Canada for one day, and already I’m loving the climate and the general pleasantness of the Canadians. And the French signage is fun, too. (Bonjour, bonhomme de niege! Quelle temps fait-il? Il pleut!) But the weather…OH, the change in weather:

Suck it, H-town!

I woke up fairly early and we walked about 157 miles (kilometres, whatever), looked at the unusual artwork on the walking paths…

*giggle*

the local warnings…

Wharf speed, Mr. Sulu!

the local graffiti…

and local interesting factoids…

before sitting down to lunch at a lovely little brewery/bistro named Yellow Belly. Where we ordered fish and chips. And got this:

Black bean burger…

and this:

Panko-breaded cod and chips. Oh, my.

and THIS:

Citrus aioli, it’s called. Roasted-garlicky, mayonnaise-y, lemon zest-y, dill-y wonderfulness. We dipped our chips in it. Chugged it. Did shots of it. Begged the waitress for more of it. Called it loving names and made promises to it that we could never keep. Just heaven, that stuff. I asked for the recipe and our lovely and personable (and polite!) waitress laughed me off. Politely. Seriously, y’all. I think this is the land where courtesy came to retire. You can walk blindly across a road and cars will screech to a halt for you. The 2012 version of Walter Raleigh and Queen Elizabeth. (Look it up.) Politeness and courtesy should be Canada’s #1 export. Send some to your noisy, obnoxious neighbors to the south, please, Canada…

Then, full of delicious foods and a great local and insensitively-named beers (Fightin’ Irish Red), we napped. Seriously, is there anything better than a nap? We woke up and read the paper and found out that this town likes to brag. There’s the oldest street in North America. The oldest music store on the oldest street in North America. The favorite Irish pub in St. John’s. The oldest Irish pub in St. John’s. The blankest blank in ALL THE LAND.

Then a “haunted hike” around the town with this dude:

and his stentorian voice…look it up, I said!

and back to Yellow Belly for another pint.

*sigh*

I may have to move here.

Sincerely,

The tiredest tourist in all St. John’s

Nikki T and the Spagery Man

Too tired to can today. Made some quinoa salad (that is superb enough for me to post the recipe), but my thoughts ranged nostalgic today. Working summer school this year has made me appreciate anew the support I have at my new school and district and caused me to remember the handful of people who have proved good enough friends in my life that they can no longer just be considered support, but scaffolding.

I give you the story of Nikki T and the Spagery Man.

Once upon a time, I worked next door to and across from two people I’m happy to call friends. We acted up, sang, goofed off, and made school our playground.

In-between classes, I mean.

We never goofed off while teaching.

Fer totes.

Except sometimes…

If you teach, you know what a mind-numbing, soul-sucking, bureaucratic piece of evil the phrase ACTIVE MONITORING is, especially when talking about STANDARDIZED TESTS. You walk around and watch the kids. Watch for cheating. Watch for instruction-following. Watch to make sure they’re not bubbling in wrong. Watch to make sure they’re not doodling on the side of scan-tron. Watch and walk. Watch and walk. If you have a typically active mind and the thought processes of a hummingbird on a full tank of Starbucks, this is torture. I hated the ACTIVE MONITORING almost as much as the kids dreaded taking the TESTS.

I couldn’t chat with the kids about what they read. I couldn’t offer suggestions or tell them if they were even on the right track. Heck, I couldn’t even read the story or the questions or the answers. And all I could say  in response to any heart-breakingly desperate request was, “I’m sorry. I can’t answer that. Just do the best you can.”

Once again, if you’re a teacher, you know.

We used to have four days of this for the state test. Four days straight. Two days for a different one: the Iowa Test of Basic Skills. Hours of ACTIVE MONITORING and stifled brain activity.

And so we found an outlet. Nikki T composed a poem one day. A poem that stemmed from a Honduran student who was learning English for the first time. A student who decided that Benry looked like “spagery.”

For this, if you’re a teacher of English learners, you’re trying to sound it out as if it’s in Spanish.

And you’re realizing that the student was reaching for “spagedy”…spaghetti. Tall, lean Benry. Our Spagery Man.

Nikki T draws inspiration from many things obscure and bizarre, but for this brilliant piece of writing, she mimicked the great Maya Angelou. The poem itself is genius. Nikki T, as usual, gets it and runs with it.

What was the icing on the cake, the cherry on the top, the sprinkles and whipped cream and glitter and fireworks was what happened during our break after the days of ACTIVE MONITORING. We were venting (as teachers are wont to do…if you’re one, you know), when Nikki T busted out her masterpiece…and performed it. As Maya Angelou. Perfect pitch. Perfect cadence.

I remember my eyes blurring with tears. I remember getting that stitch in your side that only comes from the best, deepest, purest laughter. I remember choking down the laughs when other teachers came in to complain about the noise…then laughing all the harder when they left. I’m glad that even at the time I recognized this moment as a big one. A powerful, heart-filling, magical sharing of silliness and camaraderie of such magnitude that it called out to be recorded and shared.

So, dear friends, I have shared that memory, and now I give you…Spagery Man in its entirety:

 

Spagery Man, you stand, a beacon, in the marinara-soaked night.

 

A pillar of starchy perfection.

 

Not a hollow, Manicotti Man,

Not a crooked, Macaroni Man,

And not a Ravioli Man, ever-full of himself.

 

No, Spagery Man.  You are tall—a big boy.

 

A sculpted carbohydrate of inspiration.

 

You are brave, Spagery.

Do you mock boiling water, knowing that it will bend—not break—you?

Do you laugh at the Wall in China, dubbing it “Not-So-Great?”

For you, Spagery, have the courage to stick to your conquests.

You encourage us to stick together when at 212 degrees.  (210 at higher altitudes.)

 

And you are a saucy chameleon of flavor combinations.

 

Linguini, Tortellini, Rotini, Bow Tie—they will never match your glory.

Angel Hair?  Spagery wants not hair; Spagery needs no hair.

His head is filled with gems and pearls.

Wise shall you ever be—requiring a special spoon to collect your wisdom.

 

It is not the Tower of Pisa that leans, but we who lean on you.

 

Spagery Man—pontificating pasta pilot in the journey we call…life.

 

Spagery Man.

Give me some figgy goodness…

June 30, 2012

Figgy picking day today. I first visited the Matt Family Orchard a few weeks ago and picked a bazillion blackberries…

blackberry bounty

which became some jams…

and wee bitty individual cobblers. No pics of the cobblers. I assure you that they met a good end, piled high with whipped cream and inhaled at a Game Night with the Power Rangers.

So despite it being one of my summer days off, I set that alarm for all too early and ChrisTina and I hauled our grumpy butts up to the farm. The Matt family representatives crack me up. A young joker stood behind the counter while a more *ahem* mature joker met us as we walked up and greeted me (in my workin’ girl headscarf) with “you’re a PIRATE!” and ChrisTina with “thanks for bringin’ MY coffee!”

“WELL!” Chris barked back, one hand on hip, the other waving her cup widely and dangerously, “we didn’t KNOW what you WANTED!”

“You coulda called.”

Yeah. It’s a good place. Our kinda place. You should go there. Often. But not before I go and get my stash, please-and-thank-you.

After more banter, during which we were instructed to pick purple, brown, or yellow fruit that “feels like a boiled egg,” we set off with buckets for the trees with fruit that dripped nectar.

And here our paths diverged. ChrisTina is a wanderer. She strolled from tree to tree, commenting, picking a fruit, tasting it, commenting, talking figs to a guy who crossed her path (irritating the girl with him, too…she started whipping figs into her bucket the longer he talked to Chris).

I was a machine. Search. Touch-test for boiled egginess. Abandon or pick. Repeat. No fruit visible? Crawl up in the midst of limbs, girl! Inhale that yummy fermented figgy whiff coming from the windfalls…but harvest!!

Thirty minutes later, my two buckets brimmed with fruity yumminess. ChrisTina had scored about a dozen. And blamed me for picking the trees bare before she could get to them. Whatevs.

We sweated home and I checked out my bounty. Nine pounds of figgy riches.

Some browns, some purples. No. I don’t know the names. Don’t care to. I picked BROWNS and I picked PURPLES.

Not only did I score a massive fig haul, but I brought home fresh Eggs From Our Farm.

Ain’t they purty? Lookit the freckles on this one.

Ever since I’ve really started on my canning /preserving kick, Big Dog and Little Dog now see me piling bags of fruit into the kitchen as the sign that they will have to go Out Of The Kitchen Or Else, and obligingly took care of their afternoon ablutions then set up shop hovering in the kitchen doorway. Waiting…

(Yes, that’s laundry sitting in the white basket behind the table. Don’t judge me.)

The preserves gang, all stem-free and spotless and shiny and ready for their closeup:

And some too delectable to cook up that were spared just for eatin’:

Now to find recipes…

Sincerely,
Bonnycate