Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Goodness Gracious, We're Back from the Cretaceous.

I have a little birthday letter planned for O., but since N. is not cooperating with my idea of a proper nap schedule today, it probably won't happen until later this week. But since we had such fun celebrating his fourth birthday in grand dinosaur style, I thought I'd share a few photos now.

Here are the kids at the dinosaur exhibit at the museum:
the family birthday outing.
The light in there was not so good, and they were not so willing
to stand still, so not the greatest quality shot.

Outside, looking out on the city along with the brachiosaurus pair.

O's dinosaur cake, modeled directly after a photo we found. I wanted to make the one in the shape of a stegosaurus, but O. opted for the one with the volcano scene. The birthday boy gets what the birthday boy wants. I didn't get any photos of the other volcano -- the sand/chemical reaction model we made for a party activity. It worked out pretty well. At least, it was impressive to the four year olds.

A photo essay by Owen, the day after his party, of the dinosaur loot he's most enamored of:
Birthday sign and Sharp's nose.

Dinosaur mountain that you grow real grass on: note seeds and dirt.

Closeup of the dino eggs and palm tree.

Spike Jr.

And finally, this afternoon's project: convince O. that he does actually have a lot of dinosaurs, and thus does not need to spend all the coins in his train and piggy banks to purchase all the dinosaurs pictured on the back of previously mentioned dinosaur/grass growing mountain. The resulting evidence:

Thursday, April 23, 2009

No Yolk, Baking Without Eggs Is Not That Bad

I know it's far past Easter, but I thought I would report that the season of eggs came and went in our household without anyone ingesting so much as a white. We did, however, dye several dozen, One kit had dinosaur transfer tattoos that made it look like creatures were hatching out of the eggs, and O. is still sporting a couple of them on his arm and tummy.

I've been having fun experimenting with eggless baking, believe it or not. Baking has never really been my strong suit in the kitchen, probably because it requires much more precision than I really have patience for, given my inclination to improvise. But this eggless thing, it's sort of a challenge to me. I'm figuring out the science behind the recipes, discovering why the eggs are there, and then working on substituting other things.

According to some of my research, eggs really are far less necessary than a lot of recipes would lead you to believe. In fact, something I read suggested that oftentimes eggs appear in recipes out of habit, or are included because they are a cheap form of protein, and can actually just be left out altogether. This is of course true in something like a meatloaf, where as long as you have enough moisture in your mix, you really don't need the egg to hold it all together, but apparently is true even in some baking recipes.

Also, apparently you can tell what the purpose of an egg is in a recipe based on how many of them are needed. If it calls for one egg, it's probably just a binder, holding things together. In that case, you can substitute something like applesauce. If it calls for 2 or 3 eggs, it's probably a leavener, helping things rise. If that's the case, there are several suggested substitutions, things like baking soda and vinegar. Or, you can buy this vegan egg replacer (not egg substitute, like Egg Beaters, those are made out of eggs, just without the cholesterol, etc.) made by a company called Ener-G. It's some sort of potato/tapioca starch something or other, a powder that looks like cornstarch and you mix with water and add in instead of the egg. More than 3 eggs in a recipe, you probably can't make it without them.

We really don't use eggs all that often in our house. J. doesn't like to eat things that have eggs as their primary ingredient, as they often do not agree with him. (So, I'm not going to take ALL the blame for passing along these food issues to N.) But I do make a batch of muffins almost every Saturday and Sunday morning. Nothing fancy at all: I like the cheap Jiffy brand mixes, which of course are not all that good for you, but require you only to add an egg and some milk. A lot of the other pouch type mixes already have the egg included, so are obviously off limits for N. I started my experiments with these muffins.

One morning, I made one batch just omitting the eggs, and another batch using the Ener-G. Both actually came out looking like regular old muffins. The Ener-G ones were a little whiter than normal, but the others looked just like they usually do. Verdict? The completely eggless ones were dry and crumbly, though not inedible. The egg replacer ones were just fine, in fact, maybe a little softer than normal. I've been making them this way ever since. I may try a batch using applesauce, I just keep forgetting to do it.

Then, as a practice to see whether or not a real cake could be made without eggs before O's birthday, I made the bunny cake pictured above. I made it from scratch using regular all purpose flour and the Ener-G egg replacer. Here's what the cakes looked like before I made it into the bunny:
They definitely didn't rise quite as much as cake mix usually does. I decided to try it from scratch rather than using a mix because the directions on the egg replacer said that it works better that way. Who knows? One website suggested that when cooking with this replacer, you really need to use cake flour, because it's so much lighter than all purpose. I didn't have any on hand, but may try that out. The cake itself tasted okay -- pretty dense, not fluffy. J. compared it to the taste of pancake batter. Nice.

Anyway, verdict is, I won't be using this recipe to make O's birthday cake. He deserves a real cake for Dinosaur Land. Instead, I'm planning to whip up a additional batch of cupcakes for N. to eat on that day. I think I'll decorate them with pretty icing in honor of my mom's birthday, which we'll also be celebrating this weekend.

I'll use a mix from Cherrybrook Kitchens, which is a company that makes allergen free baking products. All of their things are egg and nut free, and they even make some gluten free products. They're expensive, and the cake mix only makes enough for one layer, so I don't see this as an all the time alternative, but they do seem to taste good. I made some muffins from one of their mixes, and I thought they were delicious. So did N. However, O. did not like them because, get this: they had chocolate chips in them. You tell me, what kid doesn't like chocolate chips? Mine.

The most recent of our egg-free baking happened yesterday when I resurrected a recipe I hadn't done in a while, though I'm not sure why. You simply mix a box of cake mix and a can of pumpkin, plop that into muffin cups (I used cupcake liners because they get pretty mushy and seem to come out better that way) and you have a relatively healthy snack/dessert. I added a little water this time to make them easier to mix, but I'm not sure you even need it. Ours were chocolate this time, but I've heard if you mix them with a spice cake mix they taste a lot like pumpkin pie. I would say the end result is less like cake, more like a brownie, but not as dense. They're pretty yummy, though, and the kids enjoyed helping make them. Word to the wise, though. The batter is super sticky, and not so fun to remove from the fronts of your cabinets after your 19 month old smears a palmful across them.

So there you have it: our foray into eggless baking. Going pretty well so far. I'd say the only place I'm truly missing them is in french toast, which had been on my standard rotation of meals to throw together when J. was traveling, one I knew for sure both kids would eat. I don't really see how I can make that without eggs, but I'm willing to hear any and all suggestions on that front, or on any baking/cooking experiments you've tried lately.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

O-Speak Update, As He Approaches His 4th! Birthday

Here's a joke from O.:

Q: What do you get when you put together a car, a bird, and a dog?

A: A flying carpet

He told this one to J. out of the blue one night at bedtime. J, used to the usual nonsensical knock-knocks that pass for jokes in O's world, (ie: Knock Knock. Who's There? Banana. Banana Who? Banana Crayon.) said he nearly dropped the sippy cup of milk he was carrying out of the room and completely cracked up. O. told it to me the next morning, and has since retold it at least 10 times, every time correctly. He has since admitted he heard it on Zooboomafu, but since when does anyone actually make up jokes?

Also, the other day, the whole family was in O's bed reading stories. J. was complaining he couldn't get comfortable, as his pants kept going...he stopped himself from finishing that line of thought, but O. picked right up on it.

"Up in your butt, Dad? Yeah, that happens to me all the time."

The other day I was putting laundry away, and found a trove of toys and other treasures amongst the clothes. One thing was a picture frame that usually sits on O's dresser, a photo of the moment O. met N. in the hospital. It's one of my favorite shots of him, so sweet and amazed. I told him he could go put it back in his room, but he had a different idea.

"No, Mommy. You can have it in your room." He took it over and put it on my nightstand. "Now, when I'm not around, you can think of me, and remember how much you love me."

N. has finally started to not only have enough hair to wear small bows, but will also keep them in for longer than a minute or so. She does eventually pull them out, so there's yet another source of small things littering flat surfaces around here. Luckily, O. has decided that his best stuffed friend, his dog Charlie, is actually a girl. (I guess that means I should spell it Charly?) Therefore, he wants her to have a bow clipped onto her ear at all times, so I can usually find one when I want to accessorize N's outfit.

Lastly, here's a little video that shows one of O's funnier phrases of late. In case you can't quite understand him, he's saying "Oh no. Not this kid." Since he has recently turned quite vocally and annoyingly argumentative, this is actually a refusal I don't much mind. I'm sure it will get annoying soon, but for now, quite cute. Also, please note that his sister copies EVERYTHING he does. Oh, and how do you like my lovely kitchen walls? The wallpaper is all down, but I suspect it will be a while before we actually get them painted.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Ironing and Other Poetic Experiences

I had to iron twice in the last week, in preparation for dressing in Easter finery and portrait taking. Ironing usually ranks right up there with dusting as a detested chore for me, but lately I've been finding it quite soothing. After the kids are in bed, I set up the board in front of the TV, spray a little starch, smooth out the wrinkles, and enjoy the the closest thing I'm going to get to a facial for some time. I'm not saying I want my husband to stop sending his shirts out to be laundered, but I may start actually pressing off some of my nicer t-shirts rather than ramming them into my overcrowded drawers just so I can get the laundry put away.
I started thinking about Tillie Olsen's "I Stand Here Ironing" which I intially remembered as a poem, rather than short story, which means I'm overdue to go back to read it. I don't think I've read it since I became a mother to a daughter, and the fact that I'm feeling inspired by ironing seems to be sending me back there. Also, it's National Poetry Month and I've yet to share a poem, so here are a couple of links to actual poems about ironing.

Ironing by Vicki Feaver

Ironing After Midnight by Marsha Truman Cooper

Speaking of poetry, one of my favorite books, a novel written in what amounts to chapters of verse, is celebrating its 25th anniversary. I loved teaching The House on Mango Street, for its lovely language and the way it evokes both the sweetness and scariness of growing up through the voice of its protagonist, Esperanza. I had some of my best moments of getting students to actually pay attention to the craft of writing with that book, and saw students write some beautiful pieces in response to this book. I enjoyed listening to Sandra Cisneros discussing the book on NPR last week, and hearing her read about the house with windows like they are holding their breath.

I always seem to be in the car to listen to Marketplace, thus I'm more informed than you'd think on matters of economics. I'm superimpressed by their observance of Poetry Month, proving poetry is not only found just about everywhere, it's amazingly appropriate for just about any subject. Love that they keep referring to Philip Levine's poem "What Work Is" in their promos. You can check out what they're up to here.

Now go read some poetry on your own.

Monday, April 20, 2009

They Better Be Some Great May Flowers...

It's another cold and rainy Monday here in Cincinnati, though we had half of a beautiful weekend again. So here are some of the promised shots of O's little garden.
For perspective, here's the front door. Garden is to the left of the porch. J's concrete block creation blends in pretty well, I think.
The packets of seeds we bought said "for small spaces" but I'm not sure they meant THIS small:

I don't think you can see it as well as I had hoped with this shot, but the lettuce is already coming up! O. wrote the label stick himself, after I spelled each letter in the air for him. Now, if we can just keep the dog from sleeping in here, we'll be fine. It is one of her favorite spots to dig/wallow, but she abandoned it last year after I moved my herb pots in.

And here's a shot that O. took himself of one of my surviving tulips.

The hyacinths are over now, but O. had J. help him cut a couple one afternoon. He brought them in the house to me, and I thanked him profusely. He shrugged, headed back for the garage door and said "That's just what little kids do for their mommies in springtime."

Oh, and lest you think N. isn't into the outdoors projects, here's some proof she can stir up some springtime magic of her own.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Before and After

I wanted to show you pictures of O's sweet little garden that we built yesterday, when it was sunny and nearly 80 degrees here. He love, love, loves to plant seeds. Often, he finds random bits of organic matter in the yard, pushes them down into the dirt and tells me that soon I will be seeing a tree, or an acorn, or some other type of flower growing.
His dad's friend B. loves to take credit for teaching him to push "helicopters" down into the grass so lots of new trees will grow in Daddy's yard. (J. is a touch obsessive about our yard, something that is a futile exercise given the woods surrounding our home and the moles that love to burrow all around in it.) We have a pumpkin vine growing in a pot on our dining room table and a little container with some herb seeds waiting to sprout.
An episode of Franklin yesterday inspired O. and J. to turn the little spot next to the front porch into a vegetable plot. We sowed some lettuce and carrot seeds, and will wait until warmer weather to put in some green beans, onions and a cucumber vine.
Anyway, it was feeling really happy and warm yesterday, like days of sunshine and outside were not something to dream about coming, but here, for good. Also, J. was making plans for watching baseball on Opening Day, almost a real holiday here in Cincinnati, the home of the nation's oldest baseball team.
That was yesterday. Today it is rainy, cold, and there are reports of snow for tomorrow: not exactly baseball weather. Our other beloved local sports team, Xavier, has lost yet another coach to the inevitable next step in a bright career. And as soon as I get done typing this, I will have to go throw sheets on the few tulips of mine that have decided to sprout this year so they don't get frosted. (Seriously, I don't know what happened this year. I know they're not to be considered perennials, but I've had luck bringing them back for three years now. I guess the squirrels had some tasty midwinter snacks.) So, the photos of the garden will have to wait for another day.
Instead, I'll show you a more fun before and after sequence than depressing weather tales.

O's hair this morning...(this really doesn't even do justice how CRAZY it was).

O's hair this afternoon!