Fall Flavors: Gingerbread

I first made Amy Karol’s Gingerbread recipe when I was pregnant with Miss S in 2008.  I craved everything autumnal in that pregnancy– apples, butternut squash, pumpkin, and winter spices.  This cake was perfect for satisfying those cravings, and the seasonal ones that still return when the air gets crisp.  I’d call it more of a spice cake than a gingerbread, as to me gingerbread means something a bit more dense and fruit-cake/plum pudding like, though I don’t know where I got that platonic ideal of gingerbread.  Since then I’ve make it every fall, and today was the day!

I adore Brer Rabbit molasses, on the strength of the bottle alone, and buy a new bottle every year for fall baking season.

The cake  comes out of the oven dark, shiny and rich, and rather than use whipped cream, I frost it to keep all that good stuff from going dry and stale.

I made a lackluster cream cheese frosting this year (maple buttercream next time, I think), but that didn’t stop Miz E from licking the spatula with a gleam in her eye!

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Crayon Upcycling

In our house, two out of three children nap.  One of them two times a day.  Which means that Miss S, as the eldest, has to spend rather a lot of time at home waiting for smaller people to wake up, and as such I spend a lot of time making sure she is busy and having fun! As she likes crafty things, art, baking, nature and experiments, we have a lot of interests in common so usually we can find something fun to do together.  Today I noticed that there were lots of bitty ends in the crayon box– small enough for Big G to choke on, and too small for either of the girls to have much fun coloring with them.  Finally time to do something I’ve been desperate to try– melting together bits of crayon in molds to make swirly new crayons!  Of course somewhere I have silicone ice cube trays in cute shapes but I couldn’t find them so we used a mini muffin tin instead. We decided which crayons should go together in each muffin cup

Per the art direction of Miss S, we did one cup of rainbow, one cup shades of yellow, one shades of pink, one shades of green/ blue and one “mixed bag”(the one in the middle).

They baked in the oven at 350 for 5 minutes.

When they were all melty Miss S carefully swirled them around a bit with a toothpick- they looked rather muddy and unpromising at this stage, we were worried.  I put them in the freezer to firm up so we could pop them out and see if they were any more interesting underneath. Guess what? They were. Though I’d advise lightly oiling or spraying the baking cups before putting your crayon bits in, as the finished new crayons are rather hard to get out! I ran a knife around the edges and then ran warm water on the reverse side of the tin.

Above is the ‘mixed bag’ which turned out really neat and was the favorite of Miss S.

This one is my favorite– all swirly shades of greens and blues like the sea.

And here they are all together– certainly a fun experiment and as there are always broken crayons, one I’m sure we’ll be doing again!  Perhaps once I’ve found those silicone molds…

(And an extra bonus– click here for a video of Miss S doing “color commentary” on the finished product)


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Decorating, And A Small Claim to Fame

*We interrupt this post for important breaking news: as it turns out, I, Nancy Flynn, sold the very first item on Etsy! I had no idea until this very nice journalist got in touch to find out what I thought about it.  Want to read more? Here ya go.*

We moved into a new home a little bit over a year ago– it is the first house I’ve lived in, as I grew up and spent most of my life living in city apartments until now.  I’m finding decorating to be a real challenge, mostly because I’m afraid to make mistakes.  I know myself well enough to know that once something goes up (or down, in the case of a rug), I will consider it “done” and stop seeing it when I look at the room, meaning that if I settle for things that aren’t quite right, they will stay put they fall down or fall apart, just itching my unconscious, bothering me with their not-quite-rightness, but not enough for me to go to the trouble of changing them.  At any rate, our walls are white and very bare, with the exception of the girls’ room, because I put all of the art I ever bought and loved over the past 8-10 years up in their room immediately after we moved in.  So you know what my priorities are.  Given that, you’d think the obvious choice would be photos of the children or our family up on the walls.  Not so.  I have a weird mental block about using family photographs as art in public rooms in the house.  But after a trip to PaperSource, I hit upon a solution, at least for one wall: the custom, fabric silhouette.  A blend of art, patchwork and family photography that is great fun to do and sits very well with me indeed:

I could do a photo tutorial if anyone is interested, but the process is very simple indeed.

1. Take a photo of your subject in profile,

2. blow it up to the desired size (i just had Walgreens print the photos in 8×10),

3. cut the profile out, trace it onto heat’n’bond,

4. iron the first side of the heat’n’bond onto your patterned paper

5. cut around the traced line and peel off backing paper

6. Iron onto your background fabric

7. Trim and frame, hang jauntily going up the stairs, youngest kid on the bottom!

I have profile photos of the fella and me I was planning to use at the very top of the staircase, but i was sort of horrified by the turkey wattle i have in profile (note to self: work out more and eat less bread), and vanity won out so the kids are it for now.  I’m planning to use smaller photos to make tote bags for the grandmas for Christmas (Grammie, Gee, forget you read that, please.)

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Gotcha Matcha

One of my very favorite places to go when I want to treat myself to a little bit of Zen is Samovar Tea Lounge in the Castro (does it help that ImagiKnit is right across the street? maybe…).  I was recently there with the lovely Natalie, and we had delicious rice bowls, flaky scones and something I’ve never had before but totally blew me away: a matcha shake.  I had seen iced green tea concoctions before and vaguely knew that Starbucks made a frappuccino version, but faced with an unfamiliar green brew versus my favorite iced mocha with whip?  No contest.  I didn’t know what I was missing.  This thing was insane– creamy, sweet, grassy… I couldn’t get enough.  As we were paying the bill I asked if they sold the matcha, or a mix to make the shakes at home.  Another thing about Samovar– the waitstaff is always unfailingly kind, solicitous and soft-spoken, and to a man or woman looks you in the eye when waiting on you, something I realise when I experience it is very unusual. At any rate, our waiter apologetically explained that they don’t carry it in the store but I could get it online.  I tripped away, determined to order some.  When I finally got around to going to the website, I almost fell out of my chair– that matcha shake mix?  It was $125!!!!! No wonder it was so delicious, it was gold in a cup.

Undaunted, I decided to recreate it on my own, but a little bit more budget-friendly.  So I went to the bulk bins at the Berkeley Bowl and picked up 8oz of lovely green matcha powder, and a bag of palm sugar (which is what they use at Samovar for sweetener) and some coconut milk drink at Trader Joe’s (I think they use soy milk at Samovar).

1 tsp of matcha, 1T of palm crystals and 1 cup of coconut drink and a milk frother later and I’m declaring it a raging success.

Yum.  Apparently matcha has all kinds of health benefits too, which makes me feel a little bit less guilty about trading my customary afternoon iced coffee for one of these from now on.

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In Praise of the Mason Jar: Salad

I have, as the brilliant Jamie Chan commented one of my Instagram pics, “definitely joined the mason jar revolution.”  Everything in my pantry is stored in mason jars, I use my Cuppow to drink juice, water, coffee etc out of a mason jar, use them to shake up my dressings and sauces, and anything else I can think of.  In addition, of course, to actually using them to preserve jams, jellies etc.  Anyway, most of my quart-sized mason jars are in constant use these days thanks to the genius of the mason jar salad.  I came across it on pinterest and was immediately hooked.  As someone in a CONSTANT quest to eat healthier, faster (if I don’t plan ahead, I end up with buttery toast crusts for breakfast and the crusty dregs of Trader Joe’s macaroni and cheese for lunch), the idea of fixing a bunch of salads all at once and then just shaking one up when it was time to eat was life changing.  So, prep once, eat lunch, or dinner, for several days.  The only rule is to keep the dressing on the bottom, and separate anything that will get limp or soggy from it with the heartier ingredients.

I like to have a variety in the fridge for my different moods, and every salad includes lettuce(cabbage, spinach, arugula) lots of chopped veggies, protein, something sweet, and something crunchy.  A few favorite options:

Chipotle: Black beans, shredded cheese, frozen sweet corn, tomatoes, bell pepper, cucumbers and cabbage with a chipotle dressing (buttermilk, chipotle chili powder, garlic powder, agave, cider vinegar, salt).

Asian: Extra firm tofu, snow peas, shredded carrot, cucumber, cabbage, uncooked ramen noodles, sesame dressing (sesame oil, grapeseed oil, rice vinegar, soy sauce, brown sugar, dijon mustard)

Italian: Mozzerella cheese, tomatoes, spinach, pine nuts, pesto vinaigrette (pesto sauce, buttermilk, cider vinegar, agave, salt).

Beets: Feta cheese, steamed or roasted beets, arugula, candied walnuts (also good with some granny smith apples added in!), with balsamic vinaigrette.

I keep thinking up new variations to try and am always and only limited by the number of mason jars in the cabinet… maybe it is time to buy another case?

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Baking with Babies: Apple Muffins

I used to be someone who made a dress in a day, knitted a sweater in a month, or stitched a plethora of little zipper clutch bags or totes in a weekend.  Then I had children, and found that once they spend most of their time awake, it is a challenge to get in that kind of intense, focused making for hours at a time.  I still sew and knit, but I accept that I can only get things done in little bits and pieces here and there rather than all at once.

Enter baking– baking is creative, it is fun, and children can do it with you.  Most of my daily crafting that isn’t totally kid related (play doh, cornstarch paint, finger puppets…), is kitchen related.  We had a nice harvest of apples from the two trees in our yard this year–they are perfectly OK eating apples but not really terrific raw, so I set to work and made several batches of apple butter.  But as I don’t really like eating apple butter I had to come up with something to do with them(other than giving them away).  The solution? Baked Apple Cider Donut Holes.  There was great enthusiasm over the baking

And the sugar coating

They do not come out like donut holes, or taste like donut holes, but rather very delicious little muffins, perfectly acceptable for breakfast when served with a nice cup of warm, frothy milk

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