Friday, April 22, 2016

Food Science, Part II

This unit focused on proteins: dairy, eggs, and meat.

Our first lab was to let milk sit for 1/2 hour with lemon juice in it. I actually ran this twice because I do this very thing often and the first time for whatever reason did not turn out chunky at all. The second time it turned out beautifully. I didn't do anything different (to my knowledge) either of these times, so I'm still perplexed as to the different result.

The second lab was in two parts. Assessing the freshness of eggs and making egg foams. For part one we had to put an egg in water and assess if it was floating or not. The older the egg, the larger the air sac at the broad end, the more likely it is to stand up straight in the water rather than lay down. Then I cracked the egg and put it on a plate to evaluate the yolk and white. Mine was quite fresh, with a nicely rounded yolk, a sturdy thick egg white and a runny thin egg white.

Then we beat egg whites in several variations, timing how long it took to achieve firm peak stage.

The third lab was dealing with meat tenderness. We used top round steak, cut it into 6 approximately equal segments, prepared them in different ways, and broiled them. I found the salt-brine with perforations in the meat to be the best of the variations.

Taste-testing the meat was my lunch that day. Mal had a hard time waiting until I got all my observations recorded to taste the meat. He grabbed a chunk as soon as I let him and ate it all. Surprising, as he isn't often a big meat-eater (always refuses turkey or ham at holidays), though we also never have beef outside of ground beef. And the chunk he grabbed was just the control - not the most tender of the preparations, though it had a decent beefy flavor. So apparently he likes beef. Ryan got to have the leftovers for his dinner that night.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016


We've officially got five years until Gareth is high school age. As we've lived in Seattle for five years already and know how quickly that time span goes, this is more than a little disturbing.

Gareth initially wanted a video game party, preferably with us renting one of those trucks that are outfitted with everything needed for various video games. They run about $350 per hour, so there was no way that was happening, despite Gareth telling me it is "totally worth it". I just laughed at him. In the end he decided he'd survive if we just stuck to playing Minecraft.

So we put on what was probably the easiest party ever. We have a few computers with the game on it, and asked friends who were able to bring a laptop. I did learn that I should've sent a reminder to parents about that bit. But a couple kids survived having to take turns playing. I grabbed stuff to make a perler bead Minecraft craft (basically this kind of thing and magnets/pin backs/keychain rings so they could make it into what they wanted) so kids could have an activity to do if taking turns to play had to happen, but in the end they were content to just watch the other kids play when it wasn't their turn. It took several minutes to get everyone set up, they played for about an hour, then we had about 20 minutes left to do cake and presents. It went by really quickly and if we did this party again I'd probably extend it from 2 hours to 2.5, just to give them a little more play time.

My mom wanted to make something using her fancy shmancy cutting machine thing, so she sent these awesome goody boxes:

I got some Minecraft minifigures to go in them. I was initially thinking they'd come in their usual boxes, which would take up most of the space in these boxes. But then I ordered them in 3-packs on Amazon and they were not in the usual packaging. A single minifigure in the box looked kind of lame, so I ran out and got a couple candy items that are Gareth's favorite and threw a couple of those in each box as well.

Gareth fell in love with the more complicated looking cakes we saw online. I was ready to totally dismiss them, but then saw this one in our image search. We watched the video and I realized it would actually be incredibly easy.

The day before the party Gareth helped me make 1.5 batches of Rice Krispies Treats, which we put in a single 9x13 pan. Mal excitedly bounced around us, begging for extra "shmashmellows". Then Gareth helped me make the jello. Rather than following the video person's instructions, I just used the box instructions for jigglers. This made for a darker "water", but I liked knowing that it definitely would stay solid at room temp. for however long I needed it to.

Then I made up our German chocolate cake recipe. Store bought cakes (which I used for Mal's cake a few weeks before) are way too "airy"/crumbly to be able to cut into blocks and move around easily. I knew that this cake would be moist still, but also dense enough to cut up how we needed (not to mention delicious!).

The morning of the party I assembled the cake. I initially was trying to make sure all the blocks matched up nicely size-wise, but then I decided to add some extra "dirt" blocks, and when I put the "sand" blocks back around them I wasn't as careful about matching them up perfectly. And when I cut the jello I was even less concerned about this, so hence the occasional bit of overhanging sand or water that doesn't quite fill the block. I figured a bunch of 9 year olds weren't going to be too picky, and I was right.

Then I made up some chocolate frosting to stick the chocolate cake layers together and some green frosting for the grass. Using the grass tip took some practice - at first it was all mushing together and looking very un-grassy. But I eventually got it figured out and I think it looked pretty cool in the end.

I added the water blocks and a few minifigures to complete the scene.

The kids were all quite excited about the cake. And I'm excited by how easy it was. Plus, most of the pieces are already cut, so serving it is a breeze! I let each kid choose two blocks.

After the party Gareth chatted with Gram for a bit. He was pretty focused on checking out all his gifts, so I actually did most of the chatting. Then we had his chosen birthday dinner of chicken salad and opened family gifts. He had a great day and it seems to have been a good conclusion to spring break.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Spring Break

The boys have been on break this past week, though I haven't been. We started off the break by having Gareth attend one of my concerts, Edmund Stone: "The Score" in Concert. Every Saturday and Sunday Edmund Stone hosts a program called "The Score", which is all about film music - he gives commentary and plays bits from the soundtracks. And that's what we did for this concert, just with our orchestra playing the music live. We played bits from North by Northwest, Star Trek: Into Darkness, Harry Potter, Dance of the Hours, William Tell, etc. It was an incredibly fun concert to play, if a bit stressful to put together as we only had two weeks between our previous concert and this special concert. Gareth enjoyed it and I think Ryan would have as well. Sadly, Ryan was home with Mal since Mal isn't ready to sit through concerts yet.

I had class Monday-Wednesday mornings. The boys spent a couple days with the family of a kid in Gareth's grade. They have one class together, so Gareth kind of knew who this kid was, but hadn't spent much time together. The kid's older sister was technically watching them, but the boys seemed to get along really well. Nice to have gained another addition to our babysitter list, as I lost a bunch to college this year and some others are often too busy. My boys had fun playing with their gigantic dogs (they have two dogs, the kind that are like small bears) and their rabbit. Mal was super excited because they had a Wall-E toy, and books with Iron Man and Hulk in them, and a Death Star toy, and a Jack Skellington toy. Many of his favorite things, all in one place!

The last of those class days they went to a friend's in our old neighborhood. This friend happened to get several free tickets to a Mariners game, so after class I took the bus down and met them at the stadium. By the time I got there they'd found the play area. I grabbed some food and we let the kids play for a bit and then headed back to our seats. Mal wasn't interested in actually watching for long, and all was lost when our friends came back with ice cream. Both boys wanted some as well, but I was mean and insisted they eat healthy food first. Mal, stubborn kid, refused and whined at me. I managed to temporarily distract him with my phone camera.

That only worked for so long. We made it until the 6th inning before heading back to the play area. The kids hung out there until the 8th inning, at which point we all decided it was time to head home so we didn't get stuck in rush hour traffic. Mal dozed off while looking out the bus window.

The next day we watched one of Gareth's best friends. He patiently accompanied us to an orthodontist appointment. Gareth's responded well to the palate expander and will have the brackets for braces put on at the end of June. We headed to a local park for the kids to play, then to a local toy store. Spent the rest of the afternoon at home. I took a much-needed nap (I have a cold) while the kids played video games.

Before we knew it we were at the last day of break. Nothing too exciting, just a swim lesson for Gareth. Gareth got to end break with a birthday party. Both kids headed back to school today, dressed for summer because it's suddenly insanely hot here.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Food Science, Part I

This quarter I get to take microbiology (which has been quite fun so far) and food science, which has also been fun and one of the classes I've most looked forward to. The food science class is online and so I do labs at home. The textbook is On Food and Cooking, which was already on my wishlist anyway and I've been enjoying reading it. It's pretty hefty, but so far seems to be easy to read as well as very interesting.

So far our labs have been:

Various methods of heat transfer - we cooked potatoes in a variety of ways.

Emulsions - got to make mayonnaise. I was really nervous for this as it's always sounded like a difficult thing to do. Turned out pretty well, though using olive oil made for a very olive oily flavor that was actually too strong. Looking online, it appears many people will use a more neutral flavored oil and then just use a little olive oil. It also took a really long time as I was very careful to add the oil slowly at the beginning so the emulsion could form properly.

I was able to convince Ryan it was actually pudding for a few seconds (my laughing gave it away) when asking him to taste it.

Balancing flavors, so we made a Thai sauce. It was pretty cool to go from very spicy and salty (fish sauce) and use the sour lime juice to balance the salty (and the salty and sour to tone down the spicy) then add the sweet until all the flavors were nicely balanced. We used the sauce on chicken and rice the next day. If I did it again I'd use a food processor for the garlic and pepper because mashing them by hand was not fun.

And I'd leave it spicier, because pretty much all spiciness disappeared as soon as it was put with chicken and rice. Ryan and I had fun taste-testing the sauce with each step. I was worried the fish sauce would be too fishy for my taste (as soon as I opened the bottle it smelled horribly! Ryan couldn't smell any fishiness, so maybe I'm more sensitive to fishy smell than other people), but surprised to discover that it only tasted salty. Only at the very end when the flavors were balanced was I able to discern any fish flavor.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Summery Weather

We had a week of summer-like weather, which made for a nice break from what has been a very, very rainy winter. I got out and mowed the lawn for the first time since we moved into the house. I discovered that the weeping cherry tree that is awkwardly planted in the middle of the yard is particularly annoying when trying to mow. The kids enjoy running beneath it when it has leaves, but I'm pretty sure we'll decide to dig it up eventually because of its awkward placement.

Friday Mal and I joined our friend and several other riders for a ride from Gasworks Park to West Seattle. Perfect weather for a ride. We got some gorgeous views of a ferry ship in front of the mountains and of downtown Seattle. Then Ryan and I spent the evening watching brownsville song.

I had a bunch of reading to do for my Food Science class this weekend, but we still got outside with the kids. I played a little soccer with Gareth in the backyard while Mal screamed at us because he absolutely didn't want us to play soccer. Then I settled in to do my reading on the deck while Ryan played with the kids. He kept them engaged in trying to knock a small can off the posts of the deck for an hour or two. The next day he got Gareth outside and they played with the soccer ball and even got Mal to pass the ball a couple times.

Gareth was really concerned this morning that this week couldn't possibly be as good as last week, because we're supposed to have a couple rainy days. But today has actually been rather sunny (and occasionally cloudy, but not rainy yet), so maybe he'll get lucky and it'll still be a great week. We're supposed to be back to summer weather by mid-week. And I've got Gareth a ticket for my movie music concert this Saturday, so I think it should be a pretty decent weekend at least.