26 July 2008

Sea of Tie-Dye

Lauren and I have been very remiss in our posting of late. I blame everything on work. Really I'm not to be one of those people who work but alas life, and my increasing addiction to on-line shopping, demand that I do so to maintain my life style.

I recently went back to my parent's for a yearly family party, VanStock. With tie-dyed decorations, flags, and clothing as far as the eye could see, my mom and I thought it would be fun to make a tie-dyed cake for the occasion. I'd been wanting to experiment with my own fondant for sometime and this seemed like a perfect opportunity.

Using a recipe from Allrecipes.com I made a buttercream fondant:

1 cup light corn syrup
1 cup (white) shortening
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon clear vanilla extract
3 teaspoons lemon extract
2 pounds confectioners' sugar

I let it firm up in the fridge for about an hour then separated the mixture into balls and kneaded in color.

Now if you're going to try this you'll need at least another 1/2 pound powdered sugar. The fondant was very sticky and greasy and did not hold together well at all. The kneading was a pain and took forever but after I had the individually colored balls I smooshed (technical term) them together, did a little more kneading, and plopped it down on a powdered sugar covered surface. Rolling out the fondant further mixed up the colors so you really don't want to knead too much before the rolling. A could tips for this stage:

Tip 1: Make sure your surface, hands, and rolling pin are well covered in powdered sugar. Greasy though the fondant was it stuck to everything.

Tip 2: To get maximum color mix, roll out the fondant once then fold it in on itself and roll again.

The lemon extract in the fondant did not come through as much as I'd hoped leaving it to taste something like really intense marshmallows. Sigh. Better luck next time.

In the end I had a pretty hard time transferring the fondant to the cake. It wasn't very pliant and the slightest fold or bend made a section break off so there was a lot of swearing. I firmly maintain that vituprious swearing in the direction of the misbehaving object will make it behave. Or at least make me feel slightly better. Finally got the fondant on the cake and used remaining fondant to cut out 'Vanstock' to complete the decoration. Unfortunately I neglected to take a picture of that but it still looked semi decent without it.

10 July 2008

Thursday Thirteen #3: Looking Forward to VanStock

Lauren kindly offered to share her burgeoning Thursday Thirteen fame with me today. I'm off this evening to go back to the primitive, internetless Western Michigan of my formative years for an annual party to which I so look forward every year; VanStock. VanStock is my mother's crazy Dutch family's (just the crazy one, the uptight Reformers have nothing to do with us) family-friendly version of Woodstock. We've been doing this party for I think about 15 years now. And these are thirteen reasons why we keep on doing it:

1) Music: My mother's people are like the Dutch version of the VonTrapps. They all sing, play an instrument or two, dance etc. There's a stage set up behind my uncle's recording studio where a number of bands play throughout the day: the "house band" (ie family), RePlay, awesome oldies band in which my Uncle Tone is the lead singer, my Uncle Ed's band, various jamming partners, and karaoke. That last one is less enjoyable.

2) Dancing: If there's good music, you gotta dance! And really, music from the 60s and (early) 70s is awesome for the dancing. Especially when RePlay does Del Shannon's Runaway. Only famous thing my hometown (Coopersville, and yes I know you've never heard of it) turns out and the dude was a one-hit wonder who committed suicide.

3) Pig Roast: My genius engineer dad built his own pig roaster a few years back and every year gets up at like 3 AM to haul the thing to Grandma's and start the roasting. I had to help him lift the hog onto the roaster for the last party-that part was less fun. But to go with the pig there's always tons of food and snacks.

4) Muddy Buddies: Speaking of snacks...this is the only time my mom ever makes muddy buddies (i.e Puppy Chow?). They're a pain and not too cheap but she always mixes a huge batch and the three of us kids ferret away some before it goes out for general consumption.

5) Cotton candy: We often rent a cotton candy or snow cone machine for the day. I'm more of a cotton candy girl but really, when it's hot and humid outside and it's my turn to actually make it? I end up looking like some sort of abominable snowman with punk dye job.

6) Bonfire from Hell: My uncle saves everything burnable all year long and stacks it up at the edge of the orchard. Once night falls, a little lighter fluid, a match, and WHOOSH! It's like a mountain of fire. Not too good for the marshmallow roasting though because you can't actually get close enough to the heat.

7) Fireworks: Usually I disdain fireworks, especially if seeing them involves putting me anywhere near crowds or tourists (shudder). But every year for VanStock my little brother, who is a pyromaniac, drives to Indiana, buys a ton of nice illegal fireworks (in Michigan you can't set off anything that will go in the air) and puts on a display that rivals the Grand Haven Summer Fest. His timing is brilliant and he coordinates them all so well.

8) Me: Yes I am wonderful and multi-talented and I participate. For the last couple years I've either bellydanced or fire danced. I think I actually prefer firedancing but my poi always end up...somwhere...and I'm not crazy about whirling fire around my body. Actually no, I am ok with that part. Whirling fire around my hair sans practice is anther story.

9) Tie-dye:It is a sea of tie-dye. Tie-dyed flags mark the driveway and the parking areas and fly from the stage and the recording studio. People come dressed in their own tie-dyed t-shirts, dresses, pants, etc and if you don't have anything then Uncle Tone has some beautiful pieces he's tie-dyed he'd be happy to sell you for a small fee. And this year to go along with the tie-dyed theme I'm going to make cakes that are covered with tie-dyed fondant. Yeah.

10) Family: I suppose this one had to appear in here somewhere. Death is about the only thing that stops people from coming to this. While the majority of the fam still lives in western Michigan, a few of us have strayed so I come in from DC, my sister from Florida, and an aunt and cousins from Boston. Combine my mom's brothers and sisters (there are 12 of them) with their spouses and children and children's spouses and children...and my mom's cousins and so forth, throw in everyone's friends and the various non family band members, and it's a ParTay with a couple hundred people. It also gives us a chance to thoroughly humiliate whichever cousin not so wisely brought a date.

11) Playing: In addition to the music and the dancing etc, there's always things going on. Mom's people are avid golfers so some one's always got clubs and people are using the orchard behind the field as a driving range. Random soccer games have been known to break out. There's always a kiddie pool, a sprinkler, and water guns for the kids (and the big kids too!), and there's also usually a pinata that makes an appearance. We have yet to get anyone to agree to my idea of an adult pinata full of airplane bottles of alcohol though.

12) Camping: Not my cup of tea but if it's yours...a lot of people drive up a day or two before and either pitch tents or part their RVs around the house and spend 3-4 days. It's become very handy as they're often pressed into service to help set up food tents, the old people tents, awnings, etc. There's also usually a huge morning after breakfast (although the catch is that it's followed by clean up duty).

13) Anticipation: I know it's kind of a weird thing to cite, but we prepare for this with the same fervor in which we prepare for Christmas. It's that excited feeling you get when you know something special is coming and you just can't wait!

08 July 2008

CSA | Box #1| Blueberry Pancakes

Grizz got me a fantastic book for my birthday a few weeks ago: Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, by Barbara Kingsolver. Reading this book, I felt encouraged to try one more time to sign up for a CSA at Local Harvest. I found one in Silver Spring where I can pick up a box of fresh, local fruit and veg for just $30.

Included in this box were:
  • Purple Kale
  • Rainbow Chard
  • Heirloom Zucchini x 2
  • Yellow Squash x 2
  • Cucumbers x 2
  • Green beans (a bag the size of my head)
  • Heirloom lettuce
  • Onion
  • Black Raspberries
  • Blueberries
It was a beautiful box! Gillian McKeith would have been proud of my local, real food purchase. I felt like a champ bringing it home. I already had designs in my head for what I would do with all of this scrummy (hi KMac!) food! I shared my victory immediately with Grizz as we delicately tasted the black raspberries and the blueberries the size of nickels. I don't think I've had raspberries of blueberries that tasted that good since I was a kid in Podunk, Michigan. Right then and there, I promised myself that I would try to eat local, in-season food as much as possible. And if that means that I must forgo eggplants and tomatoes in January, then so be it. That thing formerly-known as a tomato come January doesn't hold a candle to the flavor of the tomatoes I know I'll be getting from a local farmer in August!

With visions of nickel-sized blueberries dancing in my head, I knew that I must make something that allows me to share this bounty of flavor! I decided on blueberries pancakes for Independence Day breakfast (see photo above). Pouring these babies onto the griddle and then listening as the blueberries burst into the batter turning it a juicy shade of purple, made me smile. I used a mix that I bought at the Amish Country Market a couple towns away, and always make sure that I add a little touch of cinnamon and vanilla to the mix, no matter what other fruit I might add. These pancakes? They're an amazing summer breakfast, and they tasted just like homemade blueberry cobbler. YUM!

As I continue to read this book through to the end, I hope that I'm inspired to try more and more local varieties of vegetables that are in season around here. I can't wait to try BK's recipe for Zucchini and chocolate chip cookies! Stay tuned for more!

05 July 2008

Coming Soon!

I've got a couple of things in the works, so look for the following posts in the next couple of days:
  • a review of the DC chocolate restaurant Co. Co. Sala;
  • Photos of the Fireworks;
  • a quick visit of the monuments at dusk;
  • blueberry pancakes from my first CSA box;

03 July 2008

Thursday Thirteen #2

Below are 13 things that I can't do without when I travel:

  1. Toothbrush/paste: first and foremost, it's important to have clean teeth and fresh breath even when you're travelling. There's just now excuse you know what I mean? And in a pinch, you can also pack some of those Oral-b scrubbers that you put on your finger; they actually work quite well.
  2. Flashlight: because you never know if the place where you're staying is going to have some dark entrance that's difficult to find. Also, on a dark bus or train, it helps when you need to search for something in your bag. If you pack one, I'm sure you'll find a use for it!
  3. Camera: because if you're travelling up the street or around the globe, it's always important to take pictures!
  4. Comfortable walking shoes: This should really be listed at number 1. Something that I learned when marching drum corps; you should have at least 2 pair. In case one gets wet, you'll always have another pair in the wings while the first pair is drying.
  5. First aid kit: mine includes band-aids, tweezers, alcohol wipes, gauze, tape, burn gels, antibiotic ointment, immodium, pepto, sinus meds, and nyquil. Because you never know when you're going to get a blister, cut, splinter, scrape, burn, or a stomach ache, diarreah, sinus infection, or a cold. You might as well always be prepared.
  6. Q-tips: good for everything, especially keeping your ears clean...and they just feel so gooooooood.
  7. Hat: Keeps the sun out of your face and protects your face from sunburn, is also handy for bad hair days. You should always check the weather report before you go. While in South America I wore a winter cap to keep myself warm. A baseball cap would have been rather impractical for me then.
  8. Journal: I always travel with a journal to write my thoughts. I use it to remember where we went and how I felt when writing emails back home or for this blog. It's also nice to have them as a record months after being back home to remember small details about a trip that are long forgotten. Just remember, don't be like me and write your journals in foreign languages. While in Russia, I wrote my journal entirely in Russian, and now? I can barely decipher it. The German one, I'm still okay with but the Russian? Not so much. Journals also work well as a place to store ticket stubs and other tschochki while moving from place to place.
  9. Music and Books: these will help to pass the long hours between locations and when you just need to get away. Get an electronic book...that's even better, and saves space/weight in your luggage!
  10. Passport: This one is key. Don't forget to scan it and save a copy in a safe place just in case it gets stolen. It's pretty much the only way to prove you are who you say you are, and you can't get back into the US without it.
  11. Underwear: I always pack "too much." In reality, I think you can never have too much.
  12. Backpack or tote: this makes moving around within a city much easier. You have something to carry your water, camera, and extra things you pick up throughout the day. It also helps for carrying your snacks, journal etc. It's a lot easier than lugging around a purse.
  13. Patience and a sense of humor: these are absolutely key when travelling. You'll need it when you start to feel culture shock, or you're generally embarassed because you said/did something stupid. Laughter is universal. It's also important to be patient when trying to understand a new place, custom or environment. It's likely you'll probably spend some time lost or wandering. Oftentimes, this is how you will find some of the 'off the beaten path' gems of your trip. Roll with it, and laugh about it. You'll soon be wishing you could be "lost on a sidestreet in Istanbul" again before you know it.