Thursday, June 30, 2011

Cool Treats!

Any woman who has ever given birth knows that pregnancy can be tough.  Any woman who has ever been in her third trimester in the middle of summer knows that the heat doesn't make anything easier.  

And then enters: frozen treats!

Mmmmmm, how a cool treat can change the mood.  I learned with my first pregnancy that there are lots of things that you can freeze including doughnuts, chocolate, and (my absolute favorite) grapes.  A good friend of mine offered up this information to me and I have never forgotten it.  I still love to get grapes in the summer, wash them, dry them, and put them in a bag in the freezer for later.  They are just about the best frozen treat out there.  And perfectly bite size!

But, aside from frozen grapes, there are also popsicles.  And I decided that this year, we'd have fun making some of our own.  We started out with a watermelon, pureed it, and then added a little apple juice.  The apple juice and watermelon separated and created a super cool effect on the pops.  Check out the picture above!  The top orange part is the juice, while the bottom pink is the watermelon.  The process was ridiculously simple and I encourage you all to try!  Make some healthy homemade popsicles this summer--you can enjoy the process as much as the product!!

Step 1: Puree fruit

Step 2: Add anything else you'd like (more fruit, juice, sugar, etc.); blend again if needed.

Step 3: Freeze

Step 4: Eat and enjoy!!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Our Pet Spider

Nursery Web Spider with its prey (a moth in its mouth)
Or at least, we think it's a nursery web spider!

I know I've posted before on this blog about finding large spiders in our basement.  I've also written about the difficulty of the decisions to be made when my husband catches one: do I tell him to get rid of it, or do we keep it around to kill the other bugs downstairs?  And when considering "other bugs," I would think of these being primarily other smaller spiders, or, centipedes.  I do hate centipedes so much more than spiders.

Thus far, my decision has always been to get rid of the large spider and suffer whatever the consequences may be.

And now the question is raised once more, this time with the biggest spider yet.  And the question seems to be lingering.  As I struggle to decide, my husband is happily catching daily prey for this hairy arachnid and watching it feast.  I must say, the longer we have it, the less monstrous it seems.  I'm truly unsure: do we keep it and put it back in the basement--hoping that, yes, it was the limiting factor to the centipede population this season, or, do we set it free far, far from our home to feast on other large insects in the neighborhood?  I suppose I am more unsure this time because I have actually seen what it eats.  And yes, I believe it is very possible that this spider, on its own, could have been capturing every centipede in our basement and chowing down on all of their many, many legs for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Oh, the dilemmas.  And so it comes to you, my dear readers, to offer me some insight.  I thought it might be helpful to me to see what you thought you might do in my situation....

**this was a free polling website and seems to have a nice spam ad at the top (something like "congratulations!" etc.--please make sure you don't click on it and ruin your computer somehow. :) )
What Should I Do With The Spider?
Take it back to the basement.
Take it far, far, far away.
Kill it.
Other. (Do tell!) free polls

But before you vote, perhaps your curiosity of the spiders eating habits is a bit peaked?  Here are two videos showing you its carnivorous prowess.  Perhaps they will  sway you one way or the other...

At 8x the normal speed.

The first section is at 1/4x the speed, then played again at 4x the normal speed.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Jumping on the Bandwagon: Artisan bread in five minutes a day

I love bread.  When I want comfort food, I can rarely think of anything better than some delicious bread with warm butter smoothed over it...mmmmmmm.  My mother-in-law obviously knows me well because for my birthday she bought me a cookbook titled Healthy Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day.  I'd heard of the "artisan bread in five minutes a day" concept and was intrigued.  I never got the book, though, out of shear fear of having to learn something new.  Now that I had a book in hand, given as a gift, I felt I had no choice but to at least try it.

I was right, there was certainly learning involved.  I spent half an hour or more just reading the first chapter one day trying to distinguish the key features of this newfangled bread-baking technique.  I've made quite a few yeast breads in my time and was feeling pretty confident that I understood the basics.  Now I had to throw out all that knowledge and replace it with new methods.  Eek!  It was like being back in school again trying to desperately pay attention to the teacher so I would know how to do everything right.

Finally after much worry, and some new purchases, I was ready.  I had to buy some things I generally didn't have on hand, like unbleached flour and vital wheat gluten, but they certainly didn't break the bank.  On mixing day, I did everything according to the instructions and hoped.  I fought my desire to make the dough a smooth and elastic consistency.  I reminded myself again and again NOT to knead it at any point in time and to touch it at little as possible.  Today, I got to see how well I followed the directions....

DELICIOUS!  Absolutely delicious.  The whole family loved it and gobbled up every crumb.  I made a small loaf since I was unsure of the whole thing, but I know tomorrow I'll be baking more and I will make at least double.  The dough was quite wet when I mixed it yesterday, but I left it because of my fear of adding too much flour.  Today I decided that it was WAY too sticky and I definitely should have added a little bit more.  I could barely form it today (or cut lines in the dough as instructed), and even after being baked it still had a little stick to it.  Lesson learned for the next batch.

Here are some pictures of the process:

Day 1

Day 2

The finished product was like nothing I had ever made before.  The crust was tough, just like you want in an artisan bread, and the inside looked like that beautiful combination of bubbles and crumb--a loaf worth paying money for at the store.

I'm so thankful to have gotten the push to try artisan bread in five minutes a day.  I can't wait to keep practicing.  And I know my family will appreciate all of the yummy bread I to bring to the table.  Having said that, here are a couple of my thoughts after trying it for the first time....

Traditional method vs. Five-minutes-a-day

- It was in the 80s today and that's already pretty hot for a woman who's 7 months pregnant.  The fact that I had to bake the bread at 450 degrees did not put me in a particularly cheery mood.  The kitchen was hot, hot, hot.

-On top of that, whenever my oven is over 400 degrees, the smoke alarm (that was tormentingly put just outside my small kitchen by my landlord) goes off.  It's very, very loud.  And always makes me very, very irritated.  Grrr.

-Like I said before, for my first try, I wasn't quite sure what the consistency was supposed to be.  I found it extremely hard to handle (and the writers pushed hard against adding more flour once made).  I feel a little like I'm an old dog learning a new trick.... I think it's going to take a little time to get it just right.

-Also, because this dough doesn't work like a traditional dough, it was very hard for me to tell what size it would be once it was done baking.  Again, I imagine this is something that I will learn over time.  I hadn't intended to make quite such a small loaf today, but, oh well.  Now I know for next time.

-And lastly, on a good note, WOW!  This bread takes so much less active time than traditional dough.  It makes me feel like it might truly be possible to have healthy, delicious, homemade bread in our house more often than just once a month.  What a thought!

Now it's time for you to try. :-)  (Or, if you've already tried it out, tell me what you think!!!)

Friday, June 3, 2011

My son, the friendly neighbor

First of all, let me apologize for going so long without a post.  Something strange was happening to Blogger every time I tried to log on last week.  Not able to log in=not able to post.  Very sad indeed.  So, here at last is the post that was supposed to be for last week!

My son is three and a half.  He's about average three-year-old height with big eyes and chubby cheeks.  He recently got a summer hair cut which displays well the cowlick that sits at the tip of his forehead.  And while he's a handful, he's often smiling.  Especially at neighbors.

The weather has been great lately, and so we've been taking advantage of it by spending time outside.  Sometimes, though, when I'm busy with indoor tasks, my son hangs out on the porch enjoying the weather.  I tell him that when I'm not out there with him, he must stay on the porch.  This never prevents him from having conversations with people across the street, though.  I'll hear him yelling to the neighbor, "Eleanore, Eleanore!  Hi, Eleanore!!  What are you doing over there?  I'm just sitting here!  Hi, Eleanore!  How are you, Eleanore?!"

It is a little embarrassing that my son can probably be heard a block down yelling to the neighbors.  But, hey, I love that he enjoys chatting with the community and letting them know we care about them.  I'm not sure how I feel, though, when he talks with people that are complete strangers to me.  I suppose to him, there's no difference between one person or another when they're walking by our house.  They're all "neighbors," right?

Over the past couple of weeks, more than once I've looked out the window to see my son chatting with a  young adult that I have never seen before.  We live very close to a college campus, so presumably these are students of the college, though I don't really know for sure.  All I know is that my son is a social butterfly who can't let someone pass by without a little chat.  I've seen him, yelling to people across the street, "Hello there!!  Hi!!  Who are you?  What's your name?!"  And at least twice now, I have seen these people stop, look at my child, and proceed to cross the road merely to answer his question.  Yes, I am being completely honest.

Just yesterday a young woman was walking a dog on the other side of the street and my son called out to her.  Next thing I know, from my watch inside, I see her cross the road and come into my front yard.  My son was just exuberant.  He kept a conversation going with her for at least a good ten minutes before I heard her say, "You better get back inside before your mom gets worried."  To which he replied, "Oh, okay.  I like your shirt, though."  Ah, a three-year-old with a diversion plan!  He already knows that talking about a girl's clothes with keep the conversation going longer.  Where does he learn this stuff, anyway?

I'm torn between the feelings of humor and concern when I see these encounters take place.  I'm terrified that something might happen to my son in presenting himself to strangers in this way.  Yet, on the other hand, his excitement and ability to converse with these adults makes me smile like nothing else.  I sure don't know any other three-year-olds who are so welcoming and loquacious!  It's such a delight watching my son, the friendly neighbor.  I wonder if he'll still be like this when he's older!