Decorating pumpkins with a toddler (plus home made glue recipe)

18 10 2013

I love Halloween, of all the American holidays it is my favourite… I feel like I should say Thanksgiving, or 4th of July, but Halloween is just awesome. And I like it a lot.

I’ve always wanted to decorate the house, but being busy with work and on a student budget made me put it low in th priority list. But this year, Ignacio will be almost two and a half years and I want him to learn to appreciate the seasons and enjoy the holidays, so I am making an effort for getting into the spirit before the 30th.

Last week we made some plaster decorations, you can see the how to in my art blog. Be warned, anything I post that I do with my toddler looks like something that you do with a toddler, do not expect something beautifully airbrushed with a soft light background. It will not be Pinterest worthy. This week I decided it was time to decorate the pumpkin Ignacio and Greg bought, yesterday was rainy and I wanted to try the glue I had made a couple of days before, so I cut some leaf shapes in construction paper and we sat down to enjoy a laid back activity.

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For the home made glue you will need:

Wheat flour 1 cup

Water 1 1/2 cup

Vinegar 1 teaspoon

In a saucepan mix the flour with a bit of water until it’s smooth, then add the rest of the water. Boil and when it starts thickening remove from the fire and add the vinegar as preservative. You can keep this in the fridge. It is great for toddlers because there is nothing that could harm them if they decide to start eating it, it is good for the environment because it implies no toxic processing nor packaging, and it is good for your pocket because you get a load of glue for pennies.

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You will also need colored paper, we chose yellow, orange, red, purple and a bit of green to cut fall leaves, you could use anything you want. Some ideas: bats and cats in black paper, a moon and ghosts in white, cut shapes from magazines. Besides that you will need some brushes to spread the glue. I like to put the glue on the paper, but I found that for Ignacio it worked better if we applied it on the pumpkin and pressed the leaves to it.

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The glue might show through at the beginning, but as it dries your work will look tidier. That is it! Have fun with your kids with this simple activity!





Greening up my Christmas Gifts

13 12 2012

One thing that I proposed myself this Season was to buy local. I really believe in supporting our community and getting local gifts is a way to reduce our carbon footprint, because of less transport.

Thought I started before Thanksgiving, it was quite an adventure. I could order a few things I liked from local vendors through Etsy, but for the most part it was a frustrated enterprise. I live in Pittsburgh and I found that a lot of the stores I was interested in were not open when I could go. I wanted to get some old books (reuse, recycle, and I love old books!!) but the store wouldn’t open till 11 AM, which is my child’s lunch time, so I came back empty handed. I wanted to buy toys in the local toy store, but being in the middle of the posh shopping area (though their prices are more than fair) I found no parking space blocks around, though I circled it over and over and over again. That made me decide to at least support USA companies, and I kept that resolution, but I ended up ordering baby’s toys through Amazon, which is a life saver if you think that sometimes the only time you have available is 5 AM…. or any time before 11 AM, for the case.

I did buy a few cheap made in who-knows-where things. I know, I know, but when I need to ship gifts for a bunch of people I appreciate back home in Argentina, I cannot spend more than a few bucks, and I needed to take advantage of my dad being here and going back home just in time for the holidays, so I sent them through him. But I restricted that to the smaller part of my shopping.

Being an artist, I designed and ordered my own cards through gotprint.com, the price per card (including shipping!) was spectacular and they do guide you well through the sizing of your image. You have to order in bulk, though, but you can always use the left overs next year. And you really do not need to be an artist, you can use a photo you like. But what really sold me was that I could use recycled paper with them. What a great way of greening my Christmas cards!

The Christmas card I made for my family and friends, also available for sale at http://www.zazzle.com/joyful_penguins_christmas_card-137934760611734904

The Christmas card I made for my family and friends, also available for sale at http://www.zazzle.com/joyful_penguins_christmas_card-137934760611734904

And for the rest of my list, those people who have been great through the year and you would like to thank in a way, even if it is with a small gift, I am making them popcorn. I got some cute bags, some Christmas sprinkles, and I will be putting my own time into making them pretty Christmas popcorn.

Lessons learned from this season: Next year I will plan better, probably start earlier, and find out the operation hours of the stores before I get myself there. Nobody said being green was easier, eh?

And you, did you find a way of greening your gifts? Were you successful at buying local?





Avocado cake: two recipes that you will love!

22 10 2012

I know, everybody goes “Avocado cake!!?” And I don’t blame you, we relate avocados with Mexican food, as if it was the only way of using them. Growing up we ate them with mayonnaise or salsa golf (whatever the name for it is in US) and later, when I moved out, because I don’t really like mayonnaise I would just eat them plain or with salt and olive oil, make salads of different types, or mush them for guacamole. But I remember my dad always telling me that his dad used to eat them with sugar… and why not? If you think of it, avocado flavor can be defined as “buttery” but it is not definitely salty nor sweet. So I have been wanting to try it for a while, and since the awesome Bryan Street Market a few blocks from home has avocado sales regularly this time of the year, I thought I’d take advantage and buy a few avocados to try to make a cake.

What was my surprise to see that there are many options to make an avocado cake! So I just made one avocado pound like cake, and one chocolate avocado cake.

Chocolate Avocado cake with tropical avocado frosting.

The chocolate cake I got straight from Joy the Baker, it’s a vegan recipe, and that was a plus, because I’ve always wanted to know how vegans get the cake to work without eggs or anything animal. I followed the recipe as is, except that I reduced the sugar to half (only using one cup) because I figured that the frosting was going to make up for a lot of the sweetness. For the frosting I made my own recipe as follows:

Avocado frosting:

1 mashed avocado

2 cups confectionery sugar

3 teaspoons coconut milk

1 teaspoon orange blossom extract

The cake came out fluffy and moist, very palatable and the avocado flavor is very subtle, it is a light cake that does not feel heavy at all. The frosting has a very interesting flavor that I find complements the cake very well. My husband, who is very much not vegan or vegetarian, really liked this cake, as well as my toddler who does not like avocado. It’s a hit for sure!

The second recipe is also from Joy the Baker, though I modified it to my less rich taste. You can see the original recipe here. At home we like things less sweet than average and I use less butter than most, plus we really like whole grains and use white flour just for fluff. My recipe for one cake (not two) is as follows:

Avocado pound cake:

1.5 c whole wheat flour

Avocado pound cake. Very interesting texture indeed!

1/4 c white flour

1/4 c corn meal

1/2 tsp salt

1 tsp baking powder

4 tbsp butter

0.75 c sugar

2 eggs

2 tsp vanilla extract

1/4 c milk

1 ripe mashed avocado

Preheat the oven at 350F.

Mix the dry ingredients, except the sugar.

Cream the butter and sugar, add the mashed avocado and mix until uniform. Add one egg at a time, mixing well. Incorporate the dry ingredients. The mixture will be lumpy.

Bake at 350F for 45 minutes or until a skewer comes out dry.

My thoughts on this cake: It is good and sweet as it is, I really like the unctuous feel of the avocado and how it contrasts with the rough texture of the whole wheat flour and the crunch of the corn meal. You do feel the avocado flavor but it is very different from eating it fresh, and my baby (who does not like avocado, remember?) kept asking for more. The cake disappeared faster than what I expected! In retrospect I would probably eliminate all the butter, the avocado itself is oily enough, and I think I would enjoy it better with some vegetable oil instead, for a lighter cake.

OK, here you have the recipes you asked me for with so much interest! I hope you can make them at home and have fun with them! Surprise your friends and family and enjoy them! And you know, if you do try them, let me know, I always like to know what results other people get!





Recipes: Okra Minestrone

13 08 2012

I went to the East Liberty farmer’s market to show my dad how many stands they have and the variety, and in the Blue Bird Organic Farm stand they had okra! My husband is from Louisiana, so I could not go home without some! Half of it I fried, which was delicious! And the other half I used to make a minestrone soup. The secret of this soup is the okra, it will give it a unique flavor, bur you have to make sure to denature all the slime. Let me pass you the recipe:

Okra- half a pint. Sliced thinly

Carrot- one medium

Celery- four stalks

Onion- one medium

Zucchini- one medium

Cooked red beans- two cups

Penne whole wheat pasta- Two cups dried

Chicken or vegetable broth- one cube

Spices- salt, pepper, two bay leaves, oregano, thyme, curry

Water.

Garlic- optional

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First cook the beans in just water, or use a can of sugar free unsalted beans. Slice your vegetables, and reserve.

In a large pot add some olive oil and saute the onions and garlic, add the carrots and celery and let them cook until slightly tender. Add three cups of water and let it come to a boil, add the broth cube. Then add the okra and zucchini. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cover. The okra will release a lot of gooey slime and you will have to cook for a long time, about one hour, for it to break down. Once the soup stops looking sticky and gooey add the spices, then add two more cups of water up to six cups, add dry noodles and let them cook in the tasty broth you’ve just made. Two minutes before your pasta is done add the beans so the warm up.

Serves six.

Voila! You have a unique and delicious minestrone! Serve hot and enjoy!

Okra minestrone.





Celebrating March: Mardi Gras Meringues, or perhaps St. Patrick’s, and Easter too!

8 03 2011

Each year, my husband’s coworkers throw a Mardi Gras potluck. Since I am a like satellite of his working break room, passing by a couple of times a week for lunch, I usually contribute to the foodism. This year I decided to make meringues, and since it is a Mardi Gras thing I threw in some colors to fit the occasion.

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For the meringue You will need:

2 egg whites at room temperature

Mardi Gras Meringue (c) Constanza Ehrenhaus

 

 

1/2 cup sugar

pinch of salt

pinch of tartar cream

1 tsp vanilla extract

food coloring.

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For the filling:

Whipped cream and dulce de leche (similar to a caramel spread, but better!)

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Separate the egg whites and let them sit for some minutes until they reach room temperature. Start whisking with a fork and once they get foamy you can pass to the electric mixer. Add the salt and tartar cream and keep beating. Once the whites start to mount add the sugar slowly, if you do not wait until the whites are mounting they will become creamy but never stiff enough. Add the vanilla extract and beat until the whites form firm peaks.

Separate the whites in three equal parts, placing them in three different bowls. Add food coloring to each of them. You will need yellow, green (blue+yellow) and purple (blue+red). Mix until well integrated.

Place aluminium foil on a cookie sheet with the shiny side up. With a desert spoon scoop a spoonful of colored whites and place them on the aluminium foil. Bake at 200F (90C very low oven) for 2 hours. Turn the oven off and let them cool in the oven one hour. You can prop the door open with a wooden spoon.

Once they are dry and cool you can take two pieces and paste them together with whipped cream or dulce de leche. Place in an air tight container and enjoy!

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Looking at the photo, they look more like an Easter/Spring celebration thing, but egg whites tend to turn everything to pastels and I was afraid of adding too much coloring and starting to feel the flavor of it.

You can modify the colors to have a St. Patrick’s desert (green meringue and gold cream), spring or Easter (add also blues and pinks), or anything you fancy!





Recipes: Pumpkin muffins

24 11 2010

Just in time for Thanksgiving! You want to impress your family? Then bring them these easy to make, delicious yet healthy muffins! They are really good for you with oatmeal and pumpkin in them and they are very, very tasty.

stock provided by rammkitty-stock

You will need:

-1 cup of oatmeal

-1 cup multipurpose flour

-1/2 teaspoon salt

-1 teaspoon baking soda

– spices: cinnamon, ginger, cloves, nutmeg, whatever you fancy.

-1/2 cup sugar

-1/4 cup vegetable oil

-2 eggs

-3/4 cup milk

-1 cup pumpkin

I make my own pumpkin, but I guess you can use canned pumpkin just fine. If you are going all for scratch, cut your pumpkin in medium size pieces and take the guts out, put them in the microwave for 30 minutes or in the oven for one hour. Once the pumpkin is tender let it cool down and pass the flesh through a strainer with a spoon or use a blender. This will make the puree really smooth.

Mix all your dry ingredients and then add the wet ingredients to that mix. Grease a muffin pan and bake at 400 F for 25-30 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.

If you feel like, toast the seeds and add them to the top of the muffins before baking. Another good option is to throw in 1/4 cup of chocolate chips, they go wonderfully together!





Delicious Pumpkin Pie

21 11 2009

Hi there!

For this fall season I bring you my very famous Pumpkin Pie! I came up with this recipe by accident. I just messed up the proportions and the results were great! My pie has more pumpkin than others and that seems to be the key. People I know wait all year for me to finally buy pumpkins and bake and distribute pumpkin pies, since they are completely from scratch. That is also the reason why I make them once or twice a year… this is time consuming!!

A few things to consider… take your time. If you do not have about 2 hours do not start to do this. Choose fragrant small pumpkins, if your pumpkin is not ready, leave it out of the fridge for it to get nice and fragrant. I consider the pumpkin ready when it smells like nectar. I loooove the aroma of a good pumpkin! Enjoy the process, this can be a lot of fun!

This recipe makes for two pies.

Stock by Red Wolf 518 Stock http://redwolf518stock.deviantart.com/

For the crust you need:

300 gr (3 cups) of flour

150 gr (0.66 cups) of soft butter

100 gr (1/2 cup) of sugar

3/4 cups of milk

1 teaspoon of vanilla extract

1 teaspoon of baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

In a bowl mix the salt, baking powder and flour. Add the butter working it into the flour with your fingers until you get a grainy consistency. Then add the sugar and the milk with the vanilla extract. The consistency should be firm but not elastic and it should break when you pull from it. You will use this to cover a pie tray adding little pieces each time (like if it was play dough). Set aside.

For the fill in you will need:

1 small pie pumpkin

1 cup of sugar

1+2/3 cups of milk

2 eggs

1/2 teaspoon of salt

1 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

1/2 teaspoon of ginger

1/2 teaspoon of ginger

1/2 teaspoon of cloves (I use several whole cloves)

You need to cook the pumpkin. For this cut in halves, take out the seeds (you can bake them too! Yum!!) and bake wrapped in foil for 1 hour or until the flesh is tender, or microwave for 10 minutes. You can do this while you are working on the crust. Wait until the pumpkin is not hot anymore and scoop out the flesh with a spoon. Place in a colander and with the back of the spoon push, mashing the flesh through the mesh, this will give you a creamy pure with no fibers.

Then mix in a bowl your pumpkin pure (all of it) with all the ingredients and place this liquid mix in the pie crusts you just made. This will be enough for two pies.

Bake for 15 minutes at 450 F and then 45 at 325 F or until a knife comes out clean.

This pie is absolutely delicious and people will love it. Play with the spices until you find your unique combination!

Remember to have fun and let me know if you try it!