One of our Summer “pot luck” activities involves each boy learning to bake a recipe of their choice.
The first to bake was my 9 year old and he chose to make banana bread. I probably make banana bread at least fortnightly. It is so simple and straightforward to make and it is impossible to fail at making banana bread – which is great since I am a pretty good cook but a pretty basic baker. I also like that banana bread uses up bananas that are so overripe and squishy that nobody is going to eat them so it prevents waste. I tend to make banana bread that contains either chunks of sticky date or chocolate chips but we had some surplus blueberries so my 9 year old decided to experiment with making banana and blueberry bread. It was pretty tasty and very sweet.
Next to bake was my seven year old. He elected to make Dulce de Leche chocolate cake from the Hungry Mum blog. Last time I made it, it was no chocolatey enough – though still delicious – but I have since got my hands on some better, more robust cocoa which made all the difference. My youngest did not have his patience tested making the actual dulce de leche: I already had one in reserve as I boil up several cans at once to speed baking up and then store them, labels off, ready for use. He was a great little pastry chef and followed the instructions given. His reward was getting to lick the spoons and bowl clean. We did end up overfilling the loaf tin but, since it was silicone, happily it expanded during cooking to accommodate the expanding cake batter. It was scrumptious and very sweet.
My 10 year old chose to make Tablet. Tablet – if you have not hear of it – is an incredibly sweet Scottish confection made from milk, sugar, and condensed milk. It is so sweet it makes teeth scream and gums cry. I do not, therefore, make it very often. However, I made some for my ten year old not so long ago as he was delivering a presentation to his class all about Greek mythology and decided that they should sample Tablet as a stand-in for Ambrosia. Imagine Zeus nibbling on Tablet?
Tablet is actually pretty simple to make. The real hassle is that it requires constant stirring for up to half an hour. The kids got fed up of stirring a pot of very hot sugary goop after approximately five minutes. This cooking stuff is hard labour, don’t you know!
It turned out we went a bit awry in our process (I said it was simple but apparently it is not foolproof) and probably let the sugar boil into too much of a syrup. The result was that when the tablet set it did so in a way that was still sticky rather than it becoming firm and smooth like fudge. Never mind. Since this batch could not be eaten as a bite size snack, we just had to turn it into dessert and serve it with vanilla ice cream.
Last but not least was my 13 year old son. Since he is older and a little more experienced, I selected a slightly more complicated recipe to work through with him. We made Browned Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies, a recipe I found on Cooking is My Sport. We found it a little challenging because I don’t own a mixer so we had to do everything by hand and the dough mixture became quite dense. He certainly worked his arm muscles stirring. I must admit that I was worried that we had allowed the butter to get too brown but my concern was unfounded as the finished cookies were absolutely divine. The flavour was incredible and they were just the perfect balance of chewy and crisp. I heartily recommend the recipe.
As I mentioned recently, my 9 year old loves to watch cooking challenge shows. That was why he recently convinced his Dad to eat a massive steak when we were on vacation as it was a challenge the restaurant ran. That was down to those competitive eating shows. He also watches shows where the contestants are given a box of random ingredients from which they have to concoct a superbly delicious and delectably presented meal. He asked if he and his brothers could have a try at doing the same thing. Who am I to stand in the way of culinary creativity? However, given they have limited experience in the kitchen, I decided it was best to steer clear of savoury ingredients for now and let them work on creating desserts.
What was a cooking challenge for them was a control freakery challenge for me.
Phase 1 was to take them shopping for the ingredients. I promised myself that, aside from stopping them going crazily over budget, I would let them buy whatever ingredients for the box of options as they saw fit. It started really well. They chose some dried cranberries, prunes and dates – all things they have seen and helped me bake with. But then in the bakery aisle, they reached for a bright blue cake mix. I gulped and went to say something, almost reached out to snatch it from their mitts and place it back on the shelf, but I had a word with myself and let them plonk it into the trolley (cart). That blue cake mix seemed to taunt me from the bottom of the trolley. This was not going to be easy. Then they decided to pick some frosting. My youngest son, a total chocoholic, reached for a chocolate fudgey type one. “No,” I said. “I really don’t think that is going to go with the dried fruit you picked out.” My 13 year old tsked at me and reminded me that I had said I would neither guide them or interfere with their choices. OK. Lips sealed – but pursed – I let them continue. The chocolate fudge frosting was not selected. Instead they picked out a lemon frosting. I managed to say nothing. How is that for self-control? Then there were sprinkles and jelly (jello) and all sorts going into the trolley. Still I said nothing. We went through the checkout. I had not made them put back a single item. I gave myself a mental high five.
So then the challenge was theirs. They made up the cake mix according to the box instructions and made the jelly. Once that was all ready, all the ingredients they had selected at the store, plus a few things we had in the larder cupboards, were set out on the kitchen counter and I left them to it. I had to leave them to it because, you know, control freakery. About an hour later they ushered me into the kitchen to show me their creations. The kitchen was utter carnage. It felt like every mixing bowl, spoon, and spatula had been used. There were sprinkles all over the floor. All. Over. But their faces were beaming with delight and that was the important thing.
That evening, for dessert, Mr Pict and I got to taste test each of their random dessert creations. The sugar high was pretty intense and lemon frosting and blue sponge cake were an interesting combination as was biting into cake and squelching into a jelly layer. We were nevertheless entirely positive and encouraging in our critiques. The best part of this challenge was that the boys’ confidence in the kitchen had grown. By creating something edible without any adult guidance whatsoever they realised that they were capable of doing more in the kitchen than they thought they were.
Now they want to do a savoury food version. I might just have to retain some control over the ingredients for that one though.
This week’s Life Book lesson was taken by Patti Ballard and essentially it was a lesson in painting over collage. Ballard had delivered a lesson earlier in the Life Book course and I had made a pig’s ear out of it. I refer to that painting as the “monstrous mermaid”. I did produce a replacement for that lesson, a replacement mermaid, but that experience meant that I determined I would actually stick with the instructions in the tutorial and not go so far off piste this time with Ballard’s second lesson.
Ballard’s exemplar was of a whimsical female figure with a celebratory cake. I decided to follow her composition so as to reduce my risk of the lesson going pear-shaped – ever mindful of my mermaid mistakes – and I also stuck with making the figure whimsical. The idea of a celebratory cake made me think of the famous line attributed to Marie Antoinette, “Let them eat cake”, so I used the French Queen as the inspiration for my figure, giving her a high stacked hairdo, a wide framed skirt and a fan. I stamped the phrase “Let us eat cake” onto the painting to convey the idea of celebration, in keeping with the theme of the lesson. The cake decided me upon using lots of saccharine pink in my palette.
I am quite pleased with how this painting turned out, partly because I feel like I have redeemed myself after my response to Ballard’s previous lesson.
This week’s Documented Life Project prompts were to use a gelli plate and the phrase “a lot on my plate”. As much as it would have been fun to try something new or experimental with my gelli plate in response to the prompts, I had to be a realist and I knew that this week I did not have time for playing around with my gelli plate. I, therefore, decided to use gelli prints I already have. I mainly use the gelli plate to create papers for collaging so I have a bunch of them all filed away in my colour-coded filing system. That was what I pillaged for this week’s challenge. It was then just a case of waiting for inspiration as to what to do with all the papers.
The phrase “a lot on my plate” has mainly negative connotations. It conjures up feelings of being overwhelmed, exhausted, harassed and stressed. I know a lot of people do use their art journals as a means of processing negative emotions but I like to mess around in mine in order to have fun. I did not, therefore, want to document anything regarding the hectic chaos of my life. So I changed the focus of my thinking from “lot” to “plate”. Food was the route into an idea. And then I had a lunch of scones, clotted cream and jam with a friend and I decided that my subject for my DLP page would be sweet-toothed indulgence.
A scone with clotted cream and jam and an accompanying pot of tea was going to be too time-consuming to collage – I had about 20 minutes in which to create this page as I was constructing it while cooking dinner – so I decided to create a large cupcake instead. I plucked a few gelli print plates from my file box and freehand cut the shapes I needed. I glued them together as I went and then glued the whole thing onto the journal page. I finished off by writing the prompt phrase across the page to eradicate some of the white space.
My third oldest son had his birthday on Wednesday, going from 7 to 8. Back home in Scotland, his birthday always fell during the Easter break from school. Two American birthdays in and he is still entirely miffed that he has to go to school on his birthday. We all got up before the larks in order to all be together while he opened his presents before everyone headed out to school and work. I have never seen my kids get out of bed so quickly on a cold, dark morning. They practically bounded.
Just as with his father, there was plenty of geekiness in evidence with regards to the birthday gifts. He collects ‘Nightmare Before Christmas’ figures so he got a couple more of those and a Funko Pop vinyl figure of Stitch, an Islamic Art colouring book and a set of horse tattoos, cuddly raccoon and a cuddly armadillo added to his massive collection of cuddly animals. We had to get an educational gift in there so he got a circuit building kit. He got Spiderman and Nova Marvel Infinity figures for the video game the kids have. He almost exploded with excitement when he unwrapped the Lego Gorilla Grod set. His major present was a subscription to Marvel Collector Corps. Every second month, for six months, he will get a parcel in the post that contains lots of Marvel themed goodies. Now he gets to plague me every day asking when his first box will arrive.
He chose pizza for dinner and then it was time for the birthday cake. This time it was an oreo cake. It was rich and very indulgent and the kids devoured their slices.
I would say that was a massively successful birthday – despite having to go to school.
Yesterday my six year old became seven, the first of our children to have a birthday in America. It was actually a birthday of other firsts too since it was also his first ever birthday on a school day (as spring break is a fortnight long in Scotland) and it was also his first ever birthday celebrated without his Daddy since Mr Pict is in San Francisco for work this week. Sucky timing. We did, however, have takeaway pizza on Sunday before he left since pizza is the birthday boy’s favourite dinner.
Since it was a school day birthday, we were up with the larks in order to ensure that all gifts and cards were opened before it was time to trail out the door to school. Despite being bleary-eyed everyone bounced out of bed to watch their brother unwrap his gifts and read his cards. The gifts were a Batman Lego set, two Iron Man figures, horse and shark modelling kits, a cuddly King Kong, a glow pet unicorn and a voucher to go for a horse riding lesson.
Ultimately he didn’t mind going to school on his birthday for the first time as the class had a little celebration (a classmate was sharing his birthday) and the janitor gave him a bounce balloon as a gift.
Birthday dinner was quesadillas followed by the Richest Cake In The Universe. This was a sticky confection of chocolate cake, chocolate ganache, chocolate frosting, Kit Kats and M&Ms.