Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Cranberry White Chocolate Scones

What's better than a relaxing weekend? An extended weekend because of snow! We had a winter storm move in on Sunday, and since then have been treading the line between roads that are clear enough for safe driving, and roads that are snowy or iced over. This meant that the service project I was supposed to take part in on Monday was cancelled, so I hunkered down, did a little bit of work from home, and painted a couple of canvases for my room.

But let's backtrack to Sunday. Just as it began to snow, I left to pick up my friend Katie for morning yoga at the Y. After a gentle morning practice we went back to my house to make scones. Delicious scones, loaded with white chocolate and cranberries.

Cranberry White Chocolate Scones

1 3/4 cups flour
1/4 cup sugar
2 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
5 Tbl chilled unsalted butter, cut into pieces
6 Tbl half and half
1 large egg, beaten
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup white chocolate pieces

Preheat oven to 400 F.
Combine flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Add butter and use a pastry cutter and work until mixture is gravelly. Then add half and half, egg, cranberries, and chocolate and stir until it holds together.
Turn dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead for 2 minutes.
Form dough into a disk that is half an inch thick. Cut into 8 wedges. Transfer to a greased baking sheet or baking stone, placing wedges with about a half an inch of space between them.
Bake for 14 minutes, until scones are golden brown.

The white chocolate chunks get delightfully melted so that when you bite into one of these warm scones they are very smooth and buttery. I recommend making a batch of these scones sometime soon!

Monday, January 9, 2012


Just after Christmas I visited my friend Katie and was treated to a great glass of fresh juice made from apples, carrots, and a hint of ginger. It was fantastic, and was just the kick I needed to get back into the kitchen. "I haven't cooked anything in months," I told her as we sipped away on the bright orange juice. And it was true--I'd been in a bit of a rut and feeling very uninspired to cook anything. The holidays came and went, and I made only one batch of cookies, and the green bean casserole for Christmas dinner--really not that exciting.

Anyway. Spurred on by that great fresh juice to start the day, when I found myself home alone at dinner time I decided to spend some time in the kitchen. I'd recently come across this gougeres recipe at 101 Cookbooks, and after a very disappointing batch of gougeres last year, I was interested in trying a recipe that seemed foolproof. It pretty much was, minus the fact that my oven wouldn't moderate temperature well enough and was therefore at least 50 degrees above what the recipe called for. And if you're checking out Heidi's recipe at 101 Cookbooks, I used water (not beer) and left out the fennel.

They turned out fantastically well. Light and airy, they made a great accompaniment to my Roasted Carrot Soup, which I think I've gotten quite better at making since that first batch.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Wormy Triumph

Today may have been one of my best so far as an environmental educator. On Thursdays I work with a group of middle school students--mostly seventh graders--at a school in Bellevue. There are usually about 15 of them, which is considerably larger than most groups I deal with, and they also have a lot more energy. Though they're my most challenging group because of this energy, they are also the most fun, and I'm constantly striving to come up with solid lessons and activities for our Thursday club time.

The advisor had mentioned that last year the YESC instructor brought in a worm bin and it was a big hit, so I started building my lesson.  I put together a Powerpoint with facts about worms (they have no eyes, they're hermaphrodites, they breathe through their skin...) and about vermicomposting. I also brought along my small worm bin, and a great dirt pie snack. To top the dirt pie, I made my own jello worms, the recipe taken from Macheesmo.

1 6 ounce package of red jello
4 envelopes of gelatin
4 cups boiling water
1 cup heavy cream
green and/or brown food coloring as needed
100 flexible plastic straws, and a container that will hold them all upright.
crushed Oreo cookies

You start by mixing the jello and gelatin together (don't add the water just yet!). When the gelatins are mixed, add 4 cups boiling water and stir until the gelatin is dissolved. Put this mixture into the fridge for 20-25 minutes to cool. During this cooling period, stretch the bendy part of all the straws, and bundle straws together. Find a container that will hold the straws upright while the jello hardens. After cooling period, add 1 cup heavy cream to the jello and stir well to combine. This product will be pretty red in color, and not very wormy. Add food coloring as needed--I found brown to work pretty well.

With the straws standing upright in your container of choice, and flexible ends down to ensure they get jello-ed and create worms with a bit of texture, pour jello-cream mixture to fill the container and straws! Then stick this whole jolly contraption into the fridge, and let the jello set for 6-8 hours. Then comes the fun part! First, find a way to free the bundle of straws from the container the jello has set in.

Now it's time to squeeze the jello from the straws. At first I thought I was too cool to use warm water to loosen the jello--and I had a lot of difficulty. It really works best to run 4-5 straws at a time under warm water to loosen the worms, then, starting at the empty end of the straw, gently squeeze the worm from the straw. Once you figure out the technique it goes pretty quickly. Squeeze the worms onto a plate and put them in the fridge for the warmed jello to re-solidify. You can add a little bit of dirt made from crushed oreos to give a more natural look to the worms.

Today's lesson about worms started with decomposer tag, then I did a short lesson in the classroom. At the very end I took one of my worms out of a bag, looked at everyone, and said "Have you ever seen How To Eat Fried Worms?" and put the worm in my mouth. I made a grossed-out face, then had to turn around so they wouldn't see how hard I was laughing. They definitely thought I'd eaten a real worm, and couldn't believe it! To wrap up the lesson each student got his or her own cup of dirt pie, topped with a couple of my worms. Overall, I'd say they were pretty impressed--many of the boys were planning on taking theirs home to gross out mom and dad.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Gratuitous Pictures of Dogs

This morning we got Alice a pink squeaky dinosaur toy. It didn't last long, as she promptly chewed off its toes. It did, however, mean that she sat in one place long enough for me to take a ton of few pictures.

This second one is my absolute favorite.

In the middle of our "chewing on dino" session, Alice stopped to chase the reflection of light coming from Melanie's cell phone. You can't see the light here, but she was leaping and scrambling against the wall trying to get to it.

And then there's Sammy [the semi-toothless wonder]. While he can be pretty fierce, the photo below is of a yawn, not one of his snarls at Alice as she tries to infringe on his space.

This is a much more common Sammy face. He's a sweetie.

Happy 2012 everyone!