Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Playing With Food At The Farmers' Market!

And so, as mentioned in the last post, I have been trying my hand at being a vendor at the Bonnyville Tuesday Farmers' Market.  Thanks to a trio of encouraging women, I will be spending my fifth and final consecutive Tuesday at the Beaver River Fish & Game Building on August 6.  Sharon, Rosemary, and Jo-Anne have been forthcoming and generous with their suggestions about products, pricing, and more.  Thank you also to my neighbour, Beverley, who came over to help for the first week's effort!

My FM routine has developed into the following:
  • Friday and Saturday - go through my ingredients bins, see what's left and what's needed, plan my goods, look through online flyers, and do some shopping
  • Sunday afternoon and evening - mix, bake, create
  • Monday - mix, bake, and create some more
  • Tuesday morning - make labels, package up items
  • Tuesday early afternoon - take some photos, check my "Need for Market" list, pack up the van, and head to town
  • Tuesday mid to late afternoon - set up my table, smile, meet some new people, chat with friends, sell some treats, visit with other vendors, and talk about gluten-free cooking (a future post will be about the last topic)
  • Tuesday closing to bedtime - pack up, think about my growling belly awaiting supper, head homeward, drop off some unsold baking along the way with family or friends, appreciatively eat the meal the kids have made, put my feet up, and sigh with a smile
I'll share a few of the stories and photos of this venture with you in this and a few more postings.  Not all of the recipes are that exciting but if you want them, drop me an email and I'll send them your way!

    Week One
    Banana Mini Muffins
    (some with and some without chocolate chips)
    Butterscotch Blondies
    Ladybug Cupcakes
    LEGO Brownies
    Oatmeal Rice Krispie Squares with Cranberries
    Gluten-Free Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies
    Ladybugs - These critters were inspired by Sara Bakes Cakes from her website via Pinterest.
    C'est Pierre! 
    We gave him a name once we noticed that it looked like he had a goatee.
                  Pierre had some friends.                                       A LOT of friends. 

    A certain young gal suggested that we should make more small cupcakes than the larger ones.  Affixing the tiny mini semi-sweet chocolate chips to all of the small cakes made us both cross-eyed and have a bit of carpal tunnel in our index fingers and thumbs.  Perhaps you think that saying "tiny mini" is redundant, but we cannot understate the pain involved in the minutiae of this decorating!  We're talking two hours of it.

    LEGO Brownies - I almost wished Gregory was younger when I saw Rindy Mae's LEGO birthday party idea on her blog!  If you have a little LEGO lover, I encourage you to check it out.

    I made some homemade brownies with this recipe and figured out how to get the most pieces of the right dimensions for 4-spot, 6-spot, and 8-spot pieces.  I'm sure there are more specific terms for the different sizes but that's what I've always called them in my mind since playing with them as a kid!

    Next, I tried to make icing colours to match the M&Ms' hues, then spread it on the brownies while Miriam sorted the candies.  We're not sure if our results were typical but there were many, many more blue and orange M&Ms compared to the other colours!  We made as many proper LEGO pieces as we could, then made wonky ones with leftover icing and candies. 
    For the brown candies, Miriam just squirted on dots of chocolate icing and then stuck the M&Ms on. 
    Making the LEGO involved three hours of labour! :-P

                         LOL = Lots of LEGOs                                         All packed up and ready to go!

    Market Day Partner:  The Daughter

    • I was welcomed by the other vendors, felt very comfortable being there, and was visited by some friends and family who came to support me.
    • There was a big agricultural gathering the evening before so hardly any traffic ventured to our market and I took half of my wares home.
    • In addition (or should I say subtraction?) to the lack of adult traffic, there were very few, if any, children who came, so the items with kid-appeal weren't noted by many.
    • The ladybug cupcakes and the LEGO brownies, which took us hours to decorate, hardly sold at all.  I'm talking sales of 2 out of 9 containers of each!  I told Miriam that they were very good looking and that I enjoyed spending that time with her.  Also, the neighbours were appreciative of the shared treats left at their doors.  However, unless requested, we're not making those again! 
    • There were many people interested in the gluten-free products so I will pursue making more of those.  The baking times and temperatures as well as the texture of GF baking can be tricky and strange, respectively, so the learning curve will be steep!

    Verdict:  I had a good day with my daughter, had some time to socialize, enjoyed the smiles of people whether they bought my treats or just checked them out.  I decided to go back the next week.

    Thank you for coming by the busy Island!  If our paths haven't crossed yet this summer and you'd like them to, perhaps you'd like to drop by between 3:00 - 6:30 p.m. on August 6.  I hope everyone is having a good summer!


    Wednesday, 17 July 2013

    Cooking Up A Little Learning, Science-Style

    Other than the Alberta cake, I'm also known for creating an edible part of the Grade Four Light & Shadows unit.

    Once upon a time, my dad started making these crazy Jell-O squares.  I thought it was interesting how he would pour a layer, put the dish in the fridge to set, make the next colour so it would be cool enough to pour on the previous layer without melting it, and repeat...many times...for many hours.  "Interesting" is not the word most people use to describe this dessert once they have attempted it.  Let me tell you, these things are a labour of love.

    There are a few versions of Jell-O squares that I know about.  You can make the recipe with a white layer between the colours, you might then cut them into small pieces which is called Broken Glass, or you can make them in my favorite way which is by following the colours of the spectrum.

    At the conclusion of the aforementioned science unit, I make these squares.  Sometimes I think, "Oh, maybe not this year, I'm pretty tired..." but every year, I just have to.  And every year, my class is AMAZED.  The students are always fascinated how the colours almost blend into each other.  They love to hold the squares up to the light and some peel the layers apart.  You'd think that their siblings would've filled them in about my tradition or that in their younger years they might've seen the squares jiggling down the hall in the palms of Grade Four students on their way out for recess on J-Day, but the new batch of kids always seems surprised.

    As my dad, a retired science teacher, has used this recipe for a long time, I am going to tell you the recipe and not worry too much about the copyright thing this one time.  I don't think the Internet was even a twinkle on a computer screen back then.  I will give you the double recipe version since, if you are going to go to all the work of making these, you might as well have a BIG batch to be proud of.  You'll need a big pan, larger than 9x13" - think the size of a lasagna for when company's coming over.  That big.  Or else a bunch of smaller containers.  I think you'll be less disgruntled with me if you use larger ones.  Just sayin'.  Or perhaps I should say, just warnin' you.

    Here's your shopping list:
    12 envelopes unflavoured gelatin such as Knox
     2  boxes red gelatin       (strawberry, raspberry, or cherry)
     2  boxes orange gelatin  (carrot - just kidding!  orange or peach)
     2  boxes yellow gelatin   (lemon or maybe pineapple* if you're lucky)
     2  boxes green gelatin    (lime or margarita)
     2  boxes blue gelatin      (Berry Blue**)
     2  boxes purple gelatin   (grape)
     1  week-long pass granting the permit-owner temporary blocking of memory of what gelatin
         actually is and where it comes from

    You will need really cold water and boiling water for this venture, so enlist the help of a friendly water cooler or chilled pitcher of H2O from the fridge as well as a tea kettle.  Also, prepare a level spot for your dish/es of Jell-O to set in the fridge. 

    First, pour a half cup (125mL) cold water then mix two packages of unflavoured gelatin into it until dissolved.


    Time to build the rainbow!  I usually start with red on the bottom so I don't mix up when trying to reverse ROY G BIV.  For some reason, VIB G YOR just doesn't remain in my brain.

    To the dissolved gelatin, add two 4-serving packages of red gelatin - I usually choose strawberry and like to mix the thick goop until uniform in color and texture.  Did you put the kettle on, Polly?  Now pour in 2 cups (500mL) boiling water and stir until that's dissolved.  Choose your Jell-O dishes and then fill.  This double recipe filled the dishes shown:  a 9 x 13" pan, an 8 x 8" square, and four dessert shot glasses.  Pop the lot of them into the fridge.        

    My family often gets left out of the treat distribution when I make food for school, so I made sure to have four servings for us to enjoy at home.  I wondered if the students would appreciate a little glass of their own but Larry said he really didn't think shot glasses at school would be appropriate, no matter what they were filled with!
    Layer 1:  Complete---ish!  The first layer takes the longest to set, but as each consecutive layer gels, it takes less and less time.  Prepare to wait at least 30 minutes the first time and give it a shake test until it remains flat and jiggles.
    Only five more to go if you're going for the most accurate spectrum available by the flavours/colours of gelatin on the market!  Sorry but indigo hasn't been offered, to my knowledge, but I guess you could mix half of a box of blue and purple if you really want to.  Not one student has ever commented on the indigomission so I'm not goin' there until someone complains!  Besides, my big pan is always filled to the very top.
    While Layer 1 sets, prepare the next one.  Same procedure as Red, just with orange gelatin.  And, yes, the photo above was the orange one...I only thought of taking the step-by-step pics when I got to the 2nd stage! :-P  You will want the upcoming color to have time to blend and cool a bit before pouring it gently onto the set one.  This will help you avoid melting your work and the "gently" part prevents divots.  We're not making a golf course.
    As Orange sets, make the yellow mixture, and do something else while you wait!  This is the benefit of the waiting part of this recipe, not like when you say, "I'll just let those little banana muffins brown on the tops for one minute..." and then do something else and it turns into four minutes and then they're really brown and dry and can't go to Farmers' Market. :-(  I may have had such an experience this week. 
    Now, when Yellow is nice and jiggly, your progress should look something like this:
    Halfway done!
    Mix, cool, pour, and chill the green, blue, and purple strata. in their good turn.  If I recall correctly, the last few layers only take about 15 minutes to set.  I hope you started right after supper or you had an afternoon to work on them.  Oops!  I guess I should've mentioned that more overtly at the beginning of the post.  My bad.
    Ready for the big reveal? 
    Drum roll please...

    Fridge view!
    Hold it up to the light - you know you want to!
     Ready for my young scientists to enjoy!
    I'm really excited to make these for the Farmers' Market this coming Tuesday.  I've made two different kid-appealing treats per Tuesday and I can't wait to see the looks on their faces when the Jell-O is set out on my table in cups with a spoon, ready to devour. 
    Thanks for sliding down the rainbow to the Island today!  I hope you are all having a summer full of colourful activities.
    *Pineapple Jell-O...hmm...anyone recall which two fresh fruits prevent gelatin from setting?
    **According to Wikipedia, in 1992, a woman won an lg Novel Prize for inventing blue Jell-O!  More fascinating information about the brand name of gelatin here.

    Friday, 5 July 2013

    "Here's My Little Teapot, Short & Stout.."

    Ahhh...back to blogging.  I hope that I can be more organized next school year so I can make this a more regular practice.  I really do miss the Island but, as mentioned previously, I just can't blog with guilt when not keeping up to school paperwork!  Anyway, back to business!

    Support Staff Lunch

    Each year at our school, the support staff makes a lunch for the teachers during one of our Parent-Teacher-Interview nights, and then the teachers reciprocate in kind in the spring.  I was approached by our VP, Jody, asking if I would make a watermelon creation for the event.  Off I went to Pinterest and the National Watermelon Promotion Board for a recheck of ideas, having discovered the watermelon shark from last year on those sites.  I needed something connected to our picnic theme and also wanted something feminine as all of the support staff are ladies. 

    The fruit art I selected was this lovely teapot.

    Prior to the picnic, I figured I should do a trial run.  Coincidentally, our church was hosting the service the next Sunday so if it turned out, I vowed to share Version 1 with the congregation.  I really liked the look of the watermelon balls and blueberries so decided to fill it with the same fruit in the photo, too.

    I found a photo and instructions online that showed how to cut and assemble the teapot.  Fortunately, lately in Bonnyville at the store I shop at most, all the watermelons sold are pretty round.  I picked through the big cardboard bin quite thoroughly, checking them out for even stripes, smooth skin, heaviness-per-size (indicating a nice juicy one, I've read) and the least brown creases, nearly falling in once in my enthusiastic search to find a perfect melon! 

    The first one turned out okay; the steps listing where and how far to cut weren't perfect so it turned out a big wonky.  Cutting 4" down the watermelon versus cutting 4" from the stem (or belly button, as I think of it) are two different things.  Grrr... 

    Oh well - this was TP #1: empty at home, then fruity-filled at church:

    My fellow parishioners thought the l'il teapot was cute so I decided to stick with it and make the same for the school lunch.  On the second attempt, I took pictures, just in case this inspired one of you readers to make one!

    Slice off one end, the center of which will be used in constructing your lid.  On TP #2, I  used a round cookie cutter with a crinkled edge, thinking that this would add a pretty touch to the knob.  (More on the terminology later.)  The outer ring will be used as a base to keep your teapot sitting pretty and sturdily.

    Back to the main part of the watermelon.  This was/is the trickiest part, for me, at least: knowing where to make the cut so the teapot's belly is tall enough but also creating a good-sized lid.  The original site said 4" but I'd say eyeball about halfway up from the base and cut there.  You can always pare down the teapot part but the lid can't be put back together again.  This is not Humpty Dumpty!  A slice must then be cut from the lid part so you will be able to continue the song with, "Here is my handle, here is my spout!"

    Cut a rectangular spot for the teapot lid knob.  (I may...or may not...have Googled "anatomy of a teapot" and found a nice little P.W.I.M. picture-style poster of one so I use the right words such as belly, knob vs. handle, etc. ;-) ) It took me a few times to get it the right size, "measuring" it by fitting the knob into the hole, widening the hole so it nestled in fairly securely while showing most of the knob. Next, with the aid of a tomato/strawberry huller, I carved out six little spots for decorative (yet still edible!) mini melon balls or berries.  Then I used a toothpick to keep the knob from departing from the teapot lid, snapping off the protruding pick underneath.  Lastly, to complete the lid, I scooped tiny watermelon balls and popped them into the awaiting spots.

    Using both ends of my Core 'N More, I made nice round melon balls in small and large sizes, a little messy but fairly benign.
    The next part of the process looks a bit gruesome, so scroll down half of a screen if you are squeamish... 
    ***The proceeding images may be disturbing to some viewers.***
    ***Viewer discretion is advised.***
    These remind me of the Watermelon Shark project from last June - the leavings look like guts and the scraped-out bowl of the pot almost resembles the inside of a mouth less the teeth! 
    Or perhaps these are akin to oral surgery pictures.  Open wide and say, "Ahh!"

    Back to more civilized topics...
    To form the handle and spout, use the slice taken from between the lid and the belly, cut it in twain, and remove most of the red watermelon flesh BUT not as much as shown below (sniff), lest your teapot's appendages appear anaemic.  I just kept holding the pieces up to the belly and cutting them until I thought the length and angle of the additions looked right. Toothpicks kept them embedded into the belly; I snapped off the extra so no one would get an unexpected fibre boost accompanying the fruit being served from the inside of the pot. 

    In the end, it looked quite pretty.  I didn't have enough fruit to fill the teapot to the top so I inverted a small bowl inside the belly.  Thinking on it now, I guess it was kind of a push-up bra for fruit salad.  Shhh...don't tell the secret...

    When it was time to decorating the school party's lid, I thought I'd mix it up a bit and alternate mini melon balls with blueberries in a nerdy-but-predictable-for-a-teacher AB pattern.  I aligned the lid, and it just worked out that the dark blueberries were in spots where they looked like eyes and the vessel had a cute pink nose.   

    Miss Teapot was born.

    Then, I thought I'd take a photo of it in a way where you could see the fruit. 
    Lo and behold, it looked like Miss Teapot was smiling at me! 
     So friendly and adorable...
    'Twas the sweet SMILE of success!

    Thank you for not giving up on the Island.  I guarantee that I shall be a loyal blogger through the summer: I have lots of ideas and things going on!  Next Tuesday, I will be offering my baking at the Farmers' Market at the Fish & Game Building in Bonnyville, having been encouraged by Rosemary and Sharon.  I plan to have lots of chocolate, one to two treats which will appeal to the kiddies, and a gluten-free offering as well. 

    Happy Summer to all and to all a good bite!