August 28, 2009

Making Marshmallows

Last night we (mostly me) made homemade marshmallows. Not the healthiest food in the world, but nonetheless, tasty and fun to make. And, as a side benefit, making marshmallows works as a science project for Little One: mixing solids and liquids and heating them changes the form of the matter, mixing in air changes the consistency. You can do your own search, but here is the recipe that I used:

Homemade Marshmallows

.75-oz unflavored gelatin (3 envelopes of gelatin)
1/2 cup cold water
2 cups granulated sugar
2/3 cups light corn syrup
1/4 cup water
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
Corn starch
Powered sugar

Line 9 x 9-inch pan with plastic wrap and lightly oil it. Set aside. (I used two smaller pans since I didn’t have the correct size. I also sprinkled the oiled plastic wrap with the powered sugar mix below.)

In the bowl of an electric mixer, sprinkle gelatin over 1/2 cup cold water. Soak for about 10 minutes. (I don’t have a stand electric mixer, so I used a large bowl. You do need a large bowl.)

Meanwhile, combine sugar, corn syrup and 1/4 cup water in a small saucepan. Bring the mixture to a rapid boil and boil hard for 1 minute. (Other recipes called for a candy thermometer, which I don’t have. Notice a trend?)

Pour the boiling syrup into soaked gelatin and turn on the mixer, using the whisk attachment, to high speed. Add the salt and beat for 12 minutes. After 12 minutes, add in the vanilla extract beat to incorporate. (To continue the trend, I don’t have a whisk attachment for my hand electric mixer, although I’m pretty sure I did at one time.)

Lightly grease your hands and the spatula. Scrape marshmallow into the prepared pan and spread evenly. Take another piece of lightly oiled plastic wrap and press lightly on top of the marshmallow, creating a seal. Let mixture sit for a few hours, or overnight, until cooled and firmly set. (Just like on the bottom of the pan, I sprinkled some of the powered sugar mixture on top first.)

In a shallow dish, combine equal parts cornstarch and powered sugar. Remove marshmallow from pan and cut into equal pieces with scissors or a chef's knife. Dredge each piece of marshmallow in confectioners' sugar mixture. (At the time of this post, I haven’t gotten this far. I read on another site that using a pizza cutter works great too.)

Store in an airtight container. Makes about 40 large marshmallows, depending on the size you choose to cut them.

Little One and I had great fun, especially scraping the bowl afterwards. Granted, we had to go straight to bath, but it was still yummy!

August 27, 2009

Writing books

Yesterday, my first book arrived in the mail. Before we all get excited (happy dance!), let me just say that this is a self published children’s book that would have to be revised prior to any actual publication. For more information on self publishing, try Blurb.

I learned several things. First, a lot of work, dedication and focus go into writing books. It took me several years to finalize a 30 page book (mostly due to finding the right illustrations – via photography – to go with the story).

Second, I’m excited even if the book is never sold anywhere. How cool is it to see a finished product like a book that you created?

I’m thrilled that Little One was excited to read the book and now wants to write a book too. How cute! There is much truth in the fact that children imitate what they see their parents do. They learn by example, by seeing and doing.

Final lesson: There is a reason editors exist.

August 19, 2009

Can a Night Owl become a Morning Person?

My husband falls asleep right away (despite drinking caffeinated sodas and playing computer games at night), and wakes up perky. I’m jealous. Our daughter seems to be following in his footsteps (thankfully). My father is a morning person and over the years has mentioned that my mother, sister and I are not. He states this fact in the nicest way possible (bless our hearts). My uncle (mother’s brother) is a night owl extraordinaire. So, see: it’s genetic.

Or is it? I really wish I could fall asleep right away and bounce out of bed. The few times that this happens, it’s wonderful! I feel rested, and I feel like I can get so much done. It’s not like I am staying up horribly late anyway.

In fact, I have a number of friends that feel the same way (maybe that’s the problem – my friends are night owls too). A quote in an article by Deepa Ranganathan sums up my feelings:

When I told my friends I had found a way to transform myself into a morning person, they responded in one of two ways. The night people leaned in as if I were about to reveal the location of a stash of pirate gold. The morning people simply regarded me with pity and wonder. "I just don't understand why it's so hard," said one friend, a Danish medical student. "I can get up anytime I want."

So, what would it take? Not Just Laura chronicles what she did and advised me to take small steps.

There are some obvious steps like setting and keeping an earlier bedtime. Except that, again, I don’t think 10:00-10:30 pm is all that late. Don’t eat big meals before bed (no problem) or drink caffeinated beverages late in the day (this I know not to do). Avoid alcohol (done), exercise (I avoid it completely most of the time), and mentally stimulating activities (hmm, that one is a little harder). Avoid too much light at night including TV and computers (I’m good some – but not all – of the time). Take melatonin four hours before bed (never tried this).

Morning requires consistency too, for instance, waking up at the same time (helps if you go to bed at the same time). Get out of bed and take a walk (now, wait a minute!). Just like we need to avoid too much light at night, morning light helps us wake up.

I’m sure that general healthy habits help the situations too. Eating well and regularly, exercising, avoiding stress, and actually getting enough sleep.

And last, but not least, pray.

August 17, 2009

Organic okra at farmers market

Every now and then, we drive out to a small farmers market in one of the suburbs. We don't go often since it is a 30+ minute drive and only has a couple of stalls that we go to (we can finish in 15 minutes - with browsing). But unlike the big city farmers market 10 minutes from our house, this one has a couple of organic farmers (vegetables, meats, cheeses, eggs).

This weekend was one of those weekends to make the drive. We picked up some wonderful fresh squash, bell peppers and okra. In fact, I may have to go back next weekend to pick up some more okra. Last summer I stored up a bunch after one of the daughters taught me how to freeze it. Wash, dry and slice. Place on cookie sheet and freeze. Remove from cookie sheet and store in freezer bags. We used it for months.

For those that shy away from okra, it's really quite good. And easy to prepare. Once sliced, add to pan with some olive oil, salt and pepper. Add garlic and chopped green onion if you like. "Fry" up until slightly crisp. Serve.

Bird Watching and Photography for Kids

No, we didn't take photos of birds. I give credit to my husband for the first activity for Little One: bird watching. Take two empty toilet paper rolls and tape together to make binoculars. Print out photos of birds and tape to walls and ceiling. Go bird watching with 3-year-old. Clearly this can be done outside with real birds. But it's a little hot, so there are not many birds about.

Since I come from a line of photographers and got a camera at a very young age, I decided to take a tour of the neighborhood with Little One and a small digital camera. She took to it quite nicely, and even got some good shots. Thankfully, digital cameras don't use expensive film. She managed to take 273 photos in 20 minutes!

August 4, 2009

Time for prayer

I have become a prayer slacker. I was doing so well for awhile, but lately I don’t seem to have the time or the drive to engage in active prayer and study. Oh sure, I still say the blessing at meals, pray before I go to bed and while at Mass, maybe a rosary here and there. But study the Bible or read a Catholic book? Not much since Lent. Pray the rosary every (weekday) morning? Not every day for sure. I’ve even let slip the morning prayer routine that I started with Little One.

Now, to be transparent, I’ve let a lot of things slip lately. I suppose I’m in a bit of a funk coupled with job worries and career stress plus inertia over where to live along with our recent miscarriage. Or maybe I am just having a mid life crisis. Ok, that last statement is a definite, but I digress.

Driving to work the other day thinking about why I’ve slacked off on my rosary praying on the way to work (but not, mind you, picking up my rosary and praying), I did come to the brilliant epiphany that I didn’t need to wait until I had time to pray the entire rosary. And this was before coffee (ok, I had a cup of tea before I left the house).

Praying means a lot of things. In this earlier post, I outlined the ACTS of prayer (adoration, contrition, thanksgiving, supplication). Prayer can be long or short, just as long as we pray. And listening is as important – if not more important – than talking.

I do find that the more I pray, the more peaceful I am. Who wouldn’t want a little more peace in one’s life?