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… so instead of finishing with a gruesome made-up story, I’ll share an original poem, written this morning: an ode to a current event at our place.

Extreme Sports

“It’s like Jenga,” she smiled, as she eyeballed the pile

on the bench at the end of my bed.

“Laundry Jenga,” I sighed, when delighted, she spied

her shirt, midst a section of reds.

Though we try as we might we never just quite

keep up with the laundry downstairs,

So it piles up instead on the bench next my bed

and the socks almost never are pairs.

It’s like Jenga, you see, and we’ll never be free

from the blessing of excessive clothes.

Laundry Jenga, it seems, is the pastime of queens

attempting domestic repose.

So thrust in an arm; it’ll do little harm

to explore for your trousers or sock.

Just don’t topple the pile or we’ll be here awhile

re-stacking, re-piling the lot.

MESC, 17 July 2014

I’ve been wanting to make homemade flour tortillas for about ever, and I finally got fed up with the cost of them at the store today.

Here’s the recipe I used, with the approximate costs for ingredients. The batch made 18 tortillas, 15 of which survive for supper (carne asada with lime and garlic, veggies, cheese. YUM. Yay, Mexican Grocery Store!) That’s $1.05 for 18, rather than $3 for 10, and my ingredient list is less than half that of the commercially packaged flour tortillas. Labor, including griddling them, took 30 minutes. Not Too Shabby. And they pass the Teenage Boy Snarf Challenge with these results: “Good flat stuff, Mother.”

  • 3 cups all purpose flour (about 75c)
  • 1.5 teaspoons salt (less than 1c)
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder (about 4c)
  • 5 tablespoons lard (25c)
  • 1 cup warmish water (freeeeeee)

Whisk the dry ingredients to combine them, then cut in the lard until it “vanishes” (I used the whip attachment for my lovely 16yo red Kitchenaid, and beat the crud out of it.)

Switch to a dough hook and slowly pour in the water until the dough comes together in a soft ball. Dust this with flour and portion into golf-ball-sized ball (mine came out to 18 portions). Roll between your palms, or between one palm and the counter, to form a nice tight-ish ball.

Cover the dough portions with a towel and let them rest at least 10 minutes. Somewhere between 10 and 30 minutes lets the gluten relax all the way, and makes rolling them really thin a whole lot easier.

Heat a cast-iron pan, dry, to “drop of water skitters and vanishes”. You’ll slowly turn down the heat as you go, because cast iron holds heat really well.

Flatten and roll each round out quite thin, using a bit of flour to reduce it sticking. And by thin, I mean: thinner than you think you need. They will poof about 2-3 times thicker as they cook (thanks, Baking Powder!), so Paper Thin is a good goal. The dough is pretty elastic, which helps a lot.

Toss one onto the hot griddle or pan; griddle briefly (20-40 seconds) until browned spots form on the underside. Flip it, admire your work, and griddle another 20 seconds or so.

Remove to a tea towel on the counter, and keep going. Roll the next while the first griddles, if you’re good at rolling out. (Otherwise, get two ready and give yourself a 1-tortilla head start!) Cover the stack with a tea towel, and they’ll still be gorgeously soft and flexible, even when the cool off.

No pictures, but you can find the same recipe loads of places on-line, from bloggers who are not total Slacker Moms, and their pictures look pretty nice. My tortillas? CHEAP, tasty, healthier than the store-bought, really inexpensive, gorgeously flexible, budget-friendly, soft, toasty, and also, cost-effective! Twice the food for 1/6 the cost. That’s nice.

 

So, when you’re in a family of nerdly types, the idea of “dress-up” takes on entirely new proportions. As in, coming up with scaffolding for horns made out of a person’s actual hair, because the dress-up requires such things.

And then people want to know how the heck that happened, so you do up a photo tutorial, because it is 2014, and people expect such things. And pin them to Pinterest. And maybe even do them at home, too.

We designed this last fall for Salt Lake City’s Comicon, and mine Eldest is doing it again for SLC Comicon 2014, and for tonight’s movie opening for Maleficent at our local cinema.

Start with hair that’s near shoulder-blade length. Take four chenille stems (pipe cleaners!), and fold them in halves, then twist the halves together. Bend the bottom 1.5″ at a 90* angle, and twist the endy bits to form a basic four-sided pyramid. (Yay! Geometry!)

The pyramids go onto high ponytails (smooth any stray hairs upward and spray the heck out of them), and get anchored with a few bobby pins.

Then, the wrapping commenceth! Wrap small strands of hair up and down the pyramid, coming back to the base to secure them. Spraying with ultra-hold hairspray as you go helps.

The tips are the hardest to arrange; you want all the scaffold covered, so wrap a bit more tightly, but don’t compress it too far. Seriously, spray the heck out of it.

You’ll be able to bend and mold the horns to a certain degree. Then, spray all the heck out of it.

Eldest created a wrapped black wire headpiece to go with this costume; we made a standing collar to mimic dragon wings. When it’s all in place, it’s remarkably effective and evocative of a very young Maleficent, kind of cranky about being left out of the fairy parties again.

Happy-but-still-internally-evil

Trust me, she may be smiling on the outside, but she’s still pretty evil within.

Well, maybe a little evil.

Okay, not so much. But the horns are magnificent.

Pretzels & Pate Choux

(Please insert the obligatory desultory comments regarding Neglect of Blog, Promise to Blog More Faithfully, Excuses of Very Crazy Life Lately, Etcetera.)

Since it’s Resurrection Day, and I am Christian, here are two elevating recipes to give a whack. Both look fancier than they are hard, which is really nice for earning bonus Slacker Mom points. And, no pictures, because: Slacker Mom.

(I will freely admit that on several occasions, we either creatively cropped photos, or turned off the date/time stamp, and faked “Easter Sunday” photos for the grandparents.)

Soft Pretzels

Right, so, it sounds really fancy to say, “Oh, we’re making a batch of soft pretzels to enjoy!” but really, what makes soft pretzels pretzels (or Prunt-zulls, if you’re a Little at my cottage) rather than boring bread is simple: a 30-second water bath in baking-soda-fortified H2O.

I also highly recommend using parchment paper when baking the soft pretzels. It keeps things from sticking horribly, and absorbs some of the moisture, so you get a crisper crust.

For 8-10 decent sized soft pretzels, or pretzel sandwich rolls (which are stupendously bliss-making):

  • 1.5 cups warm water
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon yeast
  • 4 to 4.5 cups all purpose flour (I prefer unbleached)
  • 3 tablespoons butter (melted) OR 2-3 tablespoons oil

Mix all of this together and knead or slap around in a stand mixer until a smooth dough is formed. I like to leave my dough a bit on the “wet” side, and pop it into a bread bowl or plastic tub to raise, so I don’t have to knead much at all. Let it double, and if you forget, let if fall and rise again! This will take about an hour. Do other stuff in the meantime, such as getting your pretzel bath ready, and preheating the oven to 450 degrees, and lining a few baking sheets with parchment paper.

Prep your water bath: 10 cups or so of water, with 1/2 to 2/3 cup baking soda in it. Bring this to a nice boil. It foams and fizzes a bit. Do not be alarmed.

Punch down your dough and turn it out onto a lightly floured surface. Divide it up into 8-10 portions. I’m a slacker, to I pinch of “hold it in my palm” sized balls of dough, and however many we come up with, I’m happy.

Time to get kindergarten on the dough: roll each portion out into a snake. Make a U shape, and then twirl the ends together twice, before flipping the ends toward the bottom of the U and pressing them onto the U to seal a “pretzel” shape. Here’s a video, from Canadians, so you know they’re kind and trustworthy. Some people get really fancy and just do a flippity-twisty thing. I am not one of those people.

To make sure you have loads of surfaces for the lovely water bath to pretzelize the crust, make sure your pretzel has space between all the sections. You can use your hands to just stretch them open as needed.

If you want a pretzel sandwich bun/roll, don’t stretch the sections option; when the pretzel rises, gaps will fill in, and you’ll have a whole bun shape that slices through nicely.

Now that the pretzels are formed, you’re ready to start bathing and baking.

Use a shallow, flat-bottomed holey ladle thing (I think it’s technically a large slotted spoon?) to lower one or two pretzels into the baking soda water bath for 30 to 40 seconds. Retrieve and let them drain a moment before placing them on the parchment-lined baking sheets.

Drop another two, and while they bathe, sprinkle the still-quite-wet already-bathed ones with garlic, or salt, or both, or anything else you want stuck on the pretzel. Some recipes call for an egg wash, but I don’t particularly care for that, and the just-bathed dough surface holds onto “toppers” pretty well.

Pop the bathed pretzels into a 450* oven for about 12-15 minutes, until they have a nice deep color. Slip the whole parchment paper onto a cooling rack (or the counter, if your cooling rack was perhaps stolen by your Tall, Dark, and Slightly Neanderthal Husband last year to serve as a topper for the baby chicks’ brooder box).

I made a quick sauce with a few ounces of sharp cheddar, ditto Monteray Jack and cream cheese, plus a bit of dry mustard and a splash of milk, melted slowly together. But mostly, the kids just buttered them, and they’d be good with spicy brown mustard, too.

Cream Puffs

I love cream puffs. Here’s some information on How Cream Puffs Work. Here’s the basic recipe:

  • 1 cup water
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • pinch salt
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 cup eggs (this frees you from the tyranny of wondering what size eggs. Just crack ‘em in until you have about 1 cup total, and whisk them together.)

Parchment paper is helpful for this recipe, too! Line some baking sheets before you get going, and pre-heat the oven to 425*.

Bring the water, butter, sugar, and salt to a rolling boil. Dump in 1 cup flour, and beat the tar out of it. It will gelatinize, which is cool to watch happen, and may leave a bit of film on the pan as you’re stirring. That’s fine, don’t worry about it. Keep beating/stirring hard for 4-5 minutes over medium heat, and then set it aside to cool off just a bit.

If you have a stand mixer, cool beans! Put the flour dough into the mixer and fit it with the paddle attachment. Get it running on low-ish, and drizzle in the beaten eggs a bit at a time. You’ll notice that the dough will get slimy for a minute, then smooth out nicely. Keep going until the egg is all incorporated.

If you don’t have a stand mixer, you can do it by Ye Olde Sturdy Biceps Method: add some of the egg and beat the tar out of the dough by hand. It will be lumpy and slimy for a bit, then smooth out. Keep repeating until all the egg is incorporated. I will admit to cheating: I put all the egg in at once, and just deal with about 4 minutes of slimy to get to the smooth part. It will take loads of bicep endurance. You are amazing. You can do it.

Cream puffs are great for the slacker baker, because you’re going to succeed by ignoring them. They need an initial fairly-high temperature to create the burst of steam from the moisture in the eggs (this is what puffs ‘em), with a second stage of lower heat to set and dry them out, so they don’t fall flat as soon as you take them out.

Use a regular spoon to grab a nice rounded portion of dough-goop. Scrape it off onto the parchment paper. Repeat, spacing them about 2″ apart, and going for a rounded mound.

Pop them into a 400* oven for 15 minutes. WITHOUT opening the door, turn the heat down to 350* for about 35-40 minutes.

Go do other stuff. Like look up recipes of good junk to put inside the puffs. When that second timer-buzzer goes off, turn off the oven, crack the door, and let them cool for maybe 10 minutes, then remove them to a cooling rack, and use a skewer to jab a hole in the side. It should come out clean, and jabbing the hole in also gives a steam vent as another insurance against collapse.

Even if they do fall flat, they’re still a good platform for Delivering Other Tasty Stuff To Your Face-Hole.

You can make the cream puffs dairy-free by subbing non-dairy margarine (of the sort recommended for baking); you can make them gluten-free by subbing almond flour for wheat flour, 1:1—but definitely use a stand mixer, because it takes longer for the egg to incorporate, and let the mixture cool entirely before portioning it on the sheet. This helps it set up better and puff more in the oven. Almond-flour puffs are more hygroscopic than wheat puffs, so they’ll soften in the ambient humidity, but they taste fantastic, and are still good platforms, as mentioned above.

You can fill cream puffs with just about anything, sweet or savory. The vegan “egg salad” recipes that use mashed chickpeas are great, as are regular egg salad (please use sustainably, humanely raised eggs from happy hens!), tuna salad (ditto, but with fishes), etc.

For sweet, plain whipped cream with berries folded in is always a good choice. You can also use my sister’s secret weapon: pudding mix.

Addictive Pastry Cream

In a stand mixer with a whisk attachment, or with a hand mixer, combine:

  • 2 cups heavy whipping cream
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1 3 ounce package of any flavor instant pudding mix you like

Beat the tar out of it until it’s really, really thick. Haphazardly scrape into a bowl and refrigerate until you need it. Use a rubber scraper to gather up all the haphazardly neglected dregs of addictive pastry cream and lick them off the scraper while the kids aren’t looking.

And these two lovely examples of leavened, “Risen” treats, combined with the multiple puns I made regarding Easter Sunday/Risen treats, were part of our day today.

 

 

Instant Nutmeg Nog!

So, I have a very dear friend who cannot have chocolate.

I know.

Let us pause for a moment of solemn contemplation, as we realize this includes hot cocoa.

Lamentations and woe! Seriously!

For winter happiness, it’s very important to have a hot drink, so here’s an instant nutmeggy nog mix that tested very well in our little cottage (among those who will attempt to drink nog, anyhow). It’s actually egg-free, so it doesn’t have that weird slimy quality, but it’s quite delightfully vanilla-y and nutmeggy, and you could certainly add some cinnamon if you like.

Mix this in a good-sized soup pot; it’s not so huge a batch as the cocoa mix, so you can spoon it into a quart jar if you’re willing to give it some taps and shakes to settle it in.

Instant Nutmeg Nog

  • 4 cups instant non-fat milk
  • 3.4 oz packet of instant vanilla pudding
  • 1/3 cup powdered French vanilla coffee creamer
  • heaping 1/4 tsp ground nutmeg

As with the hot cocoa mix, you’ll use about 1 tablespoon of mix for each 2 ounces of water (1/4 cup mix for 6 ounces hot water, 4 tablespoons mix for 8 ounces hot water).

I don’t have a snapshot of the nog, so here’s an older picture of the Spicy Child, contemplating the goodness of hot vanilla-y, nutmeggy winter drinks topped with a bit of real whipped cream:

Spicy, Age 1

When I was a child, we really did have to walk to school (or the bus stop, at least) uphill both ways in three feet of snow, because we lived on the hilly side of town. Once we moved out of town, we could ski down to the bus stop, but that meant a long trudge dragging the skis back up to the house in the twilight after school, too.

Cocoa Mix at Notmolly.wordpress.com

A happy cow mug will cheer up even the Queen of Skye, sitting glum under her threadwork icicle chapeau.

I cannot remember a time when my mother did not make hot cocoa mix during the fall and winter. And if we looked particularly damp, pale blue, and pathetic when we finally reached home, we could often get *two* cups of cocoa out of her, to “warm us all the way up!”

This is a slightly more complex version than her original (which likely came from the Make-a-Mix cookbook in the 1970s, the only item which I can truly say I coveted upon leaving home!) If you want to take it back to the original, remove the instant puddings. It’s still very rich, but with a more distinct dark chocolate flavor. If you use the puddings, decrease the powdered sugar by about two cups to compensate.

Get out your biggest vat to stir this up; the mix takes up a good deal of space! The quart jar shown above is one of more than four I made from the batch. I tend to store it in a half-gallon jar (re-used and well-clean huge pickle jar!) on the counter.

  • 1-3/4 cup Dutch process cocoa powder (if you can find this in bulk foods, so much the better!)
  • 10 cups Instant Dry Non-Fat Milk Powder (ditto bulk, or buy a box/bag.)
  • 2 cups Instant Non-Dairy Creamer powder (plain is great, but you can make flavored cocoa mix by using hazelnut, Irish cream, or amaretto flavored instant cream powder)
  • 4-3/4 cups powdered (confectioner’s) sugar–this is 1 pound
  • Options for Ultra-Rich Cocoa: a total of two 4oz packets Instant pudding mix (chocolate, chocolate fudge, or vanilla). I like one chocolate, one vanilla.

Whisk all the ingredients together very well in a large bowl (vat, really. I mean it). Store in an air-tight container, jar, etc.

To make some Truly Lovely cocoa for a winter night, or any time, add about 3 level tablespoons (or approximately 1/4 cup) mix in a six to eight ounce mug. We tend to use 1 tablespoon of mix for every two ounces of hot water. Add hot water, and stir to dissolve.

Variations: vary the pudding flavors (these really are optional; the mix is great even without them) or creamer flavors; add crushed peppermint candies, mini-marshmallows, or mini-baking chips.

You can even make fresh whipped cream, dollop it out in portions on a baking sheet, and freeze them solid, to store in a freezer bag and pop fresh (frozen) whipping cream on top of any cocoa mug. (Drizzle the whipped cream dollops with chocolate sauce or caramel sauce before freezing.)

This batch makes about 45 servings of cocoa, which lasts for about a week at our place. Or less, now that my son is taller than I am, and I can’t put the stuff out of his reach. :)

The cost works out to be a bit less than a similar quantity of gourmet hot cocoa mix, but it’s highly satisfying to see a huge canister of homemade mix on the pantry shelf, or to make up quart-sized canisters with customized creamer flavors inside.

Makes a great gift, too! Measure out several mug-portions into a ziploc bag, and create a “topper” with cardstock folded in half and stapled on, the whole thing tucked in a mug. Or, measure out portions into a canning or “found” (recycled from other groceries, label-removed) glass jar, and use white school glue to add a label with instructions for making up a mug. Download and print a label right here: Happy Christmas Cocoa Labels.

Revisiting the Creche

Long, long ago, in a rather lanky house at the top of the hill, there lived a little girl who loved her mother’s Christmas creche, which lived on her mother’s bookcase every Christmas. It was not an expensive or magnificent creche. The little structure was covered with bits of bark and moss that tended to get dusty, and the little plaster figures were not elaborate. The little girl loved it because she was a girl who loved stories, and there was a story for this creche. It had been a gift to the little girl’s mother, from her older brother, one Christmas.

And so, the little girl grew up with the solemn idea that a creche ought really to be something a loved one gave to you, rather than something you buy in a store.

And one day, that little girl married a Tall, Dark, and Slightly Neanderthal fellow. They had a little girl of their own, and she was a little girl with clever hands and sharp eyes.

Years went by, and the little girl with clever hands and sharp eyes noticed that her mama mentioned the story of the gift creche, but never owned one. So one year, she and her Tall, Dark, and Slightly Neanderthal Daddy built a simple, spare, and just-right creche for the mama, and populated it with the same style of plaster figures the first little girl’s mother had been given, and gave it to her for Christmas, where it was given a place of honor as the focal point of the family’s Christmas celebrations.Mantel

The only thing that bothered the little girl with clever hands and sharp eyes was that the nativity figures did not look exactly like what she saw in her mind. But her clever hands were too young and unskilled to produce what she saw in her mind, and her sharp eyes needed to be even more sharp to do the work she wanted to do.

The little girl grew into a tall girl, and her hands became ever-more nimble, and her eyes ever-more sharp, and one year, she looked at her mother’s lovely creche, with the simple plaster figures that had never quite suited her, and decided to revisit the creche.

And so, she worked in odd moments, and hung a curtain across the doorway, and insisted everyone knock on the door lintel, so the creche might remain a Christmas secret.

A few days before Christmas, when this tall and lovely girl set about decking the cottage to celebrate, she quietly placed the re-painted creche in its place on the mantel, and waited.

It took her mother a few days to notice, but when she did, this is what she found:

The Angel, Bending Near to Gaze

The Angel, Bending Near to Gaze

Three Regal Kings come to Worship

Three Regal Kings come to Worship

A Mary and Joseph with Overflowing Hearts

A Mary and Joseph with Overflowing Hearts

A Mother Rapt with Joy in her Sweet Baby

A Mother Rapt with Joy in her Sweet Baby

A Renewed Gift--as Christmas Renews Us Every Year!

A Renewed Gift–as Christmas Renews Us Every Year!

And the mother was transported instantly back to the little given creche on her own mother’s bookshelf, and she was filled with happiness, for gifts that are given again and again in love are always the most happy gifts.

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