Friday, April 30, 2010

Day 103 - To Bead or Not to Bead?

Sorry, for all you foodies out there today wasn't one spent in the kitchen.  However, I have an aggressive schedule for the weekend: plum jam and caramels.  Thinking back the favorite thing I remember my mom making at Christmas (she made a lot of great things) were her homemade caramels.  I don't remember when she stopped making them or why but I do remember having them!  After reviewing some recipes I believe her secret must have been that good rich Jersey cream we had straight from the cows.  Realizing this may have been her key to success I believe I will pick up some Picket Fence Dairy Cream (Jersey goodness) tomorrow at the grocery store.  Mom - you are free to comment if you want or send me your recipe!  I am going to guess the reason these became non-existent were the births of my brother and sister (6 and 8 years younger than me respectively).  Having two little ones close in age myself and realizing how long the caramels are going to have to be "babysat" it is no wonder these stopped making an appearance.  But this is just a guess - mom can set me straight later.

On to the title of today's blog.  I have always wanted to try beading/making jewelry but have never really attempted it.  Last week a friend and I were admiring some beautiful handcrafted bead work jewelry at the local Farmer's Market and I thought how pretty they were.  I also thought - I bet I could do that!  So during the brief time I had (since my kids refused to take afternoon naps today) I started researching bead work.  I now have a list for a simple necklace and pair of earrings.  If I can find some good beads for a decent price tomorrow I may have to try it out.  After all my incentive for reaching 30 lbs lost (which I hit a couple weeks ago) was a piece of jewelry so I might as well have the satisfaction of doing it myself.  I know there are competitive classes for these items at the ISF but at this point I don't think mine would be worthy of competition.  This is a case of we'll see how well I like it and if I want to attempt a harder level later.

One thing I would like to do is work one of my grandpa's rocks into a piece.  I have a very pretty stone grandma gave me long ago that has done nothing but sit in my jewelry box.  Grandpa was a rock collector and every woman in the family (I think) has at least one piece of his that he polished and set.  I would like to try my hand at the whole beading thing first before trying to incorporate his piece but if I could do it that would mean a lot to me.  I never knew my grandpa - he passed away 10 days before I was born.  Everyone in the family speaks so lovingly of him and grandma told me so many stories I felt as if I knew him if only through her eyes!  It would be very special for me to have a piece of jewelry that was created by the two of us.  So, off to the craft store I will go in search of trying a new craft!  If anyone has suggestions let me know!

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Day 104 - Misc.

Today was truly a miscellaneous conglomerate of activities and ideas.  Due to Grant's early morning surgery our schedule was completely off for the day.  Hopefully we get back on track tomorrow.  Grant is doing just fine!  He slept for 3 hours when we got home and then, of course, no afternoon nap.

Clark and I built a cold frame in the garden to house all of our tomatoes (and next week the peppers should join them).  Basically I took an old raised bed I no longer use, dug it out, found a couple of old window panes that were stored in the barn and some old screens, laid everything out and voila - nearly instant cold frame!  Now as long as I don't cook the plants we should be good!  That is why I used the screens along with the windows.  The wind was so horrible I worried about carrying all the tomatoes out to the garden.  We loaded them into a laundry basket and covered it with an old worn out quilt.  It took us a few loads but they all made it to the cold frame without getting wind whipped.  Watered them well and hope they thrive in the outdoor conditions.  Time for our little plants to leave the sheltered indoor life they once enjoyed (just not enough window space).

After supper we ran out to check the mailbox.  It was stuffed full of packages!  Hooray - a couple of patterns I ordered and my cake tiers that I need for next weekend all arrived on the same day.  Good thing for large rural mailboxes!  After Grant went to bed I sorted through fabrics and think I have plenty of the right materials to make two of the items without having to purchase anything except some interfacing.  Trust me - I never have to buy thread, buttons, zippers, or bias tape EVER!  Between what I inherited from my grandma and from some items in sewing boxes I have picked up at auctions or garage sales if I don't already have the size and/or color needed I would be amazed!

That's about it for today!  It's time to go lock up my little hens so no prowlers (a.k.a. Mr. or Ms. Bobcat) can get to them and since there is a possibility of rain can now pull the glass over the cold frame to give the plants some added protection for the night.  Ha! I just realized other than my family and home the most protected things around here are my hens and tomatoes - sometimes I think I was born in the wrong era.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Day 105 - Heavenly Banana Bread

Today we worked on banana bread.  If you read yesterday's blog; today's could have been labeled "Mommy, I want to help too, Day 2."  Clark really does like helping in the kitchen.  Today he pulled his bench over and wanted to help with every process.  I was able to take some nice photos of him demonstrating proper measuring methods.  In the picture above he is stirring or "airing" the flour with a fork.

Then use a spoon to spoon flour into the measuring cup.  Careful . . .  Mommy did the final step of leveling off the cup with a knife.  He also helped mash the bananas - come on how is that not fun for a 3 year old!  While I was mixing he handed me the ingredients in order.  I couldn't ask for a better assistant!

Here is the finished product.  Let me tell you this bread tasted fantastic!  Now, I did have the champion banana bread at the ISF a couple of years ago.  I really didn't think I could find a recipe I would like better (which is the recipe I use all the time) but this one topped it in my book.  It was very moist with good flavor.  The funny thing is this was a health conscious recipe.  I believe the honey probably made a difference.  Next time I want to try it with walnuts for the banana bread with nuts class.  The only minor change I need to make is to leave it in just a little longer - the middle top was slightly underdone.  The boys gave it their vote of approval.   Snack time was a great hit this afternoon!  Grant LOVES banana bread but he really gobbled up this one!  Maybe it's because he hasn't had it for a little while OR maybe it's because he really loved the new recipe!

I must admit quick breads in general challenge me.  It never fails that I somehow over beat or do something wrong and they end up with no height.  Flat quick breads are not pretty.  This one did a nice job of gaining height.  Will have to try a few other quick breads and see if I have finally gotten the method down - ha - I am sure I'll still end up with some "for family only" breads!

In other news, I spent time discussing jams and jellies with my mom.  She is spending the night tonight in order to watch Clark in the morning while we take Grant to the hospital early in the morning to have his tear duct probed (for the second time).  Hopefully this time it works.  Anyway, good jam ideas and tips tonight.  I'll have to get into the tips more in a later blog after I prepare some jam.

Finally, worked on transplanting tomatoes.  I realize I started way too many plants.  The seeds were from packages dating back 5 - 7 years ago.  I didn't think the germination rate would be as good as it was.  Hmm, I like processing but still I don't think I need 100+ plants!

Tomatoes anyone?

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Day 106 - I want to help too, mommy!

Today didn't leave much time for ISF planning or project work.  Boys were up early so not as much morning mommy time as normal.  Needed to work on some things for the planning of the Intel International Science & Engineering Fair trip to San Jose in just 2 weeks.  For those of you who don't know I am not just a Stay at Home Mom (SAHM) even though that is very much a full time job but I also work from home (part time) as the Director of the State Science + Technology Fair of Iowa.  Needed to straighten up the house since I had a babysitter coming for the evening.  Then went to an auction with a friend.

While playing with the boys in the morning I decided to flip through some of my cookbooks and notes that I had made at Christmastime.  All they needed to see were my post it note flags and they were both on my lap.  My 3 year old very much wanted to help so he pulled out flags to post in my books.  The 1 year old liked playing with the flags in the books.  All I have to say is I probably marked 3x more recipes than I could ever possibly complete and I only hope the flags are on the right recipes!  Oh well, it'll be fun deciphering my notes now!

I believe it's important to involve my boys in the process.  Clark loves to help plant and cook and bake and is even showing interest in my sewing area.  He also wants to go to garage sales with mommy this coming weekend.  I have to say nurturing Clark's 3 year old desire to copy everything is actually quite rewarding.  Little ones in the kitchen can be SO much fun.  I have to say probably the best gift I have ever received is the kitchen stand my parents gave me so that toddlers/children can work beside you safely at the counter.  After all learning and loving to play with flour and dough, cracking and whisking eggs, or sampling chocolate isn't exclusive to adults!

Just have to add that at the auction I managed to come away with a great deal.  In a bag of quilt scraps were over 20 hand pieced Dresdan Plate circles just waiting to be put on backgrounds plus an additional 30 some flower hand pieced blocks.  The bonus is I am pretty sure they are all feed sack fabrics!  If not they are very beautiful prints.  I have to give careful consideration to what I'll do with these.  Probably won't see this project completed for a few years!

Monday, April 26, 2010

Day 107 - Bobcat and Cookies

The title is two different subjects - just to be clear up front.

Our neighborhood bobcat is back - dang!  I am all for wildlife survival and don't want to hurt the thing; however, I am down 5 hens!  We tried live trapping last night but this morning just found our little barn kitty Buddy meowing to let him out.  Are we sure it's a bobcat?  Yes!  I heard it two nights ago and Alan heard it this morning.  There is nothing in this world that sounds like that little wildcat.  Luckily I don't think our cat Purple has had any run-ins with it this time around.  But to his credit he has tried protecting the barnyard from it before.  We do lock our chickens in every night but sometimes one little hen decides to hide outside the gated hen house and then it's curtains for her.  I am maintaining at 12 hens right now and hope that continues.  My fear is when hungry, bobcats will hunt during the day as well.  I am hoping the food supply has run out and our bobcat will move along further up the railroad tracks.

Today was a cookie baking day - yum yum.  However, when you see the first batch you'll think I've never baked cookies before.  Anyway, Clark wanted cookies so I made some oatmeal chocolate chip cookies.  Good tasting cookies but the first batch spread too much (should have tested with just one cookie first).  Made some adjustments and the second and third rounds went much better!  Clark didn't care - he sampled from both piles and liked both groups!

Next time the flour needs to be increased slightly since it seems like a lot of butter for the amount of flour.  I like my drop cookies to have some height rather than spread out like wafers.  I do have to admit I have never done well in the general cookie judging arena at the Iowa State Fair.  To add to that I also have never been able to sit in on comments to gain some knowledge of what the judges look for in cookies.  So, I am going to try out a range of cookie recipes this year and try hard to attend at least some of the cookie judging to improve next year's batches.  Regardless, I love baking cookies and trying new cookie recipes.  This year for the first time I hosted a Christmas Cookie Exchange after entering cookies in the ISF cookie exchange class.  It was great fun and I have some great recipes for this year from that experience!  I would highly recommend a Cookie Exchange if you have never tried one!

OK - here you go the following are my photos (good and bad)!

With two little ones I have gotten in the habit of measuring all the ingredients out and spreading them in the order they need to go according to the recipe.  This way if I am interrupted at any point I can be sure I did not miss anything and know what step of the process I am in.  Grant likes to "help" with his own spoon and the best seat in the house!

Cookies in waiting!  I like using my new tablespoon size cookie scoop.  Makes them so nice and even!  I also always use parchment paper - nice brown bottoms and easy pan clean up later!

First batch - blah!  Too spread out.  They don't look so good but they still tasted great.  Just remember - one of my favorite sayings that I have heard from many an ISF food judge (and that I completely agree with), "we eat with our EYES first!"  I never take anything if it doesn't look good.

Mmm - second batch looks much better.  Tastes the same!

Clark (and Grant) definitely thought they were yummy!  One for snack and one for dinner (with his more nutritious meal).  He says he wants cupcakes next.  I may be creating a little "foodie" monster!

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Day 108 - Keep it Up!

Nothing like a little publicity to keep me on my toes!  Thanks to Kyle and the Des Moines Register for putting together such a great article!  This should help keep me focused and on track to reach my goal with so many following my progress.  Besides, I only have 100 entries to worry about.  Way back in the beginning when I started my blog I did mention that my 100 entries is small in comparison to some people but this is my goal that I do believe is achievable but also enough of challenge for me to make it interesting!

So, what's on deck for this week?  It may be a bit hectic with my husband at a conference all week but we'll see how the boys and I get along.  Here is my plan so far:

Monday:  Bread & Cookies (Clark keeps asking for cookies so we'll make something fun)
Tuesday:  Red Velvet Cake (to put in freezer for Whitney's graduation) + MUST transplant tomatoes and peppers!
Wednesday: Plum Jam
Thursday: Grant's tear duct surgery (round 2)
Friday: Onion Rolls or Braid
Saturday: Apple Butter

Today was spent cleaning the sewing room and organizing fabric.  My wonderful husband cleaned up a salvaged cabinet for me for some extra storage space.  I think I now have all of my fabrics sorted by color and fabric type.  I even went through my grandma's scrap bag - ah, memories.  Fabrics I remember from some pf the tops she made (grandma sewed a LOT of her own clothes) and from other projects she had.  My favorite "sewing" memory as a girl was sitting on the floor of grandma's sewing room where she would let me sort through the scrap bag to make my own little items.  I remember her helping me sew little stuffed kittens or some Barbie clothes from the scraps.

Also searched through some recipe magazines to look for ideas.  Found some good recipes that look like they are worth a shot.  When it comes to recipes I have been working on some ideas since the 2009 Fair so my recipe file for the 2010 fair is pretty complete but it never hurts to keep looking!

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Day 109 - Search is On for Heritage Exhibits!

Finally, my love of vintage items has a purpose.  OK - a purpose for something other than gracing my home, reminding me of days long past and remembering my grandma's favorite stories.  I admit it - I am a collector.  I also see myself as a saver of forgotten items.  My home is filled with old items sharing space with modern technology and conveniences.  Somehow, I think it is good to remember our past and I enjoy sharing my space with items that have been around much longer than I have and have their own stories to tell.

What do I collect - well; in the first category, items that have meaning to me or my family that have been passed down through the generations.  When my grandmother passed away two years ago I ended up with some very treasured gifts.  My love of sewing is now done on grandma's beloved sewing machine and I have inherited some of her fabric stash.  My love of baking now involves using her favorite bundt pan.  My plants (many of them from clippings she gave me) are watered using the old copper pot she always used to water her plants (fyi - the Hoyas are in bloom!).  Second I collect items that remind me of days past such as old blue canning jars, milk glass, old photos, old recipe books, etc.  And finally I collect items that can find new use in my home like cake pans and fabric.  All right, all right - if I happen to find some vintage Star Wars items or vintage Fisher Price Little People those usually go home with me too if the price is right (Star Wars for my husband and Little People for me and the boys)!

I do love auctions and garage sales.  The thrill of finding something useful, beautiful or worthy of a new home for a good price is fun.  I usually search auctions for milk glass, canning jars and fabric or something else the family may need at the time.  Earlier this winter I bought two wonderful boxes of fabrics, sewing accessories and old quilt blocks.  Looking at another women's quilting and sewing work makes it seem sad to just leave it.  So I have enjoyed figuring out how to re-purpose or rework the old quilt blocks and fabric, lace and ric rac in order to make something new, pretty and useful out of something that otherwise might have been discarded.  Sometimes it is like glimpsing into someone else's past - it is interesting to imagine what the person may have thought or dreamed about or worked on.

I know - you are asking what does this have to do with the Iowa State Fair and my entry challenge?  Well, as I mentioned in the beginning I have found another purpose for these items - exhibiting some of them at the ISF.  Yes, the Heritage Exhibits in Pioneer Hall is the place for some of these items.  To enter in this area articles must be at least 50 years old and authenticity and condition of the exhibits is considered by the judges.   Looking around my home today I believe I have at least 3 (maybe more) very good items for this department.  The best part is I can continue looking for other items to rescue to beautify my home and possibly to find a place within my ISF exhibits.

Happy hunting!

Friday, April 23, 2010

Day 110 - Entry Books!

What a fabulous event - the entry books are out!  My food pages are fast draft printing off the printer as I type (the smaller ones are already printed)!  I will 3-hole punch them and put them in my "fair book" to peruse as needed.  Tonight will be spent pouring over potential entries and possibly highlighting those that would be fun to try as well as fun favorites!  What a great activity for a rainy Iowa evening.  Later I will go back through with a more realistic eye and narrow it down to what I believe I can accomplish.  This list is still going to be large but I need to leave some wiggle room for those things that invariably just don't work (i.e. a fallen cake here, a messed up cookie there, a child spilling frosting on the kitchen floor).  My philosophy: always have a back-up plan, especially when living with toddlers!

I did realize tonight that I have one entry nearly ready to go.  I have a number of cross-stitched pictures that I completed as a set that are ready to go (now I just need to pick the best one).  All I need to figure out now is how they need to be entered.  This entry falls into an area I have never tried exhibiting in before.

Are you wondering what my "fair book" is (listed above)?  Basically this book is my guide to what I want to do as well as the book of rules and guidelines.  I love that the ISF has gone paperless and no longer prints the entry books but has put them on-line.  This allows me to print just what I need and easily assemble the pages as I need them.  When the fair is finished my book will be held onto until next year when it gets recycled in the garden as mulch.  Before the fair I highlight, circle, note, tab - you name it within the divisions (warning - I am a color coding fanatic so my book probably scares some people). Whatever I can do to readily find what I need later.  I also make note of important rules and guidelines.  I have already begun to fill the book with my recipes I plan to use along with information on changing the recipe that would be useful.  These go in page protectors -- keeps the food off them later.  I will also print my 3 x 5 recipe cards to put with each one so I am not printing them all the week of the fair.  During the fair my book goes with me in my bag in case I need to look something up - I also put in judges notes next to divisions/classes to refer to for the next year along with any placings I may have had.  For items like floriculture I mark the varieties I tried along with the varieties of winners that I might like to try the next year.  

Good tip - if you are looking to try some new varieties of flowers or veggies take a notebook and pen to the fair and write down the names of any you see that you like (exhibitors should have varieties marked on their entry tags).  That way you will remember what you want to try while flipping through seed catalogs and searching on-line sites during those cold Iowa winter months.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Day 111 - Strawberries

Spent time in the garden finishing up planting my strawberries and asparagus.  Yes, I realize these plants won't be part of my 2010 entries; however, they will be producing strawberries for the 2012 jam season!  

The asparagus should be happy.  I utilized the hog manure we dried out last year to use as compost for the asparagus - pure garden gold!  Now, I have to admit I have tried starting an asparagus patch 2 different times in my life and both have ended in disaster so let's hope this goes better.  The first time I planted them all and was so happy I had used some hog manure as compost.  Unfortunately, I used too fresh manure and our dog dug them all out in order to get to the compost.  My plants dying in the mid-afternoon sun scattered across the garden was not a pretty sight.  The second time went a bit better except my husband accidently hit it one too many times with the mower -- my fault, poor location.  This time planted in the garden with the right amount of properly aged compost should yield a good asparagus crop.  I hope.

The peas also went in the ground today.  Hopefully there will be enough peas to freeze and utilize later.  Still need to transplant the raspberries and the rhubarb to their new garden locations but looks like that will need to wait until after the rain.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Day 112 - Mushroom Tart Mess

Today I tried some mushroom tart-lets for supper.  I have only very rarely taken a hot or savory dish to the Iowa State Fair so thought for 2010 maybe I should add some to my repertoire (fair entry line up).  Obviously from the photo I need more practice OR a different recipe.  It seems about the only thing I did right was to put a baking sheet under the mini muffin tin - whew!  Saved some oven cleaning that way.  Now to clean the pan - ah well.

As bad as they look they actually tasted quite good.  However, the tart dough is much to thick; therefore did not yield a nice flaky crust.  Plus the recipe called for a tart so small you couldn't put any filling in them.  I realize for an appetizer you want small but with the thickness of the dough it left little room for the filling.  When the egg filling was added over the mushrooms and peppers everything looked OK but I didn't account for expansion during baking - whoops!

I have some other appetizer recipes I made at Christmas that I think will be utilized if I decide to do an appetizer type dish for entry.  I think this recipe will need some more fine tuning before I get it to work right.  I will say the pastry dough turned out well.  Normally I have problems with pastry.  Hmm - maybe this means I need to work on pies next week.

In garden news; I planted over 30 strawberry plants today.  Need to keep working on my perennial garden plot.  Have 30 more strawberries left plus 20 asparagus plants.  I believe I also need to transplant some rhubarb (not in a great location right now).  Obviously the strawberries won't go into any state fair entries for a few more years but at least they are started.  For this year I will go to my local berry farm for some good jam berries.  Yummy!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Day 113 - Photos and Hefenkranz (Yeast Wreath)

Yesterday I was interviewed for the blog by Des Moines Register Columnist Kyle Munson.  Today the Des Moines register sent a photographer to our house!  Yikes!  I cleaned as best as one can clean with two little ones nearly 1 and 3 years old running around.  Luckily their dad had the day off so he took them out for pancakes, Dr. appointment and some other errands so I could clean uninterrupted.  Still, they wanted a photo at the sewing machine so my awful basement was seen by a non-family member (yes, for those of you non-family members this is a scary sight)!  Oh well, he was a great photographer and I am sure the disaster that is currently my sewing room will not be seen by the rest of the public.  So for those of you following along - if you want to check out a copy of the Sunday edition of the Des Moines Register I should be in there somewhere discussing this blog and my goals for the Iowa State Fair.

Anyway, since I made grandma buns yesterday I wanted to try something new and knowing there would be a photographer I thought it should be something special in the baked goods department.  Thus, Hefenkranz!  I finally found a recipe that tastes almost exactly like the bread I used to help my German host family make for market years ago!  My host family lived near the Black Forest.  My host mom could make a mean Schwarzwalder Kuchen (Black Forest Cake) and some delicious sweet breads and cheesecakes.  I was so very excited - it smelled wonderful and tasted even better.  I will make a few modifications before the ISF but let me say it was pretty fantastic as is.  I have never tried a braided bread before and wanted to try one since they look so pretty.  Let me just say it has been a LONG time since I have braided hair so I had to remember the basics of braiding.  Not too bad - however, with bread I realized you need to be very careful about the amount of pull you use on the ends so that the ends don't become too overworked and too narrow.  Other than that it worked pretty easily.   Photo of the braid before baking is below (sorry, just realized it is tilted wrong way but you can still see the braid).

This recipe also made a huge braid!  My ropes were at least 3 feet long and the loaf nearly went over the sides of my cookie sheet/baking pan.  It is sitting on a 16" cake circle (in photo at very top of blog) if that helps you visualize the size any better!

This recipe is a keeper - not just for the ISF but I believe it will become a new family Christmas bread tradition.  No, I am not replacing stollen - no good German girl would replace her Christmas stollen.  However, this may replace the sweet rolls I make for Christmas morning!  That's right, this recipe beats out my sticky bun recipe - that speaks volumes about the flavor of this bread!

Well, I think that's all for now.  The King Arthur catalog came today so I plan to search through it page by page and make a list of items to order.  Plus, I need to plan out some sewing projects so I get them done for the boys' birthdays!

Monday, April 19, 2010

Day 114 -- Grandma Buns

Today I worked on grandma buns.  Grandma buns are the amazing rolls my grandma used to make.  They were her regular everyday buns as well as the ones everyone looked forward to during the holidays.  When she asked what she could bring to a meal I know the answer for any family gathering was grandma buns.  There was something about them that made you have to eat more than one (and often more than two).  What I always found fascinating was she was always trying new things with the recipe.  She would try different flours like soy or whole wheat, sometimes she tried different sugars or honey, if she didn't have lard she would increase the fat content/shortening content a different way.

Today I tried a few things myself.  I experimented with various washes.  The recipe makes 36 buns so I tried egg white/water on 9, egg yolk/water on 9, butter pre-bake on 9 and no wash on 9.  Then I also tried butter glaze on 3 of each of the trials post-bake.  I have determined that I like the egg white/water wash with butter brushed on after baking.  This gave the rolls a beautiful golden color.  One thing with washes that I need to remember is to distribute evenly but try to keep it on the top (if it runs all over the pan or down the sides of the pan the rolls will stick badly and it forms a ring around the bottom of the roll).  Note to self -- use the small square pans rather than the 9x9 or make the rolls slightly larger so they fill the pan better.

The buns were delicious regardless of the wash on top!  My oldest ate 3 rolls with jam after nap time.  I have to admit warm rolls fresh from the oven with some of my 2009 (honorable mention ISF) peach jam was a pretty tasty snack.  I forced myself to stop after just one tasty treat.  Luckily a 3 year old's metabolism can handle the extra snack every now and again!

One trick I use when making rolls is weighing the dough to ensure that they are all uniform in size.  I am not sure how my grandma could get perfectly uniform rolls each time.  I would watch her take a lump of dough and roll it and put it in the pan lickity split.  I guess over time she just knew how much each little dough piece should feel in her hands.  I doubt I'll ever be that good so for me the scale is the "weigh" to go!  My oldest wanted to get involved in the whole dough rolling process too so he made his first little bun that we baked up. Who knows - maybe someday his "grandma buns" will rival his mom's!

Only two weeks to go before the hundred day countdown begins!  Happy baking!

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Day 115 - Weekly Plan

On the schedule for this week:

Monday -- Bread
Tuesday -- Banana Nut Bread or Muffins
Wednesday -- work on garden, cakes
Thursday -- hamburger buns, work on garden
Friday -- meetings all day
Saturday -- garden & quilting
Sunday -- Back to planning out the next week!  And hopefully some more gardening!

Ah - yesterday was a good day.  Beautiful Iowa weather, VEISHEA parade with friends and family and a mailbox full of glad corms and quilt blocks!  Now I will have to plan out the glad planting based on days to maturity to try and aim for the middle of the Iowa State Fair.

I joined an on-line quilt swap group.  My first swap blocks came yesterday! :) When I was looking through old entries I did see there was a class for quilts made from swapping or group collaboration.  So, if this is an option I may try to complete these blocks into a quilt for the fair.  The blocks were beautiful and I am so excited to play with them to form a quilt top.  Bad thing is it is so nice outside I really need to focus on the outdoor items first.  When it gets really hot come June and July I'll spend the hottest part of the day (also boys' nap time) in the cool of the basement finishing quilts and save the gardening for early morning and evenings.

Day 117 & 116 - Do it for the Experience

Thursday and Friday were spent volunteering for the Iowa FFA State Leadership Conference in Des Moines.  I run the Convention Office and so spend a lot of time with collegiate FFA members and the conference photographer.  Somehow during a slow period we ended up discussing the Iowa State Fair.  It's amazing how many of us had been exhibiting or participating at the ISF since we were 8 or 9 years old.  That probably says something about how addictive participating at the ISF can be.

Our photographer (also a good friend) mentioned how last year was the first year since he was about 8 that he hadn't exhibited or participated in some way at the ISF.  He mentioned how that really made the fair a different experience.  I would agree!  The fair is a great event in and of itself; however, when you an active participant you become part of something grand and that takes going to the fair to a whole new level!  There is more excitement, more anticipation and I think makes it even more enjoyable!

I did ask my friend if he planned to take any photos to the fair this year -- he isn't sure yet.  He has never had one selected for exhibit yet (this is a very difficult arena to do - there are thousands of entries and only 1000 are chosen).  But he does have a special place when he goes to art shows and exhibits on his table that says "State Fair Rejects" and they sell very well!  So, see he needs to continue so he has new photos for this part of his sales!  I have taken a lot of entries that have never received a thing - but you know what, that adds to next years challenge to improve and try that same area again to see if you can get closer to a winner.  Plus, that one ribbon or being selected for display is very encouraging to bring back more the next year!

There are so many different areas to participate - why not get the whole family involved.  Even young children have their own classes in open class foods and floriculture (I am sure in other areas as well but these are ones I am familiar with).  See how much fun the whole family can have by exhibiting.  Reminds you of the musical "State Fair" the way the whole family is excited about the various entries.

Want to take your Iowa State Fair experience to the next level?  Well, if you have never exhibited try it out!  I bet you'll agree it makes the fair that much better!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Day 118 - Ingredient Snob

Just catching up on my days since I missed one due to internet issues.  Actually not much to discuss in today's blog.  I did find some inspiration in the muffin I had at the convention today.  I think I will try a raspberry crunch type muffin.  It was a good muffin but I believe with some modifications it can be a great muffin.

Also realized next week I probably need to make a King Arthur Flour (KAF) order since I am running low on flour.  Here is my tip of the day - don't skimp on the ingredients!  Quality ingredients will lead to quality products.  The first few years I exhibited I didn't really believe that.  However, after using KAF for my yeast roll entries for the fair I could definitely see a difference in the quality.  My husband now says I am a flour snob.  OK, I guess that may be true!  I have never skimped on vanilla extract - it MUST be pure not imitation.  And than there is butter -- must be butter never margarine.  My grandma was a purist when it came to butter.  Pretty understandable since the family owned a dairy farm.  That trait passed on to me.  After spending lots of time in the kitchen with my grandma I would never think of dishonoring her by using a butter substitute.

Happy baking - or tasting!

Day 119 - Sweet Rolls

I love practicing sticky rolls.  Yes, I enter the Tones cinnamon roll competition every year.  I just love making rolls and trying new things.  Look at those golden beauties - what's not to love? I make up about 5 - 6 pans each year and give the extras to the Iowa FFA State Officer team in the FFA Headquarters.  After so many days and lots of hard work at the fair it just seems right to feed them something homemade.  They tend to get most of my leftovers (again - keeping those calories out of my house).  

MMM -- look someone couldn't even wait to sample before the rolls had their photo taken!  
OK - my apologies this didn't get posted yesterday - had some internet problems in the hotel - but all is well now.  So, sorry for those of you waiting for yummy sticky bun images yesterday!  Maybe since you couldn't see my photos you decided to try some of your own!  

Well, I tried the rolls two different ways - one with whole pecans and one with chopped pecans.  I prefer the chopped pecans but I think the whole pecans worked better.  However, I need to use a lot more of them since I want the tops covered with nuts.  I also tried a new bread dough recipe that had a nice texture.  Also tested whether I could double the recipe - the answer is YES!  The one thing with this dough is I need to be extra careful not to roll too tight or they pop their middles out.  This won't effect flavor but does drop points on appearance.  I also discovered I have a pan with a hole in the bottom; aagh - not good when melting sugary goodness that all ran out the bottom of the pan.  That pan is now permanently out of my pan collection -- it will find a new use.  Plus, I should not have used that pan anyway since it is a little larger than a 9x13 which meant the rolls weren't as close as the should have been.  I was happy with the overall color but need to work on my sizing since they weren't as uniform as I would have liked.

Ah well, plenty of time to practice some more and sample more sticky goodness!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Day 120 - Update

Mmm - I did make pecan sticky rolls today.  However, will need to blog about it all tomorrow as it has simply gotten too late tonight!  But I will tell you they were absolutely delicious!  There will be pictures too -- yum, yum.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Day 121

Cake Mix Fix-up -- Tropical Orange Cake

I know this sounds like cheating but there is (or has been) a class for cake mixes that you "fix up."  I found my entry today.  I spruced up my mom's cake recipe (although hers is quite yummy as is).  I changed the frosting by adding in some cream cheese but also decided that next time I should add toasted coconut and pecans to the topping as well.  Today I simply made a 9x13 cake but for the actual fair will make a layer cake.

The cake was a winner with our 11 month old!  So ribbon or no -- my sons both think it's a winner!  Now, to send it to work with my husband in the morning so the calories are no longer sitting in my house.  Although, I will hold a couple pieces back but think I should save them for supper (and the babysitter)!

In other fair prep news -- my oldest son decided we needed more seeds at the greenhouse today.  We picked up some fun "kid friendly" seeds.  He wanted to plant them right away when we got home but the ground just isn't quite ready for his pumpkins and gourds.  So, I pulled out some old seed packets and we planted things such as eggplant, peppers, etc.  I am beginning to run out of trays and more importantly sunny areas to set them.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Days 123 & 122 -- Weekend Planning

This weekend I took my two young boys to visit their grandma and grandpa.  Where better to discuss recipes and get ideas than spending an afternoon with my mom?  It was great to spend time with family and to bounce recipe ideas off someone else!  Plus, the nearly 2 hour drive each way lent itself well to lots of though time (between renditions of the ABC's song and Itsy Bitsy Spider).

Wow, mom made a cake that I hadn't had since I was a child - fond memories and you may see a version in my cake (or maybe quick bread) entry list.

On the schedule for this week:

Monday -- Cinnamon Rolls & a CakeMix FixUp Cake
Tuesday -- Banana Nut Bread or Muffins
Wednesday -- Lay out garden plan on paper (and clean up garden if not wet)
Thursday -- No plans -- Iowa FFA State Leadership Conference (run Convention Office) -- although during free times I will be reading through the on-line Fair Booklets if they are available
Friday -- No plans -- Iowa FFA State Leadership Conference (run Convention Office)
Saturday -- No plans -- VEISHEA!
Sunday -- Back to planning out the next week!  And hopefully some gardening!

Today I baked bread for the week.  It is my oatmeal bread recipe that I absolutely love.  It is a definite must on my list of items for bread.  I also finalized my glad order and sent it in (200 corms on their way).  In addition, the boys and I went to a garden center today and purchased our onion sets and some pepper seeds.  Planted more tomatoes and some peppers in flats today.  My counter space above the dishwasher is now full.  Why there?  Well, the heat from the dishwasher helps with germination - granted it's not as constant as a grow mat but the grow mat is used to raise bread!

Friday, April 9, 2010

Days 125 & 124 - What's Next?

What's next?  Well, good question!  Right now I am playing a bit of a waiting game.  As mentioned in earlier posts am waiting to see the new 2010 Fair Entry Books before laying out my game plans.  But in a nut shell here is what my preparations will be in general:

Veggies -- Garden is set to go in 1st part of May.  On a side note: I did plant some tomato seeds today.  It's been awhile since I have worked at starting my own seeds but thought I would give it try again.  I also transplanted marigolds that my son and I started from seeds - OK not a show flower; however, important in the veggie garden as they tend to keep some bugs away from other plants.  With two young boys we do tend to keep the garden as chemical free as possible.  My favorite book (that I remember my mom using growing up and helping her garden) is Carrots Love Tomatoes.  There is a lot to be said for planting in groupings that have the plants benefit each other.

Flowers -- Glads will go in beds based on maturities and planted a couple weeks apart to spread the season out.  Still on the fence with giving Dahlias a go again this year - they may have to wait until all the children are at least able to play outdoors solidly on two feet.

Quilts -- I have been working on one -- it will be done by May 16th (since it is a birthday gift for my soon to be 3 year old).  Am debating on the other quilt and whether I will have time.

Bread -- plan to keep baking and testing every week.  In July I hope to do a test run of doing multiples at once to check timing and see how my oven handles a few loaves at a time vs. just one or two.  Bread is best fresh and so all will be baked within the two days leading up to entry day.

Cookies -- I realize that the Entry Book states things should be fresh which I agree with to a point.  However, there are just some cookies that freeze amazingly well.  Since most storage times on cookies are around 2 months I plan to start baking some of the really good freezer cookies in June.

Cakes -- the decorated cake I plan to do some trial runs with in May for my son's birthday.  Then will do the real thing sometime in mid-July (will not be using real cake so it will hold for awhile).  As to the actual baked cakes -- usually I stay away from this area because time after time has proven I don't do well here -- mainly because Iowa has some awesome cake bakers!  But, I have been trying a new carrot cake that I think has some merit.  Plus, I said I wasn't in this for the ribbons but for the challenge so lets go!

Pies -- going to freeze the crusts in late June.

Jams/Jellies -- YUM!  As fruit becomes available in season make it up and store it.  Good tip -- Don't put sticky labels on the jars (you'll have to use googone to take it off before competition).  Just label and date them on the jar lid once they've cooled.  This way the sticker entry tag goes right over your labeling job (it's in the rules - no labels).  Always label and date your canned goods - I know some of you roll your eyes but it is a must -- you have to know when it was processed not just for competition but for proper storage!

So, those are the main areas I'm working on.  I'll narrow it down once the Fair Books are out (should be next week).  And of course it will get narrowed down even further closer to the fair.

So -- what are you planning on entering?  That's right bring on your carrot cakes! or whatever else you have in mind!

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Day 126 -- Veggies

Today was a busy one - so didn't spend as much time as I would have liked.  I did sort through my seeds (old holdovers and my new ones that came a month ago).  Picked out my tomato seeds to plant with my 2 (nearly 3) year old tomorrow.  We had good luck with planting marigolds inside so thought we'd try starting some tomatoes as well.  Usually I only buy as seedlings but there are so many different varieties to try out there when you start from seeds yourself.  Some I just can't resist.  We'll see how it goes.  I figure if it doesn't work I'll just buy seedlings.

Need a helpful way to know when Iowans should do various garden chores and activities -- pick up a Garden Calendar at your local Extension office!  They don't cost much in comparison to the information you gain.

Mmm - can't wait for tomato season!

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Days 128 & 127 -- Cakes

Sorry about missing a post yesterday.  I sat down to post and found the storm had taken out the internet.  It wasn't fixed until this morning.  Oh well, both days were spent on pretty much the same issue.

I was asked to do the cake for a college graduation for a dear friend (former student, babysitter) of ours.  Since this year I have finally braced myself and said, "Yes, I will do this event."  I told her I would gladly do this but not accept payment for it (I wouldn't have anyway but this was a good excuse)! Yes, this year after years of looking and questioning whether I had what it takes I plan to enter the decorated cakes contest.  My cake may come right back home instead of making it to the display case but at least I can say I tried the contest!  However, I very much want to stay in the amateur class which means no taking money for decorating cakes.  No way am I competing in the professional class!

Truly this challenge excites me (another of my mini challenges).  I love to decorate cakes and have been decorating my son's and my nephews' for a few years now.  The past two days when there has been a little time has been spent perusing cake decorating magazines.  Wilton, of course, tops my list of cake decorating go to know how.  Really - if Wilton doesn't carry it for your cake needs I don't know who does.  I do want this to be my very own design and not a copy so I believe I will utilize my one year old's cake as the "practice" for the Iowa State Fair design.

My one year old will be getting a 3 tier duck cake complete with 3D duck on the top (that will be taken down to use as the "smash" cake).  Smash cakes are great - it is for the little one to dive right into and get lots of great pictures.  Although our first born didn't seem too into the smash cake when he turned one.  Somehow, I don't think his brother will have any trouble. My plan uses fondant decorating and piping so that is exciting to combine the two.  Since I don't have much experience with fondant I will use any excuse between now and July to decorate a cake with it for birthdays, graduation and anything else that comes along!

The graduation cake will be a two tier cake with a mini graduation cap cake on the top of the tiers.  It shouldn't be too hard but of course I need to find the proper recipes and bake the cakes just right so that the taste is great as well as the design.  My husband seems happy that there are plans for lots of cake sampling this month!  I am trying to figure out who to share cake with since I have lost 30 pounds and don't plan to give into my weakness for all things cake!  Ironically enough I love cake but hate eating frosting so decorating the cakes is a non-temptation issue for me.

Ah well -- dreams of cake tonight.  Now, if I could just figure out what my soon to be 3-year old wants for his birthday cake.  Right now he keeps saying he wants a parking garage.  Really, a parking garage?  I don't know that I can pull that one off!

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Day 129 - Easter Egg Bake

Last night we put an egg bake together for Easter breakfast - it was quite yummy.  I think with a few minor modifications this will go on my entry list.  Well, that is if the egg bake class is kept for this year.  Last year we talked to one of the judges that judged the egg bake class.  She said they were good but not many entries.  Such a simple thing and can be done the night before and baked right before the contest -- makes it a potential in my book!

Used fresh eggs from my chickens and ham from our pigs - it was delicious!  I think add in some garden peppers and onion and that would help the recipe.  And why I didn't put mushrooms in (I put mushrooms in everything) beats me - but those will go in next time around.  All of the veggies nicely sautéed of course!  Also, found I should have used a smaller pan or doubled the recipe.  Plus, I have never entered foods that should be served warm to the ISF so this will be a learning experience for me.  I will have to figure that one out since I have a good hour from house to fairgrounds plus add time for getting in the gates and checking in the entries.

It was still a great success!  Our 11 month old gobbled it right up and the (almost) 3 year old liked it too!  Great breakfast just before Easter service.

Happy Easter!

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Day 130 - Candy and Eggs

So today was not spent on any Iowa State Fair plans or practice.  I spent nap time filling candy molds to make my boys chocolate bunnies.  We also spent the afternoon decorating eggs.

I can make one note that relates to the ISF -- when making your decision on how many food entries to take be sure to note any classes or divisions you might want to try simply for the entry award.  There are a number of food classes/divisions where if you enter you receive something just for entering.  As I was filling my molds today I was trying to think of what type of candy I should make.  If it is like in years past for the one candy entry the entrant receives a coupon for fudge at one of the food stands at the ISF.  Hey - free fudge made by professional candy makers is hard to pass up!

My husband worked on cleaning up the garden today - at least until he could no longer stand the wind.  If tomorrow proves to be nice we may work on getting the garden ready.  I have the seeds sitting in the basement -- those orders were put in back in January.  However, I still need to draw up my garden plan.  Can't wait to spend the time outside!

Friday, April 2, 2010

Day 131 - Good Friday Hot Cross Buns

Made my Hot Cross Buns today!  They turned out marvelously!  They rose beautifully and the crumb was near perfect.  Dang - why can't I do that in August?  Well, temperature and humidity have something to do with it but the rest boils down to me.  I did combine my new found recipe with my grandma's recipe and I think that helped too!  I like to take old recipes and make them more updated.

Some helpful methods I use include:
Pre-soak the currents/dried fruits  - my husband laughs; neither one of us drinks but we keep a bottle of rum in the basement that makes it to the kitchen two times a year: Christmas and Easter.  Why?  To soak dried fruit!  At Christmas it soaks the fruit for the Stollen and at Easter it soaks the fruit for the hot cross buns.  You can also use apple juice but ever since I stayed with my German host family and helped with baking there nothing else suffices.

Use fresh eggs when you can!  I use my own free range chicken eggs -- my little hens are laying close to a dozen eggs a day!  People who think there is no difference between store bought and farm fresh - well, I guess we all have our own opinions.  All I can say is they are leagues apart!  You have never seen a truly yellow yolk until you've cracked open a farm fresh, free range egg.  This also adds a beautiful yellow color to your yeast breads and rolls.  Freshness is a good rule of thumb for all ingredients - the quality and freshness of an ingredient will make a difference.

Keep a can of butter flavored spray on hand -- use this to grease the pans, the counter top and plastic wrap (to cover the rolls).  When working with a very sticky dough (like this one and many other sweet roll doughs) keep a stick of butter flavored shortening on hand.  Grease your hands with this to make rolling the buns easier - keep greasing as needed.  The reason for both of these is to avoid adding additional flour.  NEVER add additional flour after the initial rise (unless your recipe for some reason calls for it).

Weigh the rolls for uniformity.  Use a food scale lined with wax paper.  Weigh the entire piece of dough (this works better in a bowl) and then calculate based on how many rolls you want to make.  Use a dough blade and cut your pieces and weigh each one on the scale  (the wax paper makes it easy to pick up).  This will help keep rolls nice and even.  Not sure about the calculations -- most of my recipes end up between 2 - 3.5 oz (depending on size and number).

If you have a seedling grow mat these work well to put the pans on for the 2nd rise.  It provides a nice even heat underneath.  Just watch out - if the kitchen is too warm you don't need it and will actually cause the yeast to work too quickly.  But when baking in winter or weather/temps below 70 degrees it is a good method!

Blessed Good Friday and happy baking!

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Day 132 - mmm Bread

Quite frankly there are few smells that make me happier than freshly baked bread.  The blend of yeast and flour brings back memories of my grandma's kitchen.  Grandma is the one who taught me much about bread baking.  More importantly she and my mom both stressed the importance of understanding the science behind baking.  Both were home economics education ISU grads and they both know their baked goods.  Experimenting with various ingredients and eliciting the proper chemical reactions were key to yummy products.  OK, there were times growing up we suffered through an experiment gone bad (but those were rare)!

Grandma is my inspiration whenever I bake bread for competition or just for fun.  Her rolls are legendary in my family and her key for those was good old fashioned lard (I have a freezer full from our pigs we raised last summer).  She also loved experimenting with different flours which is really an enjoyable way to create new flavors.  Grandma passed away during the Iowa State Fair two years ago - so for that reason I have decided to take one of her recipes in competition each year.

I must say the bread competition is probably one of my very favorites at the Iowa State Fair.  This year my mini goal is to enter a bread exhibit in each class of either the yeast roll or the yeast bread divisions.  This is a tough goal since timing is everything.  You want it as fresh as possible (in most cases) and yet you have a large number of entries to get done that each take 3 or more hours to complete.  Don't worry I have a plan in mind!

After last year's ISF, I decided I needed to bake a loaf of bread each week to gain more experience.  I have done pretty well.  In addition, I usually do pizza dough every other week and rolls at least once per month.  I am a bit behind this week.  Normally, Monday is bread day, but I just got around to making a loaf today.  Tomorrow I plan to make hot cross buns!  Hot Cross Buns are a family tradition that trace back to at least my grandma and probably beyond.  I usually use my grandma's recipe but this year I found a new recipe I would like to try.  It will probably end up that I combine the two recipes to create something new.  This is one of my tendencies - find two or more recipes for the same item and figure out how to combine them and create something even yummier.  The key is to keep the chemical reactions from the measurements of the ingredients still working properly.

My family has saved a lot of money this year by baking our own bread instead of purchasing it at the store.  I also believe, it is better for my little boys to have bread that I know the ingredients and the nutritional value of rather than something full of preservatives off the shelf.  They both love bread - especially my 10 month old - I have never seen a little one gobble something up so fast!  There have been weeks when a second loaf mid-week has been necessary!  Thanks to my mom and dad for the wonderful gift of a bread machine at Christmas time!  They got me a top of the line Zirijoshi (not sure on the spelling will have to check that).  No, it's not cheating to let the bread rise in a machine on the dough setting- it actually makes a much better loaf since the temperature is kept regulated.  Now for baking you're much better off using the dough setting and then forming and letting rise on the counter and baking in the oven.  It's amazing!

This weekend I have also had a special request from my husband to make my onion hamburger buns for pork burgers.  They are quite yummy if I do say so myself.  They won in the class of hamburger buns last year at the ISF so you know they are blue ribbon delicious.  Sorry, no recipes until after the fair.  I have decided some keys I'll keep to myself - but after I exhibit I promise to post my ribbon winning recipes.

Go bake some bread already!  That's what I'll be working on this weekend!