Monthly Archives: May 2011

Live Action Angry Birds: Or, How You, Too, Can be Parents of the Year

I recently stumbled upon the Gnome Catapult at Kleas, and I knew we had to do it. It was a craft. A slightly destructive craft. A competitive craft. I had a hard time sleeping that night. The excitement was almost unbearable.

And then, an idea came to me in the wee hours of the morning. An idea that I couldn’t ignore.

Although not much tops the idea of flinging gnomes into the air, what if we created our own version of Angry Birds?

It didn’t take too much effort to get everyone on board.

With the clock ticking on my Jo-Ann coupons, we ran down to the craft store and bought a small bag of large wooden beads that are flat on one end.

That’s all we needed. With the help of some Sharpie pens, googly eyes, bits of yarn, feathers snipped from Rue’s boas, and a hot glue gun…

Angry Cat keeps popping up.

We had us some pretty fancy (and fierce) Angry Birds.

From left to right: Rue’s, Nacho Man’s, Lupe’s, and mine

Then, we needed an almost impermeable structure and some rude pigs. We used our beloved Citiblocs. We only had one pig, so we supplemented with a dinosaur, zebra, rhino, cat, tiger, and lion. And we actually had boulders. It’s like it was meant to be.

Next up: launch. We opted for a catapult, as Nacho Man seemed to have a problem with using a sling shot to propel a wooden ball across the room.

As the youngest, Rue went first. She calmly set up her bird, then bid it adieu.

And took out half the structure! But look, there in the lower right, the pig is laughing at us.

I have to admit that none of us matched Rue’s success. We tried, and tried, and tried, and took a snack break, and tried some more, but the pig eluded us.

Nacho Man really went all out with his bird. It’s even got a “bird nest” of feathers, which got a little thinner with each launch, as soft pink tufts floated gently to the ground. That blurry figure in the foreground of the photo is the pig, taunting Nacho Man’s bird.

In the end, it was Rue who managed to take out the remnants of the structure and the pig. Didn’t surprise any of us in the least.

Of course, we weren’t the first to come up with the idea of taking Angry Birds out of the screen. We’re never the first to think of anything. Still, I love our little birds. If you’d like to see some other craftiness, a quick Google search revealed these gems:

Make and Takes

Craft: Transforming Traditional Crafts

Crafts by Amanda

Dollar Store Crafts

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Banh Mi–Vietnamese Sandwiches

This one’s for Darcy, who asked for ideas about what the heck to do with a brick of tofu.

We had to make sure that our Vietnamese heritage was represented at Lupe’s school’s first ever Multicultural Night, and we tried to do it proud. So we made a Vietnamese cuisine staple–banh mi. Traditional banh mi is made with pork sausage or slices of head cheese wedged into a hunk of crusty French bread. (If you want to skip ahead to the gluten-free option, scroll down a bit.)

Head cheese doesn’t do it for me.

So we stuffed our sandwiches with marinated tofu.

In a 9 x 13 baking dish: one pound of firm tofu, divided into 8 slices. Mix 1/4 cup soy sauce, 1 tablespoon fresh ginger (1 teaspoon ground), 1 teaspoon pepper, 1 tablespoon oil, 2 tablespoons honey, 1/2 teaspoon chili paste, and 1 teaspoon sesame seeds in a small bowl. Pour it over the tofu, which you should then flip to make sure both sides get a turn to swim in the marinade. Bake in a 375 degree oven about 20 minutes, flipping the tofu slices once.

This tofu would be delicious served over a bowl of steaming rice, but if you’ve got the time and want to go ahead with sandwiches or the gluten-free option listed below, please proceed.

This recipe is turning into a Choose Your Own Adventure book.

You need something cool, crunchy, spicy, and sweet to put in that sandwich. Let’s go with marinated daikon radish and carrot:

Put 1 cup julienned carrots into a small bowl or jar.

This is a daikon radish. You’ll find it as international markets; I’ve seen it at my neighborhood grocery stores too. Cut off a hunk. Peel it. You’ll reveal an iridescent white flesh. Cut the hunk into quarters…

Then slice and julienne.

Mix 2 tablespoons sugar into a half cup of rice wine vinegar, stir until the sugar’s completely dissolved, then pour over the julienned vegetables. You can store this in the refrigerator for a couple of days if you need to.

Take a loaf of good, crusty French bread and cut it up. Put a slice or two of the cooled tofu on first, followed by some sliced cucumber, the marinated daikon radish/carrot, then top with a sprig of cilantro.

Banh Mi with baked tofu, cucumbers, marinated daikon radish and carrots, and sprigs of fresh cilantro

The problem with this meal is that the gluten in the bread will trigger an eczema outbreak for Lupe, so let’s make a gluten-free option:

Boil some rice noodles. These usually come in packs within the bag. Boil one pack if you just want enough for yourself and maybe one or two other people. Boil the whole bag if you’re cooking for a crowd. Rinse the cooked noodles to stop the cooking process.

Toss with cubed tofu and all the veggies.

Banh Mi with Tofu (Vietnamese Sandwiches)

(makes enough for a small party or potluck)

2 long crusty French baguettes (or thin rice noodles if going gluten-free)

1 English cucumber, sliced into lengths

1 bunch cilantro

Tofu (recipe follows)

Marinated daikon radish and carrot (recipe follows)

Ingredients for the Tofu:

1 pound firm, tofu, divided into eight slices

1/4 cup soy sauce

1 tablespoon fresh ginger (1 teaspoon ground)

1 teaspoon pepper

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

2 tablespoons honey

1/2 teaspoon chili paste

1 teaspoon sesame seeds (optional)

Directions for the Tofu:

1. Mix the soy sauce, ginger, pepper, oil, honey, chili paste, and sesame seeds (optional) in a small bowl.

2. Pour it over the tofu, and flip to make sure both sides get covered.

3. Bake in a 375 degree oven about 20 minutes, flipping the tofu slices once.

Ingredients for the Marinated Daikon Radish and Carrot

1 cup julienned carrots

1 cup julienned daikon radish

1/2 cup rice wine vinegar

2 tablespoons sugar

Directions for the Marinated Daikon Radish and Carrot

1. Put the julienned carrots and daikon radishes in a small bowl or a jar.

2. Completely dissolve the sugar in the rice wine vinegar.

3. Pour over the julienned vegetables.

4. Will keep covered in the refrigerator for a couple of days.

Putting it all together:

1. Slice the baguettes into small sandwich portions.

2. Put on a slice or two of the cooled tofu, followed by some sliced cucumber, the marinated daikon radish/carrot, then top with a sprig of cilantro

Gluten-Free Option:

Replace the bread with thin rice noodles that have been cooked according to package directions and cooled. Toss with cubed tofu and vegetables, and serve in a bowl. Or simply serve the tofu over rice.

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Chipotle Chicken

What do you get when you take one exposed chicken…

And cover it in chipotle peppers?

To find out, you’ll need 1 five-pound chicken, cleaned and most skin removed, one large yellow onion, peeled and quartered, 3 peeled cloves of garlic, one 7-ounce can chipotle peppers in adobe sauce, and 1 tablespoon salt.

Put everything in a large crock pot, cover, and cook on high.

After about 4 or 5 hours, the meat will be begging to fall off the bone.

Shred the chicken meat. It won’t take much effort.

Strain the juices from the crock pot and pour them into a stove-safe pot set over medium heat. Look at the color of that liquid. Chipotle peppers are hot, and hot wants sweet for balance. So add some brown sugar, molasses, or cola, a half a cup at a time, and allow to cook down a bit before adjusting the flavor.

It’s like a pH scale, but for sweet versus spicy. And it’s customizable to you.

When it’s the flavor and consistency you like (we like ours somewhere between au jus and barbecue sauce), pour it over the shredded chicken and mix it in well. You’ll want to taste often to make sure it’s not too spicy. You’ll also want to taste often because you won’t be able to stop yourself.

Serve with warm tortillas (we use corn because they’re gluten-free), lettuce, and salsa. And beer. Which is totally stating the obvious.

Chipotle Chicken (servings: hard to say. Doesn’t stretch very far at Multi-Cultural Night)

Ingredients:

One 5-pound chicken, cleaned and some skin removed

1 7-ounce can chipotle peppers in adobo sauce

1 large onion, peeled and quartered

3 cloves garlic, peeled

brown sugar, molasses, or cola (to be added 1/2 cup at a time)

corn or flour tortillas

lettuce, cilantro, lime, salsa for garnish (optional)

Directions:

1. Place all ingredients in large crock pot on high heat. Cover and cook 4-5 hours, until meat begins to fall off the bone.

2. Carefully remove the chicken from the crock pot and shred the remainder of the meat. Store in a large container.

3. Slowly pour the cooking liquid from the crock pot into a stovetop-safe pot (you can’t put your enamel crock pot on a stove burner). Simmer on medium heat. Add 1/2 cup brown sugar, molasses, or cola if you want to balance the smoky-spiciness with a sweet flavor. Allow flavors to meld before adding additional sweetness.

4. Remove reduction from heat when you have the desired flavor and consistency, and pour over the shredded meat.

5. Serve with warm tortillas and garnish with lime, lettuce, and cilantro, or fresh salsa.

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Salsa: Nacho Man’s V-8

Lupe’s school recently hosted its first multi-cultural night to huge, standing room only crowds, and in honor of both our Mexican and Vietnamese heritage, we brought several dishes. So over the next several days, you’ll be seeing a bounty of recipes.

First up: salsa. If it weren’t for the fact that salsa makes such a pretty topping for fried tortilla chips, I know that Nacho Man would have no problem eating this stuff on a daily basis. The human body is largely water. Nacho Man’s body is at least twenty percent salsa at any given time, usually more.

There are a million different types of salsas out there, and when we lived in Tucson, I think we ate most of them–chopped, blended, cottage cheesy, to name a few. Here’s a good basic recipe for chopped salsa, also known as Pico de Gallo. No super-exotic ingredients like chipotle peppers. Just chop, stir, and scoop. Good salsa isn’t so much about steadfast measurements as it is about proportions. Start with the tomatoes and everything else will fall into place. Have faith in my stepdad’s method: T-LAR.

That

Looks

About

Right.

Have I mentioned that he helps build airplanes?

This is also an excellent cop-out for people who post recipes without bothering to take hard and fast measurements. But I would never do that.

Salt (in the white bowl–smart, no?), fresh lime juice, onion, garlic, jalapenos, cilantro, and vine-ripened tomatoes.

Slice the tomatoes. Place them on paper towels or sprinkle with salt and leave be so the juices can drain. If you salt them now, take it easy on the salt later. When they’ve dried out a bit, dice them up.

Chop about a quarter of an onion and add it to the tomatoes. Red onion would be pretty, but I like the flavor of sweet onions.

Mince the garlic as finely as you can without losing a nail, and add to the bowl.

Next up: jalapeno. (Pronounced “hall+soft ‘a’+pen+yo”. Not “hall+a+pee+no” –sounds like something you say to a toddler who’s learning to use the potty and doesn’t make it there in time.) Remove the stem and slice the jalapeno vertically. The next step is up to you: if you want meek salsa, scoop out the seeds. If you want to make your chest heave like the Incredible Hulk, leave as many seeds as you think wise. I used 1 1/2 large jalapenos, and scooped the seeds out of half of that.

Nacho Man would have liked more jalapeno, thank you very much.

Cut into matchsticks, and dice.

Chop a handful of cilantro, add the juice of one lime, and sprinkle with salt if you didn’t salt your tomatoes to draw out the liquid. Stir and examine. Can you see a bit of everything in the spoon, or, better yet, on the end of a tortilla chip? Adjust the seasonings, but don’t overdo it. If Nacho Man isn’t hovering, I put this in the fridge for a couple of hours and let the flavors come together.

If Nacho Man is hovering, then frankly, he doesn’t much care about the nuances in the flavor. He wants it spicy and he wants it now.

Pico de Gallo (feeds a small party or one Nacho Man)

Ingredients:

4 large tomatoes (about 1 1/2 pounds)

quarter of one large onion

2 cloves of garlic

1-2 jalapenos

handful of cilantro

1 lime

salt

Instructions:

1. Slice the tomatoes. Use paper towels or salt to drain excess liquid. Dice.

2. Dice onion and garlic.

3. Remove stems from jalapenos. Slice vertically and remove seeds if you prefer milder salsa. Mince.

4. Chop cilantro.

5. Mix ingredients from Steps 1-4 in a bowl. Add lime juice and stir well.

6. Taste, and season with salt. Adjust flavors if needed. If possible, refrigerate for a couple of hours, then check flavors again.

***

Prefer something that entails less chopping?

I’ve got your back.

Into the blender: 2 jalapenos with seeds (because Nacho Man dared me to make it hotter), 1/4 of a large onion, chopped, 2-3 cloves garlic, a healthy handful of cilantro, the juice of one lime, 1 tablespoon salt, and 2 cans of stewed tomatoes, drained.

Blend it up, put it in a ziploc bag or bowl, and refrigerate for as long as you can stand to wait. Adjust seasonings of needed. When you’re tired of eating it on chips, try serving it over Chipotle Chicken Soft Tacos.

Salsa

Ingredients:

2 cans diced, stewed tomatoes, drained

2 jalapenos with seeds (scrape them out if you prefer a milder salsa)

1/4 of a large onion, chopped

2-3 cloves of garlic

1/2 cup cilantro

juice of one lime

1 tablespoon

Instructions:

1. Put all ingredients in a blender and blend until it comes together. Refrigerate for an hour or more. Adjust seasonings of needed.

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The Trouble with Chickens, written by Doreen Cronin, illustrated by Kevin Cornell

Trouble’s brewing.

Former search-and-rescue dog J.J. Tully wants you to know that chickens are trouble, with their beady, close-set eyes, nervous twitches, and ornery temperaments. How does he know this? Because trouble’s all he gets after Millicent the mama chicken darkens his doorstep. Seems that two of her chicks have gone missing and she needs J.J. Tully’s help.

J.J. Tully’s not interested in helping.

He is interested in the cheeseburger Millicent, whom he calls Moosh to annoy her, offers as payment.

Trouble.

That’s what you get when you mix a mama chicken with a twitching problem, two pesky chicks, two missing chicks, and a disgruntled, cone-wearing dachsund known as Vince the Funnel.

Think of this one as Guy Noir, Private Eye, for the newly independent reading set, except that J.J. Tully is definitely not enamored with his client. After a distinguished career writing picture books about labor relations for the preschool set and the innermost thoughts of worms, Doreen Cronin has created one of the most cleverly-written early chapter books I’ve read in a long time. The Trouble with Chickens is smart and laugh-out-loud funny. Kevin Cornell’s black-and-white illustrations are a perfect complement to the text.

Trouble?

Bring it on. And then some. Because kids will be asking for upcoming titles in this new series.

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Gluten-Free Girl and the Chef, by Shauna James Ahern and Daniel Ahern


I have a confession to make. I enjoy an adult book now and then. By that, I mean the intended audience, not the content. Even the most stalwart children’s librarian needs one once in a while. And lately, I’ve been gravitating toward biographical cookbooks. I don’t know if this is the official name of this genre, but it’s how I know them. A compelling life story and amazing recipes. I may or may not be inspired to actually try them–I’m the type of person who eats ramen while reading a cookbook–but at least I’m in the presence of greatness.

The gluten-free girl blog came into my life when I began to seek out information and recipes about gluten-free cooking for Lupe. When I learned that Seattle-area food blogger Shauna James Ahern had written a book, Gluten-Free Girl: How I Found the Food that Loves Me Back…And How You Can Too, followed up by Gluten-Free Girl and the Chef, a collaboration with her chef-husband, James Ahern, I put them on hold at the library. I had to wait awhile for the follow-up book. Apparently one or two other people have heard of them.  Like The New York Times.

I can be a bit of a tortoise about these things.

After being diagnosed with celiac disease, Shauna James Ahern focused on her wellness, which included reconnecting with cooking. Healthy, gluten-free cooking transformed her. But something was missing. Nearly forty years old, she wondered if she would ever meet The One.

Then, she met The Chef. Daniel Ahern.

They had it for each other. Bad.

Their commitment to each other and to good food is evident in their stories and recipes. This book is a warm, funny, touching collaboration. Shauna provides the narrative of the progression of their relationship, which is peppered with mouth-watering recipes and luscious full-color photographs. Daniel shares sensible cooking tips that cover topics such as how to get the best value in cooking oil,  using mise en place to streamline the cooking process, and the proper way to boil and mash potatoes.

I opted to make the first meal Daniel made for Shauna: cannellini beans braised in olive oil. It looked so simple and satisfying. And the smell. Oh, the house filled with the aroma of olive oil and rosemary. I forgot all about the dreary weather that prevented us from playing outside. I wanted to be indoors, drawing deep breaths.

And the potato puree? A vision in white.

I’ve looked at a lot of gluten-free cookbooks and their evolution is hard to miss. Where once they appeared to have been run on the same printing press as a telephone book, it’s now common, even expected, that gluten-free cookbooks will contain high quality, full-color photos. The same goes for the recipes. The Aherns bring home the point that gluten-free cooking doesn’t just have to be about substituting flours to try to create an edible cookie or loaf of bread, although the couple have certainly worked on that as well. Gluten-free food isn’t about things lost, but things gained. It’s sumptuous, filling, and a multi-sensory experience.

Gluten-free? Yes. Digestible by anyone? Yes.

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Why Do I Have to Make My Bed? Or, a History of Messy Rooms. Written by Wade Bradford, illustrated by Johanna van der Sterre

Lupe and Rue ask The Question all the time.

Sadly, Nacho Man does, too.

This is Nacho Man’s bed-making at its best. The covers are on the bed. Zigity doesn’t have a problem with unaligned pillows. But he does have a problem with the paparazzi.

I certainly tried to argue my way out of this monotonous chore as a child by pointing out the futility of the act–a made bed will soon be unmade, so why bother?

“Because,” my dad would say, “there’s nothing better than crawling into a freshly made bed at the end of the day.”

I wonder if that’s what his parents told him. The balderdash we spread from one generation to the next.

The parents in Why Do I Have to Make My Bed? Or, a History of Messy Rooms have their own replies when their children whine about this particular chore. The modern-day boy points out that he’s already put away his racetrack and robot-monkey action figures. His mother is suddenly reminded of a story about her mother, when she was young, who complained to her mother that she had already dusted her rock ‘n’ roll records and picked up her Slinky. Which reminds her mother of how her father, when he was young, grumped that he had already fetched water and dusted the phonograph, which reminds his mother…

You get the idea.

How far back do you think the history of not-wanting-to-make-my-bed goes? First-time children’s book author Wade Bradford turns this menial task into an age-old tale, and Johanna van der Sterre’s period illustrations offer a humorous peek into life in other times. Author’s note about the history of chores included, which is a very very nice touch for a picture book.

Share with the cleaning-averse of all ages.

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