Monthly Archives: February 2012

Flirting with the Dark Side, Or, My Funny Valentine

His name was Yoda, he was a Jedi… (am I the only one with the melody to “Copacabana” in my head?)

Ah, Valentine’s Day. A reminder that if you’re with someone, you should feel obligated to shower your significant other with love in the form of chocolates, roses, or jewelry. I’m not big on celebrating this holiday with Nacho Man, although I always remember this time of year fondly because Nacho Man proposed around this part of February. And in his true romantic form, he dragged me up a mountain that smelled of urine and was littered with broken glass to do it.

That’s right. I’ll pause while you wipe away your tears of envy, ladies.

Anyway, while Nacho Man and I don’t celebrate Valentine’s Day (that’s right honey, this is a Get Out of Jail card), I love celebrating it with my girls. The flush of color that injects itself into our dreary midwinter weather in the form of valentines, the class parties, handing out cards to friends and neighbors–I love it all.

I especially heart making homemade valentines. Bookmarks used to be my standard go-to, until Lupe begged me to come up with something else. That’s saying something, coming from a book lover like her. So the following year, we made these gnomes, which were so stinkin’ cute that they were worth the time and effort. Lupe reported that several kids still had them on their desks months after Valentine’s Day.

(Note to parents: if you want kids to not eat candy, make the packaging sweeter than the candy.)

The problem is that the following year, I felt the need to outdo myself. If you know me, this isn’t surprising but you’ll roll your eyes anyway. We were inspired by–what else?–a book: The Strange Case of Origami Yoda, by Tom Angleberger. It encapsulates several of Lupe’s interests: Star Wars, paper folding, and a great story.

And Star Wars. In case you missed it the first time.

There are very simple instructions for making an Origami Yoda here. More interested in folding a C-3PO or Darth Vader? You’ll find instructions for those, too. Lupe is constantly folding these: in the car, in her room, at school when she’s bored (ahem). These things would be irresistible even if they were folded out of toilet paper. For Valentine’s Day, Lupe used colored copy paper (I think cardstock might be a little too heavy) and attached Pixy Stix candy as a lightsaber.

So whatever you do this year (and if you’re like me, it’s the weekend before and you still haven’t done anything), good luck.

And may the force be with you.

Sorry.

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Cream Puffs, or, The Custard-Filled Carrot That Got My Stepdad to Use Chopsticks

Want to know what goes well, really well, with a bowl of pho?

Honoring European colonialism, I mean, the French influence in Vietnam, with a dessert of cream puffs, which we recently did to celebrate my stepdad’s birthday.

Before he met my mother, my stepdad lived on a farm in rural Washington, rode horses, and watched western movies. Definitely a meat and potatoes kind of guy.

He didn’t know how to use chopsticks. Because a cowboy needs chopsticks “like a fish needs a bicycle,” to quote U2. But this was not my mother’s biggest gripe about him.

No, her biggest complaint was that he bought his pants at Fred Meyer, which is a chain of stores we have in these parts where you can get everything from windshield wipers to ground beef to diamond jewelry.

Not to mention pants.

Obviously, this guy needed to be taught a few things. We left the pants issue to my mom. Meanwhile, one of my cousins took it upon herself to teach my stepdad to use chopsticks.

Breaking into chopstick use with small and/or slippery foods such as rice or noodles is a painful, frustrating, and humiliating manner of prolonging hunger. Only the strongest persevere. A common stereotype is that all Asians are hardworking and disciplined and can succeed in any conditions.

Hello. You’d be all of those things too if you had to depend on two glorified toothpicks to guide your food from your bowl to your mouth.

If you really want to teach someone to use chopsticks, don’t stick a bowl of bland white rice or slick noodles and tofu (protein cubes, my stepdad calls them without affection) in front of a person. Use a large, textured, slow-moving inducement.

Like cream puffs.

On that fateful day, my cousin told my stepdad that he couldn’t have a cream puff until he could pick it up with his chopsticks.

You say sadistic; we say disciplined.

The bottom line is, he figured it out tout de suite.

Cream puffs are made of choux pastry, which only sounds high-falluting and difficult. It’s actually quite easy to make, and just as easy to make gluten-free. I had a great recipe handed down to me from a friend, but it’s buried in the black hole otherwise known as my recipe binder, so I found this one from joyofbaking (not affiliated with the series of books).

I like this recipe. It’s easy. Descriptive. And the weights for ingredients such as flour are provided, which makes it a snap to make this recipe gluten-free.

And because you have to have something to put in them: chocolate whipped cream. My mother fills her cream puffs with homemade custard, which is how I’ll always love them best. I also like to use freshly whipped cream with the zest of one lemon. But Lupe asked for chocolate this time.

Sift 1/8 cup unsweetened cocoa powder with 1/4 cup powdered sugar.

Some bloggers love to brag about the photography equipment they use. Canons and Nikons with paparazzi-quality telephoto lenses and the like. Let me tell you about my envy-inducing equipment: an eleven-year-old Sony digital camera that’s about as sleek as a circa-1995 cell phone. Thank goodness I had my sister to sift the cocoa powder and powdered sugar so I could capture these action shots.

Add the sifted cocoa powder and powdered sugar to 1 cup of whipping cream that you’ve whipped. Throw in a splash of vanilla extract.

Use a fork to split open the cream puffs. Fill away.

Make it snow indoors again.

For the cream puff recipe: joyofbaking

To make it gluten-free, substitute your favorite flour blend by weight. Here’s mine.

Chocolate Whipped Cream

Ingredients:

1 cup heavy whipping cream (half pint)

1/4 cup confectioners or powdered sugar

1/8 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

1/2 teaspoon vanilla

Directions:

1. Chill a large bowl in the freezer.

2. Pour the heavy whipping cream into the bowl and beat on high speed with a standing or handheld mixer until soft peaks form.

3. Add the sifted powdered sugar/cocoa powder and the vanilla extract and mix on low speed until blended. Use a spatula to wipe down the sides of the bowl.

4. Keep chilled until ready to use.

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