Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Cooking Celebration for a Chef

Pax turned FIVE YEARS OLD last week.  FIVE!

We celebrated him this past weekend with a party that was among my most favorite birthday parties, ever:  a cooking-themed event.  Five friends and one beloved teacher joined us for a morning of cooking, decorating, and chefting.  (Chefting = engaging in chef-like acts).  Aidan and Leo were Master Chefs in the help they provided to our guests, and Master Brothers in the fun they shared with their baby bro.

Although this party had fresh and new ideas, it was actually a variation on a theme - I've kind of gotten this home-grown party thing down to a bit of a science.
I choose a color theme,

make some swag,

repurpose stuff from around the house into fresh and relevant party decorations,

and call it good.  Whabam!  Party time.

I've also learned a thing or two about how much good teaching is like good party planning:  plan every minute, then plan some extra stuff.  I get teased for the schedules I write (and especially if I waver a minute or two off the timeline) but if there is a secret to my success, it's this. It's all about the party-time management.  This time around, the party plan was as follows:

12:00 - 12:15 - Guests arrive:  Decorate aprons;

draw pictures of favorite food on poster board

12:15 - 12:30 Assemble pizzas (crust; sauce; cheese; assorted toppings, including hot dogs)

12:30 - 12:45 (while the pizzas cook...) Make fruit kebabs; listen to the story "Seven Silly Eaters"

12:45 - 1:05 Lunch on the deck

1:05 - 1:40 Chef Stations:  Sifting (flour);

Measuring (rice and cups, spoons, funnels, etc.);

Rolling and Cutting (pie crusts; rolling pins; cookie cutters); and

Pouring/Spinning (water with salad spinner, lettuce, various pouring and measuring containers)

1:40 - 1:50 Decorate cupcakes

1:50 - 2:00 Let Them Eat (cup)Cake!  And Voila!

In addition to the fabric apron they decorated, each guest left with a goodie bag that included a wooden spoon, a basting brush, a cookie cutter, muffin tin liners, a picture of Chef Pax, and two recipes -

one for "With Scratch" Brownies, (best. brownies. EVER!) and one for homemade pizza dough:

Pax’s “With Scratch” Brownies
12 ounces (3 sticks) unsalted butter
2 cups cocoa powder, sifted
6 eggs
2 cups sugar
2 cups packed light brown sugar
2 tablespoons vanilla extract
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Line a 9x13 inch pan with aluminum foil or parchment paper and spray with nonstick cooking oil spray.  Melt the butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat.  Remove from the heat and add the cocoa powder, stirring to combine.  Let cool slightly. 
In a large bowl, whisk the eggs together, then add the sugars and vanilla extract, stirring to combine.  Add the cooled butter-chocolate mixture, then fold in the flour and salt until just combined; do not overmix.  Spread the batter evently in the pan, making sure the corners are filled.  Bake for 40-45 minutes or until a crust forms on the surface and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out mostly clean.  Transfer the pan to a wire rack; cool completely before cutting the brownies.

Pax’s Perfect Pizza Dough
3 3/4 cups flour
2 1/2 teaspoons instant or other active dry yeast
3/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon sugar
1 1/3 cup room-temperature water

In a medium bowl, stir together the flour, yeast, salt, and sugar. Add the water and, using a wooden spoon or your hand, mix until blended, at least 30 seconds. The dough will be stiff, not wet and sticky. Cover the bowl and let sit at room temperature until the dough has more than doubled in volume, at least 2 hours. Divide the dough in two and shape each into flattened balls. (Dough can be frozen at this point.)  When you are ready to make a pizza, preheat oven to 500°F roll out one ball of dough in a rectangular shape and place on an oiled cookie sheet. Top as desired and bake 15-20 minutes.

Bon Apetit!  Happy Birthday, Pax!

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Buried in books

We're nose deep in books these days...
Here's a quick list of what we're reading (and loving!) on the Literacy Farm:

Pax can be found with a book in his hand more often than not. (See photographic evidence, above.) Latest favorites include:
The Pigeon Needs a Bath!  (Mo Willems)
Clever Jack Takes the Cake (Candace Fleming)
Zen Shorts (John J Muth)
These Minecraft books (because he is a Minecraft savant.)
...and, endearingly, he still loves Owl Babies (Martin Waddell).  (Who wouldn't love it?  The last line of the book is "I love my Mommy," says Bill.)

Leo reads on his own a good deal, but still loves (and prefers) read-alouds with his dad.  Recently, they've read
Charlotte's Web (E.B. White)
Holes (Louis Sacher)
...and are currently devouring The Lightening Thief (Percy Jackson Book 1, R. Riordan)

(but if you're looking for the best-ever read-aloud for younger kids, the hands-down winner is Where the Mountain Meets the Moon (Grace Lin)

Aidan reads almost as much as I do.  He's currently reading
Son of Neptune (Riordan),
but other recent favorites have included
The Mysterious Benedict Society Series (Stewart)
Out of My Mind (Sharon Draper)
and next on his nightstand is
Charles and Emma (Deborah Heiligman)

I try to avoid reading more than one book at a time, yet I've found myself in the middle of three (!!) excellent books.  I'm reading...
Let the Great World Spin (Colum McCann)
Ender's Game (Orson Scott Card)
The (Un)Common Good (Jim Wallis)

My most favorite recent read, though, is The Invention of Wings (Sue Monk Kidd)

Jeff has even found a few minutes of spare time between graduate class work to enjoy some pleasure reading.  Aidan has been asking him to read his #1 favorite book, and Jeff was happy to oblige.  Wonder by R.J. Palacio is nothing short of a true literary wonder.  It is unequivocally the most important book a young person might ever read in his or her growing-up years.

And finally, a book that the whole family is enjoying is Dinner: The Playbook by Jenny Rosenstrach, the same author as Dinner: A Love Story (both cookbook and blog).  Aidan, Leo, Pax, and I spent an afternoon earmarking recipes we'd each like to make (Aidan wants to make hoisin turkey burgers; Leo's going to make chicken chili and compare it to his favorite turkey chili, Pax decided on a new recipe for sloppy joes; and I want to taste her shrimp and grits recipe) while Jeff simply drools over the photos and asks us

"How long until dinner?"

"Not until I finish this book," one of us is likely to reply.