Category Archives: Home and Garden

Garden, 2014

Today I made my annual pilgrimage to The Flower Bin. This year I’m trying:

  • Heirloom Pineapple Tomato
  • Lemon Boy Tomato
  • Heirloom Black from Tula Tomato
  • Sun Gold Tomato
  • Super Chili
  • Genovese Basil (2)
  • Columnar Basil (2)
  • Chocolate Mint
  • Borage

The Pineapple, Lemon Boy, and Black from Tula are all beefsteak tomatoes. I’ve never grown beefsteak before. Generally I haven’t had a huge amount of success with tomatoes so I decided to go all out and try even more tomatoes. I have managed to grow the Sun Gold before so hopefully we’ll get at least some tomatoes.

The Borage is an experiment. It may, or may not, help reduce hornworms with the tomatoes.

I’ve grown the rest of the herbs before. Columnar basil is my go-to variety for seasoning basil and the Genovese is for pesto. The Chocolate Mint is for random recipes calling for mint. I’m going to see if the mint will grow in a container1 outside the basement window well. I have dreams of being able to smell it while I work but we’ll see.

The Super Chili is Jaeger’s. It’s my current favorite chili for Indian food. We actually still have a huge quantity from last year stored in the freezer.

  1. Always, always plant mint in a container or future home owners will assume you were senile.

Twenty-Eight Meals

Starting in January I will go from 20 hrs/week to 32 hrs/week. I’ve been 20 hrs a week ever since Calvin has been born and I’m definitely ready to increase. However, the work reason I’m increasing is we’ll be doing a major migration of the integrated library system (catalog) next fall and I need to work more to get ready for it. My tentative idea is to get up around 6 each day, work until it’s time to get Calvin up. Then I’ll take a break for breakfast, drop Calvin off at school, and then work some more until it’s time to pick Calvin up. In addition, I plan to stop doing regular work on Sunday and instead switch back to a traditional Monday-Friday schedule1.

My biggest concern at the moment is where I’m going to fit household tasks in. Right now, Monday is my “day off” and I use it to pay bills, balance the checkbook, run household errands, etc. I’ll be switching that to Sunday. Right now, after I finish work on Sundays I usually sit down and prepare my menu for the week and then go grocery shopping. This takes a ridiculous amount of time. I can easily spend an hour meal planning and then a couple hours shopping. In preparation for my hours increasing, I decided I should see if I could streamline meal planning and shopping.

This weekend I came up with 28 meals that I hope can be repeated without wearing them out too fast. You can see it here. I also wrote down every single ingredient needed for the meal and then sorted the ingredients by location in the store2. This way, when I’m making my grocery list, I can see what ingredients I need to buy for the week and put them on my list in the correct order. Since I grocery shop on Sunday, I have each week go from Monday-Sunday so I always have ingredients for the current days meal on hand3.

I’m not sure if this menu plan will work out or not. Nor, am I sure what this will do to our grocery bill. However, hopefully my scheme works out well.

  1. This will actually be the first time in my professional career where I don’t work Sundays. I started working most Sundays as a reference librarian to compensate for never working Saturdays. Others viewed Sundays as less popular to work because you only work 4 hrs so you had to make up the additional 4 hrs some other way. As a result, the other librarians were very amenable to me never working Saturdays since I took the dreaded Sunday rotation off everyone else’s schedule. When I transferred to IT, I was use to working Sundays and since we’re closed Sunday mornings, it was a great time to do server maintenance
  2. The Indian meals use a huge number of spices so ingredients list looks intimidating but most of them are relatively fast to put together. Since Jaeger likes Indian food so much I have a special spice carousel dedicated to Indian spices.
  3. Worst case, this allows me to wait to grocery shop till Calvin is in bed. I used home delivery for a while but had trouble getting my orders in. I’m not convinced I want to go back to home delivery, sometimes I had trouble getting them to delivery exactly what I wanted, but this meal plan should make it easier either way.

Monthly Update

The past month has been very busy.

Camping
In late August we went camping and setup at Difficult Campground which is close to Aspen. It had fairly small campsites, our extra large family tent was difficult to fit, but was a nice campground. There was a small stream that ran behind our site which I thought Calvin would get into but he pretty much ignored it.

Saturday, we got up, ate breakfast, and then headed out to Crater Lake in the Maroon Bells Wilderness. We made good time since Jaeger carried Calvin most of the way. Calvin spent a good amount of time complaining about how exhausting it is to be carried. Then we let Calvin walk and ambled for another mile or so before stopping for lunch. Given how long it had taken Calvin to walk a mile, we decided to carry him back. We had taken the bus up and we didn’t want to miss the last pick-up at 5pm.

The bus took us back down to Aspen where we got a snack and wandered around a bit. It turns out none of us had been to Aspen before which was weird since I thought Jaeger had been everywhere in Colorado. I decided it was basically a snootier, smokier1 version of Boulder. I also took the opportunity to stop by their county library and quiz the local staff on how they liked their ILS (catalog system).

Sunday we ate and then went and visited a ghost town. When we arrived, we were the only people there but as we were leaving a lot more people stopped by. I don’t think Calvin understood what a ghost town is. Jaeger took Calvin up the gondola while I spent a couple of minutes working and then we ate lunch and headed back home.

This was our 2nd successful camping trip of the summer. The prior year we hadn’t gone camping at all due to moving and our fear Calvin would continue his trend of waking up screaming in the middle of the night. However, this trip, and the previous one, all turned out good without any nighttime scream (by Calvin anyway).

Basement Refresh
Since I’ve started working in the basement, its problems have been bothering me more and more. We had water stains on the ceiling tile and the paint was desperately in need of being refreshed. Jaeger was pretty ambivalent given he rarely goes into the basement but I got a bee in my bonnet to fix it up better.

The ceiling tiles were a problem. They’re drop ceiling but in a style that no one seems to carry anymore. After looking at a lot of options, I decided my best plan would be to try to get matching paint and paint over the old water stains. I stopped by Kwal Paint to drop off a ceiling tile for matching and to pick up sample paint colors for the walls.

Jaeger didn’t like the existing tannish color so I picked up two blues, a light yellow, and a light green. Then I got some foam core and painted each with the proposed color and took them down to the basement to look. The light green look dreadful, I thought the yellow was ok, but Jaeger didn’t like it, and the darker blue was too dark. So, we decided on a light blue that has very slight greenish hints in it.

Over Labor Day weekend I feverishly painted everything, including redoing the trim. I discovered many crimes against drywall during that weekend. There’s so many it’s hard to start. Among other things whoever had painted the tan color had decided to save time and just paint over nails instead of pulling them out, filling in, and then painting. Also, it turns out one of the color combinations had been a nice cream colored wall with purple trim. That must have been fascinating.

Eventually I got everything repainted and then I moved the furniture around. We had a cubicle area that had been working as a storage unit but I got most everything thrown away, given away, or stored in the garage or a large white garage-style cabinet we bought. In addition, I changed the layout so my treadmill desk faced the window directly. All-in-all, I was pretty happy with how it turned out. I finished cleaning up the room scant minutes before our Megafest visitors arrived.

Megafesting
Yanthor and Anya came over to our house last week and we took time off to fest. We played a lot of games, watched one movie, and ate good food. Saturday was Jaeger’s birthday so I made two types of ice cream and German Chocolate Cupcakes 2. It was lots of fun and very relaxing.

A Night Out
Jaeger convinced me to call our babysitter for her to take care of Calvin Wednesday night while we went out to a restaurant to celebrate Jaeger’s birthday. It was sprinkling when we left and I debated whether I should take my light rain coat or the Gore-Tex. I decide on the light rain coat, a bad choice as it turns out.

We went to eat at Moongate, which is located in downtown Boulder. I had hired the babysitter till 10pm so after dinner we decided to go out and walk to the other end of the Pearl Street Mall. By that time, it was pouring. Jaeger wanted to stop by GoLite to get another shirt and by the time we got there, our clothes were dripping. Little rivers were running down Pearl Street Mall, it was amazing. Jaeger bought a shirt and we continued on to the Boulder Bookstore where we picked up several used juvenile books and Jaeger bought a tour guide to Beijing and Shanghai.

We sloshed back to our car, getting even wetter, and arrived back home a bit earlier than we planned.

Flooding
The rain continued to pour. In the middle of the night I groggily thought that maybe I should check the sump hole in the basement but couldn’t convince myself to get up. The next morning I woke up and padded downstairs to the basement to start work for the day 3. I started to walk to my desk and felt wet squishy carpet beneath my feet. I called Jaeger down and we started to assess the situation. Our sump hole does not have a pump, which I had been vaguely aware of and was on a list of things to deal with someday, and was overflowing. Jaeger bailed it out, into the nearby toilet, to a reasonable level and then we went up to have breakfast and consider the situation.

Sporadically checking the internet, I learned that we were pretty lucky with our very minor water problem. All the creeks and rivers in our area were completely out of control and real deep flooding was rampant in the rest of Boulder (Gunbarrel is slightly elevated and isn’t in the path of any major bodies of water). The sheriff requested that everyone stay home.

At first, one side of the room seemed dry so I was hoping we could just move the big stuff to that side and only dry out half of the room. However, after a deeper exploration it became obvious that everything was at least a little wet. Jaeger and I pulled everything out of the basement and piled it haphazardly in the living room, family room, and garage. I spent the rest of the day letting Calvin watch DVDs while I used our carpet cleaner to pull the water out of the carpet. Right before supper time I had gotten the carpets to where they were still damp but much dryer. Our next step was to roll the carpet up, pull out the carpet pad to discard it, and then drape the carpet to let it finish drying.

I went upstairs to make supper and just as I finished, the power went off. However, I already had supper cooked so we found our camping lanterns and had a pleasant meal. Then Jaeger went down into the basement. Our sump hole had overflowed again and all the work I had down during the day had be cancelled out. Jaeger and I spent probably a half hour bailing the sump hole till it was at what looked like a safe level. About in the middle of our bailing, the power came back on. We pulled the carpet up and draped it over random things in hopes it would start drying during the night. Jaeger and I took turns waking up every two hours to make sure the sump didn’t overflow again. Surprisingly, it started going down during the night. However, we did get woken up twice due to emergency flood warnings (that weren’t actually in our area).

Friday morning everything was complete chaos in the Boulder and large surrounding areas. Evacuations were being attempted all over the place and it was obvious that we were very, very lucky. We decided we needed a sump pump so I called a plumber and was put on a list to be called when they could start getting places. He told me I should probably get on a second list given the demand. I decided not to because at that point our sump hole looked reasonable and I decided there were probably other people that needed it more than we did.

I used the carpet cleaner to suck a good portion of the water out of the carpet pad and then ripped it out and put it by the trash to be thrown out later. During this process I had one of the basement mysteries revealed. The basement has uneven floor. However, in random spots it would have a weird bump in the carpet. Neither Jaeger nor I could figure out what the bumps were. We were half afraid they were rodents that somehow had gotten trapped under the carpet. Well, when I pulled up the carpet pad, it turned out they were loose remnants from a prior carpet pad. For some reason, when the newest carpet pad was put down, they didn’t bother to clean up the random pieces that were littering the floor. Really odd.

With the carpet pad gone and the carpet suspended and having fans blowing on it, there wasn’t much left for me to do other than occasionally make sure bad things weren’t happening with the sump hole. To my surprise, around 3pm, the plumbing company called back and told me someone would be there in 10 minutes to install a sump pump. That was way quicker than I expected. However, perhaps we were one of the few people they could actually get to.

The plumber arrived and told me a full install would take three hours, which he didn’t have. However, he could install a temporary solution and come back next week to finish up the job. The full job will cost around $1200 but we’re lucky because we already have a sump hole. The prior lady he had just visited didn’t have a sump hole so it was going to cost her $3000 to get a solution. Anyway, this type of scenario isn’t particularly common in Gunbarrel but Jaeger and I felt we should go ahead and get a pump anyway as insurance.

At this point, the carpet is mostly dry. However, I’m not sure yet whether or not it’s salvageable. I’m letting it dry today and we’ll see what the situation looks like tomorrow. I’ve been cooped up in the house since Wednesday evening and church was canceled today (the church is in a bad area) so I’m considering a visit to the library today. I haven’t heard what conditions the roads are in yet but I think a roundabout route should get me there without any problems. Worst case, if it starts raining, we head back immediately.

Anyway, it’s been very adventurous.

  1. Boulder is pretty rigid about allowing smoking in public so it was disconcerting to be sitting outside the cafes in Aspen and having to dodge the smoke.
  2. We had just finished a cake I had made a month prior so Jaeger didn’t want another full cake to deal with.
  3. I usually work a little bit before breakfast which allows me to get the prior day’s emails out of the way. Then I take a break to eat and take Calvin to preschool and then resume.

Cat5 Update

Cat5 had her annual physical today. She’s doing a lot better. She had been at the point where she was throwing up 4+ times a day. The Prednisolone has been a miracle drug for her. To my knowledge, she’s only thrown up once after the first couple of days of being on it. She also gained one pound! This may not sound huge but she’s been losing weight steadily for the last year. Now she’s at 10.4 lbs.

We were gone over the weekend and I noticed when we got back that she looked a lot healthier (sometimes living with a cat it’s hard to see the change until you go away). Anyway, I’m feeling a lot more optimistic than I have for a while.

Ongoing, the vet would like to see if I can drop the Prednisolone to every third day. If that doesn’t work, my impression is we just maintain her at every other day indefinitely. This isn’t as bad as it sounds because since I just rub it into her ear, it’s a pretty painless application for everyone involved. It’s also not a terribly expensive drug and can probably pay for itself in my decrease of buying rug cleaner 🙂

Vacation

On Friday Jaeger and Calvin left for New York City to visit Jaeger’s sister as well as doing some site-seeing. Originally, I was planning to go with them. However, 3 plane tickets are more expensive than 2 and I didn’t think all of us would fit in Bethany’s apartment, at least not comfortably. So, I told Jaeger that if he didn’t mind, I’d prefer staying home. To my surprise, he agreed. As a result, the last couple of days have been the first time, since Calvin has been born, that I’ve been by myself and didn’t really have anything scheduled that I needed to do. It’s been very, very relaxing.

I spent a fair amount of time pottering around in the yard. As I’ve probably mentioned before, our yard was loved by someone at one point but it’s gotten completely out of hand. The cat mint, which was planted on purpose, is particularly problematic. I’ve lost count of the number of hours I’ve spent yanking every shoot I can find out. I’ve been trying to get as much of the root structure as possible but it’s wily, and there’s a lot of it.

I was also planning to start digging a 4′ x 6′ x 2′ hole for a sandbox I want to get for Calvin. When Jaeger was growing he had a sandbox that was about 3′ high but 2′ of it was sunk into the ground. I was planning to do something similar for Calvin’s sandbox. However, only a couple inches down from where I was hoping to put the sandbox I struck large tree roots. Given how many trees we have on our property, I probably shouldn’t have been surprised. The spot I chose is still the best spot for a sandbox. There’s nothing worthwhile there at the moment and it’s nicely shaded for hot summer afternoons. So, I’m not sure what we’re going to do. I need to talk to Jaeger about it. I suppose we could still do a 3′ high sandbox there, we’d just have to provide a ladder or something.

The project I did successfully complete is assemble our planters. Our house has a small deck at that back that goes down to a large concrete pad. The pad use to have a hot tub on it but neither Jaeger nor I wanted to deal with a hot tub so the prior owners took it with them. However, that leaves us with an awkwardly big piece of concrete. It’s not particularly good for outside dining or playing because it gets full, very hot sun1. To add insult to injury, it’s the only place that gets full sun that good enough for tomatoes and herbs. So, we bought a couple planter kids from Naturalyards. They aren’t cheap but they were relatively easy to put together and I think they look nice. I haven’t figured out what we’re going to do with the rest of the space yet.
planters

I went shopping on Sunday and spent way too much money of books and also bought some clothes. The rest of the time I’ve gone for walks, read, or watched DVDs. Jaeger and Calvin should arrive back from their visit tonight. It’s been very pleasant being by myself but I’m ready for Jaeger and Calvin to come back now.

  1. We have yet another spot on the side of the house, next to where I want to put the sandbox, that works better for dining.

Another Cat5 Update

Cat5 is still having problems. The feces problem has decreased, somewhat, but she’s still throwing up all over the place. Then, last week, Jaeger noticed that she had gone back to grooming herself raw. This time it was two places on the inside of her leg.

I took her to the vet again and he examined her and pondered. On the plus side, she’s still not constipated. That’s a major improvement over last year. Also, the places she’s over grooming means that her bottom isn’t particularly bothering her which is also a good sign. Our previous vet in Longmont did a lot of tests that ruled out some of the other possibilities. So, at the moment, the vet is leaning toward thinking she might have allergies of some sort that is causing her skin, and possibly bowel, problems.

One problem I have with Five is it’s extremely hard to give her medicine. She’s not a particularly smart cat but is pretty good at detecting medicine when it’s hidden in anything, including the pill pockets. I have about a 50/50 success rate when I try to brute force the pill down her throat. In addition, previously the vet prescribed a sticky gel (like hairball medicine) that you try to put in the cat’s mouth so they’ll lick it off and swallow it. I tried using it a while ago and got a little bit on the side of her jaw. Five completely ripped out all the hair on that side of her jaw. It looked like someone who had tried to shave for the first time. Completely bare skin with little red nicks all over. It was really, really disturbing. So, I stopped giving that to her.

With allergies the vet said he was thinking about trying to give her something like cortisone. This sounded like a good idea to me because back when she was doing very poorly last year, the Longmont vet had been giving her injections and that seemed to help more than anything else we tried. I mentioned that and our new vet said he was hesitant to give actual cortisone injections because apparently it can push a pre-diabetic cat into full diabetes and, unlike people and dogs, it’s hard to tell when a cat is pre-diabetic. He admitted that his opinion might be a little skewed because this is what happened with his own cat. He gave the cat a couple of shots of cortisone, triggered diabetes, and now has to give his cat insulin for the rest of its life. However, I can barely handle Cat5’s needs at the moment and I don’t think I could deal with her being diabetic.

In the end, the vet prescribed a gel solution of Prednisolone (0.1 mL Gel twice a day to start with and gradually decreasing if everything goes well). Given my experience with the last gel-like substance I was a bit leary. However, this is a different consistency and you apply it to the inside of the cat’s ear. Apparently the odds that she’ll over groom that part of her anatomy, at least to a harmful level, is low. Though, of course, I’ll monitor her closely to make sure there aren’t any problems. The vet also instructed me to try to avoid touching it and use gloves when I’m giving it to Five. It must be absorbed via the skin and the vet wanted to make sure I wouldn’t get an inadvertent dose of it. Fortunately, due to Five’s variety of messes, I always have massive supplies of latex gloves on hand1.

I’m feeling slightly hopeful that this treatment might actually work. I’m definitely atopic and, given how many skin problems I’ve had, it just make sense that Cat5 would follow in my footsteps. So, now we’ll just wait and see. I really hope this somehow magically fixes all her problems . . .

  1. It doesn’t matter how careful I am. If I don’t have gloves on I always manage to get some of the mess on me.

Masala Crêpe

On Jaeger’s first trip to India he encountered Dosas and became infatuated. Upon returning home he described them to me and I attempted to make some. Unfortunately, having never had dosas myself, I had only the vaguest idea of what I was doing. However, I found a recipe which made a huge amount of batter. This was fortunate as I wasted more than 1/2 the batter before I realized it was absolutely essential to use my cast iron skillet, not my non-stick skillet. However, I still had some trouble as my cast iron skillet has sides and is smaller than the traditional skillet for dosas. In spite of all this, I think I got the general idea even if it needed a lot of refinement.

Eventually, Jaeger found an establishment in Denver that served Dosas and took Calvin and I out to try them. They were pretty good. Then, a bit later, a restaurant opened up in Boulder that makes dosas so my enthusiasm for doing it myself waned.

Last year, we moved from Longmont down to Gunbarrel. Unfortunately, the stove that came with the house was a glass-top electric stove. I have not been impressed. It probably took me the first 6 months just to learn how not to burn pancakes. More disturbing, using cast iron skillets is not recommended for glass-top stoves. Up in Longmont I prepared more than half the meals we ate in my cast iron skillet and have profoundly felt the lack of it since. The one redeeming value the glass-top stove has is it’s attached to a convection oven that I love.

I did try to make dosas, from a pre-made mix, a couple of months ago and it was a disaster. I blame having to use my non-stick skillet. So, today instead of dosas, I made Masala Crepes. For some reason I can make crepes perfectly fine in my non-stick skillet, I’m not sure why. Maybe the egg makes it stick less? In any case, I used Jaeger’s mom’s crepe recipe and substituted some of the wheat flour for chickpea flour. I should have put some fenugreek in it too but forgot. Then I filled the crepes with “Mrs. Joshi’s Potatoes with a Fresh Coconut-Lime Sauce” from 660 Curries. It’s obviously not authentic but does provide the general feel of a Masala Dosa.

Calvin’s Birthday Party

Last Sunday we had a whole bunch of Calvin’s preschool classmates over to celebrate his birthday. Jaeger’s parents were also able to come for the party.

Calvin’s cake was really a brownie that I poured into a cookie sheet with sides. I used the “Fudge Brownie” recipe from my Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook1. For the frosting, I used King Arthur Flour’s Fudge Frosting. I think the yogurt gives the frosting a little zing. Previously, I had made a double batch of frosting which ended up being way too much. This time I used a single batch. Jaeger thought the double batch kept the brownie moister, which is probably did, but I didn’t want to give preschool kids that much sugar.

Calvin adores sprinkles so I bought special primary color sprinkles for him to put on the brownie.

Calvin adds sprinkles to his brownie

After the sprinkles, I arranged the Lego candies which I had previously made.

Happy Birthday Calvin! using Lego Candies

Since Calvin’s birthday party ended up falling on Easter, I decided it would be fun to do a Lego-themed Easter egg hunt. I bought two sets of Legos: a “boy” set and a “girl” set. I also borrowed some Legos from Calvin. The pieces that were too big to fit in the Easter eggs, like the horse, went into Calvin’s Lego set so I think it ended up about even. I stuffed approximately 160 Easter Eggs. About an hour before the party Jaeger and I attempted to hide them. It takes a long time to find easy, but not too easy, hiding places for 160 eggs.

As the children were arriving for the party I had them gather around the table and decorate their Easter egg bags. I had found white lunch sacks at Target and then had a variety of stickers, crayons, and markers on the table to decorate with. The children seemed amused by this but it didn’t take very long to get all the bags decorated. Once it seemed a majority of the children had arrived, we started the Easter egg hunt.

This was the first Easter egg hunt that I had ever organized. I went looking all over the internet for ideas. The internet suggested I should have at least 12 eggs per child. However, I was worried that some kids would find a lot more than others. Finally, I hit on the idea of telling the kids they could have one egg of every color. I had enough eggs that there were about 8-12 different colors, depending on whether or not you considered two shades of a color to be the same color. All the children were very good at only picking up one egg per color. After it seemed that most of the children had at least one of every color, we told them they could go and gather the rest of the eggs.

Jaeger and I worked hard to find places to hide the eggs. It’s not easy in a yard that’s still recovering from winter. However, I think we managed to provide both easy and harder options. Some of the mothers commented that it was refreshing to go to an Easter egg hunt where you had to hunt for the Easter eggs versus them just laying randomly out on the ground. I hadn’t been able to find an estimate for how long an Easter egg hunt should take. The kids found most of our eggs within a half hour and seemed to lose interest about the same time.

Jaeger’s mom and I had looked in some books for some other activities to do. One of the ideas we had run across was balloon volleyball. Originally, we were planning to do it in our family room but the day was gorgeous so we decided to try to do it outside instead. I ran a yellow streamer across two chairs and then some of the parents blew up balloons to use as volleyballs. Unfortunately, the balloons popped as soon as they touched anything, including the grass. I pulled Calvin’s blue beach ball out instead but it seemed too little too late. Most of the kids weren’t interested in it.

Having given up on the volleyball game, we went inside to eat cake and ice cream. Afterwards, Calvin unwrapped his presents within a mob of his classmates. Having that many kids in the house towards the end of the party made me really thankful the weather allowed us to do the Easter egg hunt outdoors. It would have been a disaster indoors. Jaeger counted and we ended up with 14 adults and 13 children, including our family. That was a lot of people but I think it all turned out pretty well. I was really glad that Jaeger’s mom was around to help because I think we would have gone crazy trying to do it by ourselves.

  1. Note: if you search inside the book on Amazon for “fudge brownie” you’ll get the 2002 recipe which is different than my 1996 version of the recipe.

Making Lego Candy

Calvin is turning four this March. It seems both an eternity and an instant since he was born. When I asked Calvin what kind of birthday party he wanted, he said that he wanted a Lego party. Several years ago I had stumbled across a blog which had detailed instructions on how to make a Lego mold. Calvin’s birthday party seemed like an excellent excuse to try it out for myself.

My first hurdle was figuring out what type of silicone to use. Crafty Girl said she used Smooth-Sil 940 because she found some locally but liked the idea of Copy Flex better because it didn’t require as much math. Math doesn’t scare me but I couldn’t find any Smooth-Sil 940 in my area, or I was looking in the wrong places, and Copy Flex seemed easier to order in small batches.

I wanted to use the Legos to spell out “Happy Birthday Calvin” on his cake. I counted up the pieces and, using two 10×10 base plates, laid out the Legos I’d need. Then I did the math and discovered that using two base plates would require at least 4 lbs of silicone. Let me tell you, silicone is not cheap. 4 lbs was completely out of the question. After some changes, I decided I could get all the pieces I wanted from one base plate if I filled it up twice. I ended up with 40 2×4 pieces and 10 2×2 pieces and a couple spares to fill out the small amount of empty space left. This still required 2 lbs of silicone though.

I hunted around on Amazon and ebay and found some pre-made Lego-like mold options. However, the comments for all the molds I could find invariably said they weren’t standard Lego brick size. This was a problem because as it was, my Lego letters were barely going to fit on the cake. I went back to the Copy Flex website and asked myself if it was really worth the $50 plus $12.93 for shipping. If I had found the perfect Lego mold and saw the price tag was $62.93, I would never have bought it. However, somehow I managed to convince myself that this was a good investment because it was educational. We’d get to see chemistry at work! I ordered the silicone and waited with baited breath for it to arrive.

We had a couple of false starts. I had made the Lego base but Jaeger, correctly, suggested that washing the Legos would be a good idea. So, we ran the Legos with the base plate through on the top rack of the dishwasher with heated dry turned off (this is how we routinely wash Legos/Duplos ordered on eBay). The next day we got ready to pour only to notice that the Legos had collected water inside and so weren’t truly dry. *sigh* We took all the Legos apart and laid them out to dry on cooling racks. Finally, everything was ready.

Copy Flex comes in two containers: a catalyst and a base. The Copy Flex instructions suggested that refrigerating the two liquids would help slow down the reaction and provide more time to get the mold right. Other than being a little larger, I had constructed the positive Lego mold similar to how Crafty Girl had. I had tested it out with water and noticed the water leaked out so I worried that the silicone would also. To prevent an unexpected mess, I put the Lego mold on a cookie sheet. Then I took the two parts of Copy Flex out of the fridge and carefully stirred them together, trying to minimize the bubbles. As instructed, I poured the liquid from a height of about 12″ and let it spread naturally across the Legos. 2 lbs was exactly the right amount, it was perfect. I thumped it on the counter a couple of times because it seems like there were still bubbles in it. I wasn’t sure if thumping was helpful but I didn’t end up with any problematic bubbles.

Copy Flex cures within 4 hours but it was evening so this morning I woke up to take the Legos off. The silicone had leaked in a couple of small places but overall it wasn’t too bad. Interestingly, it seemed to be the places where I had made the border with Legos larger than the standard 2x4s. As Crafty Girl had promised, they peeled right off. I washed the mold with soap and water because Amazon reviews of the pre-made molds had mentioned that the dishwasher could leave a residue that would end up on the candy. The silicone is safe up to 400 degrees F so I stuck it in the oven for a couple of minutes to dry.

This afternoon, Calvin and I tried making our first Legos candies. I used Wilton Candy Melts and had bought several different colors. Walmart carries Candy Melts in their “wedding” aisle. Unfortunately, the candy melts are more pastel colored. I had tried adding gel fooding coloring to intensify the the colors but I didn’t have any oil-based coloring easily available so the melted candy kept seizing. Jaeger assured me it would still be ok and I’m trying to pretend the pastels are on purpose, maybe they’re the Friends Legos.

In any case, I melted the candy melts over a double boiler. You can microwave them but I felt the double boiler gave me more control and made sure they stayed melted. I used a small spatula to carefully fill each Lego slot with the melted candy. Wilton says the candy should be pudding-texture, because if you get it too hot, the candy is ruined. However, my later Lego bricks were made with a little more liquid candy and they turned out better. I would fill four 2×4 bricks and one 2×2 brick and then tap the mold against the counter, hopefully to get the air bubbles out. I wasn’t sure how fast the candy would set. I repeated the process until the entire mold was filled. Conveniently my mold holds exactly one bag of melted candy melts.

Here's how the mold looked right after I finished filling it.  You can see the small spatula I used.

Here’s how the mold looked right after I finished filling it. You can see the small spatula I used.

I was unsatisfied with how some of the earlier Legos had overflowed so I tried to smooth them out but I think that was a mistake. I wasn’t sure how long it would take to have the candy set so I looked it up online. Common consensus was that 20 minutes in the refrigerator should work. I thought you weren’t suppose to refrigerate melted chocolate but maybe candy melts are different. In any case, after 20 minutes I took it out and the Legos popped right out.

The finished product.

The finished product.

The detail is so fine you can even see the Lego logo on them.
Lego Candy 4

The first candies I filled tended to have air bubbles in spite of all the tapping I did. I think it’s because the candy wasn’t quite as liquid as it was at the end. Below is how it looks with the bubbles.
Lego Candy 5

All in all, I’m pretty happy with how they turned out. They’re definitely recognizable and I think they’ll work well on Calvin’s cake. Calvin’s birthday isn’t for a couple of weeks still but I’ll post pictures of the cake when it’s finished.

Calvin’s Tofu Loaf

Calvin is always very eager to “help” me in the kitchen. Usually I’m hurrying to try to get supper on the table and would rather not dance around him. However, I do try to set time aside to let him help me a couple of times a week. I view baking time with a preschooler as the mathematical equivalent of story time for literacy. I’m convinced that cooking or baking is a great way for kids to learn mathematical concepts.

Up to this point, I usually find the recipe we’re going to make, do any necessary prep, and then allow Calvin to dump the ingredients into the mixing bowl or pan. Calvin does enjoy dumping things in. However, he really would prefer that I give him more autonomy. For the last couple of weeks Calvin will dutifully dump ingredients in but then sneak off to the side and start making his own “recipes.” These are usually charming but inedible as he’s making due with whatever odds and ends are left on our counter1. This last week, I decided I should try to create a structure where Calvin could make the majority of the recipe decisions but we would hopefully end up with an edible product.

A couple of years ago I ran across The Magical Loaf Studio. Jennifer McCann is the author of two awe-inspiring cookbooks with recipes for vegan lunches. Her stuff is amazing. I’m completely intimidated by her adorable menus. Anyway, many years ago now she went to a vegetarian cooking class put on by an Adventist church. One of the things they handed out was instructions on how to create your own vegetarian loaf. One day when bored, Jennifer automated it and the Magical Loaf Studio was born. To be honest, I’m not that much into vegetarian loafs (and Jaeger believes they are evil). However, the setup seemed ideal to give Calvin a lot of options while still creating something that was edible-like.

Today Calvin and I tried the vegetarian loaf experiment. I pulled up the page and started out with the “protein” box. I pulled out every protein option that was listed in the box and that we had in the house and let Calvin choose which one he liked best. Predictably, he chose tofu. Then we moved on section by section until we got to the end. Calvin tried to get away without choosing any vegetable or seasonings but I insisted he select at least one. At last, we had a recipe:

Here’s Your Very Own Adventist-Style Vegan Dinner Loaf!

program created by Jennifer McCann for the Vegan Lunch Box Blog

Ingredients:

1/2 cup pecans
2 TB margarine
One large carrot, peeled and grated
2 cups mashed firm tofu
1 cup cooked quinoa
1/4 to 1/2 cup tomato juice, as needed
1/2 cup cooked oatmeal
2 TB nutritional yeast flakes
1 tsp. salt
Directions:

Preheat the oven to 350º. Spray a loaf pan or 8×8 square baking pan
with nonstick spray and set aside (an 8×8 pan makes a crisper loaf).

Grind the pecans into a coarse meal using a food processor or
spice/coffee grinder. Place in a large mixing bowl and set aside.

Sauté any vegetables you’ve chosen in the margarine until soft. Add to
the large mixing bowl along with all the remaining ingredients. Mix
and mash together well, adding only as much liquid as needed to create
a soft, moist loaf that holds together and is not runny (you may not
need to add any liquid if the grains and protein are very moist). Add
more binder/carbohydrate as needed if the loaf seems too wet.

Press mixture into the prepared pan and bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour,
or until cooked through.

Let the loaf cool in the pan for 10 to 15 minutes, then turn out onto
a plate or platter and slice. Serve with potatoes, vegetables, and
vegetarian gravy, if desired.

Cold leftover slices of make a great sandwich filling.

I had told Jaeger yesterday that for dinner tonight we were going to have a recipe that Calvin created. However, I believe he hoped I was kidding. Jaeger was not amused to come home and discover that we really were having a Calvin concoction. To be honest, it wasn’t particularly good. Calvin only took a couple bites of it though Jaeger and I both ate reasonable servings. The recipe could have used a lot more seasoning and potentially more baking (I’m not entirely sure what the texture was suppose to be like). However, it was certainly edible.

I’m not sure I want to try the loaf generator again with Calvin. I’m certain good recipes can be made from it but it probably takes a lot more cooking intuition than Calvin has at the moment. So, I wouldn’t call this experiment a disaster but neither was it a success.

Maybe Calvin would feel more in control if he got to choose the recipe. He does own a cookbook specifically for children that I caught him looking through one night when he was allegedly going to bed.

We’ll figure out something, eventually.

  1. Calvin is always very careful not to add eggs to his recipes, and tell me he’s not adding eggs, as he likes to taste them and knows you “can’t” taste raw food once eggs have been added