Friday, July 15, 2011

Foggy Day Popsicles

In San Francisco the weather always takes a tragic turn for the worse in July. We got socked in by fog and you find yourself pulling out sweaters to wear during the day, turning the heater on at night and wishing you never lived here. As I type this I am wearing a fleece sweatshirt, jeans, socks and a long sleeved shirt... at 3:30 on Friday in July.

Then September comes along and I run around screaming about how much I love San Francisco and it's bass-ackward weather.  I don't mind it that much, other than the occasional perusal of real estate listings in warmer climates a mere 25 minutes from here.

But even though its 30 degrees colder than our neighbors up in Santa Rosa, we still like to act like its summer. Behold our Foggy Day Popsicles, made with strawberries picked at the U-Pick Farm in Half Moon Bay and super tart greek yogurt and honey. San Francisco summer on a stick - cold and sweet.

3 cups hulled strawberries
1-3 T. powdered sugar
1 6 oz. container 0 % Greek yogurt
4 T. Honey (or to taste)

In a blender, combine strawberries and powdered sugar and puree till smooth. Add the sugar 1 spoonful at a time depending on the sweetness of your berries. Pour into a bowl.

In a separate bowl, combine yogurt, honey and 3 spoonfuls of the strawberry mixture and stir till combined.

Using any popsicle mold you have, spoon in layers of strawberry mixture alternating with a spoonful of the yogurt/strawberry mixture and freeze until your six year old can't stand another minute of waiting and takes them out behind your back.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

What would you do?

If you were walking down a path in Golden Gate Park near the California Academy of Sciences and your child found a tattered recipe for brownies near a puddle on the ground, would you go home and try to make them? We did.

A few weeks ago we had just finished a trip through the Academy of Sciences and were walking behind the museum, near the kitchen and staff-only entrance, when my son yelled out that he found a "secret treasure map." I absentmindedly yelled "Cool!" and then went back to walking along with his sister. He ran up to me, breathless and holding the recipe out to my face and said "No, really! This is a serious map! Look! It has math on it!" I looked at it a little more closely and saw the word "BROWNIES" across the top of the page and I stopped dead in my tracks. Could this be the recipe that the Academy uses for the gourmet cafe that I always sit in and eat my packed-from-home lunch in? The very same one where I drool over the brownies every time I am in there, yet I am turned off by the $4 price tag? Did my son just find the San Francisco equivalent of the famous Neiman-Marcus cookie recipe? I'll never be sure, but I'll be damned if this recipe doesn't have the same kind of measurements that would serve a busy cafe in a museum like the Academy Cafe.

We came home and decided to give it a go, but I halved the recipe for obvious reasons, you know something is up when a recipe calls for a pound of butter and 14 eggs. And you know what? It was pretty darn good! I really appreciate some of the baking tips it gives - the hot water trick works like a charm. We'll never know if this was the big discovery or not, but it made for a fun afternoon with my son baking in the kitchen. And he thinks they are the best thing he's ever made and he is right... NEXT!

Friday, July 8, 2011

Mom Camp

We just finished the final day of Mom Camp 2011 and it was a roaring success. This all started when my friend and I were complaining about the cost of summer camps and we hatched a plan to host our own Mom Camp week. Each mom took all of the kids for one day and earned herself four days off in return and let me tell you, it saved us all a boatload of money. One week of Zoo Camp in San Francisco is $350 per week from 9-4 pm each day! Mom Camp cost me $30 for park and museum fees - for an entire week of camp. Color me satisfied.

It was harder than we realized to find parents that would want to do this kind of camp, it does take a certain kind of person. One friend with two children of her own told me rather bluntly, "I really don't want to watch other people's kids for long periods of time." Fair enough. A few other friends had vacations planned during the time slots we had selected, but in the end we found two other amazing moms to do this camp with and here is how we did it.

The rules were fairly simple, hours were 9-3 pm each day, no siblings could come to Mom Camp but the host mother could have both of her own kids present at camp when she was hosting and the kids all wore the same shirt (red) so we could easily find them in a crowd. I also suggested that everyone bring their own lunch to Mom Camp each day so picky eaters could get what they wanted (or didn't want), but the other three mothers just made lunch for everyone and it went off without a hitch. However I did ask that parents pack a lunch for their kids on my day because we were going to do a lot of walking and didn't want to have to lug it around. Not fun. Here is how the week turned out.

Monday, July 4th - No Mom Camp

Tuesday, July 5th - Strawberry picking in Half Moon Bay. This mom took four six year olds and her 2 year old to Swanton Berry Farms where they picked strawberries, hiked around a reservoir and enjoyed a picnic lunch. The strawberries were surprisingly affordable about $20 total for all of the kids combined. (This was another unsaid rule - the host parent pays for fees, etc.) It was so successful that she got home with barely 30 minutes to spare before camp was over.

Wednesday, July 6th  - Hiking around San Francisco. This mom hosted the camp at her house and took the kids on a lengthy nature hike around Mt. Davidson, took the kids to a local park, served lunch at her house and then let the kids play in the house and backyard.

Thursday, July 7th - Craft Camp. This mom is incredibly crafty and she had a number of projects lined up for the kids to work on throughout the day. She had them the painting with apples on a canvas backpack, making their own bird feeders with half gallon milk jugs and planted their own take home corn seedlings. They took an uphill hike to a park, ate lunch outside and picked berries in the yard.

Friday, July 8th - Coyote Point Camp. I drove the kids down to Coyote Point Museum in San Mateo for the day. We ate a snack at the picnic tables, walked around the museum for an hour, ate our lunches while watching the zookeepers feed the otters. Then we took a long walk down to the peninsula and looked for sharks in the bay, watched airplanes coming in for a landing at San Francisco International Airport, had another snack break before heading over to Magic Mountain Park for some playtime. Then it was back to my house for popsicles and lemonade. 

Every single day was a great adventure for the kids and while I am beyond exhausted, I am giddy with excitement at how well this went. I am hoping we can make a yearbook to document what a success this was for the moms and the kids. My son came home everyday with stories or projects and best of all, the cost was minimal. Next year I want the fathers to get involved, maybe they could host a Dad Camp in the beginning of the summer and the Mom Camp at the end of the summer. It'd be so great to eek two weeks of essentially free camp out of the summer!

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Tart Cherry Ice Cream on the cheap

There are so many things that I love about the King Arthur Flour Company and their catalog. When the catalog comes in the mail, I find myself lusting over products that I don't need or have room for (whatever happened to using a good old fashioned oven for your cupcakes??). However, it is the K.A.F. recipes that I love, but majority of them require ingredients from their line of products. After swooning over the Tart Cherry Ice Cream recipe, I knew it was going to be a budget buster with their ingredients. I made a few simple swaps that took the cost of this recipe from $38 (with shipping) to $6 for a 1/2 gallon of ice cream. 

I used my trusty Kitchen-Aid Ice Cream maker attachment to make this ice cream. I froze the bowl for 24 hours and also chilled the cherry ice cream base for 24 hours to let the flavors meld. The ice cream was too tart when I finished mixing it together, but the flavor mellowed and wasn't so harsh after sitting in the fridge overnight.

The original recipe is here, and below are my changes.

Tart Cherry Ice Cream on the Cheap

1 bottle of Trader Joe's Tart Cherry Juice
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1 cup whole milk
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup vanilla instant pudding (I used the Jell-O brand)

In the original recipe, K.A.F. has you use their special $17-for-16 oz. cherry juice concentrate, but that would make this recipe too expensive for me. The recipe writers suggest using frozen cherry juice concentrate as a substitution, but I couldn't find it at my local grocery stores. In a pinch I figured that Trader Joe's cherry juice would make a fine substitution.

In a saucepan, slowly simmer 2 cups of cherry juice (you will want to see tiny bubbles at the edges and avoid boiling), and reduce it down to about 3/4 cup of juice, about the consistency of maple syrup. I ended up having to do this twice because I got distracted and wandered off only to come back to a huge sticky mess that boiled over onto my stove top. Let the syrup cool in the fridge.

The recipe writers do make one thrifty suggestion that I actually used. Rather than buy their pastry mix for $9, they said that vanilla instant pudding would be a fine substitute. In a bowl, whisk together, the heavy cream, milk, sugar and 1/4 cup of the vanilla instant pudding powder. Add the cherry syrup and whisk till combined. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours or overnight. Then follow your manufacturers instructions for your ice cream maker.

Using my KitchenAid attachment, I mixed it at Level 1 and it came together in a frosty, custard-like consistency in about 20 minutes. Freeze it for at least two hours so that it can "ripen." It scooped out beautifully and I topped it with some chopped Trader Joe's bottled morello cherries. Next time I will reserve a little cherry syrup to drizzle over the top.