Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Making Macarons - Part 5 - Success At Last?

In case anyone is interested in  my blogs "Making Macarons", parts one, two, three and four, they can be found under the following dates:  8/12/13, 8/13/13, 3/10/12, and 1/14/14.  Just scroll down the right hand side of the page where it says "Blog Archive" and select the corresponding month. Click on it and it will give you headings. Now, on with the current show. Don't ask for the recipe because there are so many varied ones available. Pick any one but follow these instructions.
 My friend and I own all the correct equipment from a food processor to a Kitchenaid mixer. We have an official macaron making kit complete with silicone mat, stand, tips and piping bag. We have not one, but endless books and magazines on making macarons. Nothing can go wrong any longer...or can it?


So far, this project, has included classes, materials, trial, error, equipment, wine, and has cost us almost $1000. As I've said before, no wonder macarons are so expensive.

This past weekend, we finally got together again.  We have been determined. We have been stubborn. We have been frustrated, and we have been persistent.

Our first attempt this time was close, but not quite right. We ground the already ground almonds and ended up with a paste like substance...mistake even though it says to do this in the recipe. We decided that you should only grind if you have sliced blanched almonds but then, the length of time before it turns to paste is a mystery. Methinks the people who have figured out the macaroning secrets don't really want others to know. It might cause their stock to decline.

On our second attempt, we simply sifted almond meal.  We also sifted the confectioner's sugar which I believe is a foreign term for powdered icing sugar. We did this several times mixing the sugar with the almond flour and getting a delightful acceptable powdery consistency.
almond meal
Delightful acceptable powdery consistency

We whisked the egg whites in the Kitchenaid on high speed (not medium as was instructed), adding the castor sugar one teaspoon at a time. Castor sugar is a fancy confusing term for...well, sugar. (I am unable to resist the temptation to say, "Castor? I don't even know 'er".) When the egg whites reached the correct consistency, we added gel not liquid food colouring. Again, recipes suggest using an amount on a toothpick. This gives very little colour. We used two squirts and still our cookies were pale. Next, with a large medal spoon (I don't know why medal), fold the egg whites and the delightful powdery consistency of almond meal and icing sugar together to form a smooth molten mass. That's m-a-s-s.
Correct consistency
Smooth molten mass with gel colouring

At this point we were ready to pipe our small rounds onto the silicone cookie sheet. We placed a regular cookie sheet beneath for stability. Then we filled the piping bag and squeezed the dough onto the circles attempting to keep them slightly smaller than the prescribed diameter (they spread). When finished, we gave the pan a quick tap on the counter to release air bubbles and let it sit for 15 minutes before placing it in a 350 degree oven for ten minutes. Getting the cookies to the right size and shape requires a bit of practice.
Piping bag from kit


Holding our breaths, we removed the cookies from the oven before giving a sigh of relief. At last, our cookies had legs! That's the term for the crispy, bubbly edge around the bottom of the cookie. We screamed with excitement.
After trying to remove one, we learned that we had to wait for the cookies to cool before attempting to take them off the cookie sheet.

Caution - We then piped a second batch but discovered that this didn't work. The dough had changed in consistency and the result was once again failure. Make sure that you have adequate numbers of prepared pans and pipe all the dough at once. The pans can sit with the dough on them if they don't all fit into the oven. Make them all at once and the recipe will give you a few dozen cookies.

Unsure as to what to do about filling, we decided to forgo the ganache and other options this time (Yes, there will be more...watch for Part 6 - The Final Chapter). Instead, we used part of a can of buttercream icing, added food colouring and some icing sugar to thicken it. This made the cookie a bit sweet but it was our quick solution as we wanted to see an end product once and for all. Our assembled cookies looked pretty good.

Here are the faces of success!

 Next time, and there will be a next time, fancy fillings, colours, and flavours.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Twelve Year Old View of Doughnuts

I have had considerable experience reading compositions of children and preteens. Many are well written albeit similar in content. Every now and again, there's a standout, a storythat is so original and clever that I become curious about the child, the family, and the teachers that helped form such a brilliant young mind. I recently came across a piece written by a twelve year old girl which I thought was not only hilarious, but beautifully written. It's hard to imagine a twelve year old being this expressive and turning such a simple topic into work which has found its way into Buzzfeed, The Huffington Post, Facebook and more. I am sharing it on here as a way of preserving it for myself. It's the sort of thing that gives me joy and satisfaction. It helps remind me of a job I once did, and gives me hope that of the hundreds of children that crossed my path, that a few might have achieved this level of thinking and writing.

Whether or not you agree with the sentiment, you have to admit that this child did a wonderful job.

Friday, October 10, 2014

My Cataract Adventures - Part 2

I am sitting here trying to focus on the computer screen. I'm chalking up all grammatical and spelling errors these days to my inability to see properly. Prior to this time, I confess that mistakes were just caused by my own carelessness. After all, it's a blog. I'm not after a pulitzer.

My left eye has a huge blur of hardened encrusted eyeball (not the technical term I know) and the right is still in pretty good condition. I find it easier as I mentioned in Part 1, to close the left and try to see out of the right only. I have to say though, it's exhausting. It's even difficult to read a book for any length of time while performing this now well developed skill.

When I first noticed an anomoly in my vision back in February, I didn't realize that the cataract progression could be so rapid. There are times now when I can't see anything. For example, early in the morning. It often takes up to an hour for me to focus. If I try to function too early, I do more foolish things like pouring the tea water over the rim of the invisible cup lip. It's also impossible to make out anything when facing a window or some other form of bright natural light. Electric lighting and darkness have become my new best friends.

My driving is limited (by me) to certain weather conditions and specific times of day. It consists of short trips to the store and familiar routes that do not require driving into sunlight. It feels odd, restrivtive and disconcerting to know that in my current state, I don't dare venture into the big city or into any new settings.

The good news is that anyone who has had the procedure, tells me it's a piece of cake. I can't imagine, but I suppose I'll soon find out.

So as I await my next ophthalmologist appointment (Oct. 15th) I have become increasingly curious. I was advised not to watch any you tube videos of cataract surgery. I watched. Now I wish I had viewed the procedure with my non functional left eye. On the bright side, I noticed that people are sometimes given intravenous stuff to help them relax. I'll have my procedure wherever they promise me the best drugs.

As I viewed the surgery, what came to mind was the children's promise rhyme that goes something like, "Cross my heart, hope to die. Stick a needle in my eye"?  It sufficeth to say that the poet might have seen the same videos.

Well,  I suppose it's time to shut my other eye and go to sleep. Or perhaps I'll just wait awhile and try to imagine more  some more pleasant things before I venture off to bed.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

World Teachers' Day, October 5th

It's that time of year again. Summer is over and school is well under way. The excitement, the anticipation, the sorrow and the joy of the first few weeks have dissipated. Some parents suffered from separation anxiety as their babies began school for the first time. Others, sighed with relief that the holidays were finally over and their youngsters could go back to school for another year of learning with their peers.

Today, October 5th has been dubbed World Teachers' Day. The much maligned profession, finally received some recognition in 1994

We've all heard the arguments about the large teacher salaries and the endless summer and winter holidays. We've also been inundated with counter claims from teachers describing their long hours, their preparation times, their oft thankless job, and their many added responsibilities. At no time has this career been more difficult than in the present. The layers of administration, the mounds of paperwork, the constant accountability, the student behaviours, health concerns, and learning challenges all create a stressful climate for these professionals. It makes it all but impossible for them to complete the job which they love...teaching children.

It takes a very special type of person and no matter what anyone says, most teachers are not in it for the fame, fortune or fabulous holidays. They're definitely not in it for the free retirement dinner, handshake and certificate at the end of their career.

Who among us remember the following names...Victoria Soto, Tammy Glasgow, Rhonda Crosswhite, Julie Simon, Sherri Bittle, Cindy Lowe? I'll bet very few of them remain familiar. Nonetheless, they are just a handful of teachers whose heroic actions are in the recesses of our memories. They are teachers who saved students from gunfire in Connecticut and tornadoes in Oklahoma. There are so many more everyday heroes who have made teaching more than just a career, but a full time part of their lives.

I googled "hero teachers" and found no end of information. The site BuzzFeed, has a list of eighteen exceptional teachers. Some of their accomplishments include those other than saving children from harm. They give freely of their time and funds to make children's lives better. The brief descriptions are worth reading.


There are so many dedicated hard working educators out there. Today, we celebrate them all.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Family Dining or Customer Consternation?

Someone was giving a radio report suggesting that there should be child free restaurants. They spoke about whether it's a good idea. Imagine, in this age of inclusion, even suggesting such a thing. I must admit, that there might have been a time when I would have advocated for this. Nowadays, I have come to realize that the idea is not feasible, just, or necessary.

Several things come into play here.  Shouldn't parents have enough common sense to consider these questions? What type of restaurant is best suited to my child, his age and his developmental level? What is the attention span of my child? Have I properly prepared him for this type of setting? Of course, it's always best to begin teaching children at home and then start with a fast food, then family restaurant before attempting a fine dining establishment. Too many people just take their children to restaurants without prior preparation or planning.

Parents ought to be teaching children table manners early on and by early on, I mean as soon as they are near a table in any type of seating. Of course, there's no need to expose a one year old to the fine art of using a knife and fork. At first, they might simply be expected to aim for their mouth and sit for short times without fussing and needing constant attention while their parents are eating.

Part of the problem in some homes is that there's no longer a designated, sit down family eating time. Often children load up their plates and wander off in front of a tv or electronic device, while nibbling. Some are even allowed to go to the hub of all entertainment, their rooms They graze over the offering for the next few hours while their meal becomes cold, curdled and crusty. Parents make excuses and come up with reasons why this is allowed. The children never interact with the family and they can develop habits which are unacceptable in public.

I have sometimes wondered whether there should be limits to behaviour that is tolerated at restaurants. Should management be able to ask unruly families to leave the premises? Where would they draw the line? How about three ear piercing shrieks, one episode of food flinging, one jog around the perimeter of the restaurant and you're out? Should there be a special cash deposit for people with children? After all, why should patrons who want a peaceful evening dining experience be exposed to the lack of parenting skills which cause them anguish and indigestion?

I was at a quiet, dimly lit sushi restaurant with family members a few evenings ago. We had just begun our meal when a couple with two smallish children arrived at the table across the aisle. The first things that were pulled out were the electronic devices. Dad spoke on the phone paying no attention to the children. Mom was playing some sort of game on her device. The older child was punching buttons on the restaurant ipad while yelling out various foods. The younger had his own gaming device which held his interest for about five minutes before the screaming, crawling and yelling began. Dad kept talking on the phone. Mom checked the restaurant ipad food order. The other child started to outshout the younger. It was chaos and made me wonder whether the same sort of activities existed when they were eating at home.

My daughter suggested that the problem was not the electronics, but rather the lack of previously taught social skills. I agreed but only in part. I think it's a combination of the two. I reminded her that she was removed from restaurants for misbehaving a few times.  One parent always made the five minute sacrifice to take her to the car, have a timeout and a chat.  Also, no matter how busy we were as a family we were certain to sit together most dinner times. That's not to say we were perfect, but at least we made the effort.

So there's my opinion. Teach children dining behaviour at home so that the skills translate to restaurants. Talk to them about expectations prior to going out. It will save a lot of annoyance and will prevent ridiculous suggestions like child free restaurants. On the other hand, perhaps we first need to educate some adults about how to behave in a restaurant.