{March 22, 2013}   Tasty Twists

I like to bake cakes, cupcakes, brownies and other treats, but shy away from homemade breads, rolls and other recipes that call for yeast. I don’t have the patience or confidence to bake with it.

Making soft pretzels from scratch has been on my list of new things to try since I started my 47 and fearless project. When the boys were off school one chilly day last week, we spent it in the kitchen learning to make yeast dough for pretzels.

I did some online research and chose Alton Brown’s recipe for Homemade Soft Pretzels from the Food Network website.

The boys measured the temperature of the water, waited for the yeast to foam and added the flour. “It looks like we’re making clay,” Dylan commented as small chunks of dough combined to form a ball in the bowl of my Kitchen Aid stand mixer.

The dough looked a little dry, so we added a tablespoon of water and continued to let it knead. After a few minutes, we agreed the dough looked good and covered it to let it rise.

When we checked an hour later, the dough had not risen as much as I’d expected. Was there a problem with the yeast? Was the kitchen not warm enough? I don’t know. We forged ahead anyway.

I cut the dough into eight portions. We each rolled one into a long rope and twisted it into a traditional pretzel shape. The boys wanted to try other shapes, too, so Dylan formed a braid and Jamie made a ring and an elephant.

Now, it was time to give them a baking soda bath. I dropped each pretzel into a boiling mixture of water and baking soda for 30 seconds and placed them on parchment-line baking sheets. The boys brushed them with egg wash and sprinkled them with kosher salt.

I popped them in the oven for 6 minutes, turned the pans and switched racks after another 6 minutes, then baked them 2 more minutes until they were brown.

We could hardly wait to let them cool before tasting them. They were warm, dense and chewy. Dylan said they were as good as the frozen ones from a box (SuperPretzel). He meant it as a compliment. He dipped his first in honey-mustard, then in cinnamon-sugar, then in both. He finished every last bite.

Jamie covered his elephant pretzel with butter and cinnamon-sugar, but couldn’t eat the whole thing. I couldn’t finish mine either. They tasted good, but were too big and heavy for my tastes. I had hoped for a lighter texture.

The boys had fun and were happy with the results, so we’ll make them again. Next time, I’ll be sure the kitchen is warm enough to see if that helps the dough rise. I think we’ll divide the dough into more portions to make smaller pretzels or maybe even pretzel nuggets. And we’ll try them with cheese sauce, too.

Do you have any other suggestions for our next try? We’d love to hear from you.


{March 20, 2013}   Thrills and Chills

As I’ve mentioned before, I don’t like being cold, so I tend to shy away from outdoor winter activities. But this year, I’ve made an effort to warm up to them. I went kite-flying in January and did the Polar Plunge in February. A few weekends ago, our family went snow tubing with families from Dylan’s Cub Scout Pack at Sunburst Ski Area in West Bend, Wis. It was a blast!

The day was sunny but cold with temps in the low 20s when we arrived. After purchasing our tickets, we grabbed inner tubes from the supply at the base of the hill and joined the line for a ride on the “Magic Carpet,” a 540-foot conveyor belt that carries passengers and their tubes to the top of the hill.

We got in line with Dylan’s friend Liam and his family. While we waited, we watched skiers and snowboarders perform some impressive maneuvers on a nearby hill. The line moved quickly, so we were on the lift in a few minutes. The conveyor ride takes just a minute or two. Folks who don’t want to wait in line can simply walk up the hill alongside the conveyor, pulling their tubes behind them.

The main tubing area has 12 tubing chutes, each 900 feet long with a 10-story drop.  Dylan and Liam chose chutes next to each other so they could race each other down the hill. Not to be outdone, Liam’s mom, Marci, and I did the same. My tube spun as it picked up speed, so I had no control of the direction I was facing, sliding backward part of the time. Our race ended in a dead heat, but what an exhilarating ride! We couldn’t wait to do it again.

According to Sunburst’s website, snow tubers can reach speeds of more than 40 mph. I have no idea how fast we went, but with the frigid wind whipping in our faces, it felt mighty quick and mighty cold.

After a few times down the main runs, we moved to an area that has chutes that allow tubes or mini luges. Instead of a conveyor belt to move people up the hill, it has a tow rope with tubes fastened to it. To use it, a passenger must sit in a moving tube while holding on to the rope of a free tube. It takes some coordination to get in and out of the tube, but I managed to do it without incident, though not gracefully.

Unfortunately, Dylan was not so lucky and had trouble at the top of the hill. His boot got stuck in the tube when he tried to get out, and he lost a glove. The tow rope had to be stopped for a few minutes while his items were retrieved and returned to him. (A mishap like that is one reason I’m reluctant to down-hill ski; it’s unlikely I’ll be able to get on and off the ski lift without embarrassing myself.)

The incident didn’t deter him in the least. He and his friends first used tubes to slide down the chutes, then tried the mini luges. Those little contraptions looked much harder to control, and riders rarely seemed to complete a run without falling. Jamie, in particular, had a spectacular crash halfway down. But he popped right up and got in line to go again.

Despite being bundled up, Jamie had enough of the cold weather a short time later. Since my fingers and toes had been frozen for awhile, I was happy to head to the Tubing Cafe with him to warm up with some hot chocolate while Doug and Dylan continued tubing. They joined us half an hour later, tired and red-cheeked from the frosty fun.

The boys say they’d love to go back. I would, too. But maybe not until next winter.

Want to know more about my 47 and fearless project? Check out my first post.

{March 12, 2013}   Easy Fix Is Not So Easy

Mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s the fairest DIYer of them all? Not me. But there were a few moments when I thought I was in the running.

When we bought our house about 10 years ago, we completely redid the bathrooms. We put a basic mirror in the half-bath, and it was just fine for several years. But recently, some of the backing along the edges had started to deteriorate, leaving dark areas where the silvering is missing.

I shopped for a new mirror, but didn’t find anything the correct size that I really liked. I recalled a do-it-yourself project for bordering a mirror with tiles. I thought it would be an easy way to disguise the deterioration, and I could add “reclaim a damaged mirror” to my list of new things to try this year.

A quick internet search led me to several DIY blogs with similar tile projects.  One of the bloggers noted she used a glue gun to attach glass tiles to her mirror. I had a glue gun; I was half-way there.

I picked up two packages of glass tiles—some square, some rectangular—at Michael’s for about $7. That night, we removed the mirror from the wall and placed it on the kitchen island. Then I arranged the tiles around the edge of the mirror until I had a pattern I liked. It took maybe 30 minutes.

The next morning, I warmed up the glue gun and started attaching the tiles. It was easy, and I only burned myself once. The tiles felt welded on; I couldn’t even budge one when it looked a bit crooked.

I didn’t glue the tiles that would cover the clips that attach the mirror to the wall. When my husband came home from work, he ground away part of the back of those tiles so they would sit flush with the rest of the tiles when glued over the clips.

With those tiles in place, we put the “reclaimed” mirror back in place. I was pretty impressed with the results. I love the color the tiles add, and I have to look closely to notice the dark shadow barely visible through the tiles where the silvering is missing. My quick fix cost less than $10 and took less than 2 hours total. Success!

But my pleasure was short-lived. The next day,  I heard a clatter. A tile had popped off the mirror and landed in the sink. It was followed by a few more. At end of the week, I got out the glue gun and reattached a small collection of fallen tiles.

The blogger who had attached her tiles with a glue gun reported that her tiles were still in place a year later. I was not so lucky. As the days passed, I heard more clattering in the sink and had more tiles to reattach.

This time, I glued them with Loctite Go2 Glue, which is water resistant and dries clear. It doesn’t dry immediately, so I used painters’ masking tape to hold each tile in place while the glue dried. That seemed to work fine.

Here and there, the tiles I had originally attached with hot glue continued to fall off. I was getting tired of replacing them one by one, so I went through and wiggled every tile, removing any that seemed the least bit loose. I used Go2 Glue to attach a large number of tiles, then taped them in place to dry.

Despite the tape, some of the tiles slid out of place, so the border is not even. Plus, extra glue pooled on the tape at the bottom edge of some tiles, leaving a residue that I couldn’t remove by scraping or rubbing with a cloth soaked with nail polish remover.

In hindsight, it would’ve been better to remove the mirror from the wall and attach the tiles while the mirror was flat. I’ll know better next time.

Although my easy fix didn’t end up being so easy, I’m happy with the colorful, if imperfect, results. And I believe there may be more DIY projects in my future.

et cetera