Geekamama


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Cupid says hi

We made valentines for Kiddo’s class last week. I did some whirlwind shopping on Monday evening, grabbed a few things I already had on hand, and with Kiddo’s help, constructed a dozen valentines for his friends. I was worried that I was going to be That Mom who goes nuts with the DIY crafting. But when we picked up Kiddo and his haul after daycare the next evening, it turned out we weren’t alone in this endeavor.

At any rate, it was a fun family activity for us to do together. We had a hard time keeping on track and needed to take a couple goldfish breaks, and we didn’t finish the insides until after dinner. But I think we all had a good time. I need to find things like this to do more often!

I glued big red hearts onto some blank cards that I had on hand, and then let Kiddo go to town with the heart stickers that I’d gotten on my way home.A couple ended up on his father’s card as well. Then I wrote a greeting on the inside and Kiddo “signed” the cards with a scribble or two.

He had a little trouble getting the stickers off the sheet, so his dad and I took turns helping out.

Peeling stickers off the sheet

We let Kiddo pick out which ones to use next.

Stickering is serious business.

Placing stickers on the cards

The finished product.

We hope your Valentine’s Day was a good one!

Love, Kiddo and family

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On pins and egos

Well, I’ve done it. I’ve finally gotten myself sucked into Pinterest.

I’ve known about it for a couple of years now because one of my online friends was one of the very early beta users for it. She told some of us about it, I took a look, but wasn’t convinced. It seemed like it could be great for designers, or event planners, or anyone whose job and/or interests spent a lot of time focusing on visuals. Browse around the web and save images of stuff you like? I didn’t see the appeal.

Pinterest aims to connect people through the things and images they find interesting — that’s their mission statement, loosely paraphrased. When an image on the web catches your interest, you can “pin” it to a board – think of the virtual version of tearing out pictures from magazines and pinning them to a corkboard. You can have multiple boards, grouping your pins into different areas. As you pin images, they’re immediately visible to other users, who can then repin them to their own boards. Each pin includes a link back to the site of the original image, so if you pin an image from someone’s blog, you’ll have an easy way to get back to that blog post later.

Now, since the site is driven by the idea of using images found anywhere, without necessarily obtaining permission from the owner, there are some copyright tangles the company is currently working on untangling. Someone who makes a living creating unique images likely wouldn’t appreciate a casual visitor distributing them without permission. Pinterest does provide a browser add-in that automatically links a pin’s image back to the source site, but the site doesn’t provide any way to set security on your pins. Anything you pin is immediately available to the rest of the world, regardless of whether the original image wasn’t publicly available.

I can understand and sympathize with the people and companies claiming it’s copyright infringement. On the other hand, my own stance on publishing content to the Internet is that once you let it out there, it’s out of your hands and into the wild. If I write something on this blog or post it to Twitter, I must assume that anyone in the world can–and could well be–reading it. That includes family, friends, employers, and whoever it is that you’re writing snarky notes about. Even if a web site is configured to prevent people from right-click-copying an image, or a Facebook status is privatized to a select group of people, a really determined person can simply take a screen shot.

But I digress. Pinterest. I resisted, until last week. A different online friend posted a picture of a cake resembling a basket of M&Ms, and mentioned that it was from one of her husband’s Pinterest boards. That was the tipping point; while it’s no secret that the site’s primary user base is women, there had to be something to it if both my friend and her husband were on it.

I’ll just take a look, I thought. And then, I’ll set up an account, but just to follow other people I know. I’m not going to actually use it.

(People who’ve known me for a couple years may recognize this particular thought process.)

Username? That’s an easy decision, and besides, I wouldn’t want anyone else taking this one. And what the heck, I might as well throw some content up there, just for the heck of it…

And HERE is where Pinterest really sucked me in. Because as soon as I’d pinned a handful of images, mostly books and kid-related items, people started repinning them. Within that first hour, I got 24 repins. Do you know how long it took me to get 24 comments on this blog? Or 24 retweets on Twitter? Weeks and weeks. But on Pinterest, I got immediate validation that people liked me! They really liked me! (My pins, anyway.) I was hooked.

Prospective social media sites, take note, because I doubt I’m the only person who reacted like that. Everyone wants to be liked by others. Make your site members feel like they’re immediately popular, and they’ll come back again and again to get that ego boost.

And speaking of ego boosts, my own boards are here. Just in case you’re curious… or want to help feed my ego. 😉


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Birthday treats!

Penuche is a brown sugar fudge-type candy. It’s got no chocolate, but the finished texture is similar to traditional fudge, and the cooking process is basically identical once you get past combining the ingredients. From what I can dig up online, it’s primarily Hispanic in origin, although Wikipedia claims that it was once very popular in Hawaii. It’s still pretty well-known in the southern parts of the U.S.A., although less common elsewhere. I’d never heard it pronounced (and thus was mispronouncing it pa-noosh instead of pe-noo-chi) but I think I’d read about it somewhere or other… probably in cookbooks from previous generations.

Since I was feeling both creative and generous, I decided to bring treats to share with the class my co-workers for my birthday. Technically it was the day before my birthday, but I didn’t expect many people to be in the office on a Saturday.

One of my cookbooks has a recipe for a chocolate chip cookie dough fudge that’s based on penuche. The recipe looks fantastic and I can’t wait to make it; the only problem is that it calls for a stand mixer and ours is out of commission. I considered using a hand mixer but after reading the steps, I realized why the brute strength of a stand mixer is needed. Since I couldn’t make that recipe, I fiddled around and came up with a variation that I hoped would suggest chocolate chip cookies. My plan was to make a cookie-crumb crust along the lines of a graham cracker crust, then pour the penuche over that to set up, and top it off with miniature chocolate chips. It didn’t turn out quite how I’d envisioned it, but it was close, and got positive reviews from my officemates, family and friends.

For the crust, I used Alton Brown’s recipe for The Thin chocolate chip cookie. I wanted something that was more on the crispy side, so that it would crumble up more easily. I left the chips out because I didn’t want to pick them out of the crumbs later. This resulted in some rather naked-looking cookies.

I baked the cookies the night before I made the rest of the components, so that they’d have time to cool and get crunchy.

The penuche recipe I used is basically the one from The Joy of Cooking, except I replaced half the brown sugar with white sugar, and I increased the recipe by 50 percent.

One of the best cooking habits I’ve gotten into (not just for candy but pretty much everything) is to gather and prep everything, and even measure out ingredients ahead of time before I even turn on the stove. Soooo much easier to have that right at hand mid-recipe, rather than trying to chop or measure while also keeping track of what’s going on elsewhere.

And now, get to cookin’! Combine the ingredients (other than the vanilla and butter which go in later), cook without stirring up to 238 F, then remove from heat, float the butter and vanilla on top, and let it cool — again, without stirring — to 110.

Meanwhile, my Chief Taste Tester and Personal Brute Squad was tasked with crushing the cookies. That champagne bottle next to the stove top is what I’d been trying to crush them with, until my CTTPBS stepped up to the plate… er, counter.

My base crust was just cookie crumbs and butter, combined and then pressed down flat in a 9×13 pan. I used the time while the penuche was cooling to get the crust ready. In retrospect, I should have gone with a thinner layer of crumbs, and possibly found something other than just butter to use as a binder for the crust. Because– well, you’ll see soon enough.

Once the penuche had set up for about an hour, I sprinkled chocolate chips over the top. I think I should have done it a little sooner, because the top was already firm enough that the chips didn’t really stick. And next time I’ll be more generous with the chips as well. Next time, wall-to-wall chips!

The following morning, I attempted to cut out little circles with my new biscuit cutters. The idea was that they’d look like cute little round cookie bites. The upper two-thirds of the team went along with this plan quite nicely, but the cookie crust crumbled.

I was bummed, to put it mildly. I almost gave up on taking them to work. After some grumbling and muttering, I fell back to my second plan, which was to cut squares rather than circles. That worked better.

And off to work I went, and made many new friends.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, I had these leftover naked cookies to deal with. They tasted fine without the chips so I could have just left them as they were, but I had a bunch of mini chips left over as well. So I melted the chips and channeled my inner Jackson Pollack. (Do you know how hard it is to take pictures with one hand while drizzling chocolate with the other? I do.)

So, lessons learned (because engineers habitually do post-release analyses, even when off the clock).

  • Making test batches is a good idea and they let your spouse take goodies in to the office too. (This is what led me to adjusting the JoC recipe.)
  • Test out as many components as possible before bringing them all together. If I’d tried a proof-of-concept crust with just one or two cookies, I might have known how to adjust it to make it work the way I wanted.
  • Don’t tell people how something was “supposed to” turn out. Let them enjoy it as-is (because they will), and pretend you meant to do that.

Changes for next time:

  • Much thinner cookie crust
  • More chocolate chips
  • Experiment with penuche recipes to find one with a creamier end result. Mine ended up more on the grainy side, which was still very tasty although not quite what I’d intended.