Why Can’t I Seem To Cook Chinese Food? Part one

Question time! Today’s question:

Why don’t my Chinese food recipes ever taste like they do in the restaurant? The meat is always too dry, and the spices are always a little off.

Ah, this is a good one, and the issues should be easily traceable. We’ll start with:

Problem One: The Meat

Your beef is probably turning out better than your pork, especially ground pork, am I right? I’ll bet most of your issues revolve around pork dishes. I partly blame the failure of the US consumers to properly learn their meat cuts (hint: “Angus” isn’t a part), but abheavy dose also belongs to recipes that fail to specify a particular cut of pork.

Because there are a lot of pork parts, and Chinese, (like the french), love them some piggo. Fun fact: the pictogram for “family/house” in Chinese is a roof over… a pig.

China Daily USA: Why there’s a pig in it

Meat, part one: Fat Content

Anyhow. Let’s say you find a recipe that asks for ground pork. You pick up a package from the grocery that says “ground pork” but the problem is, unlike the beeves, there isn’t any fat content listed. Heck, you don’t even know what scraps they used to make this batch. Was it loin (totally lean)? Or shoulder (lots of connective tissue)? Or ham, or belly (sooo much fat)? That package could be lots of fat, or virtually none. And what you need is lots of fat.

Unfortunately, most packages will be lean scraps, and so when you cook with it, what little fat there is will run out with the juices and leave you with a dry, mealy-tasting mixture.

The Fix

I’ve done one of two things, both of which seem to work well. If you’re making a recipe where the pork is not cased, add ground pork belly. That’s bacon, for the uninformed. I have a meat grinder attachment so I can grind at will, but for those of you not so fortunate, just ask the butcher at your meat counter to do it for you. Those guys do all kinds of stuff, even debone a shoulder and cube it for you. I love them.

I would add at least 2 oz belly for every 8 oz unidentified ground. Mix and use.

For recipes where the pork will be encased (think wontons, etc), you can massage in extra bacon fat saved from baking your morning breakfast batch. About 2 Tbs per 8 oz ground will suffice.

Next time, Meat, Part two: The Cuts.

Posted by on October 11th, 2018

Moon Cakes 2018

Every year, a pastry tidal wave of moon cakes rolls in. They arrive in stamped tin boxes, elaborately wrapped bakery trays, simple cellophane wrappers. They are huge (six inches across, three inches high, with a chiseled golden pastry crust), modest (flaky pastry crust, bite-sized puck), or just plain exotic (squishy, or depicting exposed buttocks).

Serious Eats

It’s like a warm up for New Year’s celebrations: gather the family, eat until bursting, and pass around questionable desserts. We’ve had thousands of years to work this out.

Wooden moon cake molds

Wooden moon cake molds

This year, I have decided to try making my own moon cakes. Mom gave me two beautiful wooden molds a few years ago, but the project stalled due to a pack of time and has languishing in mothball land ever since.

Until now.

Earlier this year I attempted zhong zi, with encouraging results. And if I can survive Chinese tamales, then surely I can manage finicky baked goods? Right. Here goes.

Posted by on September 25th, 2018

Credit History: Getting High School Credit for your Homeschool Work

Many homeschool parents wonder in the back of their minds: just how long can I do this? How far can I take my student? Naturally, high school is often a sticking point.

I’ve heard from other parents, “I can teach through middle school but after that, they’re going to high school.” Many are intimidated by their own memories of high school math and sciences, while others worry about the scope and rigor of the humanities.

We’re fortunate to live in an area where there are many good options for grades 9-12, so transitioning from home school to high school is not an uncommon choice.

In Maryland, the state does not award diplomas to home school students at graduation. Credits needed to earn a diploma are only granted by state-accredited institutions – the state won’t grant a diploma based on your home school portfolio review.

However, if you choose to enroll your student in public school during their high school years, your still may be granted credit for their home school work. Here’s how the general process works in my county:

Credit is determined by subject. Assemble your portfolio materials and bring it to your school, usually to your student’s academic/guidance counselor. The review seems to generally be conducted by the head of that academic department. Under state law, the school can include tests, exams, or interviews with the student to determine placement or credit.

Upon application of a child for admission to a public school from a home instruction program,the local superintendent shall determine by an evaluation the placement of the child and anycredits to be awarded toward high school graduation. The evaluation may includeadministration of standardized tests and examinations and interviews with the child.

Maryland COMAR 13A.10.01.04 I recently went through this with my school, and the results were varied. Math was the easiest, we were granted credit immediately.  English took a little longer but credit was granted there, as well. We’re working through the process with biology, and I’ll keep you updated on how that goes.

Why go through all the trouble? Because you need a certain number of credits, per subject, to graduate. If you don’t try to claim your home school work for credit, you either have to enroll in summer school, or else take academic classes where you would otherwise have taken electives. 

Next time: looking at portfolio assembly for math.

Posted by on September 4th, 2018

Lip Balm Quest

Related image

The lip balm conundrum: we pay$4 for a tube that contains a fraction of an ounce of mostly beeswax, which is supposed to keep our lips hydrated and supple (the two most overused words in the lip-related beauty industry), and then you end up with chapped lips. After using the product.

What the hell is that, beauty industry?

We’re not talking about the sweetened, candy-flavored stuff. The flavoring agents in those products make you lick your lips more often, which in turn leads to the chapping. No mystery there.

Image result for chicken poop lip balm

No, I’m talking about stuff like Burt’s Bees, which is markets itself as a natural, earth-hugging, love your body kind of formula. I’ve tried their product multiple times over the last ten years and always thought the problem was me. I have excema to begin with, but then why do my lips start peeling in teeny strips when I start putting on lip balm? Was I not applying it enough? Was I using it wrong? This is all natural, no wacky petro-chemicals, right? So of course the product isn’t the problem…  right?

It turns out, my genius child informs me, that some lip balm ingredients that are supposed to enrich the formula will actually dry out your lips. So, now I need to start tracking my lip balms so I don’t beat my head against the proverbial wall, because unless I start making my own again, this is going to add up.


The current go-to: Simone Chickenbone’s Chicken Poop. I picked up a tube because I thought it was funny but, to my delight, it is far and away the best lip balm I’ve tried yet. I buy two or three at a time and leave them all over the place because that’s how often I used lip balm: one on the night stand, one in the purse, one in my winter coat, you name it.

Image result for chapstick day and night

Chapstick Hydration Lock: people will howl at this one, but this is a double-ended tube with “day” and “night” formulas, and the night formula was fan-tas-tic. And now, of course, I can’t find the product. 



Image result for burts bees

Burt’s Bees: I came back to this product over and over again, trying their various flavors and styles. I’m pretty religious about using lip balm because I chap pretty easily, and without fail, after two or three days, my lips would start peeling. I hear Burt’s use of peppermint oil may be the culprit, but all I can say is that it’s a no-go for me.

Image result for carmex

Carmex: I used this when I was younger. Gave it up because I was no longer keen on the hygenic repercussions of applying lip balm with my fingers.

Image result for chicken poop la chick

La Chick Poo Poo Glace: This is the tinted lip balm from Simone Chickenbone. I picked up the three-pack (three colors) in the hopes that it would be a nicely tinted version of the regular stuff but, alas, it is not so. I found the formula much softer than the original, and a bit more drying. The colors are nice, but the balm doesn’t work for me.

Elsen Grapefruit: Picked it up at a natural foods store. Went on silky (actually, a little too slippery for me), but seemed to be doing okay. And now I’m chapping. As much as I would like to support a local business, I’m going to have to move on.

Posted by on July 26th, 2018

FIVE Free Practice Maryland MVA Driver’s Tests

Remember going for your driver’s license? I don’t know about you, but I figured the road test would be a piece of cake. It was the written test that scared me. 

Guess what, Maryland people: you can take the practice written test for free, courtesy of your public library. In fact, the driving test site provides *five* free practice tests. And a test on signs. And signs and situations. Grab your library card and GO PRACTICE RIGHT NOW.

Link: https://montgomerymd.driving-tests.org/maryland/

Posted by on June 2nd, 2018

Math Mondays from Makezine


Link: https://makezine.com/tag/MathMonday/

I recently discovered Math Mondays from Makezine, which combines two things I think are required to make a great learning experience: hands on, with a practical application. Try making Escher’s famous Relativity from a single sheet of paper – go ahead, it really works!

Posted by on May 31st, 2018

Brain the Size of an Apricot

Me: “It’s time to go, now COME.”
Kid: “Mom, how come you’re giving me commands like I’m the dog?”
Me: “Because I’m operating under the assumption that if an animal with a brain the size of an apricot can follow these directions, surely you can, too.”

Posted by on May 24th, 2018

Build A Cell game!

Hey, check this out!

Build-A-Cell from Spongelab.

Posted by on February 24th, 2018

RSO Biology: Model of a Cell

3D model of an animal cell

3D model of an animal cell

Objective: Make a 3D model of a cell
Constraints: 10 kids, 30 minutes of class time

Got it.

The original project required Sculpey, which you have to bake. I found a great alternative: Plastalina, an oil-based modeling clay. No baking required, and it doesn’t dry out.  A multi-color pack is super cheap, I got mine from Michaels.

Ping Pong ball
small fishbowl
1 multi-color pack of plastalina
clear polymer “gems” from the floral section

  1. Hydrate the polymer gems. I dumped mine in a gallon ziploc bag with a couple of cups of water and let it go overnight. My package was probably only 2 teaspoons of crystals before hydrating. It takes a couple of hours before they reach full size, so I suggest doing this in advance. When they’re ready, put the polymers in the fishbowl but don’t put additional water in yet. This is your cytoplasm.
  2. Take your ping pong ball and cut out a wedge-shaped piece. Basically, turn him into Pac-man (mouth WIIIIDE open). This is your nuclear membrane, so you need a cutaway opening big enough to show the DNA inside.
  3. A note about plastalina: it’s pretty stiff when you open the package, but if you knead it for a while it becomes pliable. It also will roll really, really, thin, so don’t be afraid to spread it out. If you keep it too thick, your pieces will be too heavy. THAT BEING SAID: knead some blue plastalina and then cover the exterior of your ping pong ball with a thin layer.
  4. Using your RSO guide, start making the various organelles. An excellent illustration guide can be found here: Blausen Medical Guide. Repeat this chant: “The mitochondria are the powerhouse of the cell.” (It comes up again later. A lot.)
  5. When all your cell bodies are made, start suspending them in your fishbowl. A chopstick or the handle of a paintbrush is very handy here, to help position everything where you want it. Those free ribosomes can be sneaky!
  6. Once you have everything positioned the way you want, start adding water to the fishbowl. When you’re done, it should look like your cell bodies are all suspended in cytoplasm. Cover the bowl with cling wrap and enjoy!

Advance prep for a coop group: gather your materials and hydrate the gems overnight.

Posted by on February 24th, 2018

Mutant Bunnies

Posted by on February 12th, 2018