Archive for Uncategorized

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

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.


Posted by on June 2nd, 2018

Math Mondays from Makezine



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

Mutant Bunnies

Posted by on February 12th, 2018

Curriculum for Health, PreK-12

Health is one of those vague areas that is both broad and awkward. And how do you decide what to cover? Is health stuff like “brush your teeth and don’t eat what you find on the sidewalk”? Or is it “here’s how the heart works”? So many choices. I think it’s a good idea to get a good spine going, and then customize it to how it fits your family. Better to customize your faith component than have someone else tell you how to do it, I feel. But I’m weird that way.

A free, complete health curriculum – all the way to high school.

Posted by on April 5th, 2017

Cooking school for kids: Onions and garlic

This week: French Onion Soup and Cheesy Garlic Bread

So I started looking for a curriculum framework for this cooking class. I decided I’d stick with going through foodstuffs, starting with the fundamentals and then moving into other combinations and exotics further down the line. I reasoned that they’d have to pick up fundamental physical skills so they might as well get a little schooling in fundamental flavors at the same time.

What’s more fundamental than garlic and onions? Nothing. Unless you’re a devout Buddhist, in which case my class has very little to offer you, because we’re also doing meat. Sorry.


As a sack of onions was a whopping $.59, it was an easy choice for chopping practice: uneven shape (so they have to figure out how to stabilize), slicing practice (regular cuts), and using the whole produce item (chop everything up, even the strangely-shaped bits). But then, the obvious question: what do you do with a mountain of onions?

Caramelize them, that’s what. Melt the butter, toss the onions to coat, salt them a bit, and cover to sweat. Leave them to soften about 10 minutes. Uncover, and stir every 5-10 minutes. The moisture will help you scrape the fond off the bottom which will, in turn, add color to the onions. They should be golden brown by about the 40 minute mark. Try one – if you like how they taste at this point, you’re done! If you want them darker, keep stirring every 5 minutes or so until you get them the way you like.

At this point, you can either put them away, or start turning them into soup.

Option A: Freeze in 1/4 cup portions. Keeps for a long time in the freezer.
Option B: Heat up 8 cups of stock. Get out some flour, and stir it into the onions. Cook for a minute or two, and start ladling in the stock. Once the two are combined, let simmer for 15-20 minutes.

Posted by on March 10th, 2017

Avast, the briny sea

Grilling boneless chicken breasts , Rule 7: ALWAYS brine them first.

Not even negotiating on this one. Brine, brine brine. The end.

1/4 C coarse salt

1/4 C sugar (brown preferred but white will work)

1/2 tsp black peppercorns (20 by count if you have to ask)

2 bay leaves (I won’t hold you to it; I typically toss in 3)

1 C hot water

3 C cold water

1 lemon, sliced thin

1 sm onion, sliced thin

2 cloves garlic, mashed

About 8 breasts chicken


Combine in a large bowl: salt, sugar, peppercorns, bay leaves. Add hot water and stir until crystals are dissolved. Add cold water, mixture should come to about room temperature. Add chicken, then top with lemon, onion and garlic. Cover and refrigerate for 2-4 hours. 

Posted by on September 30th, 2016


February sucks. (Which is why it’s particularly nice that it’s now March.)

Why? Because as far as the school year goes, it’s Hump Month. (Stop Thinking That Right Now, You.) Seriously: you’ve survived the onslaught of the holidays, with that 3-day weekend blip for MLK. Once you’re past Valentine’s and Presidents, what’s left?

A whole lot of Are We There Yet? until spring break kicks in, that’s what.

No wonder more people want to quit homeschooling in February than any other month. (Okay, I don’t know that for a fact. But if the homeschool message boards are any indicator, the number of posted topics that read “I WANT TO QUIT” sure seem to spike around 2/18.)

What do you do?

Take a break. Flexibility is one of the main reasons we started homeschooling in the first place. We did school lite over the summer precisely so we could drop everything and say to hell with school for three days in the middle of the “regular” school year and not feel guilty about it.

Revisit your plan. Maybe the reason your kids say school is boring is because, well, school is boring. It’s easy to get stuck in a rut – drop the curriculum blinders and look around. Maybe it’s time to shake things up a little.

Get them out of the house for a while. Yes, I know going out while the weather’s crappy is a pain. But it’s a change of scenery, leaving the house if half the fun, and your kids get a nice dose of vitamin D from the UV rays. See? Now it’s a health lesson.

Chin up. Spring break is coming!

Posted by on March 9th, 2010