Thursday, February 28, 2008

TUMMY TIME and Homemade Saltwater Taffy Recipe

Just so you know, after typing the title to this post, Rachel swore at me.

If you are one of those CRAZZY people who checks both my and Rachel's blog, then you've already seen these pictures, but I just couldn't help but post them. We've been giving the little girl a little more "Tummy-Time" (man I love that phrase) lately. Here she is, showing the world how strong that stringy little neck really is.

Oh, and I wanted to mention: I've been working on home made taffy pulling. Tonight, Rach and I made watermelon taffies. It's strangely rewarding to make these little candies, and with a thermometer and a recipe, it's totally easy. Here's the taffy I made, and the recipe I use. (I want to try these again using 1 Teaspoon of glycerin in place of the butter.)

Quick note on temperature. The hardest part of making taffy is getting the temperature right. I've tried it before cooking the syrup to 255 degrees, and 260. Just those different temperatures result in dramatically different candies. I like 250 the best. It's soft and chewy like I think taffy should be. 260 ends up feeling like Now-and-Laters, and 255 is just a little too sticky in your mouth. 265 gets to the point where you can't even pull it. (I got blisters more than once trying to pull taffy that was cooked too hot because the candy is actually at soft crack stage. You want hardball stage.)

Because temperature is so important, you'll want to calibrate your thermometer.  It's easy, just boil some water, and stick your thermometer in the water.  It should read 212 degrees Fahrenheit (water's boiling point.)  If it reads 210, then you know your thermometer is 2 degrees colder than it should be, so you'll want to cook the syrup until your thermometer reads 252.  If it reads 217, then you know your thermometer is 5 degrees hotter than it should be, and you'll want to cook the syrup to 245.

Homemade Taffy Recipe
(I've seen a lot of recipes for taffy, but didn't know much about how to do the things the recipes tell you to do. "What does Pull mean?" So I had to figure it all out by trial and error. If you've never made taffy before, hopefully this will make it easier for you.)

2 Cups granulated sugar
1 Cup light corn syrup
2 Tablespoons corn starch
1 Teaspoon salt
2 Tablespoons vinegar
2 Tablespoons butter
3/4 Cup water

  1. Stir together sugar, corn starch and salt. - If you mix these in a bowl first, you can pour them over top of the liquids, which means you'll have to stir less.
  2. Pour water, corn syrup, butter and vinegar into pan. - No need to stir just yet.
  3. Add Sugar mixture - By pouring the sugar on top of the liquid, instead of the liquid on top of the sugar, you won't have to stir as much while the syrup cooks, and you'll reduce the chance of burning the mixture and of recrystalizing the sugars.
  4. Cook over medium-high heat until candy thermometer reads 250F - Two things here: First, stir gently only until the sugar is dissolved, and then don't stir any more. Be sure to stir carefully, you don't want the sugar crystals getting on the edges of the pan because if one crystal fell into the syrup, it could start a chain reaction crystallizing the syrup. There are two different sugars in this syrup, glucose and fructose, if you stir too much, or if a crystal falls in after the water boils off those two sugars can crystallize into sucrose, which is granulated. Secondly, be sure to take the candy off the burner when the thermometer is a bit below 250. The temperature will raise to the correct temperature while they syrup is off the burner.
  5. Pour syrup out onto buttered cookie sheet, let stand fifteen to twenty minutes. - If you have a flexible nylon baking pad, it is really nice for this part. If not, a cookie sheet works just as well. Either way, you'll want something with edges to make sure the syrup doesn't go on the counter. You can add the coloring and flavoring whenever you want as long as the syrup is no longer boiling. If you add the flavoring while the syrup is boiling, the flavoring will boil off and the candy will have little to no flavor. I like to add the flavoring and coloring after the candy has cooled because it allows me to separate the taffy into different parts if I want to make more than one flavor at a time.
  6. When cool, knead taffy together to remove from cookie sheet. - I've seen people use a pastry knife to get the taffy off the cookie sheet, but you can just use your hands if you let the candy cool long enough. If it sticks to the pan at all, let it sit for five more minutes, if the cookie sheet has even a little bit of butter on it, the taffy won't stick. Oh, you'll want to butter your hands a little bit to keep the taffy from sticking to your hands. Oh, and you don't want to put it in the fridge or freezer to speed up cooling time... it doesn't work. I don't know why, it just results candy that snaps apart when you try to pull it.
  7. Push small well into taffy and add coloring and flavoring. - I use Lorann Oils found at a grocery store nearby. It's $1 per dram, and I use a dram for this recipe. A dram is a small bottle.
  8. Pull taffy for ten to fifteen minutes. - Pulling taffy is the best part. It's a bit tricky at first, but halfway into your first time, it should get easier. The trick is to actually pull the candy. Grab taffy in the middle with both hands. Twist while you pull your hands apart. At first, you'll pull your hands about four or five inches away from each other before the taffy in between gets really thin. Then, fold the candy on itself, twist and pull again. As you continue pulling the taffy will get thicker, more like rope. At first, it will be stringy and you'll feel like the candy isn't coming together. Just keep going, the candy will get a little more tacky and start to come together. It will go from stringy and dull to a smooth shiny rope. When the color is pale, and the candy feels soft, you're doing good. You can't over-pull taffy so don't worry about over doing it. You can under-pull taffy though, so when in doubt, keep going.
  9. Roll out into long snake - This is the part where your kindergarten Play Dough snake making skills come in handy.
  10. Cut with Pizza cutter or scizzors and wrap in waxed paper. - Candy will stay for a long time. If you use butter, it will go rancid eventually. That's why I want to try glycerine instead of butter next time. With glycerine instead it should be pretty much unperishable.
One note: For these candies, after the syrup cooled, I poured the watermelon flavoring into the whole taffy batch and pulled it to mix the flavoring in. Then I separated the taffy into two parts and colored one of them green and one of them red. I then rolled the red into a log and flattened the green into a strip. I draped the green over the red, and cut small slices.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Jane Austen

For a long time, I have had a deep respect for Mark Twain because of the following quote ascribed to him:
"The only good thing about a library with no books in it, is that there are no books by Jane Austen in it."
I love that quote and have used it more times than any other quote I know.

So, I was shocked to find that he never said it. His exact quote was in fact:

"Jane Austen's books...are absent from this library. Just that one omission alone would make a fairly good library out of a library that hadn't a book in it."

Shame. The first version sounds so much better.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Another Norah Video

I know this isn't exciting to anyone that isn't my family... but if you're family, you might like this video I took of Norah. I taped the camera to the swing...

Shortly after this video, she got up, walked to the kitchen and did a math problem. And then wrote a book. But I had the camera taped to the swing, so I have no evidence of that.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Clinton Blog Vs. Obama Blog

So, I went onto Barack Obama's campaign site today, and left a comment on his blog. I was interested to see that the entry was posted at 12:00 and by 2:00 there were over 500 comments on the entry. I went over to Hillary's site and saw a post that was published at the same time, with only 25 comments. I was intrigued, because one of the comments on Hillary's blog discussed how Hillary has the momentum. So, I commented on Hillary's blog that according to blog posts, Barack has the momentum.

Here's the interesting thing: The comment I wrote on Hillary's blog was something like "This post has 25 responses. A post on Obama's site published at roughly the same time, already has over 500 responses. I know Hillary is saying we have the edge, but it doesn't look like it when you look at the blogs." Not a terribly mean spirited statement, not really even offensive at all. But it wasn't published. Hillary's people won't let the comment go on the site.

I wondered what Barack might do with a mean spirited comment. So I went to his site, and entered the following comment, just to see: "It doesn't matter. Hillary's going to win the nomination any way." Definitely more mean spirited than what I put on Hillary's site. And you know what? The comment I put on Obama's blog is still there.

Interesting. Clinton is censuring her own blog posts! She won't let people say mean things about her on her own site. She certainly has the right to do it, but I find it interesting that she chooses to exercise that right, and Obama does not.

You can give it a shot if you like... it's kinda fun. It's like watching Hillary squirm. (But not really.)

Monday, February 04, 2008

New Norah Pictures

We uploaded a bunch of new pictures of Norah on her Flickr album.  Click on her link on the right to see the whole album.  If you have seen a lot of the pictures already, you can just click on the newest ones, and scroll on from there.


Sunday, February 03, 2008

The Napoleon Complex

Image from Wikipedia

Main Entry: Napoleon complex
Part of Speech: n
Definition: the condition of being small in stature but aggressively ambitious and seeking absolute control

So, there was a superbowl ad starring Napoleon, playing off of his short stature. In the commercial Napoleon was so short that instead of having a powerful war horse, he had a tiny pretty pony. Because I'm a geek, I instantly wondered how tall he really was. So, I looked it up.

Apparently his height was recorded as 5' 2". But, that measurement was according to 1800 French measurements, which are different from the modern English measurement. Napoleon's body was autopsied by our current measure, Napoleon was actually 5' 6". So, if he were alive today, he would have been of very average height. Not only that, but in France in the 1800's 5'6" was a bit above average! Napoleon, was actually kinda tall...

So, it seems, Napoleon could never have had a Napoleon Complex. Interesting...