3rd Annual Cookie Bake-Off, Spent Grain Version

We had our 3rd Annual Cookie Bake-Off recently. I dreamed up the competition in 2014 when my friend Nancy and her kids, Marco and Julia, came from Colorado to visit. We held our 2nd annual competition last year when we went to visit them in Colorado. Each time, I made a big batch of plain cookie dough and split it into equal parts for each contestant to enhance with the mix-ins of his or her choosing. After the cookies were baked, each did a presentation to the group, revealing the name of the creation and the ingredients that went into it. Then we voted anonymously, awarding each cookie a score between 1 to 10. The winner was the person with the highest score. In 2014, Julia won the inaugural event. In 2015, Nancy captured the win. 

Steve recently brewed up a batch of beer for a contest his homebrew club is having, which resulted in a large amount of spent grain. I've enjoyed experimenting with spent grain bread and spent grain vegan burgers but was ready to try something new... like cookies! I didn't know if spent grain cookies was a thing, so I turned to Google. Sure enough! I chose a promising recipe and gathered the ingredients.

I hadn't started out planning to do a cookie contest. We won't be seeing Nancy and the kids this summer, so I hadn't been thinking about the contest at all. But as I was making the dough, it occurred to me that it would be fun to divide up the dough and make different variations, comparing them with the recipe as written. Trevor's friend Landon was over, so I asked the boys if they wanted to do a cookie bake-off. Silly question - of course they did!

I made a double batch of cookie dough and split it into four equal parts. I made one part as written in the recipe (scaling down the mix-ins, of course). Then I gathered up everything in our pantry that a person could possibly think about adding to cookies. 

Trevor, Landon and I each chose our mix-ins privately. I baked up all four batches, keeping all variables the same. Each batch was scooped with the same scoop for consistency and baked on the same Silpat at the same temperature for the same length of time. Despite all that consistency, they came out completely different. Some were mounded and tall; others were completely flat. Some were moist and others were crisp. 

After the cookies cooled, I put them on a tray. 

From the left, Cookie A had butterscotch chips, chow mein noodles, and Grape Nuts. Cookie B had Christmas M&Ms mixed in and cinnamon sprinkled on top. Cookie C had ginger, cinnamon, allspice, pumpkin pie spice, chocolate chips, butterscotch chips, and white chocolate chips. Cookie D was the original recipe. Unlike our usual procedure, I did not let anyone know whose cookie was whose. The boys each recognized their own, of course, but they had no idea which was the original recipe and who made the others. I read the ingredients in each rather than having each baker present his or her own. 

Rather than have them rate each cookie on a 1-10 scale, I asked the judges (Trevor, Landon, Steve and me) to privately rank the cookies in order by their assigned letter. This eliminated the problems of weird fractional and decimal parts, as well as handling what would happen if one person gave their own a 10 and everyone else's a 1. 

I assigned 4, 3, 2 or 1 points to each cookie based on each person's rankings, then added the points. There was a clear winner: Trevor's Spicy Chocolate Cookies (Cookie C)! Congratulations!
Landon's M&M cookies (Cookie B) came in a very close second. My butterscotch, nut and chow mein noodle cookies (A) were third and the original recipe with coconut and nuts (D) came in a distant fourth. Fascinating! All four cookies were good. Which sounds the best to you?


Aggie Pride

This week, Trevor is doing a robotics day camp at UC Davis. Rather than waste time driving home and back while he's at camp, I'm hanging out in the library. In fact, I'm typing this on my laptop in what was the card catalog room when I was a student here. Things have certainly changed since I graduated 20+ years ago! 

I don't have too many opportunities to come to UCD anymore, but it's always a priority for us to return for Picnic Day. It's so much fun. 2015 was especially fun, because Steve's manager (Andy) was in town, visiting from England. It was really cool to introduce someone to UC Davis who had never been here before. 

Trevor was proud to show off "his" college as well. Fingers crossed that UCD will still be his choice in 7 years. It would be awesome to have a deRosier trio of proud Aggies.


Broccoli Potato Egg Boats

Have you gotten into the potato egg boat craze yet? I know they're not a new invention, but suddenly they're all over Pinterest and in every food magazine. Here's my version:

Broccoli Potato Egg Boats

                           3 large potatoes                              1 c. shredded cheese, divided
                           2 big handfuls of broccoli                 6 eggs
                           1/4 c. butter                                   1/2 c. diced ham
                           1/4 c. sour cream                            chives to garnish
                           1/2 tsp each salt and pepper

Wash and pierce potatoes. Microwave them for 8-10 minutes or until they are cooked through, turning once. Cut the potatoes in half lengthwise, then set them aside to cool. Chop some broccoli. Put it in a microwave-safe bowl with a little water, put plastic wrap on top, and microwave for 2 minutes. 

Preheat the oven to 375°. When the potatoes are cool enough to touch, scoop out the pulp, leaving a 1/4" edge. Mash the potato pulp with butter, sour cream, salt and pepper. Stir in steamed broccoli and 3/4 c. shredded cheese. Return this mixture to the hollowed-out shells, leaving a 3/4" deep cavern to hold the eggs. Build up the walls, forming it with your hands. 

Crack one egg into each potato half. Bake for 25 minutes. Sprinkle each potato with diced ham and remaining shredded cheese. Return to the oven for 2 minutes to melt cheese and heat ham. Garnish with chopped chives.

Note: This recipe is very, very flexible. Add more broccoli or take it out entirely. Use less butter and more sour cream, more butter and less sour cream, or replace them with something else (ranch dressing is yummy). Add more or less cheese. Swap bacon for ham or leave out the meat. You get the idea. 


Changing a Photo Background with PicMonkey

Every year on his birthday, Steve takes Trevor's portrait. Trevor holds a wooden number, drawn, cut and painted white by my dad. For ten years, I've been planning to create a collage of these birthday portraits. For ten years, I've been picturing it in mind. It would be awesome, except for one thing. Trevor is against a black background every year except when he turned three. For some reason, I let Steve photograph Trevor against a mottled gray background that year. I didn't realize it was a mistake until it was too late.

Here's the collage (created in under five minutes using PicMonkey), with empty spaces for a title and journaling.

I know some people would just live with the gray, but it bothers me way too much. It occurred to me that there might be a way to solve the problem with PicMonkey. I'm constantly learning new things I can do with it. Sure enough! I started by using PicMonkey's Design tab to make a solid black rectangle. I added it as an overlay, then erased the black to reveal the image of Trevor. Using different sizes of brushes, I cleaned up the edges. It's not perfect, but I am SO happy with how it came out!

Here's the before and after:

Check out how much better the collage looks with the uniform backgrounds! 

Believe it or not, everything I did is available with the free version of PicMonkey. But at only $33/year, my PicMonkey Royale membership has already paid for itself a thousand times over and I would happily pay it simply to support the free version. It's that awesome. PicMonkey offers a free trial 30-day of their Royale Membership. That's how I started, although it took only a day before I was ready to commit to the $33. I love PicMonkey!


Washi Tape Stickers

Check out what I made using washi tape!

The deRosiers have been having great fun making washi tape stickers recently. It all started when Trevor bought this book:

I'm a big fan of the Klutz books. They feature clear directions, large photos, and plenty of helpful tips. Each comes with pretty much everything you need to do the project. In this case, the book includes six rolls of washi tape, a pen, dozens of patterns, and the sticker backing paper. The only thing you need that it doesn't include is a pair of scissors. 

Here's a small sampling of what Trevor made independently the first day he got the book. Unfortunately, he put his stickers on the back of a word search he'd made, and the grid and word list show through on the scan. But it gives a good idea of the variety of stickers you can make the very first time you pick up the book.

Since that first day, Trevor has been putting his stickers onto cards, or leaving them on the backing paper and giving them away. Every time a friend or relative comes over, he pulls out the Washi Tape Stickers book. It's been a hit with everyone so far!

I highly recommend the Washi Tape Stickers book for the children, teens or adults in your life. The book is recommended for ages 8 and up, although younger children could make simple stickers with just a little bit of support. At less than $15, it makes a great birthday or Christmas gift. If you do purchase one, please consider clicking the image below. It won't cost you any more, but a small portion of your purchase will help support my blog. 

Thanks, and enjoy! I would love to see any washi tape stickers you make. It's addicting!


Interview with Angela Richards

I recently judged at a county fair, as I have almost every year for the past two decades. Overall, the quality of the entries was outstanding. There were glue gun strings on a few of the entries, but thankfully no fleas. The entrants made my job fun by forcing me to closely examine each piece to search for any flaws, any tiny details, that could mean the difference between first and second place.

As I said, I've been judging for many years. This year I did something I have never done before: I was so impressed with a project that I asked the Exhibits Coordinator to give my name and contact information to one of the entrants. Her project was so outstanding that I felt like it needed to be seen by a wider audience than those who attend the fair. Angela Richards has graciously agreed to be interviewed so that you can learn more about the artist behind that amazing project. Here's what she entered:

There is so much to love about this project! Not only is it beautifully designed, but the topic is so much fun. Angela did an excellent job of balancing all the elements. The journaling is outstanding and the whole thing is unlike any other scrapbook page I've ever seen. Here's a closer look at each side:

Cindy: Angela, thanks for agreeing to an interview! Tell us a little about yourself.... starting with your age.

Angela: Currently, I am seventeen. However, I’ll be 18 before summer's end.

Cindy: How long have you been scrapbooking and how did you get started?

Angela: I’ve been scrapbooking on and off for eight years. Usually I’ll get an idea and hope that I find the time to sit down and create. How did I get started? I don’t really have a definite answer. I guess it was just another creative thing for me to try.

Cindy: What inspired this project? Are you a stamp collector?

Angela: One of my favorite vacation destinations is Washington D.C. and my favorite activity is visiting museums. The newest Smithsonian, the National Postal Museum, was my inspiration for this project. I love how their galleries use stamps to tell United States and Global History. On my first visit there, I was delighted to find the William H. Gross Stamp Gallery. This exhibit allows visitors to look though trays of historic stamps and select a few to take home with them and is where I acquired my first historic stamps. Am I a stamp collector? No, not really. What you see on my layout represents most of my ‘collection'.

Cindy: How long did this project take to complete? Any particularly challenging parts?

Angela: From idea conception to final completion: about 3 months. From when I actually began work: 36 hours. It did present some challenges. The first was finding an effective method to anchor the stamps without damaging them. Eventually, I settled on using photo corners on two opposite corners of each stamp due to trial and error. Another challenge was how I wanted to tell the story. Originally, I thought about creating a poster, however a scrapbook layout seemed much safer for my stamps. My initial plan was to have a timeline from America’s discovery to present day but as with any project, it evolved as I worked.

Cindy: I'd love to see more of your work. Do you have a blog or a gallery where you upload projects?

Angela: Not yet. I’m hoping to get something together eventually...

Cindy: Let us know when you do! Are you primarily a paper crafter, or do you have other creative outlets?

Angela: Paper crafting is just one of many things that I do. Fiber arts (knitting, crochet, sewing, quilting, needlework), creative writing, cake decorating, and more are also in my creative repertoire.

Cindy: Angela, thank you so much for your time!


Urban Adventure Quest, Salt Lake City

Steve, Trevor and I just got back from a fabulous vacation to Salt Lake City. We packed in an incredible amount of sightseeing. We took a hop-on-hop-off tour to learn the lay of the land and to get an overview of everything Salt Lake City has to offer. We did two scavenger hunts inside the Capitol and checked out the beautiful grounds. We explored Temple Square and admired the amazing views from the LDS buildings outside the Square. We visited the Clark Planetarium and saw an IMAX movie there. And we ate at two of the highest Yelp-rated restaurants in town. And that was just the first day! Seriously. We are hard-core tourists.

On our remaining days, we toured Mrs. Cavanaugh's chocolate factory, went to the Great Salt Lake (we waded up to our knees), visited the Ft. Douglas Military Museum, explored 'This is the Place' State Heritage Park, did three of the five TaleBlazer Games at the gorgeous Red Butte Garden, went to the Bonneville Salt Flats, and ate at many more of Salt Lake City's fantastic restaurants.


We also did our second Urban Adventure Quest. And it was just as awesome as the first one we'd done in Sacramento. In the spirit of full disclosure, the owner of Urban Adventure Quest gave me a free code to use for this Quest after I'd paid for and blogged about our first experience back in March. I assure you that didn't influence my opinion of the Quest. I highly recommend it, whether you pay full price, use the coupon code for my readers, or get it for free! (Sorry, no link for that one.)

Just like in Sacramento, we made our way to the starting point of the Urban Adventure Quest (in this case, the Union Pacific Depot, an easy walk from our hotel). We read the first of 19 challenges, the timer started, and we were off!

Downtown Salt Lake City is very pedestrian-friendly. I love the LOOK, complete with eyeballs, painted in all the crosswalks.

With only three people on our team this time (and none wearing a knee brace or using a walking stick as a cane), we were optimistic that we'd have a great score and finish even higher than our decent Sacramento showing. But alas, we misread a clue early on ("Which one is NOT...") and made not one, but two, incorrect guesses on a question. Just like in the Amazing Race... #readyourclue. Sigh. Ten points off our score. But we were optimistic that we could complete the rest without a mistake. Onward! 

You might notice there aren't any other people in the photos I've shared so far. We started the Quest around 8:45 am on a Saturday. While it was a pleasant 75°F, it was also raining. We were the only ones standing out in the open, hunched over a cell phone, holding a hat over a notepad trying to solve puzzles. Whenever possible, we moved to an overhang to read and answer clues.

The Salt Lake City Quest takes you to from the Union Pacific Depot to Temple Square. 

From there you go to the State Capitol. It's a pretty short walk, but the walk to the Capitol is uphill all the way. Then once you get there, you're faced with a bunch of steps to climb! But it's well worth it. Utah has one of the most beautiful Capitol buildings I've ever seen.

The next stop was City Creek Park. We hadn't explored it at all during our previous days in Salt Lake City (we did the Urban Adventure Quest on our third day there), so we had to take some time check it out and pose by the "Human" paver.

The Quest finished up back at Temple Square. It was 2.5 miles total and we finished in 2:51:22. Other than our early mistake, we got all the questions correct, for a total of 590 points. Not bad! In fact, if you're curious to see where we fall on the all-time Leader Board, check it out here. We're deRosierFamily.

After exerting our muscles and brains for nearly 3 hours (while trying our best not to get soaked), we were more than ready for lunch. We'd heard great things about the Lion House Pantry. It's in the historic home of Brigham Young and features cafeteria-style homestyle cooking.

It was incredible. I had a turkey pot pie that was to die for. Steve had a beef and barley stew and Trevor had ribs. Each of our meals came with the Lion House's famous rolls. Oh my gosh. So delicious!

If you're local to Salt Lake City or will be traveling there, I highly recommend setting aside 3-4 hours to do the Urban Adventure Quest. If you're not going to be in Salt Lake City anytime soon, check out the other locations. There are 46 so far. We've got our eyes on several of the California ones, plus I'll definitely be doing the Phoenix one when I'm there for the CHA Mega Show in January!


The Longest Line, with Complementary Colors

Trevor brought home his art portfolio on the last day of school. Before he let me look at it, he wanted to teach me how to make a project he called 'The Longest Line, with Complementary Colors.' About 10 minutes later, I had this:

It turns out that Trevor and his classmates made a much more intricate version, so intricate that he didn't have enough time to finish the coloring in class.

I like the simplicity of mine, not to mention the reasonable amount of time it took to finish. Trevor thinks the detailed one is far better. After all, the project is called 'The Longest Line'... so it simply won't do to have such a short line. He offered to make a new version, stopping at each step so I could scan and share. 


The Longest Line, with Complementary Colors

Materials: paper, pencil, pen, ruler, colored pencils or markers

1. Use the pencil to draw one continuous line to fill up the paper. It should bend back and forth on itself, wiggling all over the place, but never crossing. Ultimately, it should meet back up at the starting point.

2. Use the pen and ruler to draw geometric shapes. There should be at least four shapes.

3. Color each shape using complementary colors (red/green, yellow/purple, blue/orange). Technically, the black/silver combination I used doesn't qualify, but Trevor said it was OK since my colored pencil set didn't have enough colors not to have to repeat one of the combinations.


Little Passports World Coin Collection

Back in April, I mentioned my plans to buy the Little Passports World Coin Collection for Trevor's birthday. That's exactly what I did. Well, almost. I didn't end up having to pay for it. 

I'd contacted Little Passports to ask whether it was OK to follow my own affiliate link to do the purchase. Basically, that would mean me paying full price but then receiving a referral payment, thus resulting in what amounts to be a discount for me. The wonderful people at Little Passports offered to send Trevor one for free and asked us to do an honest review. I accepted. I've been so impressed with the quality of everything from Little Passports and was confident we'd like the World Coin Collection. 

Our honest opinion: We love it, and not just because it was free. I would happily have paid full price for what we received. The World Coin Collection costs $19.95 and comes with everything you see here:

There are 20 uncirculated coins from around the world. Each is packaged in clear plastic with a label indicating its country and value. There is a 10-page activity booklet with fun coin-related activities and trivia. There is a magnifying glass and a handy storage pouch. 

After opening the package, Trevor jumped right in to get a closer look at his coins. He recognized the Canadian dime right away- there's one in his Travel Binder- but the other 19 weren't familiar to him. In fact, a few of the countries weren't familiar to him. We looked them up together.

Trevor spent the next hour inspecting all the coins and doing every page of the activity booklet. He really liked using the magnifying glass to determine which of the pictured coins were accurate and which were fakes.

As he continued to work with the magnifying glass, he noticed that when he held it far away, the images turned upside down. He scurried off to research why. Here's an excellent experiment and explanation.

This coin collection kept Trevor entertained for a long time, but more importantly, it led to him doing further research about geography and physics. He is excited to collect new coins when we travel to add to his collection. I highly recommend the Little Passports World Coin Collection!

Here's what Trevor (age 10) has to say about it:
I got a coin collection for my birthday from Little Passports. It includes 20 different coins from around the world. it also includes a booklet talking about the coins and has activities. Two of my favorite activities are the coin maze, and the coin facts are fun also. In the maze you have to answer questions to figure out what queen is on a certain coin. The facts ask you questions and you have to find the coin and answer them. It's a lot of fun. It is best for ages 6-12.
If I have any criticism of this collection, it's that the activity book could be longer. Trevor zipped through the activities and could have kept going and going! I might have to make up some challenges for him... or better yet, have him make up questions for me.


Olympics-Themed Thank You Card

What kind of thank-you notes do you send after an Olympics-themed party? These:


Olympics-Themed Thank You Card

Materials: white cardstock, paint (blue, black, red, yellow, green), cardboard tubes, pen

1. Dip a cardboard tube into black paint, then stamp it on the card. It should be centered near the top of the card. 

2. Stamp the blue ring to the left of the black, allowing a slight overlap.

3. Stamp the red ring to the right of the black, allowing the same slight overlap.

4. Stamp the yellow ring below the blue and black rings, allowing overlap.

5. Stamp the green ring below the black and red rings, allowing overlap.

6. Use the pen to add "Thank You!" to the card.


Olympics-Themed Party: Treat Cups

Trevor's Olympics-themed birthday cake had specific flavors of jelly bellies in certain areas and none in others. To ensure that everyone got the flavors that they wanted on their piece of cake, each child got a treat cup filled with jelly bellies. Of course, we kept with the Olympics theme.

To make our treat cups, we started with these awesome 'cubes' that we found at Party City. They have a huge selection of other fun shapes and sizes too. Because they are plastic, Sharpies write on them beautifully.

Trevor drew the five rings on each cup using regular Sharpies while I wrote the kids' names and 2016 using a fine-tip Sharpie.

We filled each with jelly bellies in the Olympic colors. 

This was such an easy project and added a lot to the Olympics theme. And, of course, the kids were all happy to have candies and a cute cup to take home.


Olympics-Themed Party: The Cake

Trevor and I worked together to design and make a cool Olympics-themed cake for his birthday party. 

Materials: 13" x 9" cake, white frosting, biscuit cutter, jelly bellies (2 oz. each of blueberry, blackberry, sour apple, sour lemon, and kiwi), giant pixie stick

Frost the cake. Use the biscuit cutter to mark perfect circles in the frosting. Start with a ring that is centered horizontally and slightly higher than center vertically. This will be the black ring. From there, add the remaining rings, playing attention to where the overlapped portions are.

Place the jelly bellies on the lines to form the rings. Trevor started by marking the intersections and then filling in around those.

Oooh, pretty!

Finally, lay the pixie stick to the left of the cake to make a flagpole. That's all there is to it! Here's the proud cake decorator with his creation.

A close-up of the rings:

Ten candles. I can hardly believe he's 10.

The cake was a hit. Tomorrow I'll share how we solved the issue of kids wanting specific pieces of cake in order to get the jelly bellies they preferred.