Double Chocolate Macarons

Three of my kids have birthdays in May. This makes May a very, very busy month. It also isn’t very good for our health! I guess you could say that May is like our second Christmas with all the birthday cake and sweets I end up making!

This year, I changed up our usual birthday happenings. On each boy’s actual birthday, I made them the flavor of birthday cake they wanted. Ian picked a giant chocolate chip cookie with chocolate frosting. Corran picked a red velvet cake with cream cheese frosting. Thias picked a chocolate cake with caramel frosting. I won’t be posting pictures of these cakes because I am an awful cake decorator! One of my future goals is to learn how to decorate cakes properly. Also, Corran’s red velvet cake ended up being more like a brown velvet cake. I also had multiple things go wrong with each cake! Oh well, it ended up being very good practice for me, but they don’t make for very good blog posts unfortunately. At least, the cakes tasted good, even if they didn’t look like much!

For the boys’ combined family birthday party, I asked them which dessert they wanted me to make, instead of a birthday cake. Yesterday, we had their party. So this past week has been a little bit crazy!

Corran wanted a chocolate cream tart, which was pretty straightforward. Ian wanted Minecraft cookies, which ended up being pie crust Minecraft cookies instead of sugar cookie Minecraft cookies.  Thias wanted his very favorite dessert: macarons! Specifically, double chocolate macarons. He has been asking me to make these for a few months. So for his birthday party, I was finally able to make them.

With this kitchen experiment, I produced my first macaron fail! I should have just stuck with my usual macaron recipe that I know (heating a sugar syrup to 245 degrees F), instead of trying a new one, which used confectioner’s sugar and no stovetop work.

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My chocolate macaron fail… what is interesting about these is that they still tasted awesome (especially with ice cream!) They just weren’t the way macarons are supposed to be. Their texture was more like brownies!

I’m not quite sure what I did wrong with these. Maybe I will give this recipe a try another time when I’m not making them for a specific reason. I suspect that not weighing out my almond flour could have been the problem though.

I can’t seem to find the recipe I used online. So I won’t be posting a link to it.

After my macaron fail, which took about 3 hours, I started my second attempt, with my usual recipe using Italian meringue. The only change I made was to add about 2-3 Tablespoons of cocoa powder to the sifting part of the recipe.

The star of this macaron though was the ganache in the middle that I used for the filling. I used Dorie Greenspan’s recipe for chocolate ganache but I made 3/4 of the recipe instead of the full. Even with the 3/4 recipe, I still had leftover ganache, which I had no trouble using… or eating!

Chocolate Ganache

Ingredients:

1 Ghirardelli chocolate bar, 72% cocoa

1 Ghirardelli chocolate bar, 86% cocoa

3/4 cup plus about 3 teaspoons heavy cream

3 Tbsp butter, room temperature

Method:

Break the chocolate bars up into small pieces (as small as you can) into a glass bowl. Heat the heavy cream in microwave-safe container in the microwave until just boiling. Pour half the hot heavy cream over the chocolate in the bowl, wait 30 seconds, and gently stir in a circular motion until the chocolate melts into the cream. Pour in the rest of the cream and continue the gentle stirring until the ganache is smooth and shiny. Stir in the butter 1 Tablespoon at a time, making sure the butter piece is melted before adding the next. The ganache will be too thin at this point to use as a filling for macarons. Let it sit at room temperature, stirring occasionally, until thick enough that it won’t fall out of the middle of the macarons.

My family likes dark chocolate, so that is why I used the 72% and above cocoa bars. Feel free to use the cocoa percent you are comfortable with.

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These macarons had some nice feet! They also had little hats…

I let these little beauties sit overnight in the fridge before we even tried them. As usual, it was worth the wait!

I’ve promised Josh that I will make jasmine-flavored macarons for him for Father’s Day. It may be sooner than that though because I have egg whites in the fridge I need to use!

-Lynn

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LEGO Challenge Tuesday – Build a Zipline

We had a lot of fun with today’s LEGO Challenge from Gather. Love. Grow.

In fact, this challenge kept them pretty busy for part of the afternoon! Thank you, Isabelle, for another fun LEGO challenge!

To make the zipline, we took some heavy-duty string that Thias had used to make an old-fashioned cup telephone (it only sort of worked), and I tied it to a curtain rod above our living room window. Then, one of my boys tied it to one of the legs of our piano bench. This made a pretty intense zipline for our LEGOs, which meant they crashed at the bottom of the line into pieces! To prevent the crash, we put the back of a foam child chair underneath the string.

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Ian made a LEGO car. Surprisingly, it stayed in one piece. Most of the time.
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Corran made a boat. This vehicle wasn’t very sturdy and was the reason we had to put the chair underneath the string.
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Thias decided to have his minifigure hang upside-down!

I took a few videos of the boys using the zipline.

Here is the previous video in slow-motion, just for fun!

I slowed Thias’ video down even more so it’s a little bit more dramatic. Thias made two different vehicles to ride the zipline. This is a video of his second one.

Rhys even made something for the zipline! His didn’t have a minifigure on it though.

Ian had the most fun with the zipline I think. He built multiple vehicles for it.

Later, after the older boys were done playing with the zipline, my two youngest had fun playing with the zipline together. Thank you for another great challenge for a summer day, Gather. Love. Grow!

-Lynn

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Mostly Wordless Wednesday: 05/25/2016

Just a few descriptions in the captions.

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nasturtiums
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The arugula is flowering
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Desi Squash

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Carrots

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-Joshua

Lego Mindstorms: The MindCub3r Robot Build

Even though we are done with school for the year, I am trying to make sure that we are still learning over the summer. For the past three days we have been working on the MindCub3r robot. We have an EV3 Lego Mindstorms kit, so we used the build instructions located at the MindCub3r website by David Gilday. All the programming for the robot is also located at the same website.

Corran and Matthias started the build Monday night. Lego Mindstorms robots typically take Matthias (our master robot builder 🙂 about 3 to 4 hours build. He builds the robot and then Corran will program it. It was later in the evening when they started the build, so they had to finish the build Tuesday morning. I ended up having to help at the end with the build, because the two robot arms weren’t working properly. We finished our build around 11 AM on Tuesday. I was supposed to make scones yesterday that I was going to post about on the blog here, but since I was helping with the robot instead, well, the scones didn’t get made until today.

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First stage of the build. Thias uses an iPad to download the instructions. Here they were seeing if the Rubik’s cube would fit in the tray.
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With the tilt arm and the scanning arm attached. We had a few problems with the arms. I’ll get to those.

I was wondering why Thias was bent down messing with the robot like this until I had to help with fixing it! It’s the only way to actually see what you’re doing sometimes!

We had trouble with the scanning arm not being able to reach all the way to the Rubik’s cube. I checked the arm against the instructions and moved pieces that were in the wrong place. It was often things like a peg being in the wrong hole. Corran ended up getting the scanning arm to work like it was supposed to, by moving two sides of the arm one peg over.

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The tilt arm wasn’t working properly because two of these little pegs were missing!
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A fully functional robot!
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The robot parts labeled

Corran took care of downloading the programming for the robot. He ended up having to update the software and the firmware on the EV3 brick. Troubleshooting the programming took us about an hour or two. Then, when we got the programming working, the robot wouldn’t go past the scanning portion of the program.

We spent probably another 2 hours trying to figure out why we were getting a scan error. Finally, after it successfully moved past the scanning portion once, we called it quits for the day and decided to try again later.

This morning, I decided to look up reasons why we were getting the scan error and how to fix it. On a YouTube channel in the comments, I read that someone had fixed their error by placing pieces of cardboard in the tray to keep the cube from moving around too much during scanning. The cube has to be aligned underneath the sensor a certain way and since ours was bouncing around a lot in the tray, the sensor couldn’t read the colors properly.

After some jury-rigging of the tray with slim pieces of cardboard and some mishaps with scotch tape, we got the robot working!

This is one of the best videos I could get of the robot solving the Rubik’s cube. It was a hard 3 days’ work to get it to this point! My two oldest boys kept wanting to quit working on it, but I wouldn’t let them. I told them that this is how real life is. Most of the time, a project you are working on won’t always work or go the way you want to the first time. You work on it one piece at a time until the project is finished.

As a bonus, Matthias and I learned how to solve a Rubik’s cube ourselves! We had to go to a website to figure out how, but at least, now we can do it!

I found this website very helpful in the way the steps were presented – Rubik’s Cube solution.

This was our first real project with the LEGO Mindstorms EV3. We are hoping to work on more over the summer!

-Lynn

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Lego Challenge Tuesday – Build Your Name

Today’s Lego Challenge from Gather Love Grow was to Build Your Name. We finished school on Friday (Hooray!) so we were able to do the Lego Challenge earlier in the day today. And then we did something crazy and tried to finish a Lego Mindstorms project in one day. I’ll be writing about that in another post!

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Our oldest decided to build his name on a few baseplates

It is interesting to me how each child built their name so differently. Only one of my boys decided to build his name in true 3D.

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My middle child built his name the way I expected my other boys to do it! He also decided that it would be fun to build his name in Braille, which I thought was really neat!
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The Braille alphabet.
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My middle child helped my youngest boy build his name I think. He knows how to spell his name, but he isn’t quite sure yet how the letters are supposed to look.
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My second boy is our designated Lego Mindstorms robot builder so he was busy with that most of the morning. He didn’t have a chance to build his name until after lunch! A Lego Mindstorms robot can take about 3 to 4 hours just to build.

My boys had fun building their names!  Thank  you to Isabelle at Gather Love Grow for another great challenge!

-Lynn

Glass Bottle Bird Feeder

One of our sons really wanted to have a bird feeder.  He tried a number of ways to make his own.  One of those was peanut butter and raisins.on a toilet paper tube, that one didn’t attract any birds.  He also convinced Lynn to buy a large bag of bird seed, which he put some of in a container on our picnic table.  That idea did attract some birds, but they pooped on our table.  Personally, I find that to be less then optimal.

Because we had the bag of seeds, and I wanted to help him out I decided to look up how to build a bird feeder.  I wanted to find one that I could make out of materials I had on hand so I wouldn’t have to spend any money if it didn’t attract birds.  After looking at many pictures online, I found this idea to make a bird feeder out of an old bottle.  It is a simple idea and is easily customized to the materials you have on hand.

I found an old San Pellegrino bottle in the recycling bag, all I had to do was remove the label.

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I also had some scrap wood sitting around that I was able to cut to the right sizes.  The original place I got my idea just had two pieces of wood screwed together.  I always build stronger then that so I cut some angled pieces to go under the horizontal board for strength. After screwing the wood pieces together, I painted them with primer to help protect from moisture.

 

Then I drilled holes in the vertical board where the bottle would be hanging from.  I don’t have any specific measurements for where to put the holes.  It will depend on the size of the bottle and backboard that you use. The original plan called for wire to hang the bottle, but all I had was garden twine.  The twine works just fine (haha a rhyme), but will not last as long as the wire would.

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Last I took an old 4×4 that was in the yard when I moved in and buried about a foot of it in the ground, then I attached the bird feeder boards I made to the 4×4.

The hardest part might have been filling the bottle with bird seeds.  I think the easiest way is to make a funnel out of a piece of paper and dump the seeds down that into the bottle.

The feeder does attract birds.  So far I have only seen doves drawn to the feeder, but it is fun watching the doves sit on the feeder and eat the seeds.  This is an easy project that I think just about anybody can do.  There isn’t a need for any specialized tools.  In fact, if your boards are already the correct size then all you need is a drill.

-Joshua

Fresh Produce Delivery – Part 2

I wasn’t sure what to title this post at first. And actually, this post won’t be very exciting… so I gave it an unexciting title. At least it gets the job done!

We received our 3rd delivery from Grubmarket on Wednesday and we hit our first snag with this delivery company. I had ordered 2 pounds of strawberries but there were no strawberries to be seen in our box! We did get some nice-looking produce though. I only took a few pics of what was in our box this time. There were plenty more than what you will see here in this post!

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An heirloom Brandywine tomato. Josh’s tomato plants aren’t producing tomatoes yet, though they are looking great! I am thinking of making a focaccia with this tomato.
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Hmm.. this isn’t produce! It’s chocolate! How’d these get in the box?

Blood orange and a gold nugget mandarin. I’ve never heard of a gold nugget mandarin. I usually get the oranges for Josh to take for lunch. I hope it tasted good!

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A chioggia beet. These unassuming beets have a really fun interior. They look like candy canes inside!

After going through our box, I emailed Grubmarket about the missing strawberries. In a few hours, I got an email back that they were going to refund what I paid for the strawberries AND give me a $5 Grubmarket credit! Yes, I am sad we didn’t get our strawberries (my kids love them), but Grubmarket went above and beyond what they needed to and definitely kept a customer!

-Lynn