Saturday, December 20, 2014

It's Brave Astronaut Day

Today we are celebrating here at the launchpad - it's my birthday, again.

Now if I had only known about some of these, it could be an even better day!

18 Free Things You Can Get on Your Birthday (from BuzzFeed)

"Tons of businesses (especially chain restaurants) offer rewards during your birthday week/month; most of them require you to sign up in advance, so don’t wait until the night before to plan out your TOTALLY FREE DAY. And it never hurts to double-check with an establishment ahead of time in case a deal has expired or changed."  I get free pizza from Ella's in DC, a free entree from Hank's, and a free dish from Noodles and Company.
  1. IHOP has a program called the Pancake Revolution that offers a free meal on your birthday. (And kids eat free with an adult - and the Brave Astronaut clan likes Breakfast for Dinner - why don't we go there more?) You also get one just for signing up and on your anniversary.
  2. Waffle House Regulars get a free meal too.
  3. Delta will give you $100 off a trip booked through one of their vacation packages during your birthday month. (This I can get behind!)
  4. Cinemark will give you a free concession (read: popcorn) if you sign up for their email list.
  5. Starbucks Rewards members receive a free drink. (Oh, I get this one too!) 
  6. Or, if you’re more into Dunkin’ Donuts, you can get a free coffee from them. I guess you could always do both and stay caffeinated all birthday long.
  7. Get free admission to Medieval Times by joining the King’s Court. (I've been once.  I don't feel the need to return)
  8. If you’re a Sephora Beauty Insider, you get a free gift.
  9. If you happen to be in South Africa, enjoy a trip on the Table Mountain Aerial Cableway. (Yeah, next time I'm there)
  10. And if you’re in California, snag a trip to Catalina Island. And if you're in California, snag a trip to Catalina Island 
  11. Get a scoop from Baskin-Robbins when you sign up for their Birthday Club. Friendly’s offers an ice cream sundae and Dairy Queen offers Blizzards as well. (Never, ever turn down free ice cream)
  12. (Although who needs ice cream when you can have FREE DIPPIN’ DOTS?) Sign up for their Forty Below Zero club and taste the future.
  13. Missouri residents can receive a free lottery ticket by signing up for the email list. If you’re into that/are over 18. 
  14. Get a free gift from Hooters. Apparently it’s ten free wings, but this could vary based on location and availability. Again, whatever you’re into. (I understand their wings are delicious) 
  15. Join CVS’ Extra Care Beauty Club and you’ll get $3 on your birthday.
  16. And Kmart’s Birthday Club offers $5.
  17. If you’re on Foursquare, check to see if people have left tips re: free birthday drinks, appetizers, etc. at your local spots. Or, you know, just ask the bartender (and tip generously).
  18. And, since humans aren’t the only ones with birthdays, sign up your pet for Petco’s Birthday Club for special treats and savings.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

The 12 Posts of Christmas (2014 edition) #6

One Christmas I may have made the mistake of telling my parents all I wanted for Christmas was one of those things pictured above.  If you know what it is, then you were part of the craze and surely sent your parents everywhere trying to track one down for Christmas.  I think my father finally found it a few days before Christmas in a toy store in New York City.

Now present count was very important - so I frequently checked the pile of presents, which were stored in the basement before they were placed around the tree (by Santa) on Christmas Eve.  I watched my pile grow appropriately, while not necessarily seeing a box that was Atari 2600-sized.

So Christmas morning came and I began to unwrap my presents.  First present, a brick.  Another present, some old magazines and newspapers.  Another present, clothes, then an empty box.  While my parents and siblings laughed at me, I became increasingly upset.  Finally, my mother, God Bless Her, told me to go and look in the dining room.  There on one of the chairs was my much coveted Atari 2600.  Then presents that had been held back - games for the Atari were produced.  It was a great Christmas.

Therefore, I may really need this for Christmas.  And I have also seen this game is back too.  But my memory isn't what it used to be.

Monday, December 15, 2014

The 12 Posts of Christmas (2014 edition) #5

Has the salted caramel craze passed?  Not clear.  But these would be well received at the launchpad. From Just a Taste.

Salted Caramel Hand Pies

Yield: Makes 10 (3-inch) hand pies
Prep Time: 1 hour (includes chilling)
Cook Time: 15 min

For the dough: 
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour 
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt 
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder 
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into cubes 
  • 1/2 cup cold sour cream

For the filling:
  • 2 cups small diced (peeled) Granny Smith apples (See Kelly's Notes) 
  • 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice 
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon 
  • 1/4 cup sugar 
  • 2 teaspoons all-purpose flour 
  • 8 store-bought soft caramels, roughly chopped 
  • Large flake sea salt (See Kelly's Notes) 
  • Egg wash (1 egg lightly whisked with 1 Tablespoon water) 
  • Crystal sanding sugar (optional)
Make the dough: Whisk together the flour, salt and baking powder in a large bowl.

Add the cubed butter to the bowl and use your fingers to work the butter into the flour until the mixture is the consistency of wet sand.

Stir in the sour cream (the dough will be very wet), and then turn the dough out onto a well-floured work surface.

Knead the dough a few times until it comes together, adding more flour, 1 teaspoon at a time, if the dough is too sticky to handle. Roll the dough into an 8x10-inch rectangle and dust both sides with flour before folding it into thirds as if you were folding a letter.

Rotate the dough 90º and roll it out again into an 8x10-inch rectangle. Fold the dough again into thirds then wrap it securely in plastic wrap and refrigerate it for at least 30 minutes while you make the filling.

Make the filling: In a small bowl, combine the apples, lemon juice, cinnamon, sugar and flour, stirring until thoroughly mixed. Set aside.

Assemble the pies: Preheat the oven to 425ºF.

Remove the dough from the refrigerator and unfold it onto a well-floured surface, rolling it out to a 14x14-inch square. (See Kelly's Notes.)

Using a 3-inch circular cookie cutter or cup, cut out as many circles as possible. Re-roll the scraps and continue cutting out circles until you run out of dough, ensuring you end up with an even number of circles. (You should have approximately 20 3-inch circles.)

Place six of the dough circles on a Silpat or parchment paper-lined cookie sheet. Spoon a small portion of the apple filling into the center of each circle, leaving enough of a border around the filling. Top the apple filling with a portion of the chopped caramels and a pinch of sea salt. Place a second dough circle atop each filled circle then use a fork to crimp the edges together, sealing each pie.

Brush each pie with the egg wash, and using a sharp knife, cut two or three vents on the top of each pie. Sprinkle the pies with crystal sanding sugar (optional).

Bake the pies for about 15 minutes, or until they're golden brown.

Remove the pies from the oven and allow them to rest for 10 minutes before serving. Repeat the filling and baking process with the remaining dough circles.

Kelly's Notes:
  • The cubed apples should be no larger than the size of corn kernels to ensure they become tender during the quick 15-minute bake time. 
  • Large flake sea salt is available in most supermarkets. My preferred brand is Maldon Salt.
  • If the dough is too firm to work with after refrigerating, allow it to sit at room temperature for 10 minutes before cutting out the circular shapes.
  • If the sour cream in the dough makes it too sticky at any point in the rolling out process, just simply sprinkle a pinch of flour atop the wet areas and continue rolling. 
  • Dough recipe adapted from King Arthur Flour.

Friday, December 12, 2014

The 12 Posts of Christmas (2014 edition) #4

If you are still looking for that perfect gift for the Brave Astronaut and none of these moved you - never fear, I have more ideas.

Each year, PNC comes out with its yearly cost of the gifts given in the Twelve Days of Christmas. Prices have remained mostly stable from 2013, with only a 1% rise from last year.  The total cost of the items is $27,673.21.  The big ticket item from this year are the Nine Ladies Dancing, which will set you back $7552.84 while the Eight Maids a Milking will only cost you $58.  The biggest increase this year are for geese, a 71.4% increase for a total of $360.  Gold, in the form of five gold rings stayed steady at $750.  If you plan on purchasing all items in the song (all 364 things), your cost will be $116,273.06.

Just be sure that your true love wants all this stuff.

Monday, December 8, 2014

The 12 Posts of Christmas (2014 edition) #3

As joyous as the Christmas season is for me (with my birthday, and both LBA and SoBA), I am always mindful that my mother isn't around to be here - and Christmas was her favorite holiday.  While this dessert was really a signature dish for my grandmother, my mother made it on occasion as well.  I actually have two of my grandmother's creme caramel cups at the launchpad.

I should make this for Christmas.

Creme Caramel
(from Chocolate and Zucchini)
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 1 hour
Total Time: 6 hours
Makes 6 servings

For the caramel:
  • 100 grams (1/2 cup) white sugar (see note) 
  • 1 tablespoon water
For the custard:
  • 650 ml (2 3/4 cups) milk (I use fresh lait demi-écrémé -- 2% milk -- but you can also use whole milk or non-dairy milk; I wouldn't recommend skim) 
  • 50 grams (1/4 cup) unrefined blond cane sugar (you can use the unrefined sugar of your choice, just keep in mind that a darker sugar will make the custard a bit brown) 
  • 1 fresh vanilla bean, split open and beans scraped, or 1 tablespoon homemade vanilla extract, or 1 teaspoon store-bought natural vanilla extract 
  • 4 large organic eggs

Have ready 6 ovenproof ramekins or cups, each about 160 ml (2/3 cup) in capacity.

First, make the caramel. Combine the 100 grams (1/2 cup) sugar and the water in a large saucepan. Turn the heat to medium and let the sugar melt without stirring, simply swirling the pan around from time to time so it caramelizes evenly.

As it boils, the caramel will turn golden, then golden brown, and when it darkens to a deep amber, remove from the heat and immediately pour into the prepared ramekins, swirling around to coat the bottoms evenly.

Place the ramekins on a deep rimmed baking sheet, or a baking dish large enough to accommodate them comfortably.

Preheat the oven to 150°C (300°F) and bring water to a boil in the kettle.

Make the custard. In a medium saucepan, combine the milk, sugar, and vanilla, and bring to just under a simmer over medium heat, stirring frequently to prevent scorching. Let cool slightly.

In a medium mixing bowl with a pouring spout, beat the eggs lightly. Set a fine-mesh sieve over the bowl, and pour in a quarter of the milk, then whisk to combine. Repeat with the remaining milk in three additions.

Pour the custard into the prepared ramekins.

Pour very hot water from the kettle into the rimmed baking sheet and around the ramekins to about half their height -- this will help conduct the heat evenly.

Insert into the oven, lower the heat to 120°C (250°F) and cook for 30 minutes, until the custards are set but still jiggly, and the blade of a knife inserted in the center comes out clean.

Turn off the oven and leave the ramekins in for another 30 minutes. Transfer to a rack to cool completely, then refrigerate for 3 hours or overnight before serving.

To serve, run a knife carefully around the custard to loosen, place a small serving plate over the ramekin, and flip to unmold, shaking a bit as needed.

  • I use unrefined cane sugar in practically all my recipes, but it doesn't caramelize well due to the impurities, so I revert to regular white sugar when making caramel.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

555 Feet High

On this day in 1884, the Washington Monument in Washington, DC was completed as a nine-inch aluminum pyramid was placed atop the marble obelisk.  As early as 1783, the US Congress decided there should be a permanent monument to General Washington.  The idea lagged until 1848, when the cornerstone, a 24,500-pound block of white marble, for the monument was laid.  Construction was halted six years later and the monument remained half-built through the Civil War, until 1876, the centennial of America Independence, when President Grant authorized the monument finished.  When completed, the monument was the tallest structure in the world.

On August 23, 2011, the monument, and the entire city, was hit by an earthquake, which significantly damaged the monument.  For much of 2012 the monument was shrouded in scaffolding as repairs were made to the monument.  You can read a lot of information about the damage, repair, and restoration of the monument, and also see a number of videos, including security camera footage from the day of the quake at the National Park Site.

Through a $7.5 million donation from David Rubenstein, the monument was repaired and reopened earlier this year.

Friday, December 5, 2014

The 12 Posts of Christmas (2014 edition) #2

On December 24, 1923, President Calvin Coolidge threw a switch that lighted the first National Christmas Tree on the grounds of the White House.  The first tree contained electric lights and was harvested from Coolidge's home state of Vermont.  The tradition of having a tree inside the White House was begun by President Benjamin Harrison, who set up a tree in 1889, decorated with ornaments and candles.

The year after that first lighting, Coolidge reversed his position on cutting down trees for decorating, and a live tree was planted in Sherman Plaza, where the tree was decorated and lit for the next ten years.  In 1934, two trees were planted in Lafayette Park, north of the White House grounds for use as the "National Christmas Tree(s)."  In 1939 and 1940, a tree was transplanted from the Mount Vernon Parkway to the Ellipse for use as the National Christmas Tree and then returned to the parkway shoulder.  At the request of Eleanor Roosevelt, the ceremony (and the trees) were moved inside the gates of the White House grounds until 1954.

That year, the Pageant of Peace was introduced and the ceremony was moved out to the Ellipse.  For the next twenty years, until 1973, cut trees were brought to the Ellipse to be used as the National Christmas tree.  In October 1973, a Blue Spruce was planted on the Ellipse to be used as the National Christmas Tree, however it was damaged in the transplant and a new tree was planted in 1977.  That tree was heavily damaged by winter storms the following year and a third tree was placed on the site in 1978.  In 2011, that tree was felled in a winter windstorm and a replacement tree was installed in 2012.

Last night the tradition continued with the National Christmas Tree lighting (and Pageant of Peace) - and all of the associated traffic headaches and detours. This weekend will also likely mark the annual outing to secure the Christmas tree(s) for the launchpad.