Monday, July 28, 2014

Strawberry Rhubarb Crisp Bars

I am a sucker for good strawberry-rhubarb items.  And the Smitten Kitchen has not steered me wrong.  Now I just need to get Mrs. BA to make these for me.

Strawberry-Rhubarb Crisp Bars
Adapted from One Bowl Baking
I’m starting to think that these bars might be magic. First, they taste like dessert, not health food, thank goodness. But, they just happen to be pretty low in sugar, butter and use a chock-ton of oats. You could replace the butter with coconut oil to make these dairy-free, and as there’s no egg in it, they’d also then be vegan. You could use white whole wheat flour instead of all-purpose flour to make them even more wholesome, and although I didn’t audition it, I suspect a gluten-free baking flour mix would work here too, because the plain flour isn’t a majority ingredient. You could eat them warm with a scoop of ice cream or cold for breakfast with a dollop of plain yogurt. And you can make them with whatever is in season; the original recipe calls for thinly sliced apples and adds cinnamon to the crumb mixture but too impatient for spring/summer, I used strawberries and rhubarb. Oh, and did I mention you make the whole recipe in your baking pan so it literally could not be faster? Seriously, what are you waiting for?

* Updated with two changes to reduce softness: I did a bunch of retesting and have come to the following conclusions: the bars are more crisp and cookie-like (as photographed here, and sadly, not what everyone was getting, based on comments) without the heaped 1/8 teaspoon baking soda and with an additional 1/4 cup (and even up to 2 tablespoons more, yes, really) flour. These amounts are now reflected below. They’re tender when they come out of the oven but once chilled in the fridge, become cookie-like in their crisp base; I recommend keeping them in the fridge. I’m so sorry if any of you were disappointed in these bars; I hope you’ll find the recipe now to be as wonderful as promised. 

Yield: 16 small bars, or 8 large ones;
Recipe can be doubled and baked in a 9×13-inch baking pan, where they will come out a little thicker
  • 1 cup (80 grams) rolled oats 
  • 3/4 cup (95 grams) plus up to 2 tablespoons (15 grams) extra all-purpose flour 
  • 1/2 cup (95 grams) light brown sugar 
  • Heaped 1/4 teaspoon table salt 
  • 6 tablespoons (85 grams) unsalted butter, melted 
  • 1 teaspoon cornstarch (optional, but helps firm up the filling) 
  • 1 tablespoon (15 ml) lemon juice 
  • 1 tablespoon (15 grams) granulated sugar, divided 
  • 1 cup (125 grams) small-diced rhubarb (from about 1 1/2 medium stalks) 
  • 1 cup (155 grams) small-diced strawberries 
  • Powdered sugar, for decoration, if desired
Heat oven to 375 degrees F. For easy removal, line bottom and two sides of 8-by-8-inch square baking pan with parchment paper. No need to bother (and no greasing needed) if you plan to serve them right in the pan, as I did.

Place oats, 3/4 cup flour, brown sugar and salt in bottom of baking pan and mix. Pour melted butter over, and stir until clumps form. If the clumps feel soft or look overly damp, add the remaining 2 tablespoons flour. Set aside 1/2 cup of the crumble mixture. Press the rest of the crumb mixture evenly in the bottom of the pan.

Spread half the fruit over the crust. Sprinkle it evenly with cornstarch, then lemon juice, and 1/2 tablespoon of granulated sugar. Spread remaining fruit over this, and top with second 1/2 tablespoon sugar. Scatter reserved crumbs over fruit and bake bars for 30 to 40 minutes (firmer fruits will take longer), until fruit is bubbly and crisp portion is golden and smells toasty and amazing.

Let cool in pan; I do this in the fridge, where they become crisp once chilled (less so at room temperature). Cut into squares and sprinkle with powdered sugar before serving. Store leftovers in fridge.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Soft Pretzel Buns

"These Pretzels are making me THIRSTY!"

I like Pretzels.  Dipped in Mustard.  This would bring the burger into a whole dimension. From the Smitten Kitchen.

Soft Pretzels Hot Dog Buns, Hamburger Buns and Knots
Adapted from Zingerman’s Bakehouse via the NYTimes
I’m sharing three dips below today, the standard baking soda bath which when brushed with an egg wash will produce a bronzed and lightly pretzel-flavored crust; a concentrated baking soda bath recommended by Harold McGee which produces about the same baking soda color and a slightly stronger pretzel flavor though I’m not entirely convinced it makes enough of a difference to be worth the extra effort; and finally one made with a food-grade lye bath, which produces the dark, crackly authentic pretzel finish you see in the photos here. Pick the one that you’re most comfortable with and prepare to make a habit of it. 
Yield: 14 hot dog buns, 12 hamburger buns, 32 tiny soft pretzel knots, 12 to 16 large soft pretzels knots (12 the size you’d see at a beer hall) or 16 sandwich rolls

Time: 2 hours (1 1/2 hours rising time)

For dough
  • 1 tablespoon barley malt syrup or dark brown sugar 
  • 2 tablespoons lard or softened or melted and cooled unsalted butter 
  • 2 tablespoons instant or rapid-rise yeast 
  • 2 cups lukewarm water 
  • 6 cups (about 30 ounces) all-purpose or bread flour 
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt 
For dipping (pick one)
  • 1/4 cup baking soda (for standard baking soda bath), 1 cup baking soda (for concentrated baking soda bath) or 1/4 cup food-grade lye (for darkest, most authentic finish and flavor)
  • Water 
To finish
  • 1 large egg (for baking soda methods only)
  • Coarse sea salt or pretzel salt 
Make dough: In a mixing bowl (or the bowl of a stand mixer), stir together syrup or sugar, lard or butter, yeast, water and half the flour. Add kosher salt and remaining flour and stir just until mixture comes together in a shaggy mass. Turn out onto counter (or attach dough hook to mixer) and knead for 8 to 10 minutes, until smooth and supple. Cut into desired number of pieces (see Yield above) and let rest 5 minutes before shaping.

To form hamburger buns or sandwich rolls, form each piece into a ball and stretch and tuck the sides under, forming a neat round. To form hot dog buns, form each piece into a 7-inch log. To form pretzel knots, roll each piece into a rope (traditionally, the ends are skinny and the center is fat). Lift the ends, twist them around each other once and bend the twist back, pressing the ends onto the ‘belly’ at about 4 and 8 o’clock. Stretch the “shoulders” of the pretzels out as much as desired.

Transfer formed pretzel buns and knots onto baking sheets lined with parchment paper (for easiest removal), giving each room to grow. Let rest at room temperature for 30 minutes (no need to cover them, but I could not resist lightly covering them with plastic to protect from drafts), then in the fridge for 1 hour or overnight. If using concentrated baking soda bath, you’ll want to begin prep now. Heat oven to 250 to 300 degrees F. Spread 1 cup baking soda on a foil-lined baking sheet. Bake baking soda for one hour. You’ll have about 2/3 cup when you’re done; you’ll use it in a minute. Because of its concentration, it’s best to use latex gloves when touching it.

Heat oven to 425 degrees F.

Dip your pretzels:
For standard baking soda bath: Bring 1 quart of water to a boil. Add baking soda (and step back, it foams up quickly) and stir to dissolve. Remove from heat and poach pretzels for 1 minute on each side in solution. Use slotted spoon to transfer pretzels to baking sheet. Continue until all pretzels are poached.

For concentrated baking soda bath: Bring 1 quart of water to a boil. Wearing latex gloves, add concentrated/baked baking soda from previous step (step back, it will foam up) and stir to dissolve. Remove from heat and poach pretzels for 2 minutes on each side in solution, then rinse off the excess dipping solution in a large bowl of plain water. Use slotted spoon to transfer pretzels to baking sheet. Continue until all pretzels are poached.

For food-grade lye bath: Place 1 quart of cold (never warm, unlike the baking soda methods) water in a glass or plastic bowl (lye can corrode reactive metals. I did this an empty sink, to keep it the most contained). At the minimum, wear latex gloves for protection, but to take better precautions, wear longer gloves or long sleeves, an apron and goggles (swim or onion goggles will also provide protection!) and mix lye slowly and carefully (so not to splash) into the water until dissolved. Dip pretzels for about 10 seconds on each side and place on baking sheets. Continue until all are dipped.

Bake pretzels: If using either baking soda method, beat egg with a teaspoon of water and brush it over poached pretzels for improved glossiness. If desired, make slashes in buns (I like a criss-cross on round buns and three diagonal ones on hot dog buns; slash deeper than you think necessary or the lines will disappear, as mine did in this batch). Sprinkle pretzels with coarse or pretzel salt and bake for 12 to 15 minutes, rotating tray once to get an even, dark color. Transfer to rack. Serve warm.

Do ahead: Soft pretzels are always best warm from the oven. They will not keep well overnight; in a container or bag, the salt will dissolve and the tops will become wet — it’s very unpleasant. I find it easiest to form them the night before and just dip and bake them before taking them where we will eat them. Once baked, they’ll be good to eat for up to 6, but will be best in the first hour or two.

Rye pretzel variation: You can swap up to 1 cup of the flour for a dark rye flavor for a more complex flavor.

Yeast exchange: If you only have active dry yeast and want to use it here in a 1:1 exchange, you can do so by stirring it into the lukewarm water (not over 115 degrees F) and letting it sit for 5 minutes (it should dissolve and look a little foamy) before adding it when you’d add the water to the dough. The rising time should be approximately the same, but I’d still suggest that the first time you make it, you keep an eye on it in case it takes more or less time.

Where to buy pretzel salt: I just use a coarse sea salt (often La Baleine brand, but this time, something from a bulk bin) Amazon, King Arthur Flour, from Morton brand and many other places online.

Where to buy food-grade lye: You can order it from Amazon or Modernist Pantry, but if you’re in NYC, as of Tuesday morning, the Williamsburg location of Brooklyn Kitchen sold it in small and large bottles and had at least 18 (yes, I counted) bottles in stock, inexpensively.

Friday, July 18, 2014

55 Essential Movies Your Child Must See (Before Turning 13)

Another Friday, another movie night.  Here's a list I found a few weeks ago, courtesy of Entertainment Weekly.  There are just a few that I haven't seen.  See my notes below in italics.
  1. The Muppet Movie - the original.  always worth watching.  Seen by Brave Astronaut, LBA, and SoBA
  2. Toy Story - the first and the best.  I can't watch the end of Toy Story 3 - I keep getting some dust in my eye.  Seen by all
  3. How the Grinch Stole Christmas - do not, repeat, do not watch the Jim Carrey version.  Seen by all.
  4. Babe - I've seen it. The boys have not.
  5. Mary Poppins - a tradition like no other, no wait, that's the Masters.  But this is the film equivalent of the Masters.  We own the move, but the boys have not yet seen it.
  6. Beauty and the Beast - Disney classic - not seen by the boys.
  7. The Little Mermaid - I may not have seen this one all the way through - also not seen by the boys.
  8. Finding Nemo - very popular at the Launchpad.
  9. The Red Balloon - I saw this film in school.  It would not be interesting to the boys, I'm pretty sure.
  10. Pinocchio - Brave Astronaut yes, LBA and SoBA not.
  11. Annie - I saw the Broadway play.  It was also produced at my high school.  The movie version is OK.
  12. The Kid (Charlie Chaplin) - one that I haven't seen.
  13. Wall-E - two that I have not seen
  14. The Sound of Music - see #5
  15. The Lion King - I thoroughly enjoyed this movie.  Unfortunately LBA and SoBA have been duped by "unauthorized" (read bad) sequels.
  16. The Wizard of Oz - the flying monkeys are still a bit much for me, definitely for SoBA.
  17. Singin' in the Rain - the title track is on my iPod.  Not seen by the boys.
  18. Miracle on 34th Street - again, the original, in black and white, not colorized. May not have been seen by the boys.
  19. The Iron Giant - third I have not seen, but I think LBA has seen this.
  20. ET, the Extra Terrestrial - I liked this move, but have not shown it to the boys.
  21. Elf - when we were in NYC at Christmas last year, we all went on the Buddy the Elf tour of New York City.
  22. How to Train Your Dragon - I haven't seen this, but the boys have, and saw the sequel last month.
  23. Star Wars - another popular choice at the Launchpad, and the "crown" in the canon.
  24. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone - I have never gotten into the Potter mania, but LBA enjoys the movies.
  25. Pee-Wee's Big Adventure - was never a big fan, but have seen most of this movie.  Have no plans to show to the boys.
  26. March of the Penguins - not seen in the movies, but seen on TV. When Mrs. BA was pregnant with SoBA, he used to kick at the sound of Morgan Freeman's voice.  Although, when it comes to penguins, the go to movie is more likely to be Happy Feet.
  27. Home Alone - a good movie, but not one I think the boys need to see anytime soon.
  28. The Black Stallion - not on the favorites list.
  29. Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory - again, the original, not the Johnny Depp version.  Gene Wilder is Willy Wonka. Seen by me, I don't think the boys, yet.
  30. Yellow Submarine - really, by age 13?
  31. Who Framed Roger Rabbit - seen by Brave Astronaut and by both LBA and SoBA (I think)
  32. The Incredibles - enjoyed by all of the members of the Launchpad.
  33. The Lego Movie - because everything is awesome!
  34. The Princess Bride - possibly the go-to movie at the Launchpad
  35. The Goonies - I was never a big Goonies guy, but the boys have seen this recently.
  36. A Christmas Story - I have never been a big fan of this movie, either.
  37. West Side Story - see #30
  38. It's a Wonderful Life - I own this movie and watch it at least once at Christmastime.
  39. Duck Soup - not a big Marx brothers fan.
  40. Back to the Future - seen by me and LBA.
  41. Young Frankenstein (that's Frahnkensteen), I might need to show this to the boys.
  42. Edward Scissorhands - not a big Tim Burton (or Johnny Depp) fan
  43. Lord of the Rings - LBA has been making some noise about reading these books, and I think has seen parts of the movie.
  44. The Karate Kid - LBA has seen the new one, but I don't think he has seen the original.
  45. Stand By Me - In my top ten of favorite movies.
  46. Fantastic Mr. Fox - LBA and SoBA have seen this, I have seen pieces of it.
  47. Big - I have watched this movie a lot - but not yet for the boys.
  48. Some Like it Hot - see #30, really?
  49. Raiders of the Lost Ark - another very popular choice at the launchpad.  Mrs. BA and I make the boys close their eyes for the end - LBA asked the other day when he would be old enough to keep his eyes open.
  50. Pirates of the Caribbean - see #42
  51. The Avengers - LBA may be ready for this, but not SoBA yet.
  52. Titanic - ship sinks, boy dies.  
  53. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon - not a big fan
  54. To Kill a Mockingbird - Stand up, your daddy's passin'
  55. Jurassic Park - may still be a little too scary for the boys.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Steak Mock Frites

It's not a secret that Mrs. BA loves her some steak frites.  Here's a steak frites recipe (from the New York Times Magazine) that you can try at home.

Steak Mock Frites
by Sam Sifton
There is no better, more reliable restaurant dish than steak frites. It is perhaps America's favorite French food, a cheeseburger deluxe recast for date nights, celebrations, feasts. Few make the dish at home, though: The frites are too labor-intensive for all but the most project-oriented cooks. Here, then, is a recipe to fake out the fries, one that will take even a relatively neophyte home cook little more than an hour to make. The aim is great steak, a delicious sauce of maître d'hôtel butter, and potatoes with a terrific quality of French fry-ness, supreme crispness, with soft and creamy flesh within.


For the mock frites
  • Kosher salt 
  • 8-12 new, baby or C-grade potatoes 
  • 3 tablespoons neutral oil, like canola 
For the maître d’hôtel butter
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter 
  • 2 teaspoons thyme leaves, minced 
  • 1 small shallot, peeled and minced 
  • 1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice 
  • Splash Champagne or white-wine vinegar

For the steak
  • 2 pounds beef steak, like boneless rib-eye, approximately 1 inch thick 
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper 
  • 1 tablespoon neutral oil, like canola

  1. Preheat oven to 450. Set a large pot filled with salted water on the stove. Add potatoes, turn heat to high and cook, gently boiling, until they are softened, approximately 15 minutes. Drain potatoes, and dry them well.
  2. Grease a sheet pan with half the oil, and put the potatoes on the pan. Using a potato masher or the bottom of a heavy glass, gently smash each potato, pressing it down to a thickness of less than an inch. Drizzle the rest of the oil over the smashed potatoes, place on top rack in the oven and allow to roast until the exteriors are golden and crunchy, approximately 20 to 25 minutes. Add salt to taste.
  3. Make the maître d’hôtel butter. Put the butter on a cutting board and, using a fork, cut the other ingredients into it until the butter is creamy and smooth. Scrape the butter together with a chef’s knife, and form it into a rough log. If making it ahead of time, you can roll it tight in a sheet of plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to use. 
  4. As the potatoes finish crisping, make the steaks. Set a heavy-bottomed skillet — or 2 if your steaks are large and you are cooking them in 4 pieces — over high heat, and let it sit for a few minutes. Shower the steaks with an aggressive amount of salt and pepper. Add the oil to the pan, and shake to distribute. It will almost immediately begin to smoke. Place the steaks in the pan, and allow to sear, unattended, for 4 minutes, until they have developed a serious crust. Turn the steaks over, and cook for an additional 3 to 6 minutes for medium-rare. Remove steaks to a warm platter to rest. Top each steak with a tablespoon of the butter.
  5. Remove the potatoes from the oven, and season them with salt and a grind of pepper. Place 2 or 3 crunchy potatoes on each plate, then nestle a steak up beside them. Top each steak with pats of the remaining butter. 
YIELD 4 servings.

Friday, July 11, 2014

The Babe Takes the Field

LBA wrapped up another season of baseball last month, as did SoBA on a developmental clinic for T-Ball.  The two of them are pretty rabid about baseball.  They really enjoyed their trip to Cooperstown in April (as both Mrs. BA and I did as well).  At the Hall of Fame, there is a special exhibition devoted to "The Babe."

Today marks the day (July 11, 1914) when Babe Ruth took to the bump for the Boston Red Sox to begin his pitching career.  Ruth pitched seven innings to lead the Sox over the Cleveland Indians 4-3, giving up five hits over six innings. 

Born in Baltimore in 1895, George Herman "Babe" Ruth, was the first of eight children, although only he and a sister survived past infancy.  Ruth was constantly in trouble with his parents and school officials - and was sent to the St. Mary's Industrial School for Boys until the age of 19.  In 1914, he was signed as a pitcher by the Baltimore Orioles who shortly thereafter sold him to the Red Sox.  He was given the nickname Babe, primarily due to his youth.  He of course, went on to legend as a New York Yankee.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Strawberry Balsamic and Olive Oil Breakfast Cake

Here's a simple recipe for a bread/cake that might be a big hit with LBA and SoBA.  They are a bit nuts about strawberries.  From Food 52 via C in DC.

Strawberry Balsamic and Olive Oil Breakfast Cake
Author Notes: Balsamic vinegar and strawberries are a classic pairing. Balsamic vinegar and olive oil are a classic vinaigrette. Surely, I thought to myself, all three must come to sweet-and-sour harmony in a cake. This recipe came together in my head as I thought about the theme of this contest. I knew I wanted to take the vinegar idea in a sweet direction. Vinegar caramels came to mind, and then I thought of a tartly sweet caramel sauce. That made me think of upside-down cakes, and all at once, the recipe came together. I decided to build on the usual technique for making an attractive upside-down cake: spiral your fruit or toppings at the bottom of the pan, pour over a caramel-based glaze prepped on the stovetop, pour your batter over that, bake, cool, and invert to oohs and ahhs. In order to make sure the flavor of the vinegar was heightened and emphasized, I wanted to include it in both the glaze and the cake. Olive oil cake seemed an inspired pairing with the balsamic vinegar, and so I adapted an olive oil cake recipe I'd worked on previously, swapping in balsamic vinegar for the rosewater I'd previously featured. To keep the aesthetic of the cake spring-like, as a match for the season and the strawberries, I used golden balsamic vinegar instead of its darker, thicker sibling. This cake comes together quickly. Dense and moist, with an intriguing tartness to offset the jam-like quality of the strawberries, it is rich with eggs and not too sweet. Oh go on, make it for breakfast.
Serves 8

Ingredients - Golden balsamic vinegar glaze and strawberry spiral
  • 1 pound fresh strawberries
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar 
  • 1/2 cup golden balsamic vinegar 
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil 
  • 1 tablespoon honey 
Ingredients - Cake 
  • 1 cup sugar 
  • 1/4 cup golden balsamic vinegar 
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk 
  • 3 eggs 
  • 1 3/4 cup cake flour 
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder 
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt 
  • 2/3 cups olive oil 

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. 
  2. Spray an 8-inch cake pan with olive oil spray. Line the bottom with a circle of parchment paper (this is an important step -- it will help your cake release from the pan after baking without disturbing the arrangement of your strawberries). Spray again with olive oil. 
  3. Remove stems and slice strawberries vertically. Arrange them in a spiral, starting with the outside layer and overlapping slightly at the bottom of the cake pan. 
  4. Combine the brown sugar, golden balsamic vinegar, olive oil, and honey in a stainless steel pan and whisk to emulsify. Bring to a boil and stir frequently until thickened enough that it drips more slowly from your stirring spoon. Remove from heat and pour carefully over the arranged strawberries. 
  5. To make the cake batter, start by whisking together in one bowl the sugar, buttermilk, vinegar, and eggs. 
  6. In another bowl, whisk together your dry ingredients: the flour, baking powder, and salt. 
  7. Add your wet ingredients to your dry ingredients in three stages, stirring to incorporate each time. 
  8. Add your olive oil in 3 stages, folding and stirring to incorporate each time. 
  9. Slowly and carefully pour the batter over the strawberries. Don't pour too rapidly, or you'll displace your carefully-arranged spiral. 
  10. Bake for approximately an hour. The cake is done when the top is golden and it has pulled away slightly from the edges of the pan. 
  11. Cool for 10 minutes, and then run a knife between the cake and the pan to make sure it is completely loosened. 
  12. Put a flat plate atop the pan, and then, using potholders to protect your hands, quickly flip the cake while holding the plate tightly to the pan. 
  13. Slowly lift the pan, and the cake will be sitting, covered in parchment paper, on the plate. Peel off the parchment paper and be greeted by a beautiful spiral of sweet-tart fruit atop a golden cake.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Happy Birthday America!

Today is Independence Day!  The 238th Anniversary of the Signing of the Declaration of Independence.  I'm hoping there may be time for a viewing of 1776 today - but there are also birthday festivities to be attended to today - it is the Brave Astronaut's father's 85th birthday!

Here's a list of weirdness regarding the 50 states that make up our great country.  From BuzzFeed.
  1. In Alabama, it is illegal to salt a railroad track.
  2. Alaska has a cat serving as honorary mayor of Talkeetna.
  3. Arizona has the most well-preserved meteor crater.
  4. Arkansas is the home of the World Duck Calling Championships.
  5. Fortune Cookies were invented in California.
  6. Colorado has almost as many ghost towns as it does live ones.
  7. Lollipops were named in Connecticut.
  8. Delaware is the only state without a national park.
  9. Florida is home to the psychic capital of the world (but you already knew that, right?)
  10. Georgia hosts the largest poultry convention in the world.
  11. Hawaii is the only state that is rabies-free.
  12. Idaho hosts the world championship porcupine race (being held this very day!).
  13. The official language of Illinois is American, not English.
  14. Indiana has the first successful goldfish farm.
  15. In Iowa, it is illegal to kiss for longer than five minutes.
  16. Kansas is the home of the first Pizza Hut.
  17. Kentucky was the site of the nation's first hand transplant.
  18. Louisiana holds an international joke-telling contest.
  19. Until 2003, Maine produced 90% of the country's toothpicks.
  20. The official state cat of Maryland is the calico, because it matches the state flag.
  21. Frozen Food was invented in Massachusetts (thanks, Clarence Birdseye!)
  22. In Michigan, you are never more than six miles from a lake.
  23. The State Flower of Minnesota, the pink and white lady's slipper, can live for a century.
  24. Shoes were first sold in pairs in Mississippi.
  25. Missouri sold the first loaf of sliced bread.
  26. In Montana, humans are outnumbered by elk, deer, and antelope (no word if they are playing or not).
  27. Arbor Day began in Nebraska.
  28. In Las Vegas, Nevada, more than 6,000 pounds of shrimp are consumed each day.
  29. The first potato was planted in New Hampshire.
  30. New Jersey has the most diners (duh).
  31. The first atom bomb was tested in New Mexico.
  32. Packaged toilet paper was first produced in New York.
  33. North Carolina is also known as the Furniture Capital of the World.
  34. North Dakota is the least visited state.
  35. Ohio is home of America's Best Bathroom Contest.
  36. Oklahoma is home to more astronauts than any other state (really?).
  37. Oregon houses the largest collection of carousel animals.
  38. Pennsylvania produces the most mushrooms in the US.
  39. The State Drink of Rhode Island is Coffee Milk.
  40. The State Dance of South Carolina is The Shag.
  41. South Dakota is home to the Mashed Potato Wrestling Contest.
  42. The Architect of the Tennessee State Capitol is buried in the walls.
  43. Texas produces most of the country's helium.
  44. Utah consumes more Jell-O than anywhere else.
  45. Vermont is the only state whose capital does not have a McDonald's.
  46. More Presidents came from Virginia than any other state.
  47. Father's Day began in Washington.
  48. West Virginia shipped the world's largest shipment of matches.
  49. Wisconsin is home of the Hamburger Hall of Fame (and museum).
  50. Wyoming is the state with the fewest people.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Car Games for the Long Road Trip

The Brave Astronaut clan is readying itself for the big trip north to celebrate Brave Astronaut's dad's 85th Birthday!  We usually amuse ourselves with the Alphabet Game (it really has helped both LBA and SoBA learn to read) and the License Plate Game on long car trips.  Here's a long list of other car games that you can give a whirl the next time your in the car. From BuzzFeed.
  1. Car Cricket (Baseball) - Probably the oldest game of all. Each player takes it in turns to bat. One run for each car you pass, two for motorbikes, four for a van, six for a bus or truck. If it’s a red car, you’re out, and the next player goes into bat. Variation: Car Snooker. You get one point when you see a red one, then you have to wait for a different color: yellow (two points), green (three), brown (four), blue (five) – etc. If you see a white car, it’s a foul, you lose four points, and it’s the next person’s go.
  2. The Yes/No game - How hard is it to avoid saying “Yes” or “No”? Harder than you think. Whoever is ‘It’ has to answer all questions without saying “Yes” or “No”. The classic tactic is of course to say “You said ‘yes’ just now” - to which the inevitable response is: “No I didn’t!”
  3. Think of Something - Each child is asked to think of an object with a particular characteristic. The game’s success depends on the parents varying the question to suit the ability of the child. Young children might have to think of something green, or made of wood, say, the older ones might have to come up with something Japanese, or Elizabethan, or soluble. It’s a great learning tool as younger children aspire to the knowledge of their elders.
  4. Car-color bingo - An easy game for younger children. Pick a color, score a point for each color you drive past. The winner is the first to reach, say, 20. Insider knowledge: if you want to win, pick silver.
  5. 5-4-3-2-1 - Players take it in turns to spot an interesting object, out of the window. Say it’s a cow: they then shout “Cow! 5…4…3…2…1”. The other players have to locate, point to and say the name of the object before the countdown reaches one. Whoever identifies it is the next spotter. You can add to your score the number the questioner reached. Not one for the driver, obviously. 
  6. Character counting - How many characters are there in your favorite films and TV shows? Each player takes it in turn to name a character, with others helping out if they get stuck. It’s a collaborative game, where you’re all working together. Suggestions: Harry Potter, Star Trek, Star Wars, Disney films, Lord of the Rings and so on…
  7. Countries of the world - The first player names a country beginning with A, such as Afghanistan. The next player then has to think of a country that begins with the last letter of the country just named – Norway, for example. You can make the kids think of cities as well if you want the game to be easier.
  8. The name game - The first player say the name of a well-known figure, including a description of what they’re famous for – such as “Gordon Brown, former Prime Minister”. The next player has to name someone who shares the same first or second name: “James Brown, singer”. It continues – by specifying the occupations, you prove the person you’ve named is real. 
  9. Name that tune - Each player takes it in turn to hum the theme tune to a well-known film or TV show: whoever guesses it correctly gets the next go.  My mother and I used to play this with the "seek" or "scan" buttons on the radio.  First to identify the song when it stops on a radio station, wins.
  10. Alphabet shopping - The first player begins: “I went to the supermarket and I bought an apple.” The next player has to think of something you can buy in a supermarket beginning with B, and so on. You vary the game by visiting other shops – bookshops, record shops and so on.
  11. Uncle Bobby - Uncle Bobby reads books but not magazines. He’s a good accountant, although he can add, but he can’t subtract. He eats noodles, but not pasta. He likes the color green, but not blue or red. Uncle Bobby, of course, only likes things that have double letters in them. Once each player works out the rules, they can take part by saying other things Uncle Bobby likes and dislikes. And if that’s getting old, Aunt Jemima only likes things ending in a vowel.
  12. What has an eye but no nose? The answer, of course, is a needle. It’s a game that can be extended endlessly with little mental effort – you’d be surprised how many body parts are used figuratively in everyday speech. Here are some examples:
    • What has a tongue but no teeth? A shoe. 
    • What has teeth but no lips? A comb. 
    • What has legs but no arms? A table. 
    • What has arms but no hands? A coat (or chair). 
    • What has hands but no fingers? A clock. 
    • What has a neck but no head? A wine bottle. 
    • What has a face but no hair? A watch. 
    • What has ears but no cheeks? Corn. 
  13. Celebrity Challenge - You think of a well-known figure – they could be real, or from a cartoon, say; the kids have to ask questions about their lives and accomplishments to work out who the person is. “Dead or alive,” “Real or imaginary”. Make sure you mix things up when it’s the kids’ turn by dropping in random questions like whether they like mashed potato or own a hairdryer. 
  14. Car Singalong - Try to do it this well. Somewhere at the launchpad is a sing-along book.
  15. Scavenger hunt - You can actually go the extra mile here and prepare a list of items for kids to look out for on the journey, and print it off. If it’s a route you know well, customize the list by adding things you know you’re going to pass on the way. - Dog walker - Police car - Ambulance - A ‘School’ sign - McDonald’s - A dog in another car - Someone picking their nose etc. 
  16. We’ll be there before you can say… “Sixteen slimy serpents slithered surreptitiously on the silver sand as they sped silently southwards.” Or “On Monday morning I made a model of a magical mouse with many mandibles, and mailed it to a man in Manchester.” It takes a bit of thought to come up with alliterative sentences. Learn the phrase, try to get the kids to repeat it word-for-word. 
  17. BONUS: I feel sick! Not a game – but a couple of tips for when you hear those words. Opening the window does actually help, as does closing your eyes.