Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Different is good! And birthdays are the BEST.

***update for anyone reading this post 10/13 We've ahd to remove any pictures that are not our own, so.... try to imagine the post with the pics, okay? Thanks!*****

Hello, everybody!! The Fresh Pioneer is back and I have a fun little recipe for you today. But first, let's talk about being different.
(rainbow zebra)
 This zebra is a bit different... in a good way. Sometimes stepping out of the ordinary and letting your creativity grow can be life-changing!
It can also leave you looking less than brilliant. So, plan ahead! But not so much that it takes the fun out of it all.
Here's my new pretty cover for my 'different' book. The one nobody loved, everybody hated, guess-I'll-go-eat-worms-on-Amazon book! It's been a total blast and I'm just tidying up 'Emma, Mr. Knightley, and Chili-Slaw Dogs' which will come out in May.
Even Coco Chanel knew this. (And she knew it in French, which is way cooler, you have to admit.)
But it can also get you a lot of weird looks. You have to be ready to face the world, secure in your commitment to being just a bit... different.
You don't always get the people who like different, who embrace the new and interesting and WEIRD. Something I really love, is finding those people and having small, whispered conversations that confess our absolute WEIRDNESS.
And guess what? Those people are usually kids. Maybe because they haven't had all the joy sucked out of them yet. Maybe because they still think people will appreciate their oddities and dreams and quirks of character.
  As homeschoolers, we meet a lot of weirdos.


What I was going to say was actually, as homeschooler we meet a lot of different types. Introverts, extroverts, dreamers, planners, organizers, writers, artists, future CEO's of facebook, etc. There's one little girl I've met a few times and I think, "If I owned an enormous company, I'd hire YOU to run it." She's the BOSS OF THE WORLD. Don't cross her. She's only seven but you'll be sorry.
Another friend of ours is Mindy. She's just adorable! Oh, what's that you say? Something about her HAIR? Right...
Here's a better look. For her 13th birthday, her mom let her get her hair done. It used to be blond. Now she looks like she should be riding a dragon and wielding a two-handed broadsword. Obviously, we're not talking wedding styles. We're talking WEIRD HAIR. I sort of want blue hair now, too.
Anyway, Edna reminded me it was Mindy's birthday and we'd better make her a cake. But what could we make that could honor that incredibly awesome WEIRDNESS of being 13th and having blue hair? Hmmmm...
How about a croquembouche? I know, it's a French wedding cake but isn't that the point? Being out of the ordinary and taking life for all the joy we can handle and having ourselves a French wedding cake if we want it?? Smaller, of course. That one might be taller than my ceiling.

So, first of all, preheat over to 425F
... Boil all of this together in a saucepan. And yes, it's not very sugary. The filling will take care of that.
  • 2 cups water
  • 16 tablespoons butter
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 3 teaspoons granulated sugar

    As soon as it's boiling, take it off the stove and add
  • 2 cups flour  first and stir until some of the moisture has evaporated and it becomes stiff. The add.
  • 8 to 10 eggs

  • I really thought I'd ruined it because the eggs weren't incorporating but Edna took over and got 'er done. *whew*
     It should fall easily from the beaters in strings when you lift it. If it's still too stiff, add another egg or two.
    I took out my ancient little cookie press and filled it up. Squirt out the dough in small heaps, turning it in circles so it makes a nice little hill of dough on the baking sheet.
    Ok, someone photobombed the croquembouche making!
    Now, a lot of people bake for 15 minutes at 425 and then 20 minutes at 325. But I found 15 at 425 and then 10 at 325 worked best. Maybe it's the American ovens. Not sure. But it makes a lot so, be feel free to experiment.
    When the come out of the oven, let them cool a bit before filling. And yes, traditionally they're full of marscapone cheese, but we're talking 13 year olds. I thought they might appreciate some plain ol' whipped topping from a can.
    When it starts to ooze back out of the puff, stop and lay it on a plate. Procede with all the others. We actually had CHOCOLATE filling, too. YUM.
    Here's a taste tester sacrificing for the good of the cause. What a terrible life!
    Melt two cups of super fine sugar on the stove. Don't add anything, just stir constantly over medium high heat. This is half-melted. WATCH OUT. Super, super hot and will eat through your skin, so beware.
    After the cakes have been arranged on a platter in a pyramid shape, start to drizzle the sugar over them, letting the drips stretch as thin as possible. The spun sugar is supposedly like a 'birdcage'. The ones I remember eating in France also had caramel, but the one recipe I found, didn't turn out. So, here we are being weird about our croquembouche. Naturally!!
    Here it is, almost ready to serve. See the crazy top? I've seen some really beautiful spun sugar art, but this was as good as it was going to get... Harder than it looks!

    The best part, is the birthday girl(or bride and groom) gets to crack open the cake! They have to really give it a nice whack so the spun sugar (and all that hard work) breaks into tiny pieces. It's very satisfying. It's supposed to represent breaking into the new year and the take-charge attitude is a nice fit for a blue-haired 13 year old! GO, MINDY!
    So, until next time, my friends. I hope Spring has finally sprung where you are.

    And don't forget to be weird -like Dalton M Ghetti who sculpts crayons and pencils. Really. Here's another photo of his art.
     I bet a lot of people look at this stuff and think, "WEIRD". But he doesn't seem to care.
    Here's another. And I'm glad he didn't quit because I really enjoy the beauty of what he's decided is his personal creative outlet.  He doesn't sell them, it's just for... fun.

    So, go be weird.  In fact, I was reading this book and it had some very good tips... in case you need some help breaking out of your shell!




    1. Weird people are definitely more interesting to listen to talk. Regular people talk about the weather and their home decor and tv shows.......................................................sorry, I fell asleep there.

      1. I love home décor! Right now I'm rethinking our plan to redo the living room with a wood floor. Maybe carpet is better. In the winter it's warmer and definitely quieter year-round and................ Sorry. I put myself to sleep there.

    2. Your croquembouche...oh, Virginia, will you make one for me? I don't have a cookie press. I kill them faster than anything, and I haven't found one at a garage sale in years. (I think they're all hiding from me...)

      My children have a favorite reply whenever anyone says they're weird: "thank you". Just that, and then they go on. Some people get it, and those are the ones they keep talking to :)

      And, seriously, you make the best birthday parties ever. What 13-year-old wouldn't want to come to your house?

      1. Heehee! And you can make the little puffs saltier and fill them with cream cheese and salmon. YUM.

        And I won't ask my own 13 year old how she feels about living here ALL THE TIME. :D

      2. Pshaw. 13-year-olds never appreciate what's right in front of their noses.

        She'll grow into appreciating you :)

        And oh, yes! Cream cheese and salmon!

    3. Oh, I love this whole post. I tend to be weird and see weird but then the world looks normal to me!

      Can't wait for the next weird book!

      Peace, Julie

    4. Heehhee! Well, there's crazy weird and fun weird. Right now the book feels crazy weird. Hoping to slap it into fun weird by the end of May!

    5. What fun!!! I love this recipe! And love that you made if for your friend with the cute blue hair! My daughter is wanting to try a streak or two of pink in her strawberry blonde hair. :) Happy birthday, Mindy!

      LILACS!!! Did you grow those? We can't grow them here in in GA, and I miss them! (although we didn't have many even in KY)

      1. No lilacs in GA??? That's about the worst thing I've ever heard and the first time I've frowned on the South. Oh, boy, NOT GOOD!!

        Yes, they grow so well here that we have sprouts all over. My husband took tiny saplings and planted them in a row around our back acres (garden) and in four years they're taller than I am, a nice big, blooming hedge! They're everywhere...

        Well, as much as the color was 'leaking' all over her skin and clothes, I think I'll pass on the blue. :D Unless I remember to only put on blue clothes and sheets!

      2. I guess it's just too hot for the lilacs. Or maybe it's the clay in the soil? Anyway, I would love to come sniff your lilacs! Just LOVE the fragrance. And purple has always been my favorite color. :)

      3. Mindy, I just thought of you... I'm features in Southern Writers magazine as a must-read in their May/June issue for 'Pride, Prejudice, and Cheese Grits'.

        And I thought, "I hope they know I'm not Southern! I'll just pretend I'm Missy or Julie!"

    6. What a great column! I will probably never make this croquembouche, but it's nice to know that you can make it for Mindy! I know it made her feel special--and tell her to embrace her weirdness! I do, and it makes other people uncomfortable!


      1. Well, let's all be weird together! Nothing like a group of weirdos to make you feel at home!

    7. On INternet briefly, love this! I've made this for showers/gatherings, very popular... and I use a 400 degree oven (code doesn't work on this library computer) for the cream puffs, but ovens are different. And I tend to make them a little crisper when I do a cake tower, just because they soften slightly with filling.... Must go! There is food in my future!!!!