Category Archives: Food/Cooking

Just Playing with my Food


I love to play with my food, which is why the CHEETOS MIX-UPS and Life of Dad Show art contest was right up my alley. The grand prize is a trip to the 2014 Dad 2.0 summit in Houston!

Since I already have a history with food art, I wanted to make sure to up the ante by putting more time and effort into this project than I did for my Sweet Tooth candy art from last year. After all was said and done, I think it turned out pretty well.

Here is the official contest page on Life of Dad, where you can see all of the entries. There really are a ton of awesome submissions. A winner should be announced in approximately one week. In the meantime, go ahead check out the other nifty entries, and please feel free to comment on my Cheesy Chester Cheetah. Don’t forget keep your cheesy fingers crossed – I’d love to win a trip to hang out with other cool dads at the 2014 Dad 2.0 summit!

It’s Alive!

Avocado pitWell, it looks like I spoke entirely too soon about my perceived avocado pit fail. I was meandering past it this morning, and was totally shocked to see that it is now very much split open! It’s a darn good thing I didn’t throw it away. The increasingly longer days, warmer weather, and more intense sunlight must have finally triggered the germination process. I guess the big takeaway lesson here is patience. After almost three long months of waiting, we’re finally in business, baby!

Previously and related:

Avocado plant update

Guacamole and Growing an Avocado Plant from Seed

Avocado Plant Update

Avocado seed

My avocado pit that has been sitting on the windowsill since the Super Bowl has yet to sprout. At this point, I think it is safe to say that it’s not going to happen. I was supposed to keep it in a warm place, and my hunch is that sitting on a windowsill in the dead of winter was just way too harsh of an environment.  Now that it is spring and things are warming up, I think I’ll give it another go. Time to make some more guacamole!

Guacamole and Growing an Avocado Plant from Seed

We just made some great guacamole from a very simple recipe. I chose the easiest recipe that I could find online because I needed to throw it together very quickly. At first I was a bit leery of trying this because it calls for garlic powder and salsa instead of the traditional, whole ingredients. That being said, it was done and on the table in a few short minutes and everyone was happy with the results. Even my just-turned-two-year-old liked it. Another nice thing about this recipe is that it is easily adaptable to any number of avocados that you may have on hand, so you can make it with as little as one avocado.

Most importantly, we saved the seeds in order to attempt to grow our own avocado houseplants. We found information on how to grow and care for an avocado plant on the California Avocado Commission (CAC) website. A glass of filtered water and three toothpicks later and our seeds were prepped and ready to grow. Now all there is to do is sit back and wait. Let’s hope these babies sprout!

Avocado seed

The Conjoined Bananas

Conjoined bananas

While gathering materials for my previous post, my kids and I made a really important discovery: conjoined bananas. We had been going through all the bananas at the supermarket trying to find just the right ones for our tattoos.  A nearby employee was stocking fruit, and I couldn’t help but notice that he looked like he was having a miserable day. The sight of my daughter and I rifling through the neatly stocked bananas clearly irritated him further, so I made an effort to stay out of his way.

When we discovered the conjoined bananas, the disgruntled employee overheard our oooh’s and ahhh’s and came right over to see what all the fuss was about. He immediately perked right up. Like us, he’d never seen a such a thing in real life before. Surprising, actually, since he works around fruit all day.

We were pondering whether it would be two separate bananas on the inside, when he said, “Maybe we should open it up to find out,” to which I responded, “Yeah, man, go for it dude!” It wasn’t. It looked pretty much the same on the inside, which didn’t really matter because it was just so just exciting to see him open that sucker. Once peeled, he didn’t know what to do with it, so he offered it to us for free, and my banana-loving son happily ate it all before we were out of the produce section.

The employee ended up being a real nice guy, and I’m glad I was there for what was surely the highlight of his shift. After that, we didn’t have much else to say to each other, so my kids and I went on our way. It was an interesting and memorable interaction between a few strangers in a grocery store, momentarily brought together by a freak piece of fruit.

Tattoo a Banana: A Butterfly, Curious George, and C3PO

I found this Tattoo a Banana video by multimedia artist Phil Hansen, and I couldn’t wait to try it out. All you really need to do this is a banana, a thumb tack, and some imagination. My daughter did some ABC’s and stars on a large banana and also chose to tattoo a butterfly on a cute little baby banana.

Butterfly Tattoo 1 Butterfly Tattoo 1 I waited until the kids were in bed to start on my C3PO banana tattoo. That way I could work uninterrupted. I made the mistake of trying to work on the backside of the banana, which meant I had to constantly turn it and also hold it steady for an eternity with my left hand. As I should have guessed, my hand started cramping up after a short while. Then my phone (which I was using as my time-lapse camera) began ringing, so I conveniently took this as I sign to bail on C3PO and start fresh.C3PO Banana Tattoo

For my second attempt, I made sure to lay the banana down flat on its side and I picked something  less complicated: Curious George peeling a banana with a tattoo of himself holding a banana, and on that banana….uh, you get the idea.

Curious George Tat

Here’s the time-lapse video:

This is the first of many projects in Phil Hansen’s book, Tattoo a Banana: And Other Ways to Turn Anything and Everything Into Art. It sounds awesome and you can bet that I’ll be picking up a copy!

THE Best Meatball Recipe for Kids

Mr. Meat Ball

This “Fast and Friendly” recipe is my favorite meatball recipe for kids. Parents will dig them, too. I love it because the end result is tasty but the cooking and prep is a cinch! Leftovers can be frozen and de-thawed later for a quick meal in a pinch. They can be eaten plain, tossed with pasta and spaghetti sauce, or combined with marinara and grated cheese to make meatball subs.

As your children’s taste buds develop, you can experiment with adding other ingredients into the recipe for a more complex flavor. Try seasonings such as salt and pepper, oregano, basil, onion powder, garlic powder, and Worcestershire sauce. I like to add parmesan cheese (2-3 tablespoons) and a just a dash of the herbs mentioned above. If you find that they turn out too dry for your tastes, you can also add a bit of milk or olive oil.

My kids like simple dishes, and they aren’t big on multiple items on the same plate. I can’t blame them because I’m in my thirties and still don’t like when my gravy touches my peas. For now we just serve these meatballs up plain. Hopefully we can level-up to  meatball subs sometime soon.  My son recently started dipping his meatballs in ketchup and barbecue sauce, but now the meatballs are solely a condiment transportation device (CTD) and no longer something to bite into for it’s own sake. Baby steps.

I  simplified or skipped a few steps in this recipe to make it as quick and painless as possible. I mixed all of the ingredients and preheated the oven while I was forming the meatballs, using a small ice cream scoop to make uniform balls. I didn’t worry about preheating the tray. Then I sprayed the foil-lined cooking tray with canola baking spray and plopped on the meatballs and baked for the recommended 15 minutes.

These have been a big hit with my kids, so the last time I made them my wife had bought three pounds of meat and we froze a whole bunch. Now we can just take out a couple at a time, nuke them for a a few minutes, and viola – instant meal. Our next step is to convince our kids that the world would not end if we actually eat our meatballs WITH pasta, or, on a bun.

If you try this, we’d love to know what adaptations you made and how they turned out for you!


Tantalizingly Tasty Black Licorice Pipes

La Pipette

My family hits the local farmer’s market on an almost weekly basis, and whenever we’re there, I always stop in at the candy booth to pick up a few black licorice pipes.

I always found black licorice to be gross when I was growing up, with the exception being these ‘ol fashioned black licorice pipes. They’re so soft and delicious! I have all good intentions of channeling some Popeye as I unwrap each pipe, and yet it never fails that before a single “I am what I am” can escape my lips, I’ve already bitten off the end. They’re a classic nostalgic treat that would make great stocking stuffers for anyone, especially dads.

I offered these up to some friends recently when I remembered that I had several stashed away in my inside coat pocket, and they just gobbled them right up. Now, every time I’m at the market, I seem to end up buying more than the last time. Luckily I’ve found a cheap source where they are two for a dollar! I know that’s a pretty good price because I’ve seen them in candy stores for $1.50 a piece!

You’re always sure to get a smile when you offer a licorice pipe to someone, and they seem to fit in especially well during the holiday season. It makes sense, too, because I can totally imagine Santa munching on some of these babies. Yes, indeed, black licorice pipes get the Secret Dad Society official seal of approval. The next time you are shopping and you see some of these tasty pipes, remember to pick up a few, and give one to the next friend or deserving dad that you encounter. It will make their day!

Say your prayers, pipe.

Say your prayers, pipe.

Real Pumpkin Pie

Every few years, I’ll bake a pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving. It’s not yet a tradition, but it may quickly become one. This year, I had the idea of baking one clearly in my sights, so when I stumbled upon a beautiful display of “baking” pumpkins this past weekend at my local farmer’s market, my interest piqued. Immediately, I imagined how awesome it would be to make my own pie from scratch with fresh pumpkins instead of the canned stuff. Not that I have anything against the canned stuff. I loved my previous pumpkin pies, but I’m sure I’ve never had fresh pumpkin pie from scratch, and I imagine few other people have. As soon as the canned stuff became available in grocery stores, that was probably the beginning of the end for fresh pumpkin pies. Add to that the convenience of premixed pumpkin pie spices, and it makes you wonder what did the old-school fresh pumpkin pies taste like? So, I inquired at the pumpkin stand, and the owner was not only pleasant, but contagiously excited about using fresh pumpkin. It makes sense, since she owns a pumpkin stand.  She made roasting the pumpkins sound as easy as pie (you saw that one coming, right?), which was all that was needed to seal the deal.  Her recommendation was to use a  cheese pumpkin, and of course, I had to ask why it was called that (it’s because it looks like a wheel of cheese, duh).  It’s a bit earlier than Thanksgiving, but waiting longer was not an option for my obsessive self.  Now, please keep in mind that I am using a new recipe, have literally no real baking skills, and have never roasted a pumpkin before, so the odds are favoring disaster. Nevertheless, I must try.

Roasting the Pumpkin

I preheated the oven to 350 degrees, removed the stem by carving it out with a knife (I had tried knocking it off  with a rolling pin but it broke near the base – totally worth the try, though), sliced it horizontally, and placed it on a jelly roll pan to roast 90 minutes. Fortunately, I chose a pan with a lipped edge, because the pumpkin oozed a LOT of water. When we pulled it out of the oven, the outer skin gave under pressure just like it was supposed to, so we knew it was done roasting. We let it sit for approximately one half-hour (feel free to scald your fingertips every few minutes like I did if you are too impatient to wait).  We used an ice cream scoop to remove the pumpkin, which worked out great because we didn’t have to fuss with removing the peel.  Then we blended the fresh pumpkin until it was smooth, strained the excess water, and refrigerated the fresh pumpkin puree overnight so it would be ready to make the actual pie the next day.


On a side note, the pumpkin stand owner assured me that the puree freezes well, so I could have bought and roasted two pumpkins at the same time and froze one batch until Thanksgiving. I probably should have done that – oh well, another lesson learned.


I chose a Cooks Illustrated Pumpkin Pie recipe for the filling and opted for a Pillsbury pre-made shell instead of making my own to save time. It was a tough call, because I originally wanted to make the pie entirely from scratch, but my available time for this was minimal and I can always upgrade to a homemade shell next time.


The pie filling was comprised of two cups pumpkin puree and one cup dark brown sugar, as well as the spices (ground cloves, ginger, cinnamon, and salt). I opted to use individual spices, but you can purchase premixed pie spices in one container to make it simple. Really, I don’t think it matters what recipe you use. Several recipes that I found list the fresh or canned pumpkin in equal amounts on the ingredient list, so I would just try your favorite recipe and swap out equal parts canned pumpkin with the fresh stuff.


All in all, this ended up being a great baking project. Working with pumpkins is always fun and puts you into the spirit of the holidays. As a bonus, the whole house smelled great while the pumpkin was roasting, and then again when we baked the pie. My wife and I were very happy with the finished product. My picky kids wouldn’t touch it, and I forgot to get cool whip, so it was a lost cause. The pie was much lighter and fluffier than those made using canned pie recipes, which seem awfully heavy in comparison. The ready-to-go pie shell tasted great which will surely dampen motivation to make my own on future attempts. All things considered, I would declare my fresh pumpkin pie project a success! Sure, roasting, blending, and straining the pumpkin is time consuming compared to the convenience of using canned, so in a pinch, the latter would be a better option. However, if you do have the time, give fresh pumpkin a try. We’re happy converts with a new Thanksgiving family tradition.

Piping Hot Pumpkin Pie