Treat yourself (or your teacher) to the science of a mocha mask!

  In honor of teacher appreciation week, we’ve got an educator how-to that will make you feel like a million bucks! It’s a great gift for the teacher in your life as they finish up the school year. If you happen to be a teacher, then treat yourself to a 15-minute facial that can revitalize you for those last few weeks of school!Mask Ingredients

  First, grab a few ingredients from your pantry or your local grocery store. For a quick one-person batch, you will need ground coffee (2.5 teaspoons), cocoa powder (2.5 teaspoons), honey (1 teaspoon) and plain yogurt (4 teaspoons).Once you have all the ingredients, combine the ground coffee, cocoa powder and honey in a small bowl. If you are giving it as a gift, seal it up into a container and make a note to add four teaspoons of yogurt before applying it to the face. Don’t add the yogurt until you are almost ready to use the mask.

  When you’ve got 15 minutes all to yourself, add the yogurt to the bowl of other ingredients. Mix it all together and apply the mask to your face and neck, avoiding the eyes. The mask will take about 15 minutes to harden. Once it is hard, rinse your face. It will leave your skin with a radiant glow, and hopefully, this pampering will leave you with a little extra energy for the month ahead.



It may look a little weird at first…

  Now, let’s talk about some science behind this mocha mask! Your skin is the largest organ in your body, so we need to take care of it. It is made of several layers. The innermost layer is subcutaneous fat which stores your energy and helps control your body temperature. The next layer is the dermis, where you make sweat, create oil, and grow hair. This layer is very helpful because sweat helps cool the skin when it gets too hot, and oil allows our skin to be smooth and waterproof. The outermost layer is the epidermis, the layer we are targeting with the mocha mask! At the bottom, the epidermis creates new skin cells, and throughout the course of a month those skin cells travel to the surface and flake off. The coffee grounds in our mud mask will help get rid of some of our older skin cells. This can prevent clogged pores and harmful bacteria from growing on our skin. With this mask, we say, “Out with the old and in with the new!”

  Now that we’ve cleaned off the old skin cells, we need to make sure we didn’t take out all of the moisture from our skin. With too much washing, our skin loses oil, the natural protection created by the dermis. By adding yogurt to our mask, we are replacing the oil with moisturizers to help protect and hydrate our skin. In addition to yogurt, we added honey to our mask. Although we are using only a small amount of honey in our facial mask, the beneficial properties of honey are of note! For centuries, honey has been used as part of skin care in a number of different cultures. It has been used as an antibacterial and as an anti-inflammatory often to treat wounds. For our purposes, the small percentage of honey works as an antioxidant for our skin that can protect our skin cells from UV damage. It works a little like a natural sunscreen!


…but it’s actually quite refreshing!

  For those of you looking to make multiple batches as gifts, just keep the ratios for the ingredients. Also, hold off on the yogurt for now. You can make a note that tells your favorite teacher to add the yogurt when they are ready to apply the face mask!

Mocha Mask Recipe:

· Ground coffee – 2.5 parts

· Cocoa powder – 2.5 parts

· Honey – 1 part

· Plain yogurt – 4 parts

  To all of the teachers, we’d like to say a special thank you from The Houston Museum of Natural Science. Enjoy your mocha mask, and remember summer is just around the corner!

The next time somebody bugs you to cook, cook bugs! We recommend these Chocolate Chirp Cookies

Did you know that insects are eaten in more than three-quarters of the world’s countries? They are a good source of vitamins, minerals, protein, carbohydrates and fats and have a very small environmental footprint when compared to other types of livestock.

Think that’s gross?  You are probably ingesting insect parts everyday — you just don’t know it. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has something that it calls The Food Defect Action Levels, and this document specifies the acceptable amount of bug bits in your groceries. For real. For example, you can totally have “10 or more whole or equivalent insects and 35 fruit fly eggs per eight ounces of golden raisins.” Yum, extra protein!

Having an exoskeleton makes bugs crunchy on the outside but chewy in the middle, like a 100 Grand Bar. You, on the other hand, are chewy on the outside and crunchy in the middle, like a Take-5. The crunch in the exoskeleton comes from chitin, a long polymer chain that makes up the “shells” of many arthropods — including crabs, lobsters and insects. Interestingly, chitin never shows up in animals with an internal skeleton, which recognizes the chitin as a foreign substance and eliminates it. Allergy sufferers take note: If you are allergic to shellfish, you are also probably allergic to insects. Blame the chitin.

A chiton, which is not to be confused with chitin or a chiton (a type of Greek dress), is a type of marine mollusk in the class Polyplacophora. We have several preserved specimens here at the Museum, and they are awesome. This one once went on a trip to Whiskey Bridge with a group of school kids and was referred to by name as “Mr. Ugly.”

Chocolate Chirp CookiesThe third form of chiton (the Greek clothing style) is less likely to be crunchy and more likely to be stylish in everyday use, but appears to have more than one etymological meaning. The Greek “Khitōn” could be used to describe this simple cloth garment or a type of protective armor, which makes total sense when you think about the chitinous exoskeleton of a bug as its protective armor.

Are you totally hooked? Can’t wait to try some chitinous culinary cuisine? You can wait for more blog posts which will feature critters in your own kitchen, you can check out the books below by other famous entomophagists, or you can come visit us on October 26th for Spirits & Skeletons or Oct. 27th for Tricks, Treats & T.Rex — which will both feature a bug chef!


From the Test Kitchen of Julia Chitin: Beginner-Appropriate Chocolate Chirp Cookies

•    Chocolate chip cookie dough of your choice
•    Crickettes (available in the Cockrell Butterfly Center)

Chocolate Chirp CookiesProcedure:
1.    Make sure no one is watching. See Recipe Notes below.
2.    Preheat your oven to the correct temperature as listed on your cookie dough instructions.
3.    Place cookie dough on a baking sheet as you normally would.
4.    Place a single crickette on top of each ball of cookie dough. Don’t be put off if some drumsticks or wings fall off.
5.    Bake as recommended and let cool.
6.    Serve up to your friends and family and enjoy the subtle flavors and audible crunch.

Chocolate Chirp CookiesRecipe Notes:
This recipe is the equivalent of ordering fancy take out and then putting it in your own dishes before the in-laws arrive. Minimal effort for maximum gross out results.

I used to make the cookie dough from scratch using a family recipe, adding in the bugs and mixing well. What I discovered is that the bugs get covered in the dough and aren’t visible. (AND when you are eating cookies with bugs in them, no one actually cares about Nana’s secret recipe.) Save yourself the time — and Nana the heartbreak — and use prepackaged dough.

The crickettes, which generally taste like what they are cooked with or in, will have a slightly nutty flavor and are therefore excellent for replacing nuts in recipes for those with nut allergies.

NOTE: If you have a shellfish allergy, you might also be allergic to insects as well!

Tasty Treats: snacks to revive the weary fossil-hunter

Our guest blogger today is Gretchen, a volunteer at the HMNS who traveled with the Paleo team to Seymour in June. In addition to helping the team excavate in the 120 degree heat, Gretchen acted as head chef, feeding the hot, tired, and dirty diggers at the end of each day. In today’s blog, Gretchen shares with us her best recipes to keep up your energy in the field.

As the chief chef, bottle washer and Dimentrodon digger in Seymour for the week of June 2-7, I was asked to share some of my field recipes with you all!

When you are out digging in the Permian red beds it is important to keep your energy levels high. The best way to do so is to eat home-made cookies! Now, to make sure it will stand up to field conditions, you have to find a cookie recipe that is:

  1. Easy
  2. Not too “crumbly”
  3. Very tasty — even after it has sat in 100-degree temperatures in a zip-lock bag in the back of our truck for days!

The hands-down winner and first runner-up are:

Easy Peanut Butter Cookies

1 (14 ounce) can of sweetened condensed milk

¾ cup peanut butter

2 cups of biscuit mix

1-teaspoon of vanilla extract

1 bag of either (choose one) chocolate chips or chocolate chip/peanut butter swirls.

a plate of cookies
Creative Commons License photo credit: djloche

Combine the sweetened condensed milk and peanut butter in a bowl. Beat with an electric mixer at medium speed until blended. Add biscuit mix and vanilla extract and mix well. Put small amounts of the mix on a cookiesheet (1 teaspoon of mix should do the trick.) Flatten with a fork (If you are up to it you can make a pretty crisscross pattern with the fork! But nobody notices this extra effort in the field so it’s up to you!)

Bake at 375 for 6 to 7 minutes or until slightly golden in color.

Cool on a wire rack.

These cookies are yummy and virtually indestructible!

The runner up favorite was:

Newport Desserts 4lb. Lemon-Fruit Cream Bars1
Creative Commons License photo credit: monstershaq2000

Lemon Crispies

¾ cup of shortening

1-cup of sugar

3 large eggs

2 cups of all-purpose flour

¾ teaspoon of baking soda

1/8 teaspoon of salt

2 (3.4-ounce) packages of lemon instant pudding mix.

Beat Shortening at medium speed with an electric mixer until creamy. Gradually add sugar, beating well. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.

Combine flour and the remaining 3 ingredients; gradually add to shortening mixture, beating well. Drop dough by rounded teaspoonfuls onto lightly greased baking sheets. Bake at 375 farenheit for 8 to 9 minutes or until cookies are lightly browned. Cool one minute on baking sheets; remove to wire racks to cool completely.

I also made traditional “Toll House Cookies” that are a crowd favorite. Just buy a bag of chocolate chips and follow the recipe on the back!

For dinner (with leftovers for lunch the following day) I like to make soup. You can get the soup prepared; put it in a crock pot on low when you leave for the day in the field — and when you get back to the Ranch the soup is hot and ready to go!

I was lucky on this trip that on my way to Seymour I stopped by a roadside farmer’s stand just outside of Dublin, Texas. (For you trivia buffs, the question is: “What is Dublin, Texas world-famous for?” The answer will be at the end of the blog.) At the stand I was able to purchase sweet potatoes (or yams, I can never tell), red potatoes, yellow squash, sweet onions, peaches and fresh eggs. I incorporated these fresh ingredients in my cooking all week long. It’s cool when you can see the garden that your produce came from and the trees that the peaches were pulled off of and the chickens whose eggs you are enjoying. You know that everything is farm-fresh. A real treat for us Houston City Dwellers!

The hands-down favorite soup of the week was:

Monterey Chicken Soup

3 Tablespoons of Olive Oil

1 & ½ medium onion, chopped

2 large garlic cloves, minced (I used 4, garlic is good for you!)

3 (4-ounce) cans of green chilies, diced. (Look for “Hatch Green Chilies” — they are the best and the hot ones are HOT!)

2 yellow squash cubed *

3 red potatoes cubed *

3 teaspoons chili powder

2 teaspoons ground comino

3 teaspoons oregano

12 cups of chicken broth

3 (14&1/2-ounce) cans of tomatoes, diced with juice

4 cups of chicken cubed (I used about 8 thighs cut up.) You can use pre-cooked chicken.

4 cups of frozen corn, thawed (If I had found good-looking corn-on-the-cob I would have scraped the corn from the cobs and used that. Unfortunately, my roadside stand did not have corn – to early in the season.)

2/3 cups of cilantro

Salt and pepper to add some taste

*Not in the original recipe, but with my roadside stand I found that they added great taste to an already great soup!

Heat oil, onion and garlic until transparent. Add chilies and spices and cook for one minute. Add broth and tomatoes and bring to a boil. Add chicken, corn, extra vegetables, and cilantro. Cook 30 minutes or until potatoes and/or chicken is done. Season with salt and pepper for taste.

I served a wonderful Corn Casserole with the soup; which was great the next day for breakfast too!

½ cup of butter, melted

1-cup of sour cream

1 egg

1 can (16-ounce) of whole kernel corn, drained

1 can (16-ounce) of cream style corn, UNdrained

1 (9-ounce) package of corn muffin mix

1 cup of grated cheddar cheese

In a large bowl, mix together butter, sour cream and egg.

Stir in cans of corn and corn muffin mix.

Spoon into a 9-inch square pan (or 2 quart casserole dish)

Bake in a 375-degree oven for 45 minutes or until golden brown.

Remove from oven and top with cheese.

Return to oven for 5 to 10 minutes, or until cheese is melted. Let stand for 5 minutes and serve warm.

Although I really enjoyed cooking for the crew, nothing beats sitting in the hot West Texas sun, digging and brushing carefully through the Permian soil looking for the bones of reptiles and other animals long extinct! We found some pretty cool bones on this trip; including a huge claw and some very tiny bones of an unknown animal!

P.S. Dublin, Texas is the home of Doctor Pepper! You can purchase Doctor Pepper made from the original recipe there. The whole town is covered with Doctor Pepper signs and murals. Dublin is well worth the trip off the main highway to visit.