A Museum staffer gets our mouths watering with science-inspired sweet stuff: Meet Jillian & Co.!

You’ve probably seen those scrumptious sweets we’ve posted over the last few months: A butter-cream (and bronze) mummy here, a delicious chocolate-dipped dinosaur there . . . well, there’s a story behind those geeky goodies, and it starts right here at HMNS.

HMNS cookies courtesy of Jillian & Co

One of our membership staff, Jillian Villa, runs a successful pastry business when she’s not making sure the Museum experience runs smoothly for our members. Jillian & Co., which Villa runs with her mother, specializes in custom confections for a variety of events — from baby showers to paleo parties.

We can say from experience that the Villas’ creations are as delicious as they are attractive — something of a feat in the field of impeccable-looking sweet stuff.

To learn more about our talented staffer and her work at Jillian & Co., click here

Need an excuse to order mass amounts of chocolate-dipped goodness? She’s a popular choice for Party Smarty birthday parties… just sayin’. We’re trying to help you get your fix.

Educator How-to: Teach archaeology with edible excavation

It’s time, once again, for our monthly Educator How-To! Today we’ll help you teach kids to keep track of what they find — just like an archaeologist does.

Archaeologists keep careful records, as do all scientists. One important way to keep track of their work is by mapping where each artifact is discovered. Show your students how to plot artifact locations onto a grid with this tasty activity!

Materials
• Large chocolate chip cookies with lots of chips
• Toothpicks – 1 box
• Waxed paper sheets
• Cookie grid
• Markers
• Masking tape
• Ziploc baggies – 1 per child

Screen shot 2012-07-26 at 7.40.37 PMA printable cookie grid just for you

Procedure

1. Tell the students that they are going to be excavating a chocolate chip cookie. And just like a real archaeologist, they must record where each “artifact” is found. In addition, they must be as careful as possible to get each “artifact” out of the “dig site” with the least amount of damage.

2. Supply each student with a cookie, a piece of waxed paper, a toothpick, a pencil, and a cookie grid worksheet.

3. Students should carefully draw a grid on their cookie using a black marker. It should match the grid on the worksheet cookie as closely as possible.

4. Students should then carefully excavate the “artifacts” out of the cookie trying to cause as little damage to the “artifact” (the chips) or the “dig site” (the cookie).

5. When they retrieve an “artifact,” they must assign it a number and plot it on the cookie grid. When an “artifact” is removed, it should be put on a small piece of masking tape and numbered.

6. Give each child a baggie to put all of their “artifacts” in.

7. When the time is up for this activity, count each child’s “artifacts” and look at the condition of their “dig site” to determine the most successful archaeologist for the day.

While we are working with cookies here, we do not advise eating the dig site or munching on your priceless artifacts — extra cookies are recommended!

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.

Testing for the Best

Summer is here and one of the new Xplorations classes this year is Test for the Best, a class about consumer product testing (think Consumer Reports for kids: more about chocolate and toys and less about vacuum cleaners). I had fun checking out their experiments the past two weeks. 

How long does your chewing gum keep its flavor?  Does that battery really keep going and going and going?  Campers smeared fabric (in this case, socks) with chocolate sauce, ketchup and more before testing out stain removers:

ed-stained-socks.jpg

They also tested battery life, plastered themselves in bandages to see which ones would stick the longest, sampled chocolate chip cookies and created an advertising campaign for imaginary products, complete with slogans and fine print warnings!  Here are a few pictures:

The bandage line-up:

ed-bandage-line-up-2.jpg

 Some results from testing waterproof bandages:

 ed-bandage-indiv-1.jpg

Ready for a blind(folded) taste test:

ed-blind-taste-test.jpg

Working on an ad (and simultaneously testing markers):

ed-gum-poster-early.jpg

The slogan:

 ed-gum-slogan.jpg

And another group’s ad:

ed-mystery-box-poster.jpg  

Complete with a warning label:

ed-mystrey-warning-label.jpg

After rating many other things (microwave popcorn, cereal, etc.), on Friday the campers tested several things of their own choosing; bouncy balls, frozen treats, and chocolate bars.

ed-bouncy-ball.jpg 

We’re always looking for more ideas, so what do you think we should test in July?