Hello Darkness, My Old Friend

hello-darknessAfraid of the dark? Nah! With this fantastic, illuminating friend, you can discover how much fun the dark really is! And if you’re still not convinced, join us for a glowing balloon bounce bonanza!

We read Orion and The Dark by Emma Yarlett (Templar Books, 2015). Orion is scared of everything, but he’s especially scared of the dark. Imagine his surprise when one night, the dark comes alive and drop right into his room! It turns out the Dark is actually a fun and playful friend. Together, they explore Orion’s house and town and he learns that the things he was afraid of…aren’t that scary. They’re actually kind of cool! In the grand finale, Orion and the Dark endeavor to conquer Orion’s final fear – outer space. Far from scary, outer space is simply magical. The friends return to Orion’s house just as dawn breaks. The Dark must go, but he promises to never be far away. In fact, he’ll be back every night for a visit!

You’ll need:

  • 1 large oatmeal container
  • 2 toilet paper tubes
  • Some tagboard or strong cardboard
  • Blue construction paper
  • A selection of foil star stickers
  • A pair of wiggle eyes
  • A small piece of white pipe cleaner
  • Glow-in-the-dark paint or glue
  • 1 paintbrush
  • Scissors and tape for construction
  • Hot glue

project-viewed-in-light

Begin by wrapping a large oatmeal container and 2 toilet paper tubes with blue construction paper. Set them aside for a moment. Cut a pair of oval feet (our were approximately 2.25″ x 3.75″), then cover the tops of the ovals with blue construction paper. Hot glue the feet to the bottoms of the toilet paper tube legs, toggle the legs a bit to get the balance just right, then hot glue them to the bottom of the oatmeal container.

Finish by adding a circle of blue construction paper to the top of the oatmeal container, construction paper arms on the sides, and foil star stickers everywhere.

Now to add the glow! We had a bottle of this non-toxic glow pigment in the cabinet, so we went with glow glue. I’m sure you’d also get great results with glow-in-the-dark paint as well (it’s sold at Michael’s Craft Store for $3 – $5 a bottle). We covered our work tables with paper, gave each kid a little cup of glue and a paintbrush, and let them create a night sky on their projects.

painting-the-projectThe neat thing about the glow glue is that it dried semi-clear, so there’s a bit of a dramatic reveal when it illuminates:

project-viewed-in-light-and-darkNotice how the eyes and mouth of the project are glowing too? Those are glow-in-the-dark wiggle eyes (available through Oriental Trading Company – a pack of 100 is $3) and a snippet of white pipe cleaner painted with glow glue. We were dubious at first, but the glue stuck to the pipe cleaner very nicely and dried quickly. It also stuck to Katie’s hands, giving her awesome alien fingers.

glow-fingersWhile the kids’ projects were drying on the tables, we decided to capture the spirit of the book by having lots of fun in the dark. We blew up a bunch of LED balloons (which you first encountered in this post), turned out the lights, blasted some Enya, and had a big, glowing balloon bounce party.

glow-balloon-partyWe also had a little black light closet set up, so kids could get a preview of what their creations would look like later than night.

inside-glow-room

one-glow-designtwo-glow-designSome of the balloon revelers ended up in the black light closet too. Because why not?

balloon-in-black-light-room

Mrs. Wonka

mrs-wonkaThe name “Mr. Willy Wonka” is synonymous with delicious chocolate, zany confections, and unusual flavors. Who doesn’t, for example, want to try a Wonka’s Whipple-Scrumptious Fudgemallow Delight? See what’s simmering in the Inventing Room? Or take a sip of that amazing, rich, creamy chocolate that’s been mixed by waterfall? But you can’t of course, it’s just a story in a book.

But what if I told you that you could?

Enter Gabi Carbone, co-owner of, and flavor wizard for, The Bent Spoon. Established in 2004, the Bent Spoon is a renowned artisanal ice cream and good ingredients bakery in Princeton, New Jersey. And when I say “renowned” I mean that it is legend.

gabi-and-matt

Photo courtesy of the Bent Spoon

Not only do they have a mission to use regionally-sourced and preferably organic ingredients, they offer some of the most unique and delicious flavors your tongue has ever dared to taste.  Alongside classics like vanilla, chocolate, and pistachio, you will also find avocado, sweet corn, basil, bacon, kale, cardamom ginger, habanero pepper, heirloom tomato, and green tea.

In addition to ice cream and sorbets, the Bent Spoon offers baked goods so amazing, you will find yourself standing in their long line of daily customers to snag a fork-pressed peanut butter cookie, a creamy cupcake, or a brownie with a well of caramel sea salt embedded in the center.

browniesGabi has brought her flavor wizardry to our library events too. She created chocolate Earl Grey ice cream for Alice in Wonderland, lime sorbet “Bombo” for Treasure Island, nector & ambrosia sorbet (with a hint of pomegranate) for The Lightning Thief, and honey ice cream for Robin Hood. Recently, I caught up with Gabi to chat about her magical Wonka touch.


Tell us a little about your culinary background!

I think both Matt [co-owner of the Bent Spoon] and I have been involved in culinary everything from the time we were in our young teens. I got my first job at a good ‘ol café near my house. They had a soft serve machine and I started learning how to use it. It was a small family run business, and Matt bussed dishes at a restaurant! Both Matt and I grew up with families that really enjoyed food and had small gardens… and we both worked in food service at a young age. We got a taste for all of it.

After I graduated college, I lived in Japan for a year. I took every possible class and visited every grandma to learn how to make miso, soba, ramen…basically everything! I eventually went to the French Culinary Institute in New York City for pastries. That was my formal education, but ice cream making and almost everything else came from absorption. If you really love it, you search out teachers wherever you can.

How do you craft or discover different flavors of ice cream?

We have over 550, probably 600 flavors by now. It all comes from wanting to make it taste as much like the pure thing as possible. Cantaloupe, pear…to make it taste like a cold version of that thing. Once that part is good, it’s deciding what spins on that. A great example is Matt’s grandma always loved to eat pears with sour cream. We had to figure out how to craft that. Then we may taste it and think “oh, this could use some lavender just for fun.” Starting out 12 years ago, it was really important for us to perfect the individual flavors. When we first started out, we didn’t have a flavor like ‘Peach Rose’ or ‘Bellini’ because we wanted to perfect just the flavor of peach. We built on the core flavor.

yummy-tripleWhat’s the most unusual ingredient you have experimented with?

There’s a lot of them. Oysters, lobsters, mushrooms, different kinds of wood…

Seriously?

Yes! I joke that we go through periods, like our wood period. It almost doesn’t matter what it is because every ingredient is fascinating to work with. But milk and cream are still amazing ingredients. Everything gets reverence.

If you could turn one non-edible flavor into a baked good, ice cream or confection, what would it be?

A wet brick. I like the smell of a brick building after it rains.

I heard rumors about marshmallows flavored with mushrooms. Is that true?

Yes, marshrooms! They are delicious. I love them because they are so earthy in taste. I use maitake mushrooms, which are the hen of the wood mushrooms. They are beautiful, gorgeous, earthy and delicious. It’s a cool way to eat your mushrooms – enjoying it as a marshmallow on your hot chocolate.

What are the challenges of flavor experimentation?

Very few challenges, really. It’s more about just doing it. Ice cream making is sometimes like making a soup. You start with an idea and if you don’t like the way it tastes, you add a little of this and add a little of that. Try it.

Once though, I made a peach sriracha flavor, which was delicious. But after seven days, not so delicious. The garlic got very strong. So one challenge is to see how an ice cream tastes a week later. Sometimes it’s awesome because the flavor develops even more. But sometimes it doesn’t work. Like if it’s a garlic, or onion, or a chocolate chip Bellini flavor. It’s great for four days, maybe. But get it to a week? It tastes like a big onion.

In a few words, describe your philosophy on creating delicacies for your customers.

Real. Lots of love. I feel like local and sustainable are together, they are not separate things. You can throw organic in there, too. Community, for sure. Empathy is a huge one, believe it or not. Thinking about the chicken that laid the egg that’s eventually going to be here, or someone who is growing the product, what it takes to make it, empathy for the customer with a food allergy…that’s a big one.

mini-cupcakes

Of all the goodies at The Bent Spoon, which one has the most rabid fan base?

You’d be surprised, but every area has its own fan base. The banana whip people are the banana whip people, the hot caramel people are the hot caramel people, the chocolate sorbet people are the chocolate sorbet people, and the hot chocolate people are the hot chocolate people. And we know what you are, Dana!

My blood is 75% Bent Spoon hot chocolate.


I’ll finish this post with a quote from the blog, Serious Eats. They visited the Bent Spoon and had the following to say:

“These are the kinds of flavors so powerful that they go beyond mere taste—conjuring up memories, rather than just sensation. ‘This tastes like Peanut Butter Ripple at this one, tiny ice cream place on the Jersey shore,’ mused my dining companion, as we worked our way through the flavors. ‘This tastes like stealing my neighbor’s pears in September.’ ‘This tastes like Thanksgiving.’ And with the lingering warmth of all those pumpkin pie spices, with the bite of cranberry and sweetness of apple, it truly did.”

It’s fantastic, fabulous, and dare I say it? Wondercrump flavor magic.

Rockin’ Rhino

rockin-rhinoWant a pet rhino? Of course you do! But pet ownership is a tremendous responsibility. Get prepared with a customized accessory bag that contains a water dish, rhino snacks, and a cozy fleece blanket.

We read Rita’s Rhino by Tony Ross (Andersen Press, 2014). Rita wants a pet, but her mom insists on something small. Like a flea. Or a tadpole. Unimpressed, Rita heads to the zoo and invites a rhinoceros home. She’s thrilled, but there are some problems. Like coaxing the rhino into the elevator, cramming him into her family’s small apartment, paying for heaps of specialized rhino food, and dealing with the enormous piles of poop that must be hidden in the park every day. Rita’s rhino is a good sport about his new, cramped life. Until he’s mistaken for a bouncy castle during a visit to Rita’s school. That does it. The rhino heads back to the zoo. But Rita and the rhino miss each other. So they agree to meet up, every summer, for a little beach vacation.

You’ll need:

  • 1 large box (mine was 4.5” X 4.5” x 9” – a large tissue box works too)
  • Light blue poster board
  • A rhino body template, printed on 11 x 17 paper
  • White poster board
  • 1 small rectangle of tagboard or poster board (approximately 1.75″ x 3″)
  • 1 piece of yarn (approximately 29″ in length)
  • A pair of wiggle eyes
  • 1 paper bag
  • A rectangle of felt or fleece (approximately 11 x 15.5″)
  • 1 paper cup
  • A rectangle of blue cellophane (approximately 4″ x 5″)
  • 1 small drawstring bag (or a small paper bag)
  • A bit of paper crinkle
  • Scissors and tape for construction
  • Markers for decorating
  • Hot glue

The rhino basically is a pull string toy, and we wanted it to glide effortlessly across the floor on its leash. So we attached wheels to the bottom of our boxes. We used the same plastic wheels assemblies from this crêpe cart project (and if you’re interested in purchasing the wheels, you’ll find info in this post). Tape shortened drinking straws to the bottom of the box, thread some bamboo skewer axles through the straws, then stick the plastic wheels on the ends of the skewers.

rhino-wheelsYou can also use cardboard wheels or skip the wheels entirely and simply slide the box across the floor. Now for the rest of the rhino! Fold a large, 7.5″ x 28″ piece of light blue poster board in half. Cut the rhino body from the template, then place the nose of the rhino template against the fold in the poster board. Cut the template out of the poster board, leaving the nose fold intact.

rhino-body-step-1Cut a rhino horn out of white poster board and hot glue it inside the fold. Hot glue 1″ of the entire front of the fold together as well. This gives your rhino the appropriate muzzle shape. Tape or glue the rhino body to the box, making sure the leave about 1″ of space between the rhino body and the bottom of the box.

rhino-body-step-2Cut a piece of light blue poster board to fit the back section of the box. Round the top of it and tape or hot glue it to the box. This is your rhino’s rump. Again, leave about 1″ of space between the rhino body and the bottom of the box. And don’t forget to add a tail!

rhino-body-step-3

Attach a pair of ears, a pair of wiggle eyes, and 4 legs. Our legs were 2″ x 3.5″. We bent them slightly so they wouldn’t drag on the ground or rub against the wheels. Use markers to add nostrils, a smile, and toenails. Decorate two strips of white poster board (ours were 1″ x 6″) and attach to either side of the neck to create a collar.

rhino-body-step-5

Did you notice the red yarn leash in the above photo? To make a leash, cut notches in a 1.75″ x 3″ piece of tagboard or poster board, then knot a 29″ piece of yarn around it.

rhino-pull-string-knotAttach the leash assembly to the front of the box (under the rhino’s the “chin”). Keep the assembly towards the bottom of the box. If it’s up too high, your rhino will keep tipping over.

rhino-body-step-4That’s it for the rhino, now for your accessories! Our paper accessory bags held a water dish, a bag of African grass, and a fleece blanket (we offered a choice of pink, blue, or purple).

rhino-care-kitThe water dish was a shortened paper cup  with blue cellophane taped to it. In the book, Rita’s rhino eats African grass, so we hot glued labels to the front of a small drawstring bag (left over from this Viking event). The kids colored in the labels and stuffed the bags with a green paper crinkle.

african-grass

You’ll notice the paper bag and the water dish have the rhino’s name emblazoned on them. You can write directly on the paper bag, but we used address labels for the water dish. I loved this part of the project. The names were so creative! A few of my favorites? Bluebell, Giga, Bubba, Trix, Tany, Twinkle, and Baki. You gotta love Twinkle the rhino.