Potter After Hours

potter after hours at the franklin instituteKatie is once again off on wild adventures. Remember that time she spent a year in Europe? Or how about when she dropped by Antiques Roadshow? This time, Katie journeyed to the Franklin Institute for a veeeeeery special Harry Potter event. Take it away, Katie!


It’s universally understood the Harry Potter series has captured the hearts of children, but adults are just as passionate about Harry and his adventures at Hogwarts. I count myself as one of those adults who is a Harry Potter fanatic, so naturally I leapt at the opportunity to attend Wizard School, an after-hours adult only program held at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia.

katie at the franklin insitute science after hoursThe Franklin Institute is one of the oldest museums in the United States dedicated to science education and research, and it is absolutely one of my favorite places to take my son when we have a free day. Named after Benjamin Franklin, the Franklin Institute has four floors of amazing science exhibitions, a planetarium, IMAX theatre, and even a telescope observatory on the roof.

Science After Hours is a series of events the Franklin Institute holds for adults 21+ and is designed around a specific theme, like Wizard School, with demonstrations, live speakers, music and dancing, activities, a chance to explore the entire museum at night, and…a cash bar.

As soon as I arrived, I snagged a cup of Butter Beer and started wandering through the museum to various activity tables. Wizard’s Chess anyone?

wizarding chess at the franklin instituteIn the Giant Heart exhibit, I tested to see if I was a pure blood by pouring a glass of clear liquid into a second glass of clear liquid. If the mixture turned red, you were a pure blood. If it didn’t, you were a Muggle. The magic is a pH indicator, phenolphthalein, being mixed with water and reacting to sodium carbonate, which is present in the second glass. The sodium carbonate and phenolphthalein react and turn the liquid red. If one glass didn’t have the chemical, the liquid remained clear. My glass turned red – I’m a pure blood witch!

pure blood testing at the franklin instituteI made my way past a very long line of people waiting to make a magical amulet so I could watch part of the Raptores Maximus show. Mike Dupuy, a local falconer and educator, introduced several of his birds of prey. Including Mr. Big Owl, a Eurasian owl who had the most stunning orange eyes.

mike dupuy with mr. big owl franklin instituteNext, I journeyed on to Pepper Hall, where I was greeted by 2 very long lines: 1) Make your own wand; and 2) Visit the Slimy Serpent, Critter, and Creature Magic Supply Shoppe. The Supply Shoppe was a tremendous display of potions ingredients and various critters you may discover as a student at Hogwarts, including snakes, spiders, frogs and even a jar of leeches. But I opted for wand making because I was curious to see how the Franklin Institute would handle a wand craft for well over a thousand people after our experience with our much smaller Wand Works event.

The wand craft was impressively simple, but quite impactful. As you approached the front of the line, you selected a colored light bulb with wire legs (identical to the bulbs we tested in the Circuit Clay kit). You moved forward and were given a small button cell battery and a paper straw that had been cut on one end to provide a slit for the battery to rest. Volunteers demonstrated how to slide the two legs of the bulb onto each side of the battery, illuminating the bulb, and then gave you two pieces of tape to secure the bulb onto the battery and secure the battery into the slit at the top of your straw.

The final step was a wood clothespin, which is where you insert the paper straw. The clothespin is wrapped with more tape to keep the straw from falling out and becomes the handle of the wand. After the wand is complete, there were tables with markers, star stickers and tiny jewels to bedazzle your wand. No two wands were alike!

wand making at the franklin instituteI tried to attend a presentation called The Absolutely True Fake Story of the Philosopher’s Stone. I should have used an Apparition spell to get me to the theater faster because the seats were full by the time I arrived. Not deterred, I walked through Platform 3.14 to see the Hogwarts Express (cleverly disguised as a Baldwin 60000 locomotive engine, which is on permanent display in the Train Factory exhibit).

platform 3.14 at franklin instituteMany of the demonstration tables had student volunteers from nearby colleges, including Drexel University, Temple University, and the University of Pennsylvania. The students were enthusiastically full of scientific information – such as the possibility of real-life invisibility cloaks (i.e. lasers and thermal imaging cameras). They were ready to be peppered with questions from everyone. Including Voldemort.

voldemort at the franklin instituteThe OwlCapella group from Temple University was serenading those in the ticketing atrium who had paused to rest their feet or have a snack, and I got a good laugh when I noticed Harry Potter conducting, unbeknownst to the choir. Total Potterbomb.

owlcappella at franklin instituteThe grand finale was held in the Franklin Memorial Hall, in front of a giant statue of Benjamin Franklin. Everyone was asked to raise their newly made wands and chant the Incendio spell. The result was a mighty green fireball explosion, courtesy of about a dozen large balloons filled with hydrogen. Very cool.


And just in case you’re wondering, Dr. Dana has ignited giant fireballs in the name of wizardry as well. You’ll find that here.

Wizard School was so popular, the Franklin Institute added a second date at the end of November! Dr. Dana and I are eagerly awaiting the Science After Hours schedule for 2019 with hopes there will be another literary related evening for us to enjoy. Stay tuned!

Love Potion No. 9

love potion no 9

Magic abounds as you create your very own “Love-Never-Lies” potion and examine the mystical properties of liquid nitrogen. Katie recently unleashed her science wizardry at To Be Continued, our chapter book story time for 6-8 year-olds!

We read The Wizards of Once by Cressida Cowell (Little, Brown, 2017). Back in the Dark Ages, in a dangerous woods, two children from warring tribes unexpectedly meet. Xar is from the Wizard tribe, even though he possesses no magic, and Wish is from the Warrior tribe, even though she is clumsy. Both feel out of place in their homes. Both are a tremendous disappointment to their royal parents. And both are currently doing something they definitely should NOT be doing. Their meeting sparks an epic adventure involving magic, dangerous creatures, daring escapes, clever double-crosses, a fainting assistant bodyguard, and the discovery of what friendship truly means. The Wizards of Once is hilarious, fantastical, and face-paced read-aloud. Our story time absolutely kids loved it.

One potion that plays a pivotal role in the book is “Love-Never-Lies.” It has two properties:. 1) If you eat, drink, or smell it, you fall in love with the next person (or animal!) you see; and 2) If you are holding the potion and tell a lie, it changes from red to blue. The bigger the lie, the darker the blue.

So with color changing potions in mind, Katie put together an awesome little demonstration with acids and bases using household items and red cabbage juice.

katie experiements with pHThe red cabbage indicator demo is simple, inexpensive, but impactful. The experiment involves adding red cabbage juice to various household acid and bases, and then observing how the acids and bases change color according to their pH level. Katie used these instructions from ZLIFE Education’s website, and lectured about pH, acidity, and anthocyanin. Then, she upped the science magic with liquid nitrogen.

scientist katieWearing gloves, wielding protective eye gear, and armed with her knowledge of nitrogen-infused particles, Katie froze balloons, carnation flowers, and made clouds. It was AWESOME.

nitrogen balloonfrozen carnationsnitrogen cloudsThe grand finale was mixing your very own bottle of “Love-Never-Lies” potion to take home. Katie purchased some 5″ vintage replica bottles with corks from Amazon (10 bottles cost $20). These are the same bottles we used with much success for our Sherlock Holmes escape room.

three potion bottlesKatie filled the bottles with water, and then kids came forward to choose the color and amount of food dye for Katie to drip into the bottle. As the colors mixed, the kids predicted the final color of the potion.

potion color predictionCressida Cowell is also the author of the How to Train Your Dragon series. If you’d like to see what we did with that book, you’ll find the post here. And holy clouds, if you haven’t seen the trailer for How to Train Your Dragon 3, get thee to the internet!

Rock Cakes by Hagrid

rock cakes by hagridHarry Potter is celebrating a birthday shortly, which is the only excuse we need to bust out our hats and robes and do something Potter. You might recall our Wand Works event, which included some awesome Flourish & Blotts giveaways. Well, when Katie and I were researching said giveaways, we stumbled across The Unofficial Harry Potter Cookbook by Dinah Bucholz (Adams Media, 2010). Today, we’re going to test a couple recipes from the book. And post reaction shots. In wizard robes.

the unofficial harry potter cookbook by dinah bucholzThe cookbook contains 10 chapters and 150 recipes. While a traditional cookbook organizes its recipes under chapters like main dishes, salads, and sides, the Unofficial Potter has chapters like “Recipes from a Giant and an Elf” (Rock Cakes, Bath Buns, Treacle Fudge, Kreacher’s French Onion Soup, etc.) and “Good Food with Bad Relatives” (Lemon Pops, Knickerbocker Glory, Roast Pork Loin, Mulligatawny Soup, etc.).

The Unofficial Potter is also an interesting education in British cuisine, as recipes for crumpets, kippers, and black pudding are included, among other things. Each recipe in the cookbook is matched to a Harry Potter reference and there are also very interesting bits of culinary history. For example, did you know the first ice cream recipe came to England in the 1600s and King Charles the I swore his cook to secrecy because he wanted to keep the delicious dessert exclusive to royalty? Such a scallywag.

OK! On to the recipe tests! Katie tested 3, and I tested 1. Here we go…


ROCK CAKES, tested by Katie

The recipe for Hagrid’s infamous rock cakes was one of the first I spotted in The Unofficial Harry Potter Cookbook. I couldn’t wait to give it a go and see if they are as delicious as Hagrid claims because we all know he eats them throughout the Harry Potter series. My sous-chef son had been eager to get back into the kitchen with me after our failed attempt at making Monsieur Bon-Bon’s Top Secret “Fooj.” We’ve baked many times together, so we were confident we wouldn’t mess up this recipe!

My sous-chef carefully measured and combined all of the dry ingredients (flour, sugar, baking powder, cinnamon and salt) into a mixing bowl while I prepared the cookie sheet and turned on the oven. After we washed our hands several times, we dove into mixing the butter into the dry ingredients.

rock cakes 1It didn’t take long before the use of our fingertips turned into the use of our full fingers (and some of our hands) in order to make sure we fully incorporated the butter into the dry ingredients.

rock cakes 2After folding the egg and milk into butter mixture, we slowly mixed in the raisins. This was the only time we both grew concerned about the rock cakes. The batter seemed really thick and tough to mix. After a short while, my son didn’t have the strength to fold in the raisins so he passed the spoon over to me. Even I had a hard time making sure the raisins were fully mixed in!

Once we both determined the raisins were well combined, we dropped the dough onto the cookie sheet. We skipped using a tablespoon to measure the dough size and just eye-balled the amounts. There was a small amount of batter leftover that my son used for his own personal “teeny tiny” rock cake.

rock cakes 3We slid the cookie sheet into the oven for 25 minutes, turning the sheet once in the middle of the baking cycle. Once the rock cakes were lightly brown on the bottom, we pulled them out and set them on racks to cool. The next morning, Dr. Dana and Marissa’s office test confirmed…the recipe is a winner!

rock cake taste testRock cakes have the appearance and consistency of a scone, so they would be perfect as a morning treat with a cup of coffee or eaten in the afternoon with a spot of tea. My son and I brainstormed other filling options to use in place of raisins and we came up with dried fruits, such as cranberries, cherries or blueberries, chocolate chips, or perhaps just including a splash of vanilla extract to the dough. You could also skip adding anything and eat plain rock cakes with a pat of butter and glob of your favorite jam or jelly.

In honor of Hagrid, Dr. Dana and I set one rock cake aside and let it harden for over a week to see what would happen. It was hard, though not as hard as a rock because Ian was able to take a bite and not break a tooth. I deem the rock cakes recipe worthy of trying in your kitchen!


ACID DROPS tested by KATIE

Confident from our success with the rock cakes, my sous-chef and I moved onto another intriguing recipe: acid drops. Poor Ron Weasley had a hole burned in his tongue when his mischievous brother, Fred, gave him one to try. What would happen to us?

I had most of the necessary ingredients already, but I did have to hunt down cream of tartar, which I discovered in the spice aisle, and citric acid, which was kept with the accessories needed for home canning.

citric acid and cream of tartarAs I lined two baking sheets with parchment paper, my son measured and combined the water, sugar, and cream of tartar in a small pot. He asked for help with the corn syrup as it looked to him to be hard to measure correctly. I happily obliged to avoid a sticky syrupy mess. We followed the directions carefully, stirred the mixture constantly and used a candy thermometer once our concoction was bubbling. We watched the candy thermometer slowly rise in temperature, stirring every once in a while.

acid drops 1All was going well until the mixture reached a temperature of about 250 degrees Fahrenheit. That’s when I noticed our whitish clear blend suddenly started turning brown.

acid drops 2There was also a distinguishable burning smell being emitted from the pot. I knew this was not good, but we decided to follow through until the mixture was at 300 degrees Fahrenheit, per the recipe. Once it hit that temperature, I turned off the burner and we added the citric acid. As soon as the mixture had cooled and stopped bubbling, we took turns dropping teaspoon sized circles of the candy onto the baking sheets.

acid drops 3Total fail. Acid drops are supposed to be yellow or yellowish-white, not dark brown almost black. The smell of the candies also reaffirmed what I already knew: the sugar had scorched and the candies were a bust. On a dare, Dr. Dana tried one of the burned candies. I think this image says it all.

dr. dana taste tests burned acid dropAttempt #2. I consulted Google to find suggestions or ideas from others who have suffered similar fates with their candy. Apparently sugar is very easy to burn, so you have to be cautious when your mixture starts getting close to reaching 300 degrees Fahrenheit. Armed with this new information, I set forth to try again.

I think I may have pulled the mixture off the burner too soon because it didn’t harden into candy. It was congealed and looked like white, stringy amoebas when I dropped it onto the baking sheets.

acid drop 6Not wanting to give up, I tried the recipe for a third time. Did I finally find success? Maybe.

acid drops 5The third candy attempt definitely had a yellow appearance, smelled like lemons, and hardened into round-ish discs. The acid drops were sour to the taste, but not overly sour like I had expected. What we didn’t anticipate was once we put the acid drops into our mouths, the candy adhered itself entirely to our teeth! It was quite alarming. Here are Dr. Dana and Ian captured at the very moment the acid drops adhered to their enamel like a vise:

acid drops taste testMy takeaway from trying to make acid drops is that I’m a baker, not a candy maker. I offer a round of applause to those who can make candy because, alas, it is proven that I cannot. I’ll officially hang up my candy maker hat and leave the job to Honeydukes.


TRIPLE POWER ICY LEMON POPS tested by KATIE

My sous-chef son was thrilled when we found the lemon pops recipe in The Unofficial Harry Potter Cookbook because he has a wicked sweet tooth (like his mother) and he absolutely loves anything with lemons. He’s been known to steal lemon slices from my water glass and eat them raw without making a funny sour face.

The only ingredient that I didn’t already have in my kitchen for the lemon pops was lemon extract, which I found in the spice aisle at our local grocery store. I took care grating the zest of our lemon directly into the saucepan, making sure to not add any of the white rind because that could cause the lemon pops to have a bitter taste.

lemon pops 1My sous-chef squeezed the juice out of the zested lemon using our handy lemon/lime press, and then he added the sugar and water to the pan. After bringing the mixture to a simmer, we turned off the heat and added the lemon extract. We let the mixture cool down a bit before pouring it into our popsicle molds, then we placed the molds into the freezer.

lemon pops 2Many hours later, we gave the lemon pops a taste. Delicious! The combination of the lemon zest, juice and extract along with the added sugar gave the lemon pops a nice sweet and sour flavor that almost tasted like limoncello liquor. But trust me when I say that these popsicles were absolutely alcohol free.

lemon pop taste test

Two hardy thumbs up for the Triple Power Icy Lemon Pops! We agree with Harry Potter, these popsicles are quite good!


CHOCOLATE PUDDING tested by DR. DANA

I tested something chocolate. Are you shocked? Specifically, I tested the chocolate pudding recipe in the chapter entitled “Delights Down the Alley.” We have food allergies in my house – including eggs – so pudding is usually off-limits. I was thrilled that, unlike most pudding recipes, this one was eggless! The binding agent is cornstarch.

cornstarch thumbs upI won’t send you process photos because Katie’s stove is way cleaner than mine. But I will say that this recipe is straightforward, easy, and can be made in a single pot. The ingredients are sugar, unsweetened cocoa, cornstarch, milk, cream, butter, bittersweet chocolate, vanilla, and a pinch of salt. Though simple, there is a bit of cooking magic involved in the final stove top stage – the recipe transfigures from a chocolate liquid to a thick, velvety pudding. Mmmmm.

The recipe says to strain the pudding into a bowl (I’m guessing to catch some of the inevitable lumps). But I don’t have a strainer, so I skipped that step. The pudding was a tad lumpy, but not enough to bother me or my extraordinarily picky children. Here’s a shot of the pudding before it headed into the fridge to set. Note the magic wand in front of the bowl.

pudding 1How does the Unofficial Potter pudding taste? Awesome. The milk, cream, and butter in the recipe make it rich, but not too heavy. The consistency is great too. Very smooth and creamy. Ian had a taste and found the chocolate pudding to be quite…bedazzling.

pudding taste test


We only scratched the surface of the Unofficial Harry Potter Cookbook, but we really liked it! It’s a fantastic blend of British dishes, culinary history, and astute references to the dishes and desserts served in the Harry Potter books. It’s clear the author is either a fan of the books, a very good researcher, or both! If you are a Harry Potter fan who likes to cook, or if you are ready for some hands-on experience with meals in the wizarding world, add this book to your collection!