Friday, September 29, 2023

Dad-Made Lemon Ricotta Pancakes

A few weeks ago I took a "mental health day" prior to the end of the school year. The end of the year
for principals is crazy. I have multiple night events as everybody is wrapping up the year. Every Saturday is booked. And I was in such bad need of a haircut that I was regularly getting some sort of comment that contained the phrase "mad scientist." So my personal day consisted of a haircut, getting contacts, and having a late breakfast with my wife.

In the midst of my errands, my wife and I went out to eat. We shared something that I had never heard of: lemon ricotta pancakes with blueberry compote. They were delicious - so light and fluffy.

So that following Saturday I decided that I would surprise the whole family with breakfast. Instead of making the daddy standard - Dutch Babies - I decided that I would branch out. We happened to have some ricotta cheese (something about me thinking I would make homemade ravioli while my wife was out of the country), and we still had lemons on our lemon tree. I could use the wonderful Interweb and find a recipe for lemon ricotta pancakes, the whole family would think that I was a culinary genius, and Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry would show up at my door asking me for tips.

Wednesday, August 30, 2023

The Best Key Lime Pie in Arizona

Have you ever gotten a thought in your head that just gets stuck there? To the point that it becomes a quest, an obsession? Like one time when I visited my friend Marty in Houston, and we heard somebody mention the phrase "Rueben sandwich". It became an obsession for us that we just had to find the best Rueben sandwich in the city. We drove 30 minutes, paid way more than we were willing to pay, and the obsession was quenched. 

It happened more recently to me. About a year ago somebody started talking about key lime pie. Key lime pie has always been one of my favorites, but that conversation began a nearly year-long quest to find the best key lime pie in the state. 

What makes a great key lime pie? It takes a lot. It needs to have a good balance between the key lime custard and the whipped cream. It needs to have a good balance of tartness and sweetness (in my opinion too many key lime pies err on the side of sweetness, which ruins the key lime pie), with the best key lime pies having a tartness that gets you in your jaw. It needs to have a strong lime flavor, and it must have a great graham cracker crust. 

Sunday, July 30, 2023

Backyard Chickens in Arizona

I've had several readers reach out to me asking about a chicken update. Initially I was waiting for our chickens to all be laying, but then I got wrapped up in making sure my chickens are not dying with the heat we're experiencing in Phoenix. I had no idea how much work it is to keep chickens alive in the midst of a 30-days-above-110-degrees-in-a-row streak. But it's a lot of work. 

We got our first egg in May. We were having dinner on our patio with some friends, and a chicken started squawking like it was being murdered. We eventually found a soft shelled egg, and we were excited. Then I got impatient that one of our chickens was laying, but the others were not. Over the next four weeks or so, our Ameraucanas all got into line. It was fun finding these blue eggs around. 

Side note. I built a chicken coop with nesting boxes. Guess what. None of our Ameraucanas wanted to lay in the nesting boxes. I know there are ways to force them to lay there (mainly locking them in the coop for a couple of days until they're in the habit of laying in there), but 1) it was too hot to keep them in the coop, 2) I didn't want them not to have access to all of the grass and bugs they were in the habit of eating, and 3) my family and I kind of enjoy looking around the yard for the chicken eggs. It's like an Easter egg hunt, but every day. Plus, the chickens all tend to lay in the same place every day, so we have our four spots to check out daily as we look for eggs. 

The Australorps were a different story. We got our first brown egg from one of them almost a month after we got our first blue egg. I was pretty impatient, but a friend of mine reminded me that people all develop at different speeds, and chickens are the same. But by the time we had a brown eggs, all three Ameraucanas were laying. We started getting three to four eggs per day, which meant that we were now ready to start substituting store bought eggs with our backyard eggs. 

And then the heat came in like a fiery demon dragon. We are currently in a record breaking heatwave, and keeping chickens alive is no joke. I've got the entire coop open up, with fans blowing air throughout the night (which makes it like a convection oven rather than a regular oven). I set up a misting system around our trees which we turn on each afternoon. This gives the chickens some coolness and really seems to help. We have umbrellas set up around the areas in which they lay, since the bird brains can't seem to stay out of the sun when they're laying eggs. And we give them frozen treats when we can. They love frozen watermelon set in water. So far, all of these things seem to be working, and we haven't lost a chicken. Fingers crossed that things will cool off and our chickens will survive. 

So where are we now with things? Chickens are supposed to slow down their laying in the summer, but we're getting 3-5 eggs per day. We are moving umbrellas around the yard 23 times per day to keep our chickens in the shade while they're laying. We have exactly 14 water containers around the yard so they will stay hydrated. And two of my three kids love the chickens and cuddle them as often as they can (the other one is terrified of their dinosaur feet and their beady eyes). I had no idea how pet-like they would be. 

And they all have names. They are: 

- Goldilocks (the first one to lay an egg)
- Chikera
- Kylee Henner
- Hei Hei (this one may or may not have had brain damage as a chick - very quirky)
- Not Hei Hie
- Ha Ha

Are chickens a lot of work? Kind of. I guess it really depends on the weather and how close to dying they are. Is it worth it? Absolutely. Aside from the wonderful eggs that we get from them, their poop is like garden gold. When my son cleans out the chicken coop and dumps the chicken poop into the compost, we all get excited for the high levels of nitrogen it's adding (okay, maybe I'm the only one in our house that gets excited about chicken poop). 

So if you're contemplating backyard chickens, you would get a hearty Renaissance Dad thumbs up! 

Happy chickening! 

Friday, June 23, 2023

Easy Homemade Pickles

As an avid gardener, I don't always make the best decisions when I am planting my biannual garden (in Arizona we have two planting seasons, spring and fall - double the fun!). Sometimes I see something at the nursery that I think I would like to try out, but it comes in a six pack of transplants. And instead of using what I want and composting the rest, I tend to find a place to plant everything. 
So this summer we ended up with six Armenian cucumber plants. If you don't know what an Armenian cucumber is, think of a normal cucumber and then multiply it by 11. Some of our cucumbers have been more than two feet long, and all of our cucumber plants have been abundant. At the prime picking a few weeks ago we were pulling off four or five cucumbers per day. That's a lot of cucumber! 

When I took one to my neighbor, he sent me a great recipe for homemade pickles. I have since modified it and added a key upgrade. This is great for Armenian cucumbers. Here's how to make it. 

Wednesday, May 10, 2023

Beautiful Accent Wall in a Teen Room Makeover

I started writing Renaissance Dad in 2014. My kids were one, three, and five at the time. Now, 9 years later, they are 10, 12, and 14 (see how quickly I did that math!). My girls were little girls, and now they are young women. My son couldn't walk, and now he's jumping off of the trampoline and breaking bones. And my beard. Not a single gray hair back then... 

How we all feel at Ikea...
So when my girls recently said that they wanted to change their room, painting over the little-girl yellow and green walls and replacing the butterfly ceiling fan, my inner Renaissance Dad shed a tear. And then I shed a few

Monday, April 17, 2023

Gazpacho: An Authentic Spanish Soup

The idea of cold tomato soup never quite appealed to me. I pictured in my mind a frosty can of condensed, gelatinous sludge. Gross.

But when I studied in Spain, my host family made gazpacho. Being the courteous young man that I was, I went to Spain planning on trying everything at least once (this only backfired one time when I ate a slice of pickled pigs cheek, which was as disgusting as it sounds. No offense to anybody who likes pickled pigs cheek). So as I took the first bite of gazpacho, I had low expectations. But boy was it delicious. I was sold, and upon returning to the States, I started making gazpacho for anybody I could convince to try it.

Wednesday, March 15, 2023

DIY Window Seat Built-In Bookcase

 I like built-in furniture. There is just something about a built-in that makes a home feel less cookie-cutter—whether it's a built-in china cabinet, some built-in bookshelves, or some ledges that give a homeowner some extra space. And sometimes I look at a nook, or an odd wall, or some other space, and I think, "Boy, that would be a great space for a (fill in the built-in)."

For years I've been eyeballing the window ledge in my girls' room. My wife and I have had several ideas that we've talked about, from a reading nook to a fort of some sort to a bookshelf. As the years have gone by, and other house projects have taken precedent, I have continued to ruminate on that space. Then, in a brief window of time when I needed a quick weekend project, I seized the opportunity.

Monday, February 27, 2023

Sour Cream Lemon Pound Cake

One of the first things I learned to bake was pound cake. Then, when we moved into a house with a massive lemon tree, I started looking for ways to use up our lemons. It was natural that I would combine my love of pound cake with a plethora of lemons. This is another recipe that has become a favorite because we're constantly looking for ways to use our lemons, and this also makes a great treat to share with coworkers.

Prep time - 30 minutes

Bake time - 1 hour

Yield - 1 loaf (one serving. Just kidding. Not really)


- 1 stick of butter, room temperature* (set out the night before)
- 2 large eggs, room temperature*
- 1 cup sugar
- 1/3 cup grated lemon zest (3 large lemons)
- 1 1/2 cups flour
- 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
A grater for zesting lemons
- 2 Tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 6 Tablespoons sour cream, room temperature*
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Monday, January 30, 2023

Golden Milk: A Spicy, Healthy Beverage

I'm going to state something that is extremely obvious. The past three years have been extremely difficult. There have been numerous times when I have felt like Will Ferrell in Zoolander, shouting "I feel like I'm taking crazy pills." 

Anybody with me on this one? 

So recently when I went to the doctor, I was told that my system was shutting down from the stress of the past three years. 

Anybody with me on this one? 

I am working my way back to health. One of the things I was told to add to my diet was something called Golden Milk. My doctor gave me a look like she knew I was going to hate it. When I asked what was in it, I was told that it has ginger, cinnamon, and turmeric. I was told that I needed to drink Golden Milk regularly for at least one month, to which I responded, "Since I like all of those things, if I like it can I drink it regularly?" And the answer was yes! I was told that I would be superhuman if I consumed this daily. 

I was given a recipe, I tweaked it, I adjusted it, and I came up with something that is absolutely delicious! I have Golden Milk about five nights per week. I don't yet have the power of flight, but I think it's coming. Golden Milk is my evening beverage before going to bed, and I am a fan. It is known to boost your immunity, boost your antioxidants, reduce joint pain and inflammation, and turn you into a superhero (I'm not a doctor, and I may have made that last one up, but if you look up the health benefits of the three main ingredients you will not be lacking information). 

So here is the recipe that I came up with. It keeps it in powder form until you are ready to use it. Feel free to adjust the recipe to add more of the things you really like. 

- 4 T. turmeric
- 2+ T. powdered ginger
- 1+ T. cinnamon
- 1/4 t. ground black pepper

Mix all the ingredients together. Add one Tablespoon of the combined powder to 1+ cup of warm milk or milk substitute (I really like coconut milk). For a little bit of sweetness, add a dribble of honey. If you have a milk frother, froth it up! 

Then just sit back and wait for the super powers to take root!