homeschooling, homemaking, homesteading...home.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

We'll eat a lot of broccoli

Hey, kids! It's my birthday! I'm 34! I got kitchen stuff...both physical (new mixing bowls and cookie sheets) and service-related (the big kids made breakfast and cake). I'm going to go enjoy myself and save the longwinded posts for another day.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Thoughts on learning

Who doesn't like a good quote about homeschooling? Or unschooling? Or, really, just learning--need we label it? From time to time, I come across little bits o' wisdom that resonate with my journey and developing philosophy. Whether or not these folks actually share the same views as me, I cannot claim. All I can say is that I found it worth noting.

Today's quote is from the recently much-lauded Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver. It touches on the question: what should we learn?

[agricultural] knowledge has vanished from our culture. We have also largely convinced ourselves it wasn't too important. Consider how Americans might respond to a proposal that agriculture was to become a mandatory subject in all schools, alongside reading and mathematics. A fair number of parents would get hot under the collar to see their kids' attention being pulled away from the essentials of grammar, the all-important trigonometry, to make room for down-on-the-farm stuff. The baby boom psyche embraces a powerful presumption that education is a key to moving *away* from manual labor, and dirt--two undeniable ingredients of farming. It's good enough for us that somebody, somewhere, knows food production well enough to serve the rest of us with all we need to eat, each day of our lives.

If that is true, why isn't it good enough for someone else to know multiplication and the contents of the Bill of Rights? Is the story of bread, from tilled ground to our table, less relevant to our lives than the history of the thirteen colonies? Couldn't one make a case for the relevance of a subject that informs choices we make *daily*--as in, "What's for dinner?
This speaks to me for several reasons.

First, one of my reasons for choosing alternative education is that, although I learned a lot academically during my schooling, I was very shocked to reach my adult years and realize that I didn't really know how to take care of myself. All of those years that I sat in my Advanced Placement ivory tower and scoffed at the "dumb" kids taking classes in home ec. and consumer math...and here I was with a degree and a good salary and I couldn't make myself dinner or balance my checkbook. In many ways, I was unprepared for life. What a slap in the face that was, after all of the conventional wisdom and propaganda. I did was I was supposed to...I focused on academics. And at the end of the day, sometimes I wish I had skipped that double-period of physics lab and read up on gardening instead.

Also, I want to provide my kids with that golden prize: context. Knowledge in a vacuum is just facts. I want my kids to have experience, context, and understanding...especially regarding the natural world. I hate that I have to really think to figure out whether the crescent moon is waxing or waning. I hate that I can only identify a few birdsongs out of the cacophony of voices in my backyard every morning. I hate that I only recently figured out why my broccoli never does well (I'm planting it WAY too late for our region).

I'd like for my kids to have a more familiar understanding of the world around them. I think it's especially important for them to know the origins (and destinations) of the things that they consume. Ignorance of these things makes for selfish consumers, and my dearest wish for them (besides happiness and health, naturally) is that they live ethically and responsibly...not because of any unquestioned law or social or religious guideline, but because they understand and respect their environment.

On an unrelated side note: check out my new widgety thingy, courtesy of LibraryThing! I've kept lists of the books I've read for years. Now I can show off publicly. (Or perhaps meet up with others who are reading the same titles and actually get to discuss them?!) Anyhoo, I started with the month of August and will build from there. Neat. You'll see that I read a pretty wide range of stuff, although from time to time some themes will emerge.

Heh. I remember a while back when everyone was all up in arms, worried about Big Brother tracking their library activity. My local librarians always know what I'm up to, because I'll check out a glut of knitting books or pattern drafting books or--gasp!--prenatal books. I'll never forget the day I picked up a half-dozen pregnancy books and the librarian stammered, "Um, forgive me for prying, but..." LOL. Yeah, I'm an open book.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Support your local farmers

Well, what a co-in-kee-dink. Right on the heels of my big disjoined food rambling, I was surfing and found out that it is National Famer's Market Week!

Despite the fact that--ahem--the USDA's site doesn't list ANY farmer's markets in my area, they do exist. There's a small weekly event about 4 miles from my house, and I stop by when I can to support the local economy. And, frankly, to buy goodies that my garden just isn't producing! In addition to some enormous ripe tomatoes (ours are all either stubbornly green or grape-sized) and the world's best peaches (our tree is not yet mature enough to produce more than a handful), I also recently snagged some early butternut squash for a soup I've been dying to try, and these cuties:

which are Pattypan squash. I have no idea what to do with them, but I couldn't resist. The vendor suggested slicing them, dipping them in batter, and frying them "like zucchini", but I have a feeling I can find something better.

A few other sites I've been browsing that are appropriate to the theme/week/cause/season:

Sunday, August 5, 2007

The long-overdue Food Post

Is it just me? Do you ever just get so daggone busy living your life that you don't have time to sit down and reflect on it, let alone record any passing thoughts? I feel like I spend all week mentally composing journal entries and essays and letters and blog posts and baby book entries, but if I can manage to find a pen and paper and jot down a grocery list, that's saying something. Golly, I have so much to share and I just can't seem to keep up.

This does not bode well for the bureaucratic aspect of my unschooling future. That is something that has also been weighing heavily on my mind, and will be vented in its own post...when I get around to it. (Or a round tuit. Which I do actually have, and hasn't helped thus far.)

Anyway, one of the things that has been taking up a lot of my thoughts lately is food. The general themes seem to be:
  • Eating more responsibly (locally, organically, with a view to preserving and maximizing the health of the environment, food, and consumers).
  • New experiences in cooking/eating.
  • Enjoying our family garden. Which kind of falls under both previous points, come to think of it.
So I'm going to quit planning on getting around to making a series of posts on any of these, and just jam a bunch of stuff into one big post and get it over with.

First, the short version of Eating More Responsibly. Two of my recent reads were The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan and Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver. If you haven't read these yet, I highly recommend both...and in that order. Each book touches on many of the same themes, but while Pollan's book reads like a scientific inquiry into the problem of industrially-produced food, Kingsolver's reads more like poetry, describing how one family set about seeking a solution. (Yes, I do know and respect that she is also a scientist...but damn it, the woman just writes beautifully.) Both books will lead you to think very differently about your food choices. We've been moving down the friendly/sustainable road for a while, with readings about the Slow Food movement, a long-standing policy of reading labels, and a fun foray into beginner gardening. These books have strengthened my resolve. Pick these up when you're ready to move beyond the gross-out stories of Fast Food Nation or SuperSize Me. It's not just convenience food that should be concerning us. And it's not as difficult as you might think to make changes.

We're foodies. I credit my husband with my love of cooking. I really didn't do much other than bake when I met him. But he was comfortable in the kitchen, and happy there, too. Our first "date" was homemade pizza at his place, and I fell in love both with him and his creations. His enthusiasm for cooking was contagious. I started experimenting and learning and enjoying myself. I started trying new ingredients. I developed a major crush on Alton Brown. (Good food and scientific explanations so I can actually understand the principles behind what makes a recipe work, or not? Genius!)

On the other hand, I am a mother raising four kids. Who are sometimes insatiable, sometimes finicky, and never predictable. I often feel like I spend all day preparing or cleaning up from meals. We have challenges both in budget and in ingredients: the oldest has digestive allergies and sensitivities and has spent the past three years on restricted diets. Oh, I learned how to cook gluten/dairy/egg/nut-free. But after a while, the excitement of "challenge" wears off and it just becomes "hassle". I often get tired of slogging through the few, repeated meals that meet all requirements (allergen-free, appealing to all family members, easy to prepare, and inexpensive). It's really easy to get burned out.

So I've been making an effort lately to try new recipes. It's something I used to do when I had that lovely commodity: time. It's hard to do when you're in the trenches of parenthood, but I'm finding that the occasional experiment is restoring my joy for being in the kitchen. Initially, I planned to commit to one new recipe per week, and blog it. I may still reach that goal...but for now, I'm so far behind that I might as well just present a few Greatest Hits. Many of these feature food grown in our own garden, which is an extra bonus for environmentalism and domestic bragging.

I love beets, but had no idea that the greens were edible. Here are some sauteed with fresh garlic. Yum!

My bare-bones version of Chicken Giardino.

Fresh tomatoes, sugar peas, zucchini, and again--garlic. OMG, garlic is so easy to grow. Chuck some sprouted cloves into the ground in October; harvest in July.

And of course, like any good gardeners, we are overrun with zucchini. So I've been continuing my canning education and learned to make a childhood favorite: bread-and-butter pickles.

I've also overcome my fear of yeast and ditched the bread machine in favor of doing bread the old-fashioned way. (Although I do enjoy doing it completely by hand, I admit that I often let the KitchenAid do the kneading if life is hectic. Alas.) Most of the time I make basic white loaves, but sometimes I get brave and try something fancier. Somewhere around here I have a recipe for a fabulous caraway bread. I'm also proud to announce that I tried my first souffle, and it was a terrific success. Yay me!

Bon appetit!