homeschooling, homemaking, homesteading...home.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Food Friday: Scones

In an attempt to get a little rhythm going with my posting here, I'm establishing a few content-driven days. I spend a lot of time in the kitchen. Most of this is out of necessity: we are a family of six, after all. Part of this is time spent working with the kids. BIG fun. And part of it is just for my own sense of adventure and exploration. Considering a family budget and six individual tastes (*cough, cough* finicky) can leave me with a small rotation of predictable dishes. It's easy to get really burned out. So I do attempt to try new recipes regularly, if only to amuse and delight the cook. ;)

This week's adventure: Scones.

Now, this was a little daunting, as it always is when I attempt to cook something that I've never eaten before. How will I know whether it turned out "right"? (This is my major fear with borscht...but dang if I can find any local eateries which serve it, so I'll have a bar for measurement. Someday...) Well, I went online and found the word I was looking for. EASY. Heck, if it has "easy" right in the title, I can't possibly screw it up, right?


They were awesome. So awesome that I made them twice; once with cranberries:
and once with dried apricots:
Surprisingly enough, the kids have both voiced a preference for the cranberry variety. Woo!

Wanna try these? They're ridiculously easy to make. Follow the linky to Recipezaar, and enjoy: Drop Scones

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

...and all they had to eat...

...was porridge.

I am very attracted to the idea of unit studies. I love the notion of building a range of learning experiences around a central theme. However, many of them seem more well-suited to the plan-ahead homeschooler, and less adaptable to the more, um, spontaneous and opportunistic among us.

At least food is an easy and fast afterthought tie-in. So today, while we read The Magic Porridge Pot

the natural question was, "Do you know what porridge is?" Well, of course they do. I once made a production about serving some during reading time way back in my "we will Learn Something from the Three Bears" days. But that's okay, because this time it was their turn to demonstrate the knowledge. And instead of just eating the porridge, they asked me to teach them how to prepare it.

Yum. My kind of lesson.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Every homeschooler should have...

Crayola Window Crayons!

In the interest of full disclosure, I will say that these things make greasy streaky messes on upholstery and carpeting. Not fun. But you know what is fun?

Turning all of your windows and mirrors into whiteboards.

We have used these for drawing, for spelling/writing practive, and for just plain scribbling. I've also appropriated them to leave morning reminder notes on the bathroom mirrors for the teens/husband.

They're my new favorite toy.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Some scenes from our day

Sunshine. Blue skies. Mild breeze.

Clothesline. Clean sheets.

Soap bubbles. Swing set.

A laughing barefoot boy, running with a pinwheel.

A backyard picnic lunch.

A dandelion bouquet.

It was a good day.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

From the heart

Our youngest celebrated his fourth birthday this week. I'm typically a crafty mom, and rarely does a birthday go by without my sewing/knitting/baking something. And apparently that spirit is contagious. Despite the fact that for once I was nowhere near the fabric bins, T decided that he wanted to sew a birthday gift for his brother. I was overwhelmed with a big to-do list and exhausted from a long day, but when your little boy makes this announcement, you drop everything and go with it.

His project of choice was a pillow. Three cheers for the "easy" factor! A personalized pillow. Three cheers again for my packrat nature. I did NOT have the time or the patience to sit down and help him cut out fabric letters. Oh wait--what about the box of pieces from the felt board set? I set him to work sorting through, and indeed we found the appropriate letters. I helped him pin them into place, and then he set to work sewing.

This is my boy! OMG I'm so proud and tickled by this, I can't find adequate words.

A closeup of his handiwork:

The perfectionist in me wanted to set an example of even stitching, and turn this into a teaching moment. Thankfully, better and more Zen instincts prevailed and I let him do it his way. Truth be told, I'm now finding the irregular and random stitching to be very appealing.

Here he is posing with the finished product. Don't mind the grouchy look; he was angry with me because I had declared Bedtime and he was campaigning for a sandwich instead.

The gift was very well received. It was the only of the birthday boy's gifts which rated instant approval. (All others were warily investigated and not fully embraced until later in the day.) And, at the end of his first day as an official 4-year-old, our not-so-little littlest fell asleep on the best gift that *I* got all week.

The emotional rollercoaster of food blogging

I have complicated feelings about the Pretty Blog Women. You know the ones I mean. They knit. Or sew. Or, God help us, cook. And they share it all with beautifully lit photos which document their success. If you're lucky, they also provide tutorials because, you know, you can do this too. I adore them. I love their creativity and confidence and pretty pictures. But I also sometimes hate them, because who has the time/patience/freedom to do this crap? Especially with a household falling down around your ears, children demanding attention, and a puppy struggling to attain control of her bodily functions.

Or is it just me?

I do all sorts of crafty and creative things. The process, however, is rarely the picture-perfect experience that these lovely blogs might have you believe. At least not in my life. It's usually done in short bursts of activity punctuated by the more pressing needs of everyone and everything else that surrounds me. My workspace is usually cluttered, often dirty, and almost always shared with other things. (Craft room? In my dreams! Try the dining room table, which only allows for temporary use and therefore involves more time in setup and cleanup than I usually get out of use.) I want my life to be pretty like theirs. I'm not sure whether to envy them, or to assume that they are all lying bitches who got a few lucky photos and made up some story about how fast/easy/fun it all was.

So here is why I don't blog my creative adventures more often...

I made a cake for my youngest son's 4th birthday yesterday. It all started with a last-page recipe in Family Fun magazine, for rainbow cupcakes. The birthday boy adores cupcakes, and asked for cupcakes, but I can't just sock candles into a cupcake and sing at the kid and not feel a little guilty about it. A birthday requires a big focal chunk of sweetness. Well, that and I figured it would be less angst-inducing to layer things in one pan instead of, oh, 24 or so muffin cups. I know my limits, people.

I have a long history with cakes. It started with the ill-fated Birthday Cake of Death, whose story perhaps I shall tell another time, but let's say that it closely parallels this story, at least inasmuch it ended with me shrieking and getting all stabby with a big knife. In the years since then, my skills have improved considerably and I've become a snob about never using boxed mixes and a fussy artiste with the frosting. A birthday cake became a canvas for artistic expression, and love.

And then I had my own kids, and didn't have time to pipe all that damn icing and started doing simple layer cakes with one color frosting and some apologetic sprinkles dumped all over it. Blah.

So I decided this might be a fun adventure. It would look like Mom's usual half-assed cake, but then: surprise! I started with the white cake, which required the dreaded meringue. Mind you, this was a butter cake and not an angel-food cake, so at least that reduced the number of required eggwhites by half, but still. I have one stand mixer, and one bowl for it. At least I own a hand mixer for backup, but now I was invested in double the equipment, mess, and cleanup. Also, given the dire warnings in the recipe (DO NOT SCRAPE THE BOWL!), I was concerned that mixing the colors might destroy whatever magic fluffy properties the beaten eggwhites were intended to impart and I'd end up with a rainbow hockey puck. But I threw caution to the wind and maintained my resolve to not resort to a box of Duncan Hines.

I read the user reviews of the recipe online and found an excellent tip: Mix the colors in zip-seal sandwich bags. The writer assured that it allows for even color distribution and easy layering, as the bag could then be used like a pastry bag for precise control. I loaded up the bags, so:

Nothing looks wrong with this, but trust was at this point that I started not swearing. This is a huge hurdle with me, so I'm rather proud of the fact that most of the afternoon was punctuated by outbursts of "Fudgesicles!" rather than my preferred "don't repeat what Mommy said" exclamation. Trying to put something wet and semisolid into a sandwich bag is a surefire way to just make you hate frickin' sandwich bags. They crumple. They fall over. The batter gets on the outside of the bag, and all over the zip opening and...just everywhere. At one point, my husband walked through the room and I expressed a desire to pull a Jay-and-Silent-Bob and locate the author of that "helpful tip", travel to their house, and punch them in the face.

Then the mixing began. By now, the kids were asking to help. Which sounded like a terrific idea, until we discovered the second problem with the Sandwich Bag Solution: sandwich bags are flimsy little pieces of crap and if you inadvertently zip-sealed some air inside with your contents, the squishing movements might cause a seam blowout. And then your freshly-minted 4-year-old is covered in green food coloring and you want to throw everything into the sink and cry. And you are still diligently trying to document the process with your camera but your hands are covered in batter and now you imagine that the neighbors are starting to gather because you are shouting "Fudgesicles!" with the vigor and repetition of a sideshow barker. I decided that it was not Help Mommy time and ordered everyone OUT--for the love of God, GET OUT, and transferred the green to a bowl...

...where, as you can see, the color mixing was far more consistent than the stupid bags. Yup, I was a confirmed bag-hater. I started mentally drafting a review in which I'd give the helpful tip of DO NOT USE THE BAGS.

Then I started layering the cake. It was pretty.

And it was a major exercise in restraint for yours truly. Because I am an OCD personality and I wanted all of my layers to be even and smooth and completely covered. Thankfully, I am also an experienced enough baker to realize that I would probably just end up blending the colors by messing with it, and commanded myself to leave well enough alone.

Things started to turn around for me a bit here, because when I got to the green it was absolute frustration trying to evenly "blop" the batter in using a spoon, when the other colors had piped in so nicely. The green was an ordeal. Okay. Fine. The sandwich bags were a good idea. Did you hear me? I admitted it! I take it all back. Use the sandwich bags!

I got it all layered and un-fussed-with and put it into the oven. I was cautiously hopeful.

Until I noticed, as I was taking the above photo, that I'd forgotten to grease-and-flour the center column of the pan.

Now, friends, nothing ruins a Bundt cake experience like having it stick to the pan. I have had my share of broken Bundts. Either I don't sufficiently prepare the pan, or I flip it too soon (fragile cake) or too late (cooled and fused to the pan). I often frost Bundts to hide the mangled mess that I made of them upon removal from the oven. Well, not this time, by Jove. I turned to the Internet, where most of the advice was about pre-emptive pan preparation, and therefore too damn late. And then a choir of angels started crooning and sunlight streamed in through the window, as I found this tip over on eHow. Which I failed to photo-document but it worked beautifully

and now I want eHow Contribuitng Writer EmmaLee to be my new second-best friend. <3

I was feeling the love again. So I let the kids back into the house and invited the birthday boy to do the frosting.

I know--frosting a Bundt? And one that didn't come out mangled? What can I's a birthday cake. And unless it's an Angel Food cake (the preferred dessert amongst the in-laws, and there's nothing wrong with that!), birthday cake requires frosting. And sprinkles.

It was at this point that I realized we had not so much made a birthday cake as a birthday "Giant Donut". Ah well.

So, why a Bundt? Why put myself through that extra layer of frustration? Because a Bundt does this:

Now that is one pretty awesome birthday cake. The grandparents were in attendance and could not stop praising the results. YES, it was worth it. And not for the praise so much as my own joy upon the first slice. The big birthday party is tomorrow, and the grandparents are unanimous in their requests for a repeat cake. I haven't decided yet whether I'm up to it. Then again, I'm sure it will be much easier the second time around.

Happy Birthday!

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Another side of me

When I started this blog, it was intended as a repository for parenting and homeschooling observations and experiences. Of course, there is more to me than that...and the blog has grown to include the learning, etc. of the rest of our family--from gardening to crafting and beyond.

But sometimes, I just want to rant. Or engage in sarcasm. Or muse about something so unrelated to anything that it becomes a glaring distraction from the celebratory tone of the rest of the site...or so it feels to me.

So, I have launched a sister site, where I can let my hair down a bit. I will maintain this site as well, and hope that the separation of content allows me to feel less unfaithful to my original intentions. If you will indulge me the analogy, they will serve as my scrapbook (here) and my soapbox (there).

Thank you for reading!

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Spring, where art thou?

The car-burying snow of a few weeks ago has gone, leaving in its wake a sudden explosion of 80-degree temps and early dandelions. As a barefoot enthusiast, lover of the outdoors, and mother of seriously cabin-fevered children plus dog, I say bring it on. But the change was sudden. Sudden enough to leave one wondering how we got here from there, and to mourn the abbreviated transition period and its unique joys.

Oh yes, I am speaking of the maple syrup.

Longtime readers and friends know of this family tradition, and how we look forward to this aspect of our DIY, tree-hugging (literally in this case), homesteading lifestyle. When the sun started shining, we were more than ready. Most of the clan (sans eldest teen and puppy) tramped out together to tap the trees, with Mom diligently photo-documenting each step of the progress, and mentally drafting the Big Blog Post.

Alas. For good sap flow, conditions must be just right: freezing temps at night followed by warm and sunny days. We saw that type of weather for roughly a week.

We produced THREE PINTS of syrup.

Remember that scene at the end of A Christmas Story, where Dad's expectation of the turkey dinner comes violently crashing down around his ears? It wasn't merely the crushed anticipation of that first meal, but also of all of the leftover meals to follow. He had a lot of emotional investment wrapped up in future dining. And so did we. Weeks of gut-stuffing homemade pancakes and French toast and waffles, drenched in fresh, buttery syrup...gone. All gone! Our army of diligently saved and scrubbed glass syrup bottles remains on standby, gathering dust until Vernal Equinox 2011.


In the interest of stubborn pride, however, I will still show off the debut of our biggest and baddest DIY contraption yet: Dad's Super Deluxe Sap Evaporator.

I know. You're jealous. You wish you had one of these in your yard. And before you scoff, trust me--you do. Even three pints of fresh syrup is so ungodly superior to the mass-produced stuff (not to mention non-maple, all-HFCS "pancake" syrup, dear Lord don't get me started...) that it is worth, well, having this in your yard.

Even if the neighbors assume that it is a still. (Which we are not necessarily discounting as a future homesteading adventure.)

As you can see, it is made primarily of "upcycled" materials. The only purchased parts are the pans. Even the spark arrestor was resurrected from a former life.

It's good to have a handy man around the place.