homeschooling, homemaking, homesteading...home.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Milk Chocolate Day

There are certain holidays I could take or leave. Then there are others that, once alerted to them, I wonder why they don't have greater status. According to my freebie Oriental Trading Company calendar, today is Milk Chocolate Day.

Well hot damn. Sign us up for some of THAT!

Since we are homeschoolers (and I am a total geek besides), I had T sit down with me and watch several online videos (this one and this one) about the process of manufacturing milk chocolate. And then...we went to Sarris's.

Anyone who grew up in this area or is currently local may be shocked to learn that I've never had my little guys to the Sarris factory/store. What can I's just never come up. My beloved spouse and I usually go in preparation for a major holiday, which means that one of us stays home and distracts the kids while the other flies solo and gets (and is responsible for hiding) the goods. This time, it was an Educational Field Trip. Oh, and an officially recognized holiday, too, don't forget. ;)

First, I had to herd my darlings into the car. And I re-learned the lesson of what happens when you just tell them to "get dressed" and don't do much monitoring.

God Bless C. He looked so festive and happy I just didn't have the heart to re-do his look. Nor did I want to...what with not wanting to be a killjoy. (And wanting to get to the chocolate, already!!)

We arrived and it was just as I'd dreamed it would be. No mere store...oh no. It's like winning the golden ticket, I tell you! We hadn't even entered the doors yet and T declared it the Best Store Ever.

We went inside and T was instantly agog at the display of bonbons.

Then we shopped for our purchases over in the specialty mold section.


Of course, no trip to Sarris is complete without a viewing of the famous (and ever-changing) Chocolate Castle.

Seriously: this is my boys, when they spotted it. Totally unstaged expressions. I love it!

It was a warm night, and while I would have LOVED to have done the attached old fashioned ice cream parlour, there was an insanely long line. I promise to heavily photodocument that trip as soon as it happens. For those of you who haven't had the pleasure, it is a feast for the eyes, I promise you.

We did, however, snag a table outside to enjoy our treats.

Yup. This is definitely my kind of holiday.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Apron Monday: Apple Cobbler

No, this isn't a cobbler-style apron. I know that. But it makes me think of comfort foods, and specifically baked goods. I don't know why. It is also, of my entire collection, the one that seems the most "Grandma" to me. Which is odd since I don't remember either of my grandmothers wearing aprons. Or baking cobbler.


But here it is. It's wearing thin, and is in need of repair where I've snagged the bias trim against something. But I adore it. The side panels offer extra-full coverage (and you know how I love/need that!) and it's slightly retro and just feminine enough without sacrificing utility.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Too Many Cupcakes, and other Miscellany

It's been a busy week. So busy that I haven't had time to log on and blog. (That's a good thing.) So busy that many of the adventures went without photodocumentation. That's sad for the blog and for the personal archives, but again—in most respects—a good thing. Being camera-free often takes away one distraction to "living in the moment", and as I've always been a person who lives rather too much in my head, it's a healthy move to have one less mental item on my multitasking list.

Of course, here I am backtracking and picking up those scattered thoughts and events, so I'd best not pat myself on the back too prematurely, eh?

Some highlights of the week:

We hosted a boy-girl, bonfire party last night for Heir #2, my younger stepson. His 14th birthday is next week and therefore this party was at least in name, a birthday party.

But that's not what I'm talking about.

Instead, we wished a Happy Birthday to Dragon, C's beloved Webkinz. Dragon is, according to ever-changing report, either 1 or 6 or 87 or 45,000 years old. And his next birthday will be in December. Good to know. At any rate, C nagged me about making cupcakes and insisted that he wasn't just jonesing for some sugar, but celebrating a milestone for a loved one. Well okay, then. We can do cupcakes.


And singing.

There was even a gift, from T, which was unceremoniously reclaimed the next day. Ah well, it was a nice gesture.

And the dog got a cupcake too!



We attended South Park Theatre's production of Puss in Boots. This was our second time seeing a play in the park. The cast and crew had put on such a charming production of The Frog Princess, and I was really looking forward to this next offering. And it was...meh.


The staging, the costumes, and the acting were all fine. But the lead? Sigh. She played Puss (who had an insane amount of soliloquies) with an extremely enthusiastic and shrill and incomprehensible Inspector Clouseau accent. I provided a running commentary of the action and half of the dialogue to Theo. The other half, even I missed. It was a shame.

The experience wasn't a complete wash, though. It featured a small cast and one young lady played a number of various small roles. The kids remembered her from the earlier production (in which she'd enjoyed a larger role) and every time she came on-stage, they'd point and exclaim, "It's Ursula!!" :)

  • The lemonade stand that the kids (and cousins!) made and manned, down at Grandma's house.
  • Three little boys with rolled-up cuffs, wading in a creek on a sunny day.
  • My (solo!) shopping trip to my favorite local yarn shop, and my eventual purchases (and bonus, all bargains).
  • The really awesome lightning storm on Wednesday night.
  • Celebrating my mother's birthday (Love you, Mom!)

And finally,

Again, no pictures, so you'll have to take my word for it. The best thing I cooked all week was Montana's Mom's Dynamite Cheesecake, a perennial favorite from Mollie Katzen's New Moosewood Cookbook. This time, instead of the sour-cream topping, I used some freshly-made homemade yogurt, sweetened with local (from my FIL's hives) honey. Very good.

The "new" thing I prepared this week was "The World's Easiest and Best Chocolate Cake" (or something roughly like that; I'm not near the kitchen and am paraphrasing) from the label on my container of Trader Joe's cocoa powder. Easy? Yes. Best? The jury's out. However.


I'd like to have a word with whoever wrote this recipe.

See, it indicates the use of two 9-inch round pans. Fine, that's pretty standard. Or, a cupcake pan. I was prepared for that. The same recipe which will make two 9-inch layers typically makes 24 cupcakes. There were 10 kids expected for Heir #2's party. This batter? Made sixty cupcakes. Let me repeat that.


And it was hot and half of the guests were adolescent girls, who are apparently allergic to eating in front of other people. I think that all told, 6 got eaten last night. Including the ones pilfered by Heir #1 on his way out to avoid the evening's festivities.


Let's just say that by this morning, when I'd mixed up another batch of frosting to finish off the rest of them (I only got so far last night before I just couldn't face another paper-wrapped goody) I was well over the whole fun of frosting cupcakes. It will be a long, long time until I pull out those pans again. (shudder)

Monday, July 19, 2010

Free! Beans!

Okay, that's misleading. There are no free beans to be had here, so don't look for a contest. And this isn't even an amusing story about me obtaining free beans.

No, it's an apron. (Well, what did you expect? It's Monday!) The apron was free, which makes it awesome. And it was a promotion from a seller of canned beans. So it bears the Hanover logo and that makes it kitschy, which is a retro word for awesome.

Here is a picture of the free bean apron, as modeled by me and photographed by one of my children. Enjoy.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Hello, Running. I've missed you!

I run.

Not far. Not fast. But I run.

I spent most of my life not running. Mocking running. Fearing running. Then I saw a reference to the Couch to 5K training program and it sparked something. Curiosity. A little skepticism. And I decided to take the challenge.

I started in the dead of winter. During my initial training, I got sick, twice. I got injured, more than I should have. I took longer than 9 weeks to finish the program. But by the end of it, I surprised myself by actually enjoying running. So I kept on doing it. I run indoors, at the local community center. I run outdoors, on the Montour Trail and sometimes just wherever my feet take me. I run early. I run late. I run whenever I can squeeze it in around other obligations.

All the same, I don't run as often as I'd like to. And I often feel like I'm, well, bad at it. I'm not going to set any land speed records, and I probably couldn't even dream of keeping a casual pace with most of my friends who claim this sport.

But I do it. And even 30 minutes of earnest jogging still beats 30 minutes of making excuses not to.

I haven't run in over two months. First an injury, and then an illness which seriously affected my breathing, kept me couch-bound. I regretted not lacing up, but I knew that it wasn't wise. This weekend, I finally did. And I was surprised to find that I hadn't "lost" as much as I'd expected. I knew I wouldn't be in top condition, so I prepared myself to start over from, well, the "couch". But even after all of these weeks, I find that I'm not in as poor condition as I'd thought I might have been.

I'm back. I still don't run far. I don't run fast. But I run.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Food Friday 2: Improv Cookies

Stop the Presses!

I blogged my lack of a Food Friday post, and went to the kitchen to start the pizza dough for dinner. Which, yes, counts since it's a new-to-me recipe. But that's not what this post is about.

While I was mixing up the dough, C asked if he could make "cookies". I brushed him off, but he was persistent. He got out his cookbooks and started "reading" from them.

Most of them seem to include phrases like, "If you put in a lot of salt and beets it will be good" and "When you are tired of mixing, you are done". I love pre-readers who pretend with enthusiasm.

He wasn't giving up. He asked for a glass of milk, which I poured for him. Then he asked for a bowl. Before I knew it, he had measured his drink from the beverage glass to the measuring cup I'd set aside, and then to the bowl. And he was in the fridge getting eggs. And dipping into my flour. All while I'm kneading pizza dough.

So I finished the dough and set it aside to rise, and started fetching ingredients for him. The only thing I added was some baking soda, lest we end up with sweet little hockey pucks. He did the rest. And surprisingly enough, he stuck to cookie ingredients. No curry powder or oregano surprises this time around. It was a bit unorthodox, though, what with milk as the first ingredient and unsoftened butter as one of the last.

He got "tired of mixing" when the dough started to form, so for the shaping and baking he gave orders to Mom.

We put them in the oven at 375 F for 10 minutes and whaddya know...

We actually had cookies.

And not only did we give them the thumbs-up, but T even praised them. So we have outside verification.

When this boy is a world-famous chef, you can all say that you knew of him waybackwhen.

PS: Egads! I just noticed the lack of apron. LOL

Food Friday: Just an Egg

It was not a week of leisurely time to experiment in the kitchen. We cooked a lot, but it was all the standard fare. Which is fine.

The only blog-worthy adventure we had was The Egg.

We have a growing collection of Lodge cast iron cookware and accessories. Including the darling little spoon rest, which is a miniature version of the full-size skillets. It hangs on the wall above the stove, and the kids occasionally ask if we will ever cook in it.

So I did.

Here is a one-egg skillet in action:

And for added fun, the resulting perfectly round fried egg fit exactly into the "cup" segment of the coveted Train Plate.


Thursday, July 15, 2010

Dark Triumph

I am all about choice and self-expression. When we moved into our home, the room that was to belong to my stepsons was painted a pale pink. Naturally, this would not do. I invited them to decide what color they wanted their new room to be. They picked...


It wouldn't have been my first choice, but then...I was neither a 9- nor a 6-year-old boy at the time, so what did I know. Green it was.


They've lived in the green for almost eight years now. In the meantime, my husband redid the alcove room, and the eldest boy claimed it as his space. Heir #2 recently asked to redecorate the main room. I again promised to support his choice of color, and took him to the hardware store to look at paint chips. He grabbed the deepest, darkest purple he could find.

"What?" I asked. "Did Dad veto black?"

"How did you know?"

Let's see. The obsessive practicing of electric guitar and preference for heavy metal/hard rock might have been a clue*. Or there is the fact that despite my never having been male, I have been nearly 14. Or maybe I'm just not as clueless as I look. Ahem.

So, Dark Triumph it is. (And doesn't that just sound like a kick-ass album title?)

Here, we put down the first coat. It was a family affair. In my experience, few things make a child happier than getting to help with a big and potentially messy project.

Don't paint your brother!

Naturally, there was some playfulness...

...which led to some lightbulb moments and discussions of future embellishments. Dad is not thrilled with the idea of stenciled band logos. The 14-year-old inside of me, however, thinks it's freakin' awesome.

Here's the comparison shot:

And the full (wet!) first coat.

Dark Triumph is...bold. I don't want to think about how many coats of primer + paint it's going to take to cover it someday. Eh, no matter. Today, we made a really cool room for a really cool teenager.

*Incidentally, when I asked for some music, he went through "his" CD collection (which looks suspiciously like the missing CDs from my husband's collection and mine) and chose some Rush. He may have just been sucking up, but it didn't hurt my enjoyment of the moment (or the music) in the least.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Age desegregation

I get why it makes sense, if you are teaching large groups of children, to segregate them by experience level...which most often means by age. I do. But I still don't think that it's ideal, as it robs kids of all ages of the benefits of working with a more diverse group.

I was trying to get out of the house to run an errand yesterday. Trying being the operative word. You know how it can get with even one hesitant child. Multiply that and it's utter futility, trying to motivate the troops to Move, already! I was pacing between rooms, barking orders for "Shoes, NOW!" and getting the dog re-crated, and damn it..."Why are your shoes not on!?"

During one of my trips through the kitchen, I overheard my 13yo stepson correcting T on the confusion of "Washington". See, my mother (Gram) lives in a town named Washington. Which is in a county named Washington...where a cousin also lives, but in a town of a different name. T has trouble enough not understanding why his cousin and grandmother are not neighbors if they both live in Washington. Throw a reference to Washington State or Washington D.C. his way, and his little gears spin until smoke comes out of his ears.

I got the dog crated and C found me, chattering about the Mississippi River. "The what? Where did you hear that?"

That's when I walked toward the living room and overheard T asking, "Where's Nebraska?"

How does he know what the hell Nebraska even is?

And that's when I saw this:

This is one of those learning moments that means something. And it wasn't scripted, or planned, or coerced. It just happened. One kid teaching another. The two of them cooperating. Learning some information. Building a memory.

It does my heart good.

And I let them finish before the stupid errand. This was way more important.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Craft time: Robot


C: "Mom, can we make this for me?"



We only had one can in the recycle bin. Mom to the rescue, making bean dip to free up the necessary second leg.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Minty Fresh Apron

I'm at a loss for a witty reference here. It's mint green. Go with it.

This is a lovely vintage piece—handmade—with a number of interesting design features. The gored skirt creates a scalloped edge, which is echoed in the shaping of the waistband.

The two pockets are semi-open with a V shaped slash backed by a contrasting interior fabric.

Finally, the hand-embroidered flowers (pansies?) are a lovely accent, but subtle enough to not overpower the rest of the look.

This piece shows a lot of skill in both design and construction. It's simply lovely.

Finished Object: Baby Hat

Yay! A completed craft I can post!

One of the drawbacks of crafting AND blogging (ahem, besides getting too busy to do the "blog" part of the equation and then having your BFF call you on it in her blog) is that sometimes you can't share your creations right away because your intended recipient is one of your readers. This one, at least, is safe to show. I knitted it up over the weekend and gifted it at a baby shower.

I made this project using Elsebeth Lavold's Cotton Patine yarn. It's a lovely cotton with a soft drape. It was also stashed leftover(s) from another project, which makes this a frugal Win! The pattern for the hat is available for free at PoMo Golightly's blog, and it's super easy. And bonus: I learned how to do a jogless stripe! (Non-knitters, it's a trick for making a spiral look like stacked circles. Very clever.)

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Food: Soup and Ice Cream

Really, there's no point in calling it Food Friday when it's darn near Monday. Well, between a VERY busy weekend and a computer which has been relocated to a less accessible spot in the house, I don't get as much log-in, log-on time as I'm accustomed to. More's the pity.

But I haven't forgotten my blog. Heck, I have a whole backlog of things that I keep meaning to say. I'll get to some of them. Eventually.

Okay, so the week's food adventures. First, I wanted something new to do with beets. Only two members of our household (C and yours truly) like beets, so our harvest goes far. I intended to try my hand at making borscht, but on my way to looking up a recipe, I found one for "chilled beet soup" from Rose Eliot's Complete Vegetarian Cookbook. I think the full title is "with dill", but I didn't use the dill. (What? Me...not adapt/revise/reimagine? Don't be silly.)

C was totally on board to help. Here he is showing off his mad skilz with a "real" knife.

It was a big step, and he handled it very well. (And just for the record, despite this pose...he did manage to cut with the sharp side down. LOL)

There's really not much to the recipe. Saute some onions, add stock and chopped cooked beets and boil, then simmer, puree, and chill.

And no, I did not stage a fancy photo with the swirled fresh cream and sprig of something green. We'll all get over it.

The soup is thickened with cooked potato (I subsituted leftover mashed potatoes because I am thrifty that way) but in the final analysis, I would omit the potato altogether and adjust the beet-to-broth ratio. The soup is tasty, but very thin. And I'd prefer it thickened with the actual feature veggie rather than a generic "cream soup" filler.

The other adventure this week was our first attempt at making ice cream. My brother-in-law gave us a Cuisinart Ice Cream maker for Christmas three years ago, and we'd somehow never gotten around to trying it out. I had some surplus milk and a hot day, so we gave it a go.

Let me pause for a moment to tell you about this milk. Hallelujah, I finally found a local source for raw milk. Oh yes. Let that sink in. Raw. Milk. Don't believe me? Check it out.

I've been using it to make yogurt (and wowser is it an improvement over the pasteurized/homogenized stuff) but we're all kind of yogurt-ed out for the moment, so ice cream seemed a worthy use for it.

I have plenty of soapbox reasons for choosing raw milk. Many of them have been far more eloquently stated by Joel Salatin and Mike Adams, so I invite you to check out what they have to say rather than watching me blather on, trying to restate the, uh, wheel. Simply put: it's about health, freedom of choice, and diversity. Yes, I wanted a product free of hormones/antibiotics. And I am a firm believer in patronizing small local producers. But I think what really sparked my curiosity was something my mother said.

When I was breastfeeding my children, she remarked that she felt sorry for them because of all of the garlic I ate. Apparently the flavor comes through in the milk. She grew up in a rural area and the milk source was about as local as the field behind the house. In the spring, when the cow grazed on the sprouting wild garlic, the milk would take on a strong flavor. I've had this niggling thought ever since that conversation that what we drink from the supermarket is so, well, homogenized that it's no longer an authentic experience. I wanted to try milk that tasted like MILK. (Yes, even if that meant garlic milk.) I was about to get an education.

You probably know that cream is skimmed from whole milk. But if you've never seen it, you probably assume (as I did) that "cream" looks like what is sold in those little half-pint cartons. Thick, yes...but with a pourable and smooth consistency. I was surprised and delighted to see this instead.

Argh. The image quality isn't what I had hoped. Let me assure you; there are practically lumps of cream in this milk. The kind which might make an untrained eye think "curdled", but which the tongue registers as Ye gods, this is delicious!


So, back to the ice cream. All of the recipes called for milk AND cream. Again, I am not one to be constrained by the actual recipe. I figured that the whole/raw should at least make up for some of what your typical grocery store milk might be lacking (I mean, look at the lumps!), and we just dove in without that ingredient.

Ice cream machines are insanely easy. There's no ice/salt. Just a pre-chilled bowl, several simple ingredients, and 30 minutes of motorized rotating and ta-da! You have...


No! It's ice cream!

Actually, it was ice milk. There wasn't enough cream to get the consistency right. Okay, I didn't truly believe that there would be...I was just feeling very much like NOT running out to the store to fetch some cream. I admitted it! Are you satisfied?


But how did it taste?

There you go.

Next time, whether I use mass-produced or local milk, I will definitely add the extra cream. Ice milk melts almost instantly at room temperature. But in a pinch, I may use the shortcut again...and serve it as milkshakes instead.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

You know your kid is serious about dinosaurs when...

...he gets agitated at the Toy Story 3 displays in stores because the "Rex" character has three fingers per hand, and Tyrannosaurs Rex only had two.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010


Don't YOU dress like this around the house?

Go ahead. Make your Aunt Jemima jokes. I'm immune. It's freaking miserable this week. Hot + Humid. Makes me start to consider whether I really love the long hair, or if shaving my head would just be easier.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Another summer first!

With all of the activity of a holiday weekend, I haven't yet managed to blog another "first" for the kids.

Summer night. Surprise road trip with Gram. In our jammies? Where are we going?


One of the VERY few drive-ins still open within driving distance. And I use that term loosely; it was quite a haul to get us there.

Yay! We're going to the drive-in!

Um, what's a drive-in?

We found a good spot,

set up the lawn chairs,

and settled in to enjoy our movie beneath the stars.

Which, incidentally, was quite literal. There's not nearly as much light pollution out that-a-way and although I neglected to attempt a shot of the night sky, it was simply gorgeous.

We watched Toy Story 3. I found out the next day through a friend's Facebook feed that she'd been there, too. Same screen and everything. Dang it, I wish I'd known--I haven't seen her in 14 years!

T loved it. C was into it for a while, but eventually got tired and kept begging to go home. ;)