Thursday, February 28, 2008

Look Mom, It Really Works!

Toddlers have a wonderful ability to un-grump even teenage boys. And teenage boys have a wonderful ability to think outside the box and delight little sisters.

Lost in Translation?

I went to a meeting yesterday that dealt with some serious issues, but there were a few light moments. Most of the attendees were bilingual, although the principals spoke primarily Spanish. There was a translator for the few of us English-only speakers.

"Rosa" did a great job, but the difficulty of thinking in two languages simultaneously was apparent when she began explaining something to us in Spanish. The best moment came, though, when two parties were speaking and Rosa began explaining their conversation, not noticing that they were already speaking English! We really did laugh out loud. ;-)

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

In the News

Sea Scouts are featured in today's KidsPost, part of the daily Washington Post. David went on the winter training weekend that is mentioned, and is the teen standing on the bow in the first picture. He's planning on lording this over his siblings forever. ;-)

Let the Goo Times Roll

Is it science or recess? Monday we made cornstarch goo.
To one box of cornstarch (I keep an extra on hand now), add 1 1/2 cups of water. The official recipe calls for 15 drops of food coloring, but we don't use it.
Mix, squish, scrape, squeeze. Bury things. The goo is solid then liquid then solid then liquid then...
Even the teens had fun!

I forgot that I usually set this up on newspapers for easier cleanup--just roll and throw. I'm leery of putting all this down the drain, so I scraped most of it into the trash then rinsed everything outside. The floor splashes were vacuumed then wiped with a damp rag. Even a scary looking mess like this isn't hard to clean up.
And in the category of "great minds think alike", yesterday while visiting one of my favorite blogs, I found Margaret's post (2-26-08) about the same fun mess!

Monday, February 25, 2008

The Loveliness of Cooking With Kids

Marianne is hosting the Loveliness of One-on-One fair about spending time with our children, one at a time. I had actually forgotten about the fair, but providentially began this post today. If you want to see what some of our meals look like, you can check some of these earlier posts.

Lately my posting makes it look like I do a lot of cooking with my kids. Fooled you! We had three meals in November, but didn't really start up again until February. The idea (ideal?) is to have each homeschooler plan and prepare a meal (usually dinner) monthly. I'm hoping we're back on the bandwagon and will keep going now. Here follow some random thoughts on how this works for us.

Life is usually too busy now for a weeknight meal, so step one is putting a date on the calendar, and that is almost always on a weekend.

Next comes the menu planning, and they are allowed to use some school time for this, but of course a child in regular school could do this with some free time. We sometimes make familiar dishes (after all, they don't know how to cook them yet), but they all prefer browsing through cookbooks for ideas.

We own a few children's cookbooks, but I get most from the library. At our branch, the juvenile nonfiction is mixed in with the adult (Dewey decimal 641 or 641.5), so I just walk by the shelves grabbing the ones with a "J" above the call number. As you browse you'll find many that suit your family. Current favorites include cookbooks by Emeril Lagasse. I haven't seen his show (apparently he's over the top!), but his children's books are great. The food is interesting and real, and the instructions are fine. As I mentioned last night, we sometimes edit for sugar, fat, or salt. I still remember a sweet potato casserole that was sweet enough for dessert even after removing much sugar and butter and all the marshmallows! So far we've used There's a Chef in My Soup! and There's a Chef in My World!, and apparently there are others.

The child chef and I review ideas and settle on a menu. This is the beginning of the educational side, because we cover some nutrition and basic menu planning (example: ham and sweet potatoes and canned fruit salad and bread and dessert and a sweet drink do not make a good meal). We also cover looks and flavors. Does the plate need something green or colorful? Are the flavors likely to go together? Are there too many difficult dishes to actually pull off? How will it be to serve (soup and salad and applesauce makes for many bowls)? You get the idea.

Once the menu is set, I go over the recipes, adding necessities to the grocery list. Sometimes the children help, and it would be educational for them to do it all, but it's just not practical for me. I know what we have on hand already, for one thing. I think I'll try to start involving them more in this step.

If we can, we do some prep the day or two before. When Daniel made ice cream, we cooked the custard base a day ahead. Joe is making dinner tonight, so last night we made his Swiss pasta sauce and put together the dry ingredients for the gingerbread.

Actually cooking is of course the heart of this activity, and I try to let the children do as much as they can. It takes a very conscious holding back/patience to let someone slower do something I'm very experienced at. I think this is what holds a lot of us back, but the rewards are great. These meals take a lot of time to prepare because the cooks are slower and also because they are more elaborate than a typical family dinner.

I have several different ways of interacting during cooking, tailored to the child, the recipe, and the time available. We read through all the steps together, then begin. I usually direct, especially if I change the way a dish goes together. The child chef may get training and then supervision of new skills--cutting, wisking, measuring, scraping, kneading, etc. Sometimes they can do a lot on their own, and I'm just the assistant--gathering ingredients, washing dishes and the counter, putting things away. Last night Joe browned the frozen pork by himself while I made plane reservations online. Then he gathered and measured for the gingerbread while I washed and tidied. Today we worked together.

Another perk of cooking a special meal is that the guest chef may invite a friend over to eat, and sometimes to help cook, too. Someone usually asks, but cooking doesn't get them out of their after-dinner chores. After all, I cook and help clean up on all the other days! ;-)

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Marianna's Meal

Last Sunday Marianna and I spent much of the day making dinner. Cooking with kids in certainly time consuming! In fact, we count it as "special time", bonding with Mom.

Her menu included meatball soup, challah, and veggies and dip, with a fruit galette for dessert. We got most of the recipes from a library cookbook: There's a Chef in My World! by Emeril Lagasse. In the past we've had to adjust some of Emeril's recipes because he can be overly generous with sugar, salt, or fat, but these were all good.

The challah was delicious and beautiful. Marianna helped make the dough ropes (I finished them), and she did the braiding herself. The soup was very good but received mixed reviews--some really liked the meatballs while others preferred the broth/veggie part. Everyone enjoyed sprinkling on the parmesan cheese!

I was especially pleased with the fruit galette. It's a sort of free form pie. I had made one several years ago(different cookbook) that was TERRIBLE! The dough was blah, and the filling had almost no sugar, so the berries it was made with were SOUR. Marianna's pie took careful preparation but looked and tasted great. We used frozen peaches and canned cherries, so a lot of juice came out as baking began. I was sure the bottom would be swamped and soggy, so I took it out of the oven and spooned off as much as possible. I also ended up baking it significantly longer than the recipe suggested, but you can see that it did not overbrown. And the bottom was actually crispy. Yum! You can't tell from the picture, but it was baked (on parchment) on a pizza pan and is 10-11" in diameter--a good 10 servings or so.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

How's Your Lent Going?

Are you giving up what you said you would?

Are you doing those "extras"?

Did you pick the wrong disciplines? Do you need something more challenging or more realistic?

Lent is a period of fasting, prayer, and almsgiving. Elizabeth and Danielle have both been posting a daily reminder/reflection/suggestion of how to fast, pray, and give in our lives as wives and mothers. Each is short and thought provoking.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Dinner and a Math Challenge

Well, the February meals are under way. Last night Daniel served BLT hot dogs, baked beans, winter fruit salad, and tossed salad, followed by homemade vanilla ice cream with bittersweet chocolate shavings. I did persuade him to buy the hot dog buns--the cook book had a recipe for homemade.

The hot dogs were simple but good. Hot dogs (we splurged on Nathan's) were each wrapped in a slice of bacon and then baked at 375* for 45 minutes. I didn't believe they would take so long, but they really did need the full time. They were served with diced tomato, shredded lettuce, and mayo (as well as the usual condiments), but I think they were better without.

We make ice cream by cooking the custardy base a day ahead so the eggs are safe (former dietitian bacteria phobe!) and everything has time to chill. On Friday this gave me a chance to give Daniel a different sort of math assignment--recipe manipulation. It went something like this:

The recipe calls for 1 2/3 cups of milk. The texture of ice cream is strongly affected by appropriate fat content, so we need to use the whole milk the recipe is assuming. However, we don't keep whole milk in the house. So figure out how much low fat milk and half-and-half we need to use to "make" whole milk. Make the calculations, but also explain how you would measure it in real life.

1 cup low fat milk= 2.5 g fat
1 cup whole milk= 8 g fat
1 cup half-and-half= 24 g fat

If you're interested in giving this a try, the answer is in the comments, along with the follow up question that I gave to Daniel.

By the way, the ice cream was delicious! We usually us The Ultimate Ice Cream Book, given to us by those wonderful Nelsons.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Crazy Busy

Also known as: It's Always Something.

Or maybe: What Did You Really Give Up for Lent?

We all have busy lives, but the pace here has been ratcheted up lately. Yesterday's list of ten "gotta do"s has TWO checkmarks. Okay, then...

So this morning, I'm lying in bed deciding whether or not I'm really going to crawl out at 5:45, because Thursday is a "short walk" day, so I don't HAVE to. Then I think maybe I'll get up now, take the dog out, and finally make the salt dough crown of thorns my kids want/expect/need/use every year. After all, Lent IS a week old already. Then I wonder why I haven't heard teen noises (yes, some get up before me). Did I sleep through showers and doors, or is it actually too quiet?

Get up. Wake them up. Yes, they're running a bit late.

So now it's: Make a lunch. Suggest the end of shower #1. Make two bagels. Get dressed. Make hot chocolate. Unlock a finicky car. Get another one out the door--insist on a coat. Meanwhile, Dusty is prancing and jumping (he really is cute) and following me everywhere. Is he begging for that ham sandwich or desperate to pee? Let's hope I don't find out...

None of this is rushed or panicky, but by the time we head out for our walk, 45 minutes are gone. The crown of thorns is postponed again.

This is how it's been lately. It's always something. I really am glad I got to help the teens this morning. Lots of days I don't do anything for them, and barely see them before school, so it feels great to do a little actual mothering. It's just that I didn't get to do what I had planned.

And that's where Lent comes in. Elizabeth has written more than once about how sometimes God chooses our penances, and they're not the ones we planned for ourselves. And Len has also encouraged me that doing what the family needs is better than doing what I want, even if what I want is very good.

So I try to let go and offer even the busy-ness to God. The checklist looks like I haven't accomplished much, but there's a lot more to family life than that list. If my attitude is right (loving, serving, patient, cheerful, or at least TRYING for all those), I will be offering something good. Time to try!

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

In Memory

This morning, Len's grandmother passed from this world to the next. She was 89 and had many health problems, but this still felt sudden to us. She got up this morning, then went back to bed and fell asleep. We're all grateful her passing could be so peaceful, but of course we'll miss her.

Please pray for the repose of the soul of Margaret Rose Schmidt. May she be with God soon. Thank you.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Dinners with my Boys

Now that the homeschoolers are planning their February meals, I think it's time to share some photos from our November cooking!

Daniel loves apple pie (like his Dad) and crisp. Our favorite version is to make the filling for a 9 or 10 inch pie and stuff it into a 9" square glass pan. Then we top it with the topping from another crisp recipe. Bake until the apples are tender and the topping is brown. Great with ice cream, of course.

We've had homemade pizza on and off for years, and I've finally tweaked the recipe to the point that the kids like it just (or is it almost?) as much as delivery. My problem was that the crust was always too thick. We now roll it out as thin as we can, and place on three (I used to make just two with the same amount of dough!) perforated pizza pans. An advantage of this is that we can assemble the pizzas and then keep them in the fridge until it's time to bake them (in the pan) at 500 degrees on the baking stone.

ANYWAY, Daniel chose three different toppings. Shown here is the most unusual--a BBQ pizza. On a thin layer of Famous Dave's rich and sassy BBQ sauce, he distributed shredded meat (we now can't remember whether it was beef or pork), then sprinkled on grated cheddar cheese. Yum! He also made a cheese pizza and one topped with pepperoni and lots of Italian sausage.

Joe's meal sounds simple: soup, salad, and bread. He worked hard, though, making tomato soup from scratch, a composed chef's salad, and Irish soda bread. The most fun part of making the soup was pureeing it, because we have (thanks, Mom and Dad!) an immersion blender. This is a blender on a stick that goes into the soup pot so we didn't have to move the soup in batches. It's nickname is the "zh-zh", because that's what it sounds like (the "ge" sound in "beige").

We usually serve chef's salad as a make-your-own item from ingredients scattered around the table. Joe's presentation was beautiful and easier to serve.

Take note of the basket of homemade (with WHITE BREAD) croutons--no leftovers, let me assure you!
Dessert was banana pops coated with chocolate. They were supposed to be rolled in toffee chips or peanuts. We substituted chopped pistachios, which I wouldn't do again. They were salted and didn't stay very crunchy. Simple banana and chocolate would have been tastier.