Wednesday, May 28, 2008

"Fun things to put in a tree house"

That's the latest funny Google search that ended up here.

Okay, I'm game. You could look at some of my favourite funny faces here, or see Mr. Fixit's little friend here.

Or how about...

A hungry rodent?


A curious rodent?


A ping-pong playing squirrel?

Full of beans

Miss Maggie tells the story (with photos!) of her big batch, here.

(Wow, beans for breakfast! I'm not sure if we'll ever get that fond of them...)

It did work! (Rice cake snack)

In my list of things to use up, I mentioned that we have some mostly-ignored rice cakes and that I thought they might work in Leslie Hammond's puffed-rice snack recipes. I tried it today, and it worked! Not as economical as using plain puffed rice, but it was a case of "what's in your hand."

The basic recipe for honey-mustard snack mix is equal parts oil, Dijon mustard, and honey, mixed together; 2 tsp. of each will coat about 4 cups of puffed rice or broken-up rice cakes, plus anything else you want to add (I put in some cashews as well). Spread on a cookie sheet or in a baking pan, bake 15 minutes at 250 degrees (that's 250, not 350 in case you wondered). Stir when it comes out and let it cool a few minutes more on the pan.

The girls prefer a combination of oil, cinnamon and sugar, but I like the savoury version better.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Oh yeah--it's Tuesday!

That means it's time for...the Charlotte Mason Blog Carnival. This edition contains not only Part One of Homeschooling On the Cheap (at Ship Full O'Pirates), but Part Two as well.

Confidence in confidence alone

The last indictment in the "Junked Food" article was one that probably applies the least around here: "We lack confidence in the kitchen to make meals out of what's available." I've always loved putting the bits and pieces together and rescuing leftovers, to the occasional horror of the Squirrelings (but usually only after they found out what was in it). I'm not over-confident in some of my kitchen abilities; I season according to the recipe or by guess, not by a "this needs two more grains of salt" taste mechanism; I have never been much of a meat cooker (I ask Mr. Fixit if I'm not sure), and there are many many many things that I have never cooked and never will. A chef I am not.

But I know that this larger under-confidence they're talking about is a real problem for some people--in the kitchen and in many other areas. If you can't function without a recipe, you are going to waste food. If you have to measure everything, you are going to waste time. If you can't cook anything outside a can, you are going to waste money.

The Squirrelings are always asking me how I learned to cook, and I've blogged before about some of the answers: I cooked a bit with my mom, I used to cut out recipes from women's magazines before I was really old enough to cook, I worked several summers in camp kitchens, I read cookbooks from the library--James Kardon's The Peoples' Cookbook, something called the Save-Your Husband Cookbook, Peg Bracken, Edna Staebler, More-with-Less, Laurel's Kitchen, the late James Barber's first funky little cookbooks (Fear of Frying), Louise Newton's Good Recipes for Hard Times, the Goldbecks' Short-Order Cookbook...

I watched an occasional cooking show, I made a lot of family dinners during high school, I fooled around with vegetarian food while I lived on my own--vegetarian cooking is a great way to learn to improvise and adapt in the kitchen. Typical of most people my generation, I thought; and, as I said, I didn't think I knew a whole lot.

Then I got married (to someone who grew up watching his mom and grandma cook from scratch), had a little one and started going to daytime programs at a local community centre. One of the groups was run by the community nutrition worker and was a combination of cooking class, nutrition and shopping awareness (we talked about frugal tips and went on a supermarket tour), and recipe-sharing club. Those who came regularly got recipes to take home--but they also gained confidence, and insight into how food is handled in different parts of the world. The Eastern European woman who showed us how to make an apple dessert explained that it would be served after a very simple soup dinner--her family wouldn't expect both a heavy main course and a fancy dessert. The German-born nutrition worker showed us things like spelt, and talked about how she tried to provide healthy alternatives for her young children, such as an evening veggie-plate ritual.

And I continued to improvise, do the seat-of-the-pants thing, which isn't the same as just flying blind--it's about using what you know and continuing to practice and learn. Which brings us back where we started: one of the problems in our culture is that a lot of people just don't have that experience and so don't have that confidence. I have always hoped that our off-hand recipes and food posts here would maybe help somebody out (especially if they realize how little formal training I've had); but the confidence to mix ingredients, leave out, try this or that isn't something you can just hand somebody. I think Edward Espe Brown and James Barber both described good cooking as being a generous thing, both in the sharing of the meal and in the sharing of ideas--that's what was working for us at the community centre.

If you're reading this and want more cooking confidence without reading a hundred books, there's one book I just got from the library that I think would really help out a kitchen beginner: The Complete Idiot's Guide to 20-Minute Meals. It reminds me of an updated version of The I-Hate-to-Cook Book--as Peg Bracken said, the recipes we swear by instead of at.

And if you're lacking friends to show you how to do things, there are videos all over the Internet that can help you out, really show you how you chop an onion or fry things or what the rolls should look like when they're done. Try You-Tube, try the Betty Crocker site (Ponytails loves watching these).

Finally--just to show you how a more-cooking-less-recipes approach works, this is the soup I made for lunch today. Amounts are deliberately vague (this is about thinking).

Minestrone

1 good spoonful margarine (could have been olive oil)
1 chopped onion (could have been celery too but our celery turned out to be unfortunately unsalvageable; I could have added chopped carrots but I didn't feel like chopping anything else)
1 clove garlic, chopped small (could have been garlic powder)
1 box chicken broth (could have been a can, or bouillon powder plus water, or homemade stock, or just water if that's all you have)
About a cupful of leftover pasta sauce (could have been tomato sauce, or canned tomatoes, or fresh tomatoes, or tomato juice, plus extra seasonings)
About a cupful of grape tomatoes leftover from the weekend's vegetable plate (completely optional)
1 can lentils (could have been dry lentils, or other canned beans)
A couple handfuls of small soup pasta (ditalini) (could have been rice or barley; rice would have made it gluten-free, but I really wanted the pasta effect because the soup was so obviously going to be more of a minestrone than anything else)
A bit of salt (could have been pepper too if we liked pepper better)
As much extra water as you think you might need to keep it from becoming "stewp" instead of "soup"

In the biggest pot you have, melt the margarine or heat the oil. Fry, saute or otherwise cook and soften the onion and garlic. Add everything else except the pasta, bring it to a boil, add the pasta, and cook slowly for about an hour, stirring as needed to make sure the pasta is cooking properly and not sticking to the bottom. Add a cupful of water partway on if it's getting too thick. How thick is too thick? You decide. Have confidence--it's your soup.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Grocery Prices

Some prices from this weekend's groceries; not the same store as last time. I noticed this store had lower prices on several things we bought, but the bread was more.

Eggs, large, dozen 2.20
Unbleached all-purpose flour, 5 lb. 3.97
Romaine lettuce .99
Cantaloupe 1.49
Store-brand ww bread 1.99
Bananas 1.59/kg

They don't make them like they used to...

Clothespins!

We bought some tough plastic ones about ten years ago, and inherited a bunch of old (wooden) ones (spring-type) with our house, along with an old clothesline that we removed after a couple of years. Since then we've used a combination of the electric dryer and indoor lines in the basement (about half and half). Once in awhile a pin would snap, and we've lost a few here and there to craft projects.

This year Mr. Fixit put up a wonderful energy-saving pulley-style line outdoors; you can stand on the back porch and haul everything in if it rains. So I thought we needed a few extra clothespins. The new (wooden) ones are cheap enough--but they break! The springs on them barely hold a pair of socks, much less take on a pair of jeans.

I have to go down after each load and check the grass for broken clothespins. And/or pick up the things that have fallen off the line.

And that's how I know this world is going downhill in a laundry basket.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Best thing I read this weekend: "How we waste food"

Junked Food, Toronto Star, May 25/08

And this is the part I liked best: the sidebar "Setting a Smarter Table." (Not to say that there isn't out-of-the-house food waste, like supermarkets dumping stuff, but this is the part that hits us--uh--where we live.)

HOW WE WASTE

• We buy food too infrequently, and often too much of it.
• We buy food impulsively or when we're hungry.
• We buy food that doesn't fit our lifestyle.
• We put too much food on our trays or plates.
• We leave too many scraps on our plates.
• We refuse to eat things such as bread crusts.
• We don't plan meals before we buy the food.
• We lack confidence in the kitchen to make meals out of what's available.


Been guilty of all of them from time to time, but we're working on it.

That makes me want to plan out this week's meals a bit better--so I may have something for Menu Plan Monday after all.

Does poetry exist?

Suitable for Mixed Company posted a quote today from C.S. Lewis's Reflections on the Psalms.

I liked the end of the quote best:
"analyse the printer's ink and the paper, study it (in that way) as long as you like; you will never find something over and above all the products of analysis whereof you can say "This is the poem". Those who can read, however, will continue to say the poem exists."

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Saturday finds

In between getting ready for Crayons' flower-fairy birthday and getting the girls to their Saturday dance lessons, we managed to hit a church sale and a neighbour's yard sale this morning. Mr. Fixit found a "gossip bench" (otherwise known as a seat with attached telephone table, much like this one)--it's the right style for our entrance and living room, and we both liked it right away. We even have a good place for it, just inside the front door, where our front hall joins the living room with an open space. Our only problem is deciding which way to put it--facing into the living room, which kills it as a shoe-putting-on bench; or facing into the hall, which makes it more useful but makes it look pretty funny when you're sitting in the living room?

For now we've compromised by putting it sideways!

Mama Squirrel found books at both places--so did Mr. Fixit. A copy of Magic Elizabeth (a beloved Scholastic story that has become hard to find), Babar Comes to America, and hardcover copies of The Greek Way and The Roman Way. What Mama Squirrel enjoyed most was finding several Friendship Press books from the '50's and '60's--she rarely sees these, and these titles were ones that have eluded her at church sales for years. (That's the mostly likely place to find them, since they were common in church libraries and are often stored away in back rooms of churches, from long-ago mission band or C.G.I.T. (girls' club) days. Strangely enough, these were in a box at the neighbour's sale, and not at the church sale at all!

(Is Mama Squirrel an expert collector of these things? Does she go haunting sales for one particular book? Nope, it's strictly nostalgia for some fondly remembered books from a long-ago church library.)

If you're interested, some of today's finds were George and the Chinese Lady, by Myra Scovel; The Buffalo and the Bell, ditto; Hana's New Home (that's an E-bay link so it may not work long); and The Turquoise Horse.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Food for a Fairy Birthday (mostly-healthy)

Fairy Fluff (popcorn)

Butterfly Garden (raw veggies arranged on a butterfly-shaped platter)

Fairy Wands (mini fruit kebabs)

Coconut Cupcakes

Fairy Nectar (fruit juice)

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Tim's Mom's Meme (A Visit to our House)

Tim's Mom blogs at Bona Vita Rusticanda Est, and she tagged us for a meme she created.

She writes:
"People who visit us get a taste of who we are, what we're into, and what we're like. I notice that my kids tend to show new visitors the same computer things they like, or play music for them that they love that our guests have probably never heard, and offer the same snacks.Since there are lots of people I know via the internet who may never get the chance to visit us, I thought I'd offer a virtual glimpse of a visit to our house."

I don't think I can put together such a cohesive answer as she did, though; it would depend on which Squirrel we're talking about, and the weather, and all that. But I'll try...

If you came to our house--You would see: Chalk artwork on the patio and the driveway. Two A.J. Casson prints (here's one of them, here's the other). Mr. Fixit has some other interesting vintage stuff around, but I'm leery of posting details in case any burglars want to make a Visit to our House.

We'd probably feed you: Barbecued burgers or maybe German sausage on a bun with sauerkraut. Or we usually have some cookies or muffins around...or chips...

And offer you this to drink: Depends what we have! If you're one of Mr. Fixit's friends, he might have thought ahead and gotten some beers. Otherwise, we might have some pop...or some juice...or you could try some Choclatey Chai tea.

We'd undoubtedly ask if you'd read: Hmmm, Tim's Mom, it doesn't always go that way here...I've scared some people off by asking if they've read this or that book. More often people see our bookshelves downstairs and notice something on the shelf (or all over the coffee table), and we start talking books from there. Or not, as the case may be. Crayons' answer is "Have you read Don't Count Your Chicks?" [by the D'Aulaires], or she might ask you how many Oz books you've read.

We'd want to play this music for you: Mr. Fixit might play some Sheryl Crow, Neil Diamond, Dave Brubeck, or something loud enough to scare non-rock fans out to the back yard. Mama Squirrel might put on Judy Garland's Carnegie Hall concert or Mark O'Connor's The American Seasons. Ponytails might play you her Bob and Larry Sing the '70's CD if you asked her nicely.

We'd want to tell you the latest about: --hmm, I'm not sure about that! Depends on how long it's been since we've seen you.

We'd probably suggest a game of: backyard baseball, or ping pong in the garage. The Apprentice has been known to bring out the Pop-o-matic Trouble. Crayons might suggest Don't Wake Daddy.

We might show off: pictures of Mama Squirrel's Only Nephew, who we think is the Cutest Baby In Existence. Our Little Tim, Eleanor Farjeon and Church Mice picture book collections.

We might get on the computer and show you: our blog. Eight Letters in Search of a Word. Something funny on You-Tube.

If it was a long enough visit, we might watch: Ponytails doing magic tricks. A Three Stooges video, or an Emergency episode, or one of the Muppet movies.

I know I'll think of much better answers to this later on, but I have to go and figure out what we're having for dinner.

Oh--and if I have to tag some other bloggers?
How about Aimee, Sebastian, Miss Maggie, Birdy, and Birdie?

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Those who persevere...

will be rewarded. Martha O. Dunn, whoever you are, I love you. I hope your three kids grew up appreciating all those loaves of bread.

(I did tweak the recipe just a little: I used two cups of brown rice flour and one cup of a flour mix I had made up quite awhile ago; I don't know what Martha's "GF flour mix" consisted of. I used canola oil instead of butter or margarine. And I think maybe it could have used just a tiny bit less liquid--another slightly sunken-in top with this one; or maybe that's from rising too long? But it slices nicely! Tastes good! Baked on the regular setting with no messing around!)

Try, try, try again

This is a gf article I hadn't seen before: "Bread Class With Alternative Flours."

And this is what's in the bread machine today, in the name of research: click on this archive of recipes and then go to the very last post, Hitachi Bread Machine by Martha O. Dunn. "Here's the recipe I use 5-6 times a week - I have three kids to keep up with." I don't have a Hitachi Bread Machine so I'm just trying it with a basic bread setting.

Sooner or later I will find something that a) slices well, b) tastes good, c) works well in our machine, d) includes what I already have without having to go track down more fancy flours.

“I would say to housewives, be not daunted by one failure, nor by twenty. Resolve that you will have good bread, and never cease striving after this result till you have effected it. If persons without brains can accomplish this, why cannot you?”--’Housekeeping In Old Virginia' Marion Cabell Tyree ed. (1878)

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Yeah, it's pretty funny--bring on the cookies


You Are a Sweet Person



When it comes to snacks, you're more likely to grab some candy than heat up a pizza.

There's a good chance you're female (women prefer sweet snacks)...

Or at least, you prefer to be in the company of women.

Your tastes are simple and predictable. You are young at heart.

You tend to crave food you can just grab and eat.

(Thanks, Birdie)

A new frugal blog!

Something new from Denise of the wonderful blog Let's Play Math: Frugal Homeschooling.

Denise writes:
"I hope this blog will become one of those wonderful resources, too: a collection of links to the best of the best free and inexpensive homeschooling resources I can find. I don't know where this path will take me, but it should be an interesting journey...."

Canadian HSers Carnival

The 5th edition of the Canadian Home Educators Blog Carnival is up now--a little bigger than the previous ones! Thanks, Jacqueline, for hosting this!

Today's baking IS butchered

I am trying another loaf of Farmhouse Buttermilk Bread, with three changes. One of them, I think, has knocked the stuffing out of this batch.

I mixed up some powdered egg replacer to substitute for the three eggs.

I added raisins and cinnamon (at the beep).

I removed the mixing blade (with plastic-wrap-covered tongs) when the kneading was done, so as not to have such a big hole in the bottom of the loaf.

But I could tell almost from the beginning that this loaf was going to be much drier than yesterday's; I tried to compensate by adding water as it mixed, but the texture was much different. It's almost done baking now, and it smells good because of the cinnamon but hasn't risen much.

Could have been the amount of egg replacer or the total amount of liquid; everything else was the same up to where I added the raisins and removed the blade, and it was obvious even by then that there was a problem.

Oh well--I haven't had too many duds so far, I guess I had to have one.

Carnival of Homeschooling

Po Moyemu--In My Opinion hosts the 125th Carnival of Homeschooling.

Some posts I want to check out:

"Amy Cortez presents The Gifted Kid and His Unfinished Projects posted at The Eclectic Telegraph."

"Susan Gaissert presents Things I Learned From "I Love Lucy" posted at The Expanding Life."

"Denise presents Diagnosis: Math Workbook Syndrome posted at Let's Play Math!"

And from last week's carnival: "Homeschooling on the cheap, Part 1", at Ship Full O'Pirates.

Monday, May 19, 2008

When a quilt is more than a bedcover

What we did on this rainy holiday Monday: went to see the quilts at the Grand National Quilt Show exhibit.

These are not your average log-cabin quilts: these are fabric art.

This year's theme is Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow, and the quilters interpreted that in all kinds of ways: personal nostalgia, concern for the environment, womens' issues, and all kinds of other old and new things (including a giant tortoise you can see pictured in that press release).

If you want to see the whole catalogue, click on this link and then click on the image at the top of the page to download it. (It's over 6 MB, so it might take awhile to load if you have a slow computer.)

We could have stayed there a lot longer if hunger hadn't been kicking in and our feet hadn't started hurting (there were a LOT of quilts). Mr. Fixit offered to take everybody out for burgers (the fast-food places are open even if not much else is), and everybody was happy to say yes.

Menu Plan Monday

This week's menu plan is pretty loose; I know what we have and what I think I'm going to make, but I'm not sure just what nights. So it's very much subject to change.

Victoria Day Monday: Chicken fajitas and whole-wheat couscous

Tuesday: Baked fish, frozen fries, sweet potatoes, coleslaw

Wednesday: Lazy Perogy Casserole (GF lasagna noodles, mashed potatoes and cheese), salad

Thursday: Teriyaki meatballs, rice, frozen egg rolls (we have a few left over)

Friday: Spaghetti squash with cheese and sauce, extra meatballs

Saturday: Beany's Baked Beans with bacon or wieners, potatoes

Sunday: Chicken, potatoes and vegetables

Ka-ching

Another weekend, another couple of hundred gone at the grocery store plus more at the health food store. It's not that our spending habits have gone so awry (although we have been putting out more money on natural foods), but that prices in general, as predicted, are taking our $160ish usual trip and adding another fifty bucks to it, somewhere along the line.

Some random prices from a recent grocery receipt:

3 lb. Granny Smith apples 4.49
3 lb. carrots 1.79
1.12 kg (2 1/2 lb) bananas 1.46
4 L 2% milk (just over 4 qt) 4.69
Store-brand ww bread 1.79 (I've heard worse)
Tub margarine 2.77
Bag of potato chips 2.29 plus tax
Heinz ketchup, 1 L 2.97 (minus a coupon)
Small jar of honey 3.37
White flour, 5 lb bag 4.47
WW flour, 5 lb bag 5.47

If you're wondering about the chips, Mr. Fixit figured out awhile back that salt-and-vinegar chips reduce night time leg cramps. So better 2.29 for chips than lots more for medication.

But anyway, you see how things are adding up. We are going to have to pull out all our frugal stops in the next while--forego the Granny Smiths for something fresh and local, make some hard choices about what kind of margarine to buy (or go for more expensive butter and reduce our consumption of it), and in general just Not Put So Much In The Cart. (This is slightly complicated by the fact that we all (usually) shop together and Mr. Fixit and I take care of different areas: I get vegetables, he gets fruit; I get canned things, he gets the meat; and so on.)

As Peg Bracken used to say--If you want to save money, start running out of things.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Talk about hubris

For some reason I found this funny, and a bit bizarre:
The suburban New York school district of North Rockland is considering a price increase, but school superintendent Brian Monahan says he worries that more expensive school lunches might prompt parents and students to turn to less healthful alternatives.

"For many families, it takes time as well as money to prepare a lunch. In this day and age, both are in short supply," Monahan said. "We know the school lunches are healthy. We don't know that what students would bring would be healthy."

(From ABC News, "Will Rising Food Costs Make You Fat?")

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Gluten-Free Pantry French Bread and Pizza Mix (review)

OK, I made it to the health food store today and got a package of xanthan gum and some other things, so no more excuses. I also picked up a package of Gluten-Free Pantry's French Bread and Pizza Mix, since I wanted to make pizza and had heard good things about that brand.

Price: $4.99 for a mix that makes two 12-inch pizzas seems fairly reasonable, but is a bit misleading because what you're basically getting is the flour mixture and the yeast. You have to add eggs, vinegar, salt, sugar, water/milk and oil, plus your pizza sauce, cheese and toppings. And pay for oven heat if you're making pizza. Still...considering the price of gluten-free flours, it doesn't seem like such a bad deal.

Ease of use / clear directions: Although I didn't bake it as French bread, the bread machine instructions seemed pretty straightforward. The pizza instructions, on the other hand, are a bit vague, and have caused trouble for some people. However, ours turned out fine (see below).

Taste / texture: Excellent. It held together (which is more than I can say for some regular homemade pizzas I've made), was crispy but not rock-hard around the edges, solid on the bottom and bready inside, and tasted more-or-less like regular pizza crust; I'd give the overall texture and appearance 9 out of 10 and the mouth-feel about 8 1/2. Since I bought the mix and prepared it myself (and cleaned up the mixing bowls) and we did not utter the GF word during the meal, the pizza was deemed to be acceptable by the Squirrelings. (As I said, they probably thought it was better than some of Mama Squirrel's previous attempts at pizza.)

Okay, so how did I make it turn out well with the sketchy directions from the package? I put all the ingredients in the breadmaker and put it on "pizza dough" setting--20 minutes to mix, 30 minutes to rise. It needed a bit of help to get mixed properly, especially with the very little mixing blade in our machine--I can see where a mixer might do a better or at least quicker job on that. Or it might even work in the food processor--no guarantees that the batter wouldn't gum things up, but it could be worth a shot.

When the cycle was done, I scraped the whole thing out of the bread machine pan into a bowl, just to see what was up and if it needed any more mixing. Like most gluten-free bread "doughs," it was more of a sticky batter at that point than a stretchy dough. I non-stick-sprayed our two 12-inch metal pizza pans, and used a rubber spatula to push half the dough out on each pan. It still looked a bit rough at that point, and trying to get it to form a ridge around the edges was pretty useless. But this is where I lucked out: since I had a bit of time to spare, I covered each pizza with a piece of sprayed plastic wrap and let them sit on the table while I grated cheese, mixed up sauce and so on. And lo and behold...that dough began to rise a bit, and to cover more of the pans. And I figured out that I could use the spatula, right through the plastic, to keep pushing the dough a little more toward the edges and push it up into a ridge. The dough sat on the table for somewhere between twenty minutes to half an hour, and I think that extra time helped it turn out. I would do it in the same way again next time, let it rise for a short time in the bread pan or a bowl, and then the rest of the time right on the pizza pans.

I was going to par-bake the pizzas and then top and finish them, even though the package just said to bake the whole thing at 450 degrees for 15 minutes; but the oven was hot so I ended up just topping them and putting them in. The time and temperature seemed right; I switched the pans halfway because the top of our oven is always hotter than the bottom. I let them sit for a few minutes when they came out, and cut them with a pizza wheel.

Sorry I didn't take a picture! We still have some leftovers in the fridge, because Mr. Fixit also made a potful of his grandma's potato-sausage-bean soup, and that's a filler-upper.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Happy Long Weekend!

Swiss Cashew Salad is still cool (Repost form 2006)

Based on the number of Google hits we get for this salad, it's one of the most popular recipes we ever posted--probably coming somewhere just ahead of Small Chocolate Cake and Tofu Chocolate Pie. I was thinking about making one this weekend, even though the supermarket lettuce doesn't come close to what we'll have soon in our own garden. (Bunnies, beware.)

Swiss Cashew Salad, our version

I clipped a recipe for Swiss Cashew Tossed Salad from a Taste of Home magazine somebody gave me; and the exact same recipe (no credit given to anybody) is posted on at least two recipe websites. So it doesn't look like this idea is much of a secret: Romaine lettuce, cashews, Swiss cheese (sliced thin with a vegetable peeler), and poppy seed dressing. This is a very simple salad to make, but that's why you need to use the best possible quality ingredients. We got good-quality Swiss cheese at the deli and used a combination of Romaine and our own garden lettuce. I can't even imagine this one with iceberg lettuce, so if that's all you have, I wouldn't bother.

I didn't like the dressing recipe that came with the salad (the one given if you do a search for "Swiss Cashew Tossed Salad")--I couldn't stomach the idea of 3/4 of a cup of sugar in one bowl of salad. So I used this one from Betty Crocker's Cookbook.

Poppy Seed Dressing

1/3 cup sugar
2 tbsp. vinegar
1 tbsp. lemon juice
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. dry mustard
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 tbsp. poppy seeds

Mix everything except the oil and poppy seeds. Gradually add oil, beating until thick and smooth; stir in poppy seeds. The book says to cover and refrigerate at least two hours. Makes 3/4 cup of dressing, enough for one average salad.

Some people here don't like poppy seed dressing, so they had the salad with commercial Caesar-with-bacon dressing--and that was also very good. Oh, one other thing--don't mix the cashews with the lettuce too far ahead--they go soft.

A little more good news

Many good things happening for Lizzie (A Dusty Frame).

The Queen of Carrots has a bit longer to wait for her twins. (Oops--I meant the Blessed Arrival is good news, not that the Carrot Duchy has to wait.)

Ragamuffin Studies sends you A Touch of Green to Gladden the Heart.

A Holy Experience collects up a bouquet of happy links.

And if you still need a smile booster, you can try Meredith's "thin but chewy chocolate chip cookies." Hmm, I wonder whether my new pans would cremate that recipe too?

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Vegetarians, avert your eyes

This typo I saw in a recipe search kind of startled me:

"Brain ground beef. Place beef back in skillet and add 1 jar of spaghetti sauce to ground beef."

Oh--DRAIN it.

Good grief.

When good things happen to good people

Miss Maggie has posted an update about her family's GFCF experiment.

The funniest thing is that, back awhile ago, I was wondering if it would be heretical to try to make a GF batch of her garlic breadsticks...I guess I have permission now.

Well, if I ever get some more xanthan gum.

What's Amy been up to?

I used to get Amy Dacyczyn's yearly Tightwad Gazette updates, but hadn't heard anything about her for several years. Understandably, she values her privacy! But it was nice to read this interview with her at The Simple Dollar. (Thanks, Meredith for pointing this one out!)

Sweet smell of spring

Crayons' Flower Scent Perfume Recipe (for Fairies)

Take a container and fill it with water. Then pick some of your favourite flower heads. But just flower heads, because the stems make it really yucky smelling. Then stir it together with a little spoon. After the water seems to kind of get a tan colour, then take another container and then take one colander and then, because you won’t need the flowers in the perfume, then take the colander, put it over the top of the empty container, and pour the mixture in.

Then stir some more.

Then put in a pretty container that you like, and maybe put a salt dough flower on top, or a sticker.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

To pray is almost to conquer

Ann and her family remind us why.

Burnt cookies: a metaphor

Remember last month I bought some new cookie sheets? Big, heavy, nonstick shiny ones.

I hate them.

They are great for frozen fries or whatever, but lousy for cookies. When life up in this Treehouse is feeling just slightly stressful anyway, another pan of charred chocolate chip doesn't exactly bring on the sunshine.

Ooh, I'm mad.

And I wanted those cookies.

I'm going back to my old warped pans covered with baked-on spray.

--------------------------------------------

Mrs. Ralph helped herself to the biggest piece.

She took her fork.

Mrs. Ralph tried to cut it.

But it would not cut.

And Mrs. Ralph wanted that chocolate.

So she picked it up and bit it.

"Uuggg," she screamed.

"Fish! Raw fish!"

Mrs. Ralph was angry.

She was very angry.
--Amelia Bedelia and the Surprise Shower, by Peggy Parish

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Funniest Google hit lately

People find their way here looking for all kinds of things.

Today's Google question of the day is: "can I give condense milk to a squirrel."

Answer: Yes, but he says he'd rather have root beer.

Charlotte Mason Blog Carnival

Now boarding: the train for the CM Blog Carnival-Yosemite Edition.

A note for CM homeschoolers: "As always, you can start writing and submitting entries for the next carnival right away. Here is the link: CM Blog Carnival Entry Form."

Meander over (Carnival of the Recipes)

Sent from the Carnival of the Recipes:

"All of those who wander aren't lost. So stroll on over to the Carnival of the Recipes: Meandering Meals Edition."

"The Carnival will be hosted next week by Thrive magazine. The theme is comfort food - so send in whatever recipe makes you thrive by 12 p.m. CST on Saturday."

Monday, May 12, 2008

Feelin' Groovy


What type of Mother Hen Are You?
by Montessorimom.com: Educational Resource

(Search me--I just answered the questions. Hat tip to Athena, a Gentle Mother Hen.)

God provides in many ways

Now who would think when they grabbed a rummage-sale size-8 boy's blazer that it would be such a blessing later on? Read Meredith's story.

The DHM has a new couch...and if you give a Mom a Couch...enjoy the rest.

Coffeemamma's Baby is so much better that she's started soccer. (I'll let Coffeemamma fill in the details when she has time.)

Birdie is counting Mother's Day and birthday blessings.

And MomtoCherubs is celebrating a whole bunch of things.

Thank you all for sharing these wonderful days with us!

Keep praying for Lizzie

There is a lot going on at The Dusty Frame.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

I guess it's okay to post this now.

I started writing this and then hesitated to post it because things you put in print tend to chase after you, one way or another. But I guess I can't get in any trouble by at least explaining where things are at.

We did mention moving.

Did more than mention it--we planned on being pretty much covered with packing tape and newsprint by now.

I haven't blogged about this for awhile because Things Just Haven't Worked Out Well. And because...sometimes the less that is said about things, the better.

It's been difficult--extremely difficult--getting to the point we're at now, of letting go of this move, because it looked like everything we'd wanted.

But sometimes God just has other directions for us to take. Sometimes sends us where we're not expecting to go. Or--it seems--wants us to stay here for awhile yet.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Flapdoodle (or, Charles Kingsley tries for comedy)

From The Waterbabies, by Charles Kingsley:

"Come here," [said Mrs. Bedonebyasyoudid to Tom and Ellie] "and see what happens to people who do only what is pleasant."

And she took out of one of her cupboards (she had all sorts of mysterious cupboards in the cracks of the rocks) the most wonderful waterproof book, full of such photographs as never were seen....

And on the title-page was written, "The History of the great and famous nation of the Doasyoulikes, who came away from the country of Hardwork, because they wanted to play on the Jews' harp all day long."

In the first picture they saw these Doasyoulikes living in the land of Readymade, at the foot of the Happy-go-lucky Mountains, where flapdoodle grows wild....Instead of houses they lived in the beautiful caves of tufa, and bathed in the warm springs three times a day....They were very fond of music, but it was too much trouble to learn the piano or the violin; and as for dancing, that would have been too great an exertion. So they sat on ant-hills all day long, and played on the Jews' harp; and, if the ants bit them, why they just got up and went to the next ant-hill, till they were bitten there likewise.

And they sat under the flapdoodle-trees [what, you expected a hyperlink to flapdoodle-trees?], and let the flapdoodle drop into their mouths; and under the vines, and squeezed the grape-juice down their throats; and, if any little pigs ran about ready roasted, crying, "Come and eat me," as was their fashion in that country, they waited till the pigs ran against their mouths,
and then took a bite, and were content, just as so many oysters would have been.

They needed no weapons, for no enemies ever came near their land; and no tools, for everything was readymade to their hand; and the stern old fairy Necessity never came near them to hunt them up, and make them use their wits, or die.

And so on, and so on, and so on, till there were never such comfortable, easy-going, happy-go-lucky people in the world.

"Well, that is a jolly life," said Tom.

"You think so?" said the fairy. "Do you see that great peaked mountain there behind," said the fairy, "with smoke coming out of its top?"

"Yes."

"And do you see all those ashes, and slag, and cinders lying about?"

"Yes."

"Then turn over the next five hundred years, and you will see what happens next."

[The Douasyoulike population is cut by two-thirds after the volcano erupts, but the one-third who are left figure that since it erupted once, it's not very likely to erupt again, and so they go on living there until various other nasty things happen to them and they end up forgetting how to walk and talk like men. Nice cautionary tale, hey?]

[P.S. I think this is also pretty cool because of Kingsley's remarks about photography (in the part I snipped, he says that the magic book even had colour photographs in it). He wrote the book during 1862-1863, and the daguerrotype had been invented less than 25 years before that. And just for interest, this is during the same time period that Lewis Carroll/Charles Dodgson was taking photographs and writing Alice in Wonderland.]

Sebastian's Homeschool Wish List

I liked this thoughtful list and thought it sounded like "money well spent."

Diana and her hippo horse

In the post below this I mentioned Edward Ardizzone's out-of-print book Diana and her Rhinoceros. Our copy was bought at a library sale and I notice that all the copies on abebooks.com are quite expensive.

But according to this site, Diana is being republished!

Now there's something to brighten your day.

Another year under the bridge (Repost from 2005)

When we began blogging, our youngest Squirreling Crayons was not quite four; this month she turns seven. In honour of her advancing age, we repost this favourite "Crayons funny" from three years ago.

"Once More Under the Bridge"

The Squirrelings have been watching the 1940's version of Henry V, and it is so good that Mama Squirrel would like to recommend it to any home squirrelers doing the early 1400's in history, or learning about Shakespeare or his time period.

For those who have never seen it, it was made in Britain during WWII, which meant not only that the patriotic theme was especially appropriate but also that props were in short supply, especially anything made out of metal--so they had to use painted wooden swords and so on. (Mama Squirrel asked the Apprentice what the film company might be most short of during the war, and she said, "Male actors?" After Mama Squirrel stopped laughing, she acknowledged that that likely would have been a problem as well in a movie needing lots of extras, but she doesn't know how they got around that one.)

They stepped neatly around the tacky-prop problem by setting most of the film right on the Globe Theatre stage in Shakespeare's time, complete with a booing, cheering audience, people walking around selling fruit, hats that get left backstage, and a rain shower partway through! As the film goes on, the "Chorus" character encourages you to imagine you're right there on the battlefield or whatever, and the settings become more realistic.

Oh, and the title of this post? As King Henry shouted "Once more unto the breach, dear friends," Crayons (just turned 4) looked puzzled and asked, "Why are they going under the bridge?"(She was also a little upset that the Falstaff character died during the film, and when we told her it was just pretend, for the movie, she looked relieved and said, "It was just a deadly faint, then." (A favourite phrase from Diana and her Rhinoceros, see post here.))

Monday, May 05, 2008

Canadian Homeschooling Carnival #3 is up

The 3rd edition of the Canadian Home Educators Blog Carnival is up on its very own blog. Thanks, Jacqueline--it's not easy getting a new carnival going!

I particularly liked Making Friends--Jake Style from At Home On the Rock.

More advice from Charles Kingsley

"It was such a stream as you see in dear old Bewick; Bewick, who was born and bred upon them. A full hundred yards broad it was, sliding on from broad pool to broad shallow, and broad shallow to broad pool, over great fields of shingle, under oak and ash coverts, past low cliffs of sandstone, past green meadows, and fair parks, and a great house of grey stone, and brown moors above, and here and there against the sky the smoking chimney of a colliery. You must look at Bewick to see just what it was like, for he has drawn it a hundred times with the care and the love of a true north countryman; and, even if you do not care about the salmon river, you ought, like all good boys, to know your Bewick." --Charles Kingsley, The Water Babies

A piece of useful advice

"So, when you grow to be a big man, do you behave as all honest fellows should; and never touch a fish or a head of game which belongs to another man without his express leave; and then people will call you a gentleman, and treat you like one; and perhaps give you good sport: instead of hitting you into the river, or calling you a poaching snob." --Charles Kingsley, The Water Babies

Sunday, May 04, 2008

A view to economy (Menu Plan Monday)

(Want to participate through I'm an Organizing Junkie? Details here, including banners. For more menus, this week's Mr. Linky will be posted on the IaOJ blog.)

This week's menu is based loosely on Miss Maggie's Hillbilly Housewife $70 Low Cost Menu. I rearranged some meals, using what we have including some frozen convenience foods already in the freezer (like the quesadillas). I also eliminated the cornmeal mush since nobody here will eat it.

I'm not writing in the breakfasts here: they're mostly hot or cold cereal, toast, muffins, juice. Everybody seems to have their own preferences. One weekend morning we'll have cinnamon rolls.

Monday
Lunch: Cold cut sandwiches, carrot sticks, apples, yogurt
Dinner: Meat loaf, squash, salad, maybe rolls or crackers

Tuesday
Lunch: Quesadillas, raw veg
Dinner: Salmon, brown rice, peas, egg rolls, canned pineapple mixed with frozen mango, maybe cookies

Wednesday
Lunch: Tuna sandwiches, celery sticks & dip, canned peaches
Dinner: Burritos made with ground turkey and green peppers; leftover rice, salad

Thursday
Lunch: Frozen pizza, raw veg/dip, applesauce
Dinner: Baked beans with bacon, cooked carrots, muffins or bread

Friday
Lunch: Leftover beans, cheese or peanut butter sandwiches, fruit
Dinner: Spaghetti and meat sauce, salad

Saturday
Lunch: Crockpot soup, sandwiches
Dinner: Either takeout chicken or bbq burgers and hot dogs

Sunday
Lunch: Quick after-church food
Dinner: Family meal at relative's.

Also: popcorn, milkshakes, cheese sticks, apple butter on rice cakes, etc.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Can you jam?

"I love my books, but oh, You-Tube..."

Sometimes a picture--or a video--is worth more than a few thousand words. I am a total chicken when it comes to canning, even though I once made peach jam with my mom, and salsa with a co-op kitchen, and even once (several years ago) managed to make another batch of salsa by myself. I'll do dough, I'll mess with leftovers, I'll freeze things on a cookie sheet, but the technique of getting the jars right, getting the food cooked, getting the food in the jars and then cooking the food inside the jars has always seemed to elude me--never mind pressure canning, which is still a total mystery. I have a whole set of recipes and instructions from Bernardin, including a poster that's supposed to remind you what order to do everything in, and I know WHAT to do. I'm just scared to do it without somebody else right there telling me when to wipe the jars and how hard the water should be boiling. I don't want to do a Mona Melendy and have jars exploding all over the kitchen.

No more. If You-Tube can show us how to do the Cha-Cha Slide, how the bread should look going around in the breadmaker, and how to do the blanket stitch, it can show us how to can.

(I didn't say I'll do it, you know. That might be too much commitment.

I just said I'll watch the videos.)

When worlds collide, or, most of us have nothing to complain about

Our friend the Deputy Headmistress posted today about the chasm between the FLDS women and certain aspects of contemporary beauty culture. She quoted from another article:
"Many of us have puzzled over, and perhaps even snickered at, the Fundamentalist LDS women of West Texas, with their plain faces; long, swept-up hair; and 19th-century farm dresses. In our popular culture, their pioneer-era modesty is, well, kind of freaky."
Then there's Athena in a Minivan's link to the story of Lai Dao Thi.

Nobody, but nobody, has the right to complain about their nose being a teensy bit too big or their face getting a tad too wrinkly and hurting their poor l'il self image, until they've heard that story and thought about what that girl must have gone through.

Friday, May 02, 2008

Any more flying pigs out there lately? (Repost from 2007)

Update, 2008: Sebastian left a comment on the original post today, and I thought it was time to haul this one out of the archives, especially after some of the DHM's recent posts about certain children being, or not being, "culturally okay" in the eyes of certain social service agencies. Close families with a father as authority figure are suspect. Children who mostly play with balls, jumpropes and crayons might be being deprived of a more contemporary-type childhood, as are those who help with younger siblings or who are formally trained in manners. And heaven help those who eat "Whole grain breads, Fresh fruit and vegetables, No pork, Beef, Chicken and fish OK, Brown Rice, Yogurt...." (same post). It's just Not Normal, or Not Like Us, or Not Like Some People Would Like Everybody To Be.

So Much For Tolerance.


When I read blogs, pieces and threads often come together--even if the posts aren't on the same subject at all. I've been thinking about that long essay-post that Sallie and others have linked to: Home Economics, Sustainability and the Mommy-Wars at Casaubon's Book. [2014 UPDATE| that blog is no longer there.] Whether you're an apron-wearer or not, survival for families (according to that post) seems to boil down to two things: needing less and staying together (not just staying married, but staying close to our children as well). And do you see this--those two things are SUBVERSIVE. Sorry for the capitals, but I'm shouting that. It is Not Normal to plan your lifestyle so that you need less (so that you then have to earn less or work less and can spend time doing other worthwhile things that you like better or that are more important). It is Not Normal to spend evenings at home together--as the author of that post says, to treasure not some single saved-up-for event in your memories (like a trip to Disney World), but rather the repeated memory of "the way it usually is"--everyone being in the same room, reading or working or doing whatever it is that defines our family's life. Did you notice that word "working?" The author of the post points out that whether mom goes out to work may not be the main issue here--the problem is more that both father's and mother's work has moved far out of family life; most children have little idea of what their parents actually do, and they have no way to participate in that work. (If you don't believe that's possible, read Little Nino's Pizzeria. Or Understood Betsy.)

Okay--so I've just saved you printing out all those pages (although I still think you should read the whole essay if you have time), and we agree (don't we?) that it's a good thing to think outside the cultural cliche box and be subversive enough to say "let's work on needing less" and "let's choose work, education and play that lets us build parent-child and sibling relationships." Not easy, but let's assume we agree that those are indeed good goals.

Now, while we're huddling together in the corner awaiting the shower of rocks from those who think we're endangering society, I have a third subversive proposition for you. I've said it before and I'll say it again: to be truly subversive these days, you have to read.

Being a subversive reader is getting easier than it used to be; it doesn't even mean you have to read old books anymore. How about the unabridged versions of more recent books? Melissa Wiley shared the news that her publisher will be abridging her Martha and Charlotte Little House books. She says, "They are significantly shorter; in some cases more than a hundred pages have been cut from the original edition." Because of this, Melissa has decided not to continue to add to those series of books but to work on a different project.

These are books that were written with a young audience in mind. We are not talking Silas Marner here. Why would a publisher feel this is necessary? The only answer I can think of is that people won't buy the original versions; and the only reasons I can think of for that are that kids have no attention span and/or can't read the originals. Or have nobody to read them to them.

That is PATHETIC.

And so my third proposition. To stand against so much of what is wrong out there, read. Teach your kids to read. Buy unabridged books and refuse the butchered versions (especially those that are done--like Melissa's--without the author's approval or co-operation).

Do not settle for what's offered in the school-market book fliers or what's on the kids' shelf at the chain bookstore, although that would at least be better than no reading at all. If you have tiny ones, look for a copy of Babies Need Books, by Dorothy Butler. (I used that when the Apprentice was small, and Dorothy almost never steered us wrong.) For older ones, get a copy of Books Children Love or Honey for a Child's Heart. And then go beyond those: let your children see what you're reading. Share a poem with them or the funny part from the otherwise-unsuitable book. Teach them to sing hymns with words that are too big, or teach them to use tools or (like Miss Read) to do sewing that they shouldn't be able to do because it's not in the curriculum. Maybe they can even make aprons...

Be brave. Live subversively. Need less. Stick together and hold hands.

And read books.
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