04 May 2017

Roman-style gnocchi

Yesterday was my birthday, and to celebrate I made bolognese and gnocchi alla romana for supper. They're very different than what I think of as "regular" gnocchi, baked instead of boiled, but they're so good!

The kids aren't fond of any form of gnocchi—something to do with the rich+creamy texture, I think, since risotto is also firmly in the (very small) category of foods they don't like—so I can't make these often, but last night we had my sister and brother-in-law over to share them with us and gave the kids Italian bread to go with their bolognese instead.

Gnocchi alla Romana

3 cups milk
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cups semolina flour
1 cup freshly grated parmesan or pecorino cheese*
2 egg yolks
3 Tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cubed
3 Tablespoons butter, melted, for the top
more grated parmesan for the top

Line a large baking sheet with plastic wrap, enough that it comes up the sides if not overhangs. 

In a large saucepan, combine milk and salt over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally. As soon as you see bubbles forming on the top, stir in the semolina. It will thicken up quickly. Once it's thickened, stir in the cheese, egg yolks, and cubed cold butter. 

When the "dough" is homogeneous, spread it flat on the plastic-lined baking sheet. You want it to be no more than 1 centimeter thick. Cover with more plastic wrap, and chill for at least half an hour.

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F and butter the bottom and sides of one large or two medium-sized baking dishes (we always use two). Removing the top layer of plastic, cut the dough into 2" to 2 1/2" diameter squares or circles.** Place them, overlapping, in the baking dishes. Brush with the melted butter, and sprinkle with shredded cheese.

Bake 25 minutes, or until edges begin to be golden.

*I accidentally bought pecorino instead of parmesan this last time, so I can confirm that pecorino does work okay; it just didn't melt as smoothly as parmesan does.

**Circles seem to be the traditional shape, but squares are much easier (you just divide up the pan into a grid, instead of cutting out circles and rolling out the scraps to cut again), and it's not like circles taste any different than squares, so we just make squares.

03 May 2017

School year wrap-up

I know it's a little early yet, but Little Bear finished the last few lessons in our books for the year last week, so here's a look at how our first school year went.

This year Little Bear was 4, and we were doing preschool. Although looking at these books, I'm realizing that at least half of our work was labeled as kindergarten this year. Regardless, he was 4, and we did school. (We're on paper as doing kindergarten next year, so I'm going to stick with the past year having been preschool.)

What we used:

Handwriting: Catholic Heritage Handwriting, Level K, from Catholic Heritage Curricula (CHC)

Phonics/Reading: Little Stories for Little Folks, from CHC

Science: Earth Science & Earthquakes: Hands-On Activities, from Ring of Fire
First Encyclopedia of the Human Body, from Usborne

Math: RightStart Mathematics, Level A

Religion: Who Am I?, teacher's manual and workbook B, from Ignatius Press

Plus a subscription to Raddish kids' cooking class, which included science, geography, world cultures, and other lessons along with the cooking lessons

What worked, and what didn't:

The handwriting book was on the short side, just 16 weeks; I think it was intended to be started partway through the year, after the students had spent a while working on letter recognition. We didn't need that practice, so I had Little Bear do half-pages each day instead of full pages, and in the last month or so we stepped up to 2/3-pages and full pages. He was almost always enthusiastic about starting out the school day with his handwriting, and I really liked that it's spiral-bound at the top, so the pages lay flat and there isn't a binding on the side getting in the way.

Little Stories for Little Folks is awesome. I'm so, so happy with it: we went through the first two levels of phonics readers in it this year, and will be doing the other two levels next year. (It's marketed as a two-year program, K-1.) Little Bear is now reading well enough that he can pick out Level 1 I-Can-Read books from the library, etc., and read through them all by himself, maybe needing help with one word every other page or so. We were looking at books at the thrift store earlier, and he was so excited to be able to find Level 1 books on the shelves and know that he'd be able to read them.

This was the second year that I put those two "hands-on activities" science books on my list of "things we're doing this year," and the second year that we stopped using them after one or two lessons. There's nothing wrong with them, necessarily; they just weren't a good fit for us. I'm going to find someone else to pass them on to, because I know I won't use them.

The Usborne encyclopedia on the human body, though: Little Bear picked that off a shelf of free books a couple of weeks ago, and has been SO INTERESTED in it. We're reading a two-page spread a day, and he makes sure that I don't forget! We've since found a copy of Usborne's First Encyclopedia of the World, and Little Bear is excited about starting to read that as soon as we finish the human body one.

Oh! I also picked up a DVD on Alaskan wildlife at last year's curriculum fair with the idea that we'd use it for science. It's just instrumental music with a collection of photographs and short video clips of animals and some plants from around the state, separated by region. We've mainly wound up using it once a month or so for times when the kids are making me crazy as I'm trying to make supper, so I turn it on and ask them to tell me all the animals they can identify. Little Bear can name a lot of them now, and while Kit doesn't usually sit still to watch, she'll come running whenever he tells her there are squirrels or bears or puffins. I should look for some Alaskan bird and animal guidebooks, so that we can look up the different animals we see and learn something about them.

The RightStart Mathematics book is another I'm certain I'll use again with Kit, because it worked so well for us. After finishing Level A, Little Bear can quickly solve simple math problems in his head, has a good understanding of coin values and adding with coins and dollars, can explain halves and quarters, and can read an analog clock (with a little prompting if the minute hand isn't right at :00, :15, :30, or :45). Matt was recently driving home with Little Bear from a trip to town, and Little Bear, apparently hungry, informed him: "Dad, it's 2:00. That means that it'll be supper time in four hours!" We didn't actually have the full set of math tools that goes with it, so I wound up using whatever we could find that was close enough, and it usually worked okay. We did have the geoboard and abacus, and couldn't really have done it without either of those; there were some learning games that we couldn't do because we didn't have the right equipment, but he seems to have gotten the concepts well anyway. We'll move on to Level B next year, and this time we'll be able to get everything that goes with it! I'm looking forward to that. 

The religion program worked really well for us, too. I was impressed by the content, the way it engaged the kids, and how Little Bear learned the material each week. Kit loved the action rhymes with each lesson, and was excited to be able to participate in those. Little Bear liked the workbook (partially because it was a little bit too easy for him, I suspect), but did a good job of paying attention and answering questions during the actual lessons, too. I'm planning to stick with this same program for kindergarten-level religion lessons next year.

And lastly, Raddish. The Raddish program is going to have to get its own post, because this one is getting long, but for now suffice it to say that Little Bear has learned a lot from Raddish this year and we'll definitely be continuing our subscription. In addition to making both kids even more interested in helping in the kitchen (and actually able to help), it also took up the slack for me on science, geography, and "social studies."

We're coming up on the annual curriculum fair here in town in another week or so, and I'm so happy to already have a handle on what curriculum I want to use with Little Bear next year for math, reading/phonics, and religion. I do need to put thought into science/geography/history/etc., and I'm hoping to find another kindergarten-level handwriting book with a spiral-binding at the top; hopefully there are other publishers doing that! I suppose I could also go with a PDF version, which I could take to the local print shop and have bound the way I want it. 

If you've homeschooled a kindergartner and have any suggestions for me, I'd love to hear them! Especially if you have any advice for doing so with antsy toddlers... Kit was all over me every time I sat down to do a math lesson with Little Bear this year, and I expect it'll be even more of a frustration for her next year.

28 April 2017

Blueberry Almond Granola

Little Bear's at noon Mass with Grandma, Kit is napping, and I'm all caught up on the non-noisy items on my to-do list, so here's a quick recipe!

Kit helped me mix up a batch of our current favorite granola this morning: with blueberries, whole grains, and coconut, it has something for everyone in our family! It's dairy-free, and easily gluten-free as well.

Blueberry Almond Granola

3 cups seven-grain cereal blend (or rolled oats, gluten-free if necessary)
3 1/2 cups almonds, chopped
1 Tablespoon sugar (I use evaporated cane sugar, but brown sugar or coconut sugar would also be good)
1/4 teaspoon salt
5 Tablespoons coconut oil
1/2 cup maple syrup
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup desiccated coconut (not the sweetened kind), divided
2 cups freeze-dried blueberries

Preheat the oven to 340 degrees F. In a large bowl, mix together seven-grain cereal, almonds, sugar, and salt. In a small pot over medium heat, combine coconut oil, maple syrup, and vanilla. Heat, stirring occasionally, until the coconut oil is melted. Pour liquids over dry ingredients, stir until it's all thoroughly moistened, and spread the mixture over two ungreased, unlined sheet pans.

Bake for 20 minutes. Remove pans from oven, and stir 1/2 cup of coconut into each pan. Return to oven, rotating pans so that the one that was on the upper shelf is now on the lower, and bake about more 5 minutes, until the coconut is turning golden. Allow the granola to cool completely before stirring in the blueberries. I've found that it works best to pour the granola off both pans into the (cleaned) bowl I mixed it all together in, add the blueberries, and stir it up again in there rather than trying to stir in the blueberries on the pans.

(Recipe adapted from Minimalist Baker's Strawberry Coconut Granola, which also looks delicious, but no one in town carries freeze-dried strawberries so I haven't been able to give it a try!)

I started using seven-grain cereal in all of my granolas because I had a 50-lb bucket of it that we weren't going through quickly enough as hot cereal, but we've discovered that we really like the variety of flavors and textures that it adds to the granola; the last oat-only granola I tried tasted kind of boring in comparison! We use a blend of wheat, rye, oats, triticale, barley, spelt, and flax.

26 April 2017

A few of my favorite things...

It's that time of year again: snow melting, sun shining, children displaying astonishing speeds of getting soaked and filthy while playing somewhere you didn't think there even was any mud... And the annual Ultimate Homemaking Bundle! This year's bundle looks amazing. The resources are divided into: motherhood, organization and systems, faith, creativity, finances, home, in the kitchen, intentional living, marriage, recipies, self care, and work-life balance. 

"The Better Listening Workbook"? That one has Little Bear's name aaaaall over it. :-) Two books on deep cleaning/spring cleaning, which I've been itching to do (I know, I'm kind of weird) but have felt a little lost as to how to create a system for it in our new house. Two ecourses and a book all addressing different facets of photography, particularly taking and editing photos of our kids—I sure need help with that! And there are so many great cookbooks; I can't wait to find some new recipes to try.

I'm particularly excited about a couple of things:

  • The Fit2B Foundational 5+ ecourse — my doctor recommended their program for my diastasis recti, but we couldn't afford the monthly subscription, so I was so happy to see this ecourse in the bundle!
  • Making Big Life Changes Together, by Haley Stewart
  • Family Chore System & Planner, by Mandi Ehman 
  • A Mom's Guide to Better Photos ecourse, by Meg Calton

Just those four resources would cost $137 if I purchased them separately, but the whole bundle is only $29.97! That's amazing.

And there's so, so much more. Check it out! And if you're interested in what they have this year, and you prefer to read ebooks on an ereader/tablet/phone instead of a computer, consider picking up the bundle before Thursday night: Wednesday and Thursday, they're throwing in the .mobi (Kindle) and .epub (Nook/iBooks/Kobo) files for free with the .pdf files for the regular price of $29.97. Friday through Monday, it'll be an extra $10 to add on the ereader-format files.

Are you thinking about picking up a copy of this year's Ultimate Homemaking Bundle? Which resources are you most interested in?


I've seen a lot of sunrises this past month or so. Kit's been waking up between 4:30 and 5:30, occasionally as late as 6, and in order to allow Matt and Little Bear to keep sleeping I have to scoop her up and trundle upstairs, where she'll sprawl on my lap and nurse and doze or bring me books to read to her until 7, when she goes running back downstairs to dance around singing, "It's seven o'clock! Get up, get up!" 

So I've been tired. Sometimes I can close my eyes when she naps, but more often I need to devote that precious hour to doing things with Little Bear or taking care of things around the house that can't be done with an active, noisy toddler climbing all over me. The week or so of consecutive four-something wake-ups did wonders for my perspective, though: this morning I was grateful to not be woken until 5:35, and Monday, when she didn't get up until 6, felt like I'd been allowed to sleep in.

It's been interesting to get a first-hand look at how quickly our daylight increases at this time of year; normally, by now we would just be accustomed to the fact that's it's always broad daylight by the time we get up, and not think about when the sun was rising. It was noticeable this morning, though, that because we didn't come upstairs until 5:35, we missed even the last of the bright orange-pinks that we've grown used to seeing.

Most mornings, Kit interrupts her monologue about wanting "milka" as soon as we reach the top of the stairs, exclaiming, "Ooh, sunrise!" and I'll mumble something less enthusiastic about it being beautiful. Because it is, but I'm still half-asleep, child. I didn't realize how much she appreciated the sunrises until a few days ago, though, when I finished helping her get dressed and told her she was beautiful, and she smiled, flung her arms open, and said with a twirl, "I more bootiful dan de sunrise!"

I would be so thankful if she would start consistently sleeping until 6, at least, but despite my being so tired constantly, there has been something valuable about these quiet early mornings. Time to think, to pray, to snuggle on the couch reading to Kit. And this morning, finally finding a bit of time to write. I've been needing to go to sleep early myself, since I know I'll be woken up early, so most evenings I've been trying to get to bed within an hour, hour and a half, of when the kids fall asleep, and that small block of kid-free time is usually spoken for by something that *needs* to be done, instead of being open for something I *want* to do. I'm glad that I found time this morning to write, though! I do miss it.

13 April 2017

Humility & Hot Cross Buns

This afternoon was kind of a chaotic mess after Kit didn't nap and I gave up on putting her to sleep after more than an hour and a half of trying because I had so. many. things. left on my list for the day. 

In the span of less than three hours, I finished the entire list and got everyone dressed for Mass and out the door, and was feeling quite proud of myself for pulling it all off. I do remember, now, the thought occurring to me as the kids were squabbling about breakup boots and I was running madly around the kitchen that praying for, well, any help I could get would be a good idea, but I was so focused on just doing all the things that I pushed the thought aside. I may have needed a little reminder that I can't really "do it all myself"...

After Mass, supper, and putting the kids to sleep, I came back out to the kitchen to frost my speedily-concocted hot cross buns, and discovered a tray of little rocks. What do you get when you accidentally leave the sugar out of a yeast bread? Nothing tasty!

May your Triduum be prayerful and blessed, may you be reminded throughout the days of the point of our observances, and may all your Paschal baking rise properly!

09 April 2017

Strawberry Palm Sunday

Happy Palm Sunday! We wound up at the cathedral instead of our usual parish for Mass; our bishop was the celebrant, which made Kit excited because she likes seeing his "bishop hat" (mitre). We all gathered outside the cathedral doors for the blessing of the palms and the first Gospel reading, and then the whole congregation processed around the outside of the cathedral singing "All Glory, Laud and Honor" before going inside. I'd never seen that before; maybe because Holy Week for us is often right in the icy, slippery part of breakup? Are Palm Sunday processions common where you are? 

Oh, and despite the extra-long Mass, Little Bear was so good. Like, significantly better-behaved than a typical Sunday. We were so proud of him. Kit, on the other hand... well, I know long Masses can be hard on little ones, and she was sad and sleepy.

Our meals today wound up—unintentionally—featuring the liturgical color of the day, which Little Bear got a kick out of. Strawberries have been on sale, and I'd promised Little Bear strawberry shortcake for Sunday dessert. I had some berries that to be used right now this morning, though, so we diced them up and enjoyed them over chocolate brownie waffles, from the Chocolate-Covered Katie cookbook. (One of my favorite cookbooks right now, y'all; everything we've tried from it has been delicious, and it's all healthy! And no one's paying me to say that ;-)) Matt whipped up some eggs and sausage to go with them, and we were all so full afterward that we didn't really need lunch.

For supper, we sort of had our traditional Palm Sunday meal of psari plaki; I used an Argentinian Malbec instead of the called-for white wine, because that's what I had open. And dried parsley instead of fresh. And I didn't really measure anything. And I didn't remember the olive oil until it was in the oven, and had to quickly pull the pan out and drizzle it over the top. But it tasted good! We used halibut cheeks, which certainly contributed to the deliciousness. I'd totally forgotten about having psari plaki until the night before, so I was sure glad to find one last package of halibut in the freezer!

And for dessert, the promised strawberry shortcakes. I used Chocolate-Covered Katie's recipe, but with cow's milk instead of coconut milk, and they turned out very well—light and fluffy and just the slightest bit sweet. I did wind up whipping too much whipped cream for tonight; one thing I love about coconut whipped cream over cow's milk heavy cream is that the coconut cream will hold its' fluffiness in the fridge for at least a day or two before going flat, but in my experience at least, leftover whipped cow's milk cream will be flat by the next morning.

Anyway, much tasty red-themed food. Kit was ecstatic over all of the strawberries she was allowed to consume today. Good vitamin c and fiber, right?

What did you do for Palm Sunday?