20 November 2017

Making good use of mixers

I grew up using my mom's Kitchenaid stand mixer, and when she got a new one around the time I got married, she passed hers on to me. It being about as old as I am, when it finally stopped working last fall, there were no parts anywhere that we could find to repair it. Since I used it all the time, we wound up getting a new Kitchenaid as my Christmas present, but early, so that I could use it for all my Christmas baking.

Unfortunately, it turned out that they don't make them like they used to... Even a single batch of chunky cookie dough had the motor straining and groaning. After about a year of doing many things by hand since I didn't trust the stand mixer to be able to handle them, I was done; one of Matt's coworkers was interested in a Kitchenaid primarily for the attachments, which worked fine on ours, so we sold it and started researching other stand mixers. 

Well, my second early-Christmas-present-stand mixer just arrived, and so far I am very impressed and happy with my Bosch Universal Plus! I made a big batch of cookies Saturday night, and a "small batch" (2 loaves) of bread Sunday evening. It's so fast! And it had no trouble at all with a cookie dough stiff with oats, white chocolate chips, and frozen cranberries. And the bread... I have never made sandwich bread in a stand mixer, not even my mom's old reliable one, because the motors simply couldn't handle it. But the Bosch is made for bread-making: it combined ingredients perfectly, and kneaded the dough as well in 6 minutes as would have taken me at least 20 by hand. The loaves rose beautifully by the woodstove and again in the oven, and I couldn't help cutting into one as soon as they were cool enough. A perfect, soft, not-crumbly-at-all texture! And did I mention that it did all the kneading, and quickly? No more having to put off nap time for another 15-25 minutes because I just started kneading but now the two year old is melting down! 

From what we've read, the Bosch should last a long time; I sure hope so! Right now, I couldn't be happier with it.


Funny thing about those cookies: when I make desserts, I know that as a rule that Matt would just as soon not eat anything containing cranberries or white chocolate, and he won't bother sneaking cookie dough from my mixing bowl if it has oatmeal in it. But, somehow, when I combine all three, he's asking if I really have to bake any of it; can he just have the bowl and a spoon? ;-) I can't really blame him, but then, I do love cranberries and white chocolate. But seriously, these are some great cookies—and seasonal! (Though I make them all year round.)

Cranberry Oatmeal White Chocolate Cookies

1 cup butter, softened
1 1/4 cups sugar*
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 eggs
1/2 teaspoon baking soda 
1 teaspoon baking powder 
1/2 teaspoon salt 
2 cups flour (I always use at least a little whole grain flour)
2 cups quick oats
12 oz white chocolate chips 
1 cup cranberries (frozen is best, if you don't want bright pink dough)

Preheat oven to 375 F. Cream butter and sugar. Scraping down sides of bowl as needed, beat in eggs and vanilla. Mix in baking powder, baking soda, salt and flour. (Switching to dough hook if your mixer recommends it), Add oats, cranberries, and chips. When combined, scoop rounded spoonfuls onto a greased cookie sheet. Bake until edges just barely begun to turn golden, about 8-10 minutes. 

*Alaskan cranberries are substantially more tart than domesticated ones, so you may not want this much sugar; try starting with 1 cup.

My sister, who ought to know what she's talking about since she just won numerous ribbons with them at the fair this year, says that the recipe makes 6 dozen. I don't know how small she's making them... But I also can't say how many I'd get if I actually managed to bake all the dough, since that never happens! So, it makes a good lot of them, anyway. The dough freezes fine, too, if you want to make a full batch of it but don't actually want dozens of cookies sitting on the counter all at once.

11 November 2017

November

It's November again! I mean, it's November, and I'm posting again. Maybe; hopefully I will actually manage to finish a post this time instead of getting halfway through and running out of time and/or energy, and the draft sitting here waiting for me to finish it for so long that it becomes more work to make it current than to just start writing a new one. 

I had assumed that I would make it back to blogging regularly once I was out of the first trimester, but here we are, at 20.5 weeks, and I'm still feeling fairly first-trimester-ly. I'm pretty sure that I got the fabled second-trimester burst of energy in at least one of my other pregnancies, but not this time! At least my nausea is finally lessening, as long as I stay away from anything sweet and other foods that baby doesn't approve of. Little Bear and Kit are still very excited about the baby, and their enthusiasm makes it easier for me to not be so frustrated with how I'm feeling and how little I'm getting done. We found out on Wednesday that the new little one is a boy, and Little Bear is very excited; Kit was disappointed about not getting a sister, but that evening Matt had a conversation with her, and I'm not sure what he said, but she's perfectly happy about it now!

Among the things falling through the cracks lately has been celebrating the liturgical year this pregnancy; any extra energy goes toward exciting things like laundry or vacuuming. We did a credible job of celebrating Hallowtide though, and I'm hoping we will be able to keep that momentum through the coming Advent and Christmas seasons! I managed to make our family's favorite All Hallows' Eve supper, stuffed jack o'peppers:


We came up with costumes for both Halloween and All Saints; Thomas the Tank Engine and a butterfly princess, and St Nicholas and St Margaret of Scotland. Matt and Little Bear had fun making his crozier!

We made it to Mass for All Saints Day as a family, despite Matt's crazy work schedule right now, but couldn't make it back to town for All Souls; it doesn't work for me to have the car more than two days a week, and for some reason that I can't remember anymore I needed the car on Tuesday that week, and then my second day was Wednesday for All Saints. The kids and I talked about how November is a month particularly for praying for those who have died, though, and Little Bear and I filled in a Novemner calendar page with names of deceased friends and relatives so we could pray particularly for one person each day. What did you do for Hallowtide?

Between school, cooking, and keeping up with the house, I'm short on free time these days (probably obvious, given how long it's been since my last post!) Last week, though, I did manage to process about 30 lbs of Jonagold apples for the winter: 10 lbs portioned out for pies and kuchen in the freezer, nearly 20 lbs canned as slices and juice, and the last eight apples went into a pie earlier this week. Mmm. I used the pie and crust recipes from Joy of Cooking this time, and everyone though it was much better than my previous fruit pies. And the picky no-eating-sweet-foods baby even let me enjoy it! I think I'll be sticking with this recipe. :-)

Speaking of recipes, I keep trying to post Seven Quick Takes and it's just not working for me right now; I like categorical-type posts, though, so I think I'm going to start trying to write up a What's for Supper? post each week, like Simcha Fisher does; hopefully some of the things we make will be interesting or unique, but if nothing else, it would be good for me to see written down that yes, I did accomplish something each week!

11 August 2017

Homemade Graham Crackers

While we're thinking about the start of the new school year, here's a quick and portable snack that my kids love to help make:

1/3 cup honey
1/2 cup butter
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup water
3 cups whole wheat flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
Pinch of salt

Cream honey, butter and vanilla. Mix in water. Add dry ingredients and combine thoroughly, kneading dough together. Split dough in half*, and roll or press out flat on two greased sheet pans. Cut into squares/rectangles, docking with the tines of a fork if desired, and bake at  F, one pan at a time, for 10-12 minutes or until bottoms begin to turn golden brown. Remove crackers to wire racks or countertop to cool.



*Theyll be slightly thicker and softer than commercial graham crackers, which we like, but if you want them crisp, divide dough into thirds instead and bake in three batches.

And if you have a choice between using sheets pans with and without raised sides, definitely use the ones without! I don't have any of those, and it's always a challenge to roll the dough out to the corners because the sides get in the way.

04 August 2017

Planning for the new school year

We're not remotely ready to start school yet, which fine as far as I'm concerned because why in the world are some school districts starting classes the first week of August? What happened to summer? Maybe this is just an Alaskan mentality, but we have so few months without snow on the ground, we need that whole 3-month break to get gardening and outside projects done, and get the kids outside as much as possible!

Plus, this year, first trimester ick has me thinking that waiting until the beginning of September really doesn't sound unreasonable. I do have a plan, though, even if I've only just finally finished ordering materials...

Okay, it's less of a firm "plan" at this point and more of a "well-considered list of materials". Good thing we've already established that I have several weeks left, right? 

We enrolled with one of the state homeschooling organizations this year, the same one I was enrolled in 7th through 12th grade. It is great: in exchange for agreeing to submit an Individualized Learning Plan for the year, a work sample for each subject each quarter, and progress reports at the end of each semester, parents are allowed to select the curriculum that works best for their students, and each student receives an allotment that can be used to reimburse purchases of non-sectarian materials, art supplies, music lessons, PE lessons (sports, swimming, martial arts, etc), field trips, etc. There are caps on how much you can be reimbursed in some categories, and you have to have at least four subjects—at least two of them core—that don't use religious/sectarian materials, or the allotment amount gets reduced. I sat down with our contact teacher from the organization a couple of weeks ago and wrote out Little Bear's ILP, which mapped out what subjects we'll be doing, what topics he'll be covering in each, and what our books/curriculum will look like. So for kindergarten, we're listed as taking Language Arts, Math, Science, Social Studies, and Art. 

I expect to break Language Arts down into about three subjects on the weekly lesson plan: handwriting, reading, and circle (Waldorf-style song/storytelling/imaginative language development). For the latter, we're using the kindergarten curriculum from Lavender's Blue, a secular Waldorf-style program. I have high hopes for it, so I'll have to report back on it as we go. Handwriting will be the first grade book from Handwriting Without Tears, which just came in the mail today and honestly it looks waaaaay easy, so I'm going to have to keep on reminding him that the challenge is to do it neatly and carefully. I have a hand-me-down copywork book as well, which we may wind up using some of. And for reading, we will continue with Catholic Heritage Curricula's Little Stories for Little Folks, along with hopefully-frequent trips to the public library and the homeschool organization's library.

Math is straightforward this year: we'll be using RightStart Math, level B, with a book of Mind Benders logic puzzles from the Critical Thinking Company as a fun reward for getting other things done.

Science is a little more all over the place. He wanted to learn about "everything" this year, so we're planning to go through a couple of Magic School Bus science kits, starting with their Human Body Lab and going on to volcanoes and magnets. He reads so much on his own, and much of it nonfiction/science-related, that instead of working through a big science text this year I want to put more of a focus on nature study, spending time outdoors and learning about plants, animals, weather, seasons... We will see. I have a few Waldorf-style natural science books full of ideas.

Social Studies is going to be heavy on geography, because I love geography and he's going to learn to. :-) We have the first Maps Charts & Graphs book, which introduces the idea of reading the titular infographs with a focus on the local community. We'll also be going through a kids' atlas of the US and another of the world, reading through them and finding other resources to continue learning about any places or cultures that catch Little Bear's interest. We signed up with the Raddish kids' cooking program again, and that will also tie in with our learning about different places and peoples.

Art has never been my strong suit—I would go out of my way to avoid having art project disasters in the house—but I know it's important and I know Little Bear will enjoy it, so I was glad to see art projects included in the weekly lesson plans for the Lavender's Blue curriculum. 

And this won't be one of our classes for the state organization, of course, but we'll also be using the Who Am I? Kindergarten religion curriculum from Ignatius Press.


Writing things out is so helpful... I guess I  do have a plan for the year. Writing out weekly lesson plans is not going to be quite as simple as it was last year, but I think it's going to work out well. Little Bear just asked me to read this post to him, and now he's all excited about starting school; I convinced him that we need to wait until at least the week of the 21st.

If you have kids, when will (or did!) your school year start?

29 July 2017

Everyday Organics with the Kroger Co

Our local flavor of the Kroger Company is called Fred Meyer, and they've been one of the main stores I've shopped at since I was a kid. The Kroger Co. recently started a program called the MyMagazine Sharing Network, where participants who "qualify for missions" can receive free samples in exchange for sharing about the products. Free food is always helpful to our grocery budget, so I was quick to sign up! We just received the box for my first mission, "Organics Everyday." So here's what we tried, and what we thought of it!

In the box were individual-sized bags of Garden of Eatin' ranch and nacho chips, a full-sized bag of organic Tostitos, and a can of Bush's organic chickpeas. There were also coupons for free items that wouldn't have shipped well, like drinks.


We portioned out the Garden of Eatin' chips over several lunches. "So, healthy Doritos?" Matt laughed when he saw them, and yes, that's pretty much what they are; my kids have never had Doritos, though—any chips at all are a rare treat in our house—so I can't say whether they would have preferred one over the other, but they did enjoy these. Little Bear and Kit both liked the ranch version, and Kit enjoyed the nacho ones. Baby deemed the nacho ones non-offensive as well, which was a pleasant surprise, because lately I've had trouble finding anything to eat that doesn't make me feel sick.

The Tostitos taste like Tostitos... They're fine; like I said, we don't usually eat chips, so it's been a bit of a conundrum figuring out what to do with them all. I'm hoping that the baby is up for some fresh salsa, because I'm planning to run by the farmers market this afternoon and see if anyone has tomatoes. That sounds like a good accompaniment for tortilla chips!

The kids love helping me make hummus, and helping me eat it, but they run and hide in the other room when I turn on the food processor. One of these days, I'll manage to convince Little Bear that it's not that loud; he would have more fun helping in the kitchen, I know, if he wasn't scared of the noise it makes. We made up a quick batch of hummus with the chickpeas we received, and everyone has been enjoying it with raw veggies.

One thing that frustrates me greatly is how most brands that sell canned goods use BPA in the linings of their cans. When was the last time you saw a plastic container intended for food prep or storage that didn't say "BPA-free" on it? "BPA-free" is practically synonymous, in public perception at least, with "safe for use with food/drink." But how many brands of canned goods do you see the BPA-free label on? Hunt's, the tomato company, is one. I think I saw it recently on some Del Monte fruits, too. But most beans, vegetables, and canned meats, even organic varieties, are still being packed and subjected to high heat/pressure in cans lined with BPA. 

So when we got organic chickpeas in a can that didn't say BPA-free, I called the customer service line for Bush's to ask about it. And it turns out that they are now using cans with BPA-free linings for all of their beans! The lady I spoke with wasn't sure why they don't advertise the fact, but assured me that there was no BPA. I'm so glad! I try to use dried beans in my cooking anyway, but I usually keep a few cans of pre-cooked beans around for just-in-case times, and up until this point the only BPA-free beans I'd found are a bit more expensive and are only stocked by stores that are inconvenient for us to shop at. And I grew up eating Bush's baked beans, and have not yet managed to find a recipe for homemade baked beans that we like better.

There were coupons for a couple of types of teas and a soda? Carbonated lemonade? I'm not sure. I couldn't find them at the store, but honestly, they're not things we would buy anyway. That's true of almost everything we received, other than the chickpeas, though the kids were excited about the chips. But the "most appreciated item in the box" award goes to a sheaf of coupons for free/discounted items from Horizon Organics, which among other things sells half gallons of milk. I wish I could say that I tasted a difference between conventional and organic milk, but baby didn't like the granola I poured it over yesterday, so the best I can tell you is that it's good milk. At the rate we use milk, given that the baby isn't currently letting me make/eat yogurt (why, child?!?) and doesn't love granola, I shouldn't need to buy milk again until mid-August, at least!

If the Kroger Company was trying to use the "Organics Everyday" mission to encourage people to eat healthy or to show off the healthful options they offer, I think they missed the mark a little with their selection of samples; the chickpeas and milk are great, but everything else... organic junk food is still junk food, you know? But they do offer a lot of other healthy and organic options in their stores, and I'm so glad to have had the opportunity to learn about the Bush's cans, and grateful to not have to pay for milk for a while! 

28 July 2017

Little ones

We've been seeing a lot of babies lately:


This cow and calf moose hung around the yard eating willows for a couple of days.


Here are two of the seven young ruffed grouse that have been strutting around our woods and yard. I have never seen seven grouse all together before!


I haven't been able to get a good photo of more than one at a time yet, but we have at least three juvenile American kestrels hanging out on our roof, deck, and treetops as they learn to fly. The kids and I have had a blast watching the kestrels' nesting box this summer, and now that the babies are out and flapping around, it seems like we're always running to a window to see them.

And... we're expecting a new little one of our own in the spring! Kit and Little Bear are so excited about their new sibling; they change their minds several times a day on whether they think they're getting a baby brother or sister. We'll see!

14 July 2017

Kids

When you suddenly remember, at 9:42 pm, that you were supposed to bake hamburger buns tonight... it's time to find something quicker-but-still-productive to do instead. Or go to sleep, I suppose, if I were being sensible. 

How about a kid-update? I thought about doing one on Kit's birthday, and halfway between her birthday and Little Bear's birthday, and on his birthday, but somehow it seems like I'm always too busy. How busy am I? I tried to start using Facebook again, and I could never find time to check it and gave up again. Summer. Kids. Something. There's always something else to be doing.

Kids! So Little Bear recently turned 5, and a few weeks before that Kit turned 2. They keep us on our toes! Kit copies everything Little Bear does, and wants to play with him constantly. He's generally very happy to play with her, too: they are always building forts, dishing up pretend meals, running around outside together... Now that he's reading, Kit is hearing many more stories per day than when I was the only reader! Today, they played and he read to her for a solid hour and a half while I ran on the elliptical, showered, and made supper. Each time I stuck my head in to check on them, they were having a blast and didn't need anything from me. (Days don't usually work like that! But it sure was helpful today.)

Both kids are signed up for our library's summer reading program, and more often than not, Little Bear's weekly tally of books read is over 100! He discovered the nonfiction section at the beginning of the summer, and now, in addition to 8-10 fiction books, we come home from the library with two or three nonfiction kids' books on some random subject each week. 

Little Bear at 5:
Favorite book/series - Frog and Toad
Favorite show - The Pioneer Woman (Food Network)
Favorite song - For All The Saints
Favorite game - Hi Ho Cherry-O
Favorite color - "I can change my favorite color whenever I want to!"
Favorite food - salad
Favorite outdoor activity - riding his bike
Never stops... moving. Even when he's reading, his toes are usually tapping.

Little Bear is a great help. He takes care of loading/unloading the washer and dryer, helps with the dishwasher, sets the table and fills water glasses, and so many other things. Sometimes he can get stubborn, especially if he already has an idea in his head of how something is going to happen or what he's going to do and we tell him it needs to happen differently, but we're working with him on that. He loves to help in the kitchen, and knows where most of the commonly-used ingredients are and how to measure, whisk, etc, so he's actually able to be substantially helpful with a lot of recipes. He takes such good care of Kit, and definitely sees her as his best friend and playmate. And he's constantly surprising me: this afternoon, he grabbed a broom to help me sweep out the garage, and made a comment about how he "wish[es] we had a chore chart for me and Kit." Um, okay! I can do that. :-) He has just discovered Legos, and very much enjoys sitting down with a pile of bricks and either following the instruction booklet or else coming up with his own design.

Kit at 2:
Favorite book/series - Maisy
Favorite show - n/a
Favorite song - How Far I'll Go (Moana)
Favorite game - Chutes and Ladders
Favorite color - yellow and purple
Favorite food - watermelon
Favorite outdoor activity - sidewalk chalk
Never stops... talking! Seriously, her vocabulary is comparable to Little Bear's, and she uses it constantly.

At least once a week, Kit will come up to me with shiny-eyed excitement and say, "I have a great idea! Let's make a fox den!" She loves building blanket-chair-pillow forts with Little Bear, typically "fox dens." With refrigerators that basically double the size of the "den," because where else would she put the teapot and cupcakes and other toy food? She tries to do everything Little Bear does, occasionally frustrating him when she neeeeds to be up on that step stool that he's already standing on so that she can help with the job he's already doing. She likes to help me dry and put away silverware from the dishwasher, and if I don't catch her in time, she'll start unloading plates and trying to pass those up to me as well. She likes the Disney princesses, though she hasn't actually seen any of the movies; we like the versions of Disney princess songs that Evynne and Peter Hollens have done on YouTube, so that's how she learned about them. 

The kids and I spend a lot of days at home, and I'm grateful for that as I see how close they are, how they go out of their way to do things together. I feel so blessed to have these two; they each bring so much joy to our family!