Sunday, August 31, 2008

Books Read in August

Saint Maybe, by Anne Tyler (re-read)

A Breath of Air, by Rumer Godden (reviewed yesterday)

A Mother's Rule of Life, by Holly Pierlot

This is a book that's been around for a couple of years and was recommended by other homeschooling friends. More than how to organize your life--how to organize your Life. As Coffeemamma pointed out to me--it's easy to relate to Holly's "I've had it!" moment that propelled her into searching for a better way for her family. Like Alice Gunther's book (below), this one comes deep out of Holly's Catholic faith, so the suggestions for building the day around rosaries etc. may leave Protestants scratching their heads; but Protestants need time for prayer and Bible reading too!

A Haystack Full of Needles, by Alice Gunther

An intensely Roman Catholic book but with a theme that crosses denominations: not only the "socialization" of homeschooled children, but of their parents as well. The book underlines the importance of building community and close friendships beyond the usual homeschool clubs and field trips. Brand new--you'll probably have to get your catalogue vendor to order it for you. (A bonus: you get to see photos of Alice's friends and their children, including Melissa's flock.)

With Crayons:

The Phoenix and the Carpet, by E. Nesbit

The Amulet, by E. Nesbit

These are the two sequels to Five Children and It. I read them to Crayons although they both went slightly beyond my comfort zone in the magic/spells area; I know it's just a frame to the story so they can go magic-carpet-riding (The Phoenix) and time-travelling (The Amulet), but there is a fair amount of hocus-pocus buildup to the fun parts.

Some parts are quite funny (they leave their grumpy old cook on a tropical island where the natives want her to be their queen), but I also found them often a bit darker in tone than the first book. A couple of times the children are in more actual danger than they were in Five Children.

Still working on:

A Celebration of Discipline, by Richard Foster (Mentioned enthusiastically in Terry Glaspey's Great Books of the Christian Tradition.)

Saturday, August 30, 2008

A Breath of Air, by Rumer Godden (review)

I found this book at the thrift shop last month and thought it might interest others.

This is Rumer Godden's novelization and updated version of Shakespeare's The Tempest. A bit of an "exercise," maybe--or what do they call it, a tour de force? As if some novelists were having a challenge among themselves--"what would you do with a Shakespeare play to turn it into something different but still the same?"

We've read so many of Godden's children's books that I wasn't sure how I was going to like her "adult" writing--and be a bit warned, there is a bit of necessary "adultness" in this story. Mostly I liked it...I think she drew on her experience in India in creating an imaginary island for her hero to be, planewrecked...on. And here and there there are telltale Rumer Godden phrases:

"He felt old and chilled. 'My feet must be wet,' said Mr. van Loomis. 'It's the dew on the hill,' but his feet had often been wet before. 'I must be getting old,' said Mr. van Loomis. That depressed him more."

Mr. van Loomis is Prospero--a Scottish industrialist who chucked it all for a tropical island, and built up his own little empire by using native labour and resources. (This becomes one of the issues of the book--who really owns the island, its people, and its wealth?)

She's also very creative about adapting Shakespeare's fairy and monster characters into something more human yet still recognizable. She describes the character Mario, based on the monster Caliban:

"McGinty came up. 'You the chap in charge of the light?' he asked. In the moonlight, which was beginning now to sift down over the sea and the reflected light of the lamp, Mario looked a monster....clumsy, childish, with his thick low forehead and mat of hair and shining dark eyes."

The fairy creature Ariel becomes a restless young native servant who is entranced by ideas of the outside world he has never seen, and longs for escape.

And Miranda is still Miranda, except that she's now named Charis. She has grown up on the island and has never seen a European man except for her father and the half-Spanish Mario. Until Valentine Doubleday shows up...

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Layered Grain and Veggie Salad

This is nothing very original, but if you haven't tried grains in salad before, it's a good way to get started. I prefer layers to all-mixed-up; then it doesn't look like you just threw leftover rice in the bowl.

Layer (a glass bowl is nice so you can see the layers):

1. Cooked grains, hot or cold (I used two parts short grain brown rice and one part barley, and layered them while they were still warm; you could use pasta instead, but I like small grains (vs. white rice sticking out all over the place))

(I used 1 cup rice, 1/2 cup barley, 1 tbsp. oil, 3 cups water; but only part of that went in the salad!)

2. Chopped or shredded raw vegetables (I used diced zucchini, sliced celery, and finely-sliced carrots (leftover vegetable sticks))

3. Dressing--creamy or vinaigrette style both work all right, but I prefer something resembling chip dip for layering, because it stays put better. I used about a cupful of sour cream, a couple of spoonfuls of white salad-dressing-stuff (some Squirrels prefer it to mayonnaise), and about a quarter cup of bottled teriyaki sauce; but you can use any other sauce, or just a dry seasoning like curry powder. Yogurt can work too instead of sour cream if it's not too runny. Or tofu dip recipes work fine too.

Add in a layer of anything else, plain or exotic, that looks good. Chickpeas, frozen peas (don't have to be cooked), chopped tomatoes, sliced mushrooms, peppers. But the one I made this week wasn't so fancy: just a layer of grains, vegetables, dressing, then the whole thing repeated. Chill well before serving.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Blueberry Shortcake: Microwave Style

I've made Chocolate Microwave Cake several times; it's not as good as our Small Chocolate Cake (the un-wacky one) but it's definitely nice to have a cake recipe that bakes in 10 minutes without heating up the kitchen. I used to do more baking in the toaster oven, but the one we have right now doesn't seem to hold a steady enough heat to bake things well. It makes toast and heats leftovers, but I don't quite trust it for cakes.

Yesterday I wanted a non-chocolate cake to put with some blueberries and whipped cream. If that sounds too much like Sunday dinner, it's because yesterday was actually a holiday here and I wanted something special. But it's still hot and muggy (and seems to be raining every time you turn around), and I haven't been using the big oven. Hmm...any other kinds of cake you can make in the microwave? Carrot--not what I vanilla or yellow cakes except for cake-mix directions. Actually that's pretty understandable, because Microwaves Don't Brown Things. Who wants a pasty white cake?

Well, I did; I didn't care if it browned, because I was going to cover it with blueberries and whipped cream anyway. So I adapted the chocolate cake recipe, and this is what I came up with. Note that it's both dairy- and egg-free (but you'd have to use a dairy-free topping for the shortcake).

1 3/4 cup all-purpose or unbleached flour
1 cup white sugar
2 tsp. baking powder (the chocolate cake used baking soda, but I didn't think that sounded right for a plain white cake)
1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup water
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 tsp. vanilla

Blend the dry and wet ingredients separately, then combine.

Choose your baking dish carefully: non-metal, obviously, and something that will turn around easily if you have a turntable in the microwave. Our microwave is too small to allow an 8-inch square pan to go around without getting stuck, so I use a 6-cup round casserole dish. I read somewhere that microwave cakes turn out better if you don't grease the dish; but do line the bottom with waxed paper.

Scrape the batter into the prepared dish, and microwave about 10 minutes or until the edges of the cake just begin to pull away from the sides of the pan. (Our microwave tends to take a bit longer than some (and only bakes on full power), so you might want to test it a couple of minutes before that or put it on a different setting.) The top will be just a bit sticky, but the cake should test done (with a toothpick or cake tester). Let it cool a bit in the pan (the edges will pull away more), then turn it out onto a plate.

If you're using the cake for shortcake, cut it in half horizontally and layer it (between and on top) with blueberries and whipped cream. (I combined our whipped cream with a small amount of fruit yogurt, mostly for colour.) You could also cut it in pieces and then add topping and fruit to each serving instead (better if you have a smaller family).

Makes six generous servings or eight smaller ones.

Friday, August 01, 2008

Thrift shopping

I went to the thrift shop this afternoon--the one that's mostly good for books. I brought home a pretty good stack for a quarter and fifty cents apiece: a few picture books of the kind a seven-year-old would like; a Paddington book we didn't have (amazingly, since we already have half a dozen and I couldn't remember if we already had Paddington at Large); an Anatomy Colouring Book for The Apprentice, a Mad Libs for Ponytails, and Rumer Godden's A Breath of Air for me. Also a book of Psalms for singing

But the best thing was Scientific Explorer's Ancient Rome water-clock kit, which seems to be still new in the box (from the amount of shredded paper around the terra-cotta water-clock frame).

From Home-Education Magazine's Jan-Feb 2000 review (did you know you could find those online?):

The "Ancient Rome" Scientific Explorer Kit is a nice resource for students of historical time: this hands-on "History of Science" kit includes materials for assembling and calibrating an elegant terracotta water clock and for designing an early-Roman-style lunar calendar. The kit includes a booklet of background information, plus suggestions for further experiments. Available from Scientific Explorer, Inc., 2802 E. Madison, Suite 114, Seattle, WA 98112; (800) 900-1182;
Well, actually, it's not, they don't make these anymore.

But it still looks like fun!