Tuesday, January 31, 2006

What's for supper? Kitchener Special

By request, here is the recipe for a sausage-noodle dish which appeared in Whole Foods for the Whole Family (a La Leche League cookbook) and which was contributed by Linda Mellway. (Note on Whole Foods for The Whole Family: the copyright date is 1981...does that seem like 25 years ago? Sigh.) If you wonder about the name of the dish, Kitchener (Ontario) is a city in an area settled largely by Germans...Oktoberfest territory.
The recipe calls for "pork sausage", which can mean a lot of things. We make it with smoked sausage, which you can buy at a butcher's and which doesn't give off much grease...it's not the same as kielbasa, although that would probably work too. If you can't get smoked sausage, you could try it with whatever good sausage you have...not those greasy little breakfast things, though.

Kitchener Special

1 lb. pork sausage (we used two smoked sausages)
1/2 cup (1 small) chopped onion
1/2 cup sliced celery (I was more generous with this)
1/2 tsp. salt
dash pepper
1 tsp. chili powder
1/2 tsp. dry mustard
1/4 to 1/2 tsp. celery seeds (optional but good)
2 to 3 handfuls raw noodles (we like the extra broad frilly kind in this; finer ones would change the dish somewhat but would still be all right; and you could use macaroni or linguini, or maybe broken lasagna noodles, if you didn't have egg noodles)
4 cups tomatoes, quartered (in the winter you can use canned diced tomatoes, and the amount depends on how much you like tomatoes)
1/2 cup of water, or more depending on the tomatoes--enough to cook the noodles
1 cup grated Cheddar cheese, plus a bit extra for serving if you like

Cut sausage into 1-inch lengths. Brown in a large pot or skillet (large enough to hold the vegetables and the noodles as they expand). Add onion, celery and seasonings...cook a few minutes. Mix well and add remaining ingredients. (You can start grating the cheese now and add it partway through if you want.) Simmer for half an hour, OR turn it all into a casserole and bake for half an hour at 350 degrees, or until the noodles are done but not mushy. (I like to do it on top of the stove so that I can check it and stir it a few times. You have to keep an eye on the noodles and add a bit more liquid if needed.) Pass hot sauce for anyone who likes a bit more zip.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Remembering Scratcher, June 2004--January 2006


1. A nameless Squirreling singing this: "Lift me up and let me stand on heav'n's potato land..."

(If you don't recognize the reference, Cyberhymnal can help out.)

2. Squirrelings squabbling about which track to listen to next on the Beethoven's Wig CD. (Check out the link, you can listen to samples on Amazon.) One of them wants the Surprise Symphony again because she likes the big BANG. The other wants the Can-Can song. Again. (Mommy, is our friend who went to France dancing the can-can now?) And they're all singing the Kings and Queens of England song, even Crayons, who enjoys correcting the last line. (It's two Georges, not three!)

3. Ponytails: "Apprentice, what is a cannibal?"
Crayons: "A cannibal, you know a cannibal. Like Tchaikovsky's Cannibal."

(Look at Track 11 of Beethoven's Wig for the explanation of this.)

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Train your virtual camera on the Treehouse

Our friend Marsha at the Abarbablog (see the links to left) posted one of these so I'm doing a Squirrel family version.

Time: 3 p.m.

View from the window:
Snow on the swingset, on the fences, all over the back yard.

Listen In
CBC radio playing in the kitchen
It's too quiet upstairs. I'd better make sure nobody's cutting their hair off. [Postscript: I found The Apprentice reading The Bells on Finland Street to Ponytails. Crayons was also not doing anything particularly scary.]

Supper Plans
Spaghetti and meat sauce; reheated garlic breadsticks (from the Hillbilly Housewife site--those have become a favourite around here); lettuce and mushroom salad; brownies. [Postscript after dinner: Oops, forgot about the breadsticks. I knew there was something else I was going to do.]

Other sounds
The ding of the garlic-shaped timer to say that the brownies are supposed to be done. But they're not. (I love my timer. I found it at a yard sale after the buzzer on our stove quit working, and it still makes me smile.)

In the Living Room

Agh! It's tidy!
(Some CM mammas are coming over tonight to talk shop.) [Postscript for non-homeschoolers: CM means Charlotte Mason, a British educator and author who lived about a hundred years ago and whose philosophy is the mainstay of our Treehouse homeschooling.]

Beauty in the Common Things

DHM's recipe for crockpot cereal (we used shortgrain brown rice and pearl barley).

Bach on the CBC.

A set of magnetic words (Magnetic Poetry), that we bought so long ago that the only extra word we added was The Apprentice's name. (I guess we should add a couple more now.) [Postscript: Magnetic Poetry is fun and their site has some good stuff; if you click on Kids you can even play online with some of their word sets, but they also sell some things that most readers of this blog will not appreciate. Forewarned is forearmed.]

Crayons asking for more Little Tim books, please.

Friday, January 20, 2006

We finished The Dawn Treader, by Ponytails

We finished The Voyage of the Dawn Treader last week. It's a good book. We're probably going to start The Silver Chair. We are also reading The Saturdays series (what I like to call them). Mommy and I have read The Saturdays, The Four-Story Mistake, Then There Were Five, and we're reading Spiderweb for Two. They're good books. They're about four kids named Mona, Rush, Miranda (they call her Randy) and Oliver. And their housekeeper, Evangeline Cuthbert-Stanley. They call her Cuffy and Cuff.

We had Turkish Delight tonight. We got it at the meat store. It smelled like hand soap and it kind of tasted like hand soap. It looks like big jube-jubes with sugar on them. Crayons said she wasn't going to eat hers, so The Apprentice and I broke hers in half and ate it together. I kind of wanted some more! (Okay, I'm not Edmund.)

Has anybody seen the Chronicles of Narnia movie? I'd like to see that movie. I'd like to see Lucy and Susan. I got my friend some Narnia things for her birthday: two puzzles, one of Lucy and Mr. Tumnus, and another of them waiting when they were going to go live with the Professor. And an activity book with magnets on top. I like the one of Lucy, she looks really nice.


Thursday, January 19, 2006


I'm packing a box of books to take to a homeschool support group meeting this weekend. I've done that lots of times before--given away extras from library sales, children's books we were done with or just didn't need. But this box is different. This week I took a look at my small shelf of how-to-homeschool books and realized that I was done with some of them.

Not ones I didn't like--these were ones that I did like. Did read. Did use. (Well, not the ones that I used so hard that nobody else would want to read past my scribbles and notes.) And when I looked at them, I realized that I'm done with them.

I have to be careful with that, because I don't mean that there's nothing else I could ever learn from those particular people. I'd love to hear some of them speak at a conference or maybe read something else by them. But somewhere along the way, I absorbed or processed what they were saying in these books; learned from it, and then branched out from it. I don't mean, either, that I'm now such an expert homeschooler that I have no more to learn. Maybe there will be some new how-to or why-to books that come along. But these particular books deserve a second or third life helping somebody else get going.

There is the book I bought at a conference when I was very pregnant with my second child, which was also the only conference I've ever been to with Mr. Fixit; we drove all the way to Mississauga (near Toronto) to hear Diana Waring speak, and buy grade one books for The Apprentice. I saw a particular book on creating curriculum and wanted it SO badly...and we bought it. And I used it. Actually that one I'm keeping...one of those notes-in-the-margins casualties.

There's also the fat everything-you-need-to-know book that I bought, new baby in tow, later that same year when I found (with amazement) that a local bookstore carried a few homeschooling titles. It's been updated since then and now comes with a CD-Rom; but maybe somebody else can still use it. It's scribble-free.

And there's a John Holt book, and How Do You Know They Know What They Know (I guess now I know), and Homeschooling for Dummies. (I got that one as part of a boxful at a rummage sale.) I already gave away my 1995 Cathy Duffy curriculum guide.

Going through them is a lot like packing away outgrown baby clothes, or giving away a tricycle because the baby is now riding a two-wheeler. Like the baby clothes, I never really thought I'd get to the point of not needing them. But the kids are getting older...and we've been homeschooling for almost a decade now. There is a point where you can stop looking at your student driver's manual, right?

Still it does bring on just a little sigh of something passing.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

The Silver Chair in the Classroom

"It's all a lie," the beautiful lady said as she strummed her mandolin for Rilian, the children and Puddleglum. "There never were any important books." "There never were any important books," repeated the children, breathing in the magic perfume from the fire. "Your teachers told you lies," she murmured. "Your teachers told you lies." "A book may be important to me, but there's no reason it's important to you. Go and read your graphic novels," she hummed. At that moment Puddleglum stuck his webbed foot into the fire and all the others woke up suddenly. "Shakespeare! Dickens! Dead white guys!" they screamed in defiance, as the lady turned into an evil snake and hissed at them. The battle was an ugly one."
--with apologies to C.S. Lewis (The Silver Chair)

If you don't think this sort of battle goes on in our schools (I'm including Canadian schools in that "our"), please read this post at Tim Fredrick's ELA Teaching Blog. I found this through the 4th Literature Carnival.

To me it only emphasizes the huge gap between the education I want to provide for my children, and that "offered" (and only offered--and gingerly--one wouldn't want to impose one's standards) to the students in today's high school classes.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Do you eat kasha?

The host of this week's Carnival of the Recipes, the Deputy Headmistress at The Common Room, recently posted about how far she feels their family has fallen in attempts to "eat healthy." Her mention of things like raw goat's milk and babies eating sweet potatoes made me laugh, because when The Apprentice was small we were doing much the same thing. The Apprentice didn't have candy or even more than the occasional Arrowroot cookie until she was old enough to know the difference, and her food-grinder baby dinners were often mashed with tofu or sprinkled with kelp. (That is actually a good iodine supplement. I wasn't a complete idiot.) And we did eat kasha...frequently enough that I do remember toddler Apprentice at least knowing what it was called when she met it in her bowl. (Kasha, at least in the way I mean it, is just a name for toasted buckwheat groats, cooked soft like rice.)

And like the DHM, our eating habits have changed enough that, when I bought a bag of kasha yesterday and decided to resurrect an old favourite recipe for it, not only did nobody remember what it was or even eating it, but we had an awfully big bowlful of it left. I will optimistically put that down to a tummy bug that's been stalling everyone's appetites here, and to the fact that kasha, like any long-forgotten friend, takes some getting used to again. It doesn't taste like rice. It doesn't taste like oats. It just tastes like itself...sort of toasted-nutty, a little bit stronger-flavoured than other grains (and it's not technically a grain, it's a relative of rhubarb). You can do all sorts of things with it and there are lots of traditional recipes for using it (like blintzes and kasha varnishkes), and non-traditional ones as well (there are some ideas here). You can also just cook it till it's soft, like rice or oatmeal.

So I'm not sorry I attempted to at least re-introduce kasha; although the encounter may not have been the most delightful, it was nice (at least for me) to renew an old acquaintance, and maybe I can find something appetizing to do with the leftovers.

Here's the recipe I made; it made a lot (for us). You could try cutting it in half. It came from the January 1992 Vegetarian Times; I'm sorry that I don't know who wrote the article.

Kasha-Vegetable Pilaf

1 1/2 tbsp. vegetable oil
1/2 medium onion, finely chopped (we skipped this; see below, it's a garnish)
1 1/2 cups dry kasha
1 egg, lightly beaten
2 1/2 cups boiling water
1 medium sweet potato, peeled and cubed
1/2 cup frozen corn
1/2 cup frozen peas (I skipped these and used one can of corn niblets instead)

If you're doing the onion garnish: in a small skillet, heat oil and saute onion until it turns medium brown, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.

Place kasha in an ungreased skilled over medium-low heat, and toast for 3 to 5 minutes, stirring often, until the kasha becomes slightly darker. Add the beaten egg and stir quickly to coat the grains. Immediately add boiling water but do not stir. Add vegetables on top. Lower the heat and simmer, covered, until water is absorbed, kasha is puffy, and sweet potato is tender, about 20 to 25 minutes. Sprinkle sauteed onions on top, if you want them. (It's suggested that you can also add the raw onions to the kasha along with the other vegetables instead of sauteeing them.)

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Blog game: fours of things

I was tagged for this by Tim's Mom--here goes.

Four jobs you've had in your life:

1. transcriptionist for a closed-captioning service
2. assistant to director of high school liaison services at a university (can you say that three times fast?)
3. nursing-home kitchen worker
4. camp crafts director

Four movies you would watch over and over:

1. Anything with some real acting but not too many machine guns.
2. Anything with gowns by Edith Head. (That covers a lot!)
3. Anything without Jim Carrey in it.
4. An Ache in Every Stake

Four places you have lived:

1. Southern Ontario
2. Toronto
3. Southern Ontario

Four TV shows you love to watch :
We don't have cable right now but if we got these shows I would watch them:
1. The Rockford Files
2. Sherlock Holmes with Jeremy Brett
3. Clean Sweep
4. The Munsters, Phil Silvers, Hogan's Heroes...
5. Playing Shakespeare

Four places you have been on vacation:

1. Georgian Bay
2. Port Severn
3. Quebec City
4. Eustis, Florida

Four websites you visit daily:

1. Stump the Bookseller
2. www.homeschoolbuzz.com
3, 4, 5, 6...several of the blogs on our links

Four of your favorite foods:

1. Pasta with olives and sundried tomatoes (I'm the only one here that will eat it)
2. Chinese food (maybe some hong sue tofu and a bowl of noodles)
3. Cinnamon rolls
4. Peanut butter

Four places you would rather be right now:

1. Narnia
2. At a Vermeer exhibit
3. Watching a summer sunset on Georgian Bay (do a Google image search for "Georgian Bay sunset" and you'll see why)

Four bloggers you are tagging:

I don't know who's been tagged...but I'll tag Coffeemamma, Tootle, Firefly and Jennifer if they want to play.

Why we homeschool

We homeschool for a wide variety of reasons...academic, religious, lifestyle...and have been doing it since 1996. So, for us, the question becomes-- what reason would we have for needing or wanting our children to attend school? (For any of you who aren't regular visitors here, we have three daughters who have always been homeschooled. This is mostly about our oldest, who's known as The Apprentice.)

I can pinpoint one of the lines I read, early on, that propelled us towards homeschooling. I had borrowed Nancy Wallace's account of her own family's unschooling journey, Better Than School, from the library, and I came to the part where she described their son's classroom experiences in first grade. It wasn't a good year; her son was exhausted and unhappy, and when asked what the problem was, he complained that he no longer had enough time to read! (The link is to a 1984 Mother Earth News story about homeschooling; if you scroll down far enough, you'll see some excerpts from the book.)

I related to that. I remembered being yanked down by my jumper straps when I tried to climb up to an above-my-grade-level library shelf in the first grade. (Did anyone else go to a school where the books were actually arranged by grades?) I remembered having to use second-grade readers two years in a row (it involved a move from a school that encouraged "enrichment" to another one that didn't). I remembered doing many, many spelling lessons that taught me absolutely nothing (I was already a good speller. I was lousy at handwriting, but spelling lessons didn't improve that). I remembered getting to staple the teacher's papers as a reward for getting my work done early. (What a motivation.)

I also remembered the darker side of school--the pressures, the bullies, the unhappiness when you can't seem to find a place to fit in. I was a geek from the get-go. Many of us have been there and it's not a memory we'd want to spend much time musing on.

And right at that time (when we were thinking about homeschooling), our flavour-of-the-month provincial ministry of education announced a brilliant idea. They would provide optional junior kindergarten not only for the four-year-olds (that was already in place) but also for the three-year-olds. Moms who wanted free babysitting cheered. Everyone else seemed doubtful, including Mr. Fixit's cousin who was teaching JK and had had to buy a supply of changes-of-underwear for her classroom already. And we had a child turning three. Oh but wait--a change of government came in right then and axed not only that idea, but also four-year-old JK. For a little while. Then JK came back (but not for the three-year-olds).

Oh, and then there was the common curriculum that our province brought in (like the "standards" some other countries talk about). And there was a teachers' strike. And there was provincial testing for grade 3 and 6 classes. And the whole idea of self-esteem (that is, spending time on how special we are instead of on math) and values clarification (whatever its present-day name is) and groupthink and not hurting a child's feelings by saying that his work is careless or his spelling is wrong.

In short, we had no intention of allowing The Apprentice to become a guinea pig for some government's idea of what her education should be. Or shouldn't be. Or might be for six months until the latest greatest idea came up. (The newest thing in our school system is that children don't have a lunch hour anymore. They have two "nutrition breaks" during the day instead. This was sold to the parents as something that would encourage better nutrition and more time to play outdoors, but it was actually prompted by demands for longer breaks for the teachers.)

And I wanted her to have time in her life to read.

The Apprentice has never become what you'd call a bookworm. She prefers to make things (like bead jewelery or knitted Barbie skirts), or help Mr. Fixit build CB radios and install computers. But when she does read...she knows what's worth reading, what's middlin', and what's garbage. Would she be better off in a classroom, now that she's getting close to the usual high school age? Maybe...if we can get enough of the important stuff covered first. Does she want to go? She's not sure herself. It would be sort of fun...but right now, she says she likes being at home.

[Update, May 2007: This was first posted in January 2006, when we were tossing around the possibilities for The Apprentice's future education. In September 2006, she enrolled part time at the local high school, and she has spent two interesting semesters there taking all the hands-on things that she enjoys--plus science and French--and I get to brag that she's on the honour roll too. She's planning on continuing there, still part time, next school year. Beyond that, she's looking at apprenticeship possibilities in a couple of the trades that interest her.]

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Sugar-free treats

Sugar-free recipes don't always interest Mama Squirrel too much; that is, the ones that require either some kind of artificial sweetener or things like a whole can of fruit juice concentrate. The results (in her opinion) don't usually live up to the effort required, and that much fruit juice is still a sugar, yes?

But here's a recipe for Banana-Prune Bread that we have tried and found pretty good. It came out of a sugar-free cookbook years ago, and I don't know which one. If you do, please let me know so I can give proper credit. This is posted especially for our friends at the Common Room who are giving sugar a rest this month.

Banana-Prune Bread

Makes 1 loaf or 12 slices.

2 medium ripe bananas
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1/3 cup unsweetened prune juice with pulp [my note: I only know one kind of prune juice, the regular old supermarket kind, and that seems to work fine]
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup chopped pitted prunes
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamom
1/4 tsp. salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F; spray a 9 by 5 inch loaf pan with cooking spray, set aside.

In large bowl mash bananas; stir in wet ingredients. Mix dry ingredients separately, mix with banana mixture until just blended.

Spoon into prepared pan; bake 50-60 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean. Cool on rack 10 minutes; remove from pan and cool completely.

Mary Carroll's recipe for Dried Fruit Bars, posted back in November, is also more-or-less sugar free, depending on what kind of granola you use for the base. A simpler dried-fruit recipe is the one that some people call "sugar plums"; you run approximately equal amounts of three or four kinds of dried fruit through the food processor (some people add nuts to this), roll into small balls, and roll the balls in some kind of coating--coconut, ground oatmeal, etc. Our favourite combination is dates, figs, apricots and raisins, but other fruits will work fine.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

A Reason for Reading

"Books are wonderful ways to learn the possibilities of being human. We can define character traits with words, but they take shape only when you see what they look like in a person. How can we understand honor or valor or courage unless we have sometimes seen these traits in someone's life? Good literature may so move the reader that is seems impossible to verbalize about it. The experience is what counts....

"This is why an evil character in a story may reveal the real nature of evil more clearly than a sermon on sin. Reading stories is also a vicarious way to see how goodness and humility and honesty and beauty play out in life. Literature does instruct us, even thought it may not be our main reason for reading. Malcolm Muggeridge wrote in Jesus Rediscovered that books like Resurrection or The Brothers Karamazov gave him an overpowering sense of how uniquely marvelous a Christian way of looking at life is, and a passionate desire to share it. Good books have a way of instructing the heart."

--Gladys Hunt, Honey for a Woman's Heart

Monday, January 02, 2006

NEW YEARS TIME, by Ponytails

For New Years we had a Narnia party. And I made an Aslan mask and tail out of brown and yellow paper. For dinner Mommy made baked apples with raisins in the top, and sausages (with real meat) and potatoes. For dessert she made peach-banana sherbet, and we made cookies--warriors, and lions (Aslan). And Daddy provided some shows for us to do. I was Aslan in one of them. I was the White Witch in one of them, and The Apprentice was Mrs. Beaver. Mrs. Beaver was a locksmith, and the White Witch couldn't get into her house. She tried everything, then she called up Mrs. Beaver. I turned Mrs. Beaver to stone--that wasn't in the story. I turned her back again and she gnawed the door open. I said, "Is there anything I can do to pay you back?" Mrs. Beaver said, "Turn some of my friends back from being stone." I turned Daddy and Crayons and Mommy back. When I turned Mommy back, she started saying, "Pick up your clothes, young witch!" And then I turned her BACK into stone.

The Apprentice was in charge of Beadie Buddies. I made a mouse. So did Daddy. And we went on a treasure hunt for pink cordial, a fur coat and a flute.

And we did a devotion. That was Bible time, and talking about things we did this year, and what stood out in our life in 2005. I remembered going to Kelsey's restaurant with our grandma and grandpa. It's a long way away, about three hours.