Thursday, May 31, 2012

What's for supper? (fewer of us home tonight)

Frozen pizza, heated in the toaster oven
Leftover honey garlic chicken, leftover rice, heated in a skillet
Peas, heated in a pot

Homemade chocolate pudding, not heated at all

Homeschooled kids and cooking--not always what you'd think

The expectation that homeschooled girls should be jacks-of-all-housekeeping trades reminds me of a joke I read a long time ago in Reader's Digest:
A young couple decided they needed an au pair, and arranged for a girl to come over from Northern Finland. When she arrived, the wife asked, "Can you cook?"
"No," said the girl, "My mother always did that."
"Can you do housework?" asked the wife.
"No, my oldest sister always did that."
"Well," said the wife, "You'd better just look after the children."
"I don't know how," said the girl. "My youngest sister always did that."

"What can you do, then?" asked the wife, in desperation.
"Well," said the Finnish girl brightly, "I can milk reindeer."
I've always liked to cook, and read cookbooks. My first cookbook was a Dell Home Activity Series workbook called Cooking is Fun, Book One, published in 1970.  Someone gave it to me when I was about seven, and I wrote the names of my favourite foods inside the cover: my grandma's "eldirberry pie" was one of them.

I also had a project, when I was about nine, of cutting out recipes from old copies of Lady's Circle and Woman's Day, and pasting them into a scrapbook.  Some I did end up trying.  Some were a bit too ambitious.
(Yes, that is Annette Funicello on the cover.)

So between kids' cookbooks, ladies' magazines, Brownie badges, and occasional helping in the kitchen, I got at least an idea of how meals got put together. By the time I was in middle school,  I was still better at cookies and cakes than at cooking dinner; but I eventually figured that one out too.

How has it been different for my homeschooled girls?

I don't know that any of them paid a lot of attention to meal-making until they were actually old enough to see some benefit in being able to fix something for themselves.  When they were younger, I think they spent more time helping their dad with outside and fixit chores than they did hanging out in the kitchen.  They did help get groceries, and helped stir things together when I asked them to;  they helped make jam and Christmas cookies and Easter kiffle.  We use food and kitchen tools a lot for school (though not necessarily in "cooking class"): we do math with measuring cups (and, when they were younger, cereal and raisins), we do science experiments with celery or corn syrup or popcorn, or make edible models of the atmosphere. Sometimes we've tried new foods when studying other countries.  Last year we did some spice studies.

Because the recipes I make (or make up) aren't terribly complicated, I've often made a point of saying, "You liked that chicken we had for dinner? You could make that, you know. All you do is..."  Often I just get rolled eyeballs, but I figure some of it has to soak in.  I've also collected up a few extra copies of my favourite cookbooks, so that the girls will have their own, if and when they want them.  (Of course I could just tell them to check the blog...)

Another strategy, for kids who would rather read than cook (or read cookbooks), is to introduce them to "food fiction," especially with a frugal or make-it-work twist. Ginnie and the Cooking Contest. Little Nino's Pizzeria. Bread and Jam for Frances. Stone Soup. Understood Betsy, who learns that there's no right or wrong about making applesauce. The whole Beany Malone series (although we have only a couple of the novels, plus the cookbook). Little House on the Prairie, especially Farmer Boy. Maybe Grace Livingston Hill's novels, when they're old enough not to think romances are icky. I would probably not include the Warton and Morton Toad books, unless you like beetle brittle.

The Apprentice surprised me during her high school years with the dinners she knew how to make, or with interesting snacks she would occasionally produce when younger-sister-sitting.  If asked, she would say something like, "well, of course I know how to do it; I'm just not that interested."  Crayons still says she would rather do something else (she also says she's never moving out).

Ponytails at one point watched a lot of cooking shows and online videos, and liked to try out things like crepes.  This semester she is taking food and nutrition at public high school, and she's had to answer a lot of assigned questions about holiday meals, what's in the refrigerator, and so on.  One day the teacher had a lot of leftovers from another course, so she had the class make up their own casseroles; Ponytails came up with something involving turkey sausage and broccoli soup that sounded amazing. 

The Apprentice has been equipping her own kitchen recently; she has a room in an off-campus house, and she stays there a couple of nights a week because of her summer classes.  (In the fall she'll be there all week.)  Right now she has the kitchen on her floor all to herself.  So she's been putting all her prior learning to practical use.  Last week she even made herself slow-cooker pork chops and mashed potatoes--with real potatoes.

I think they'll do fine.

Elderberry pie photo found here

Linked from Four Moms: Cooking with Children.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

What's for supper? Honey-garlic chicken

Tonight's dinner menu:

Honey Garlic Chicken, but in a skillet, not in the slow cooker; I've tried it both ways, and I much prefer the last-minute version. I cut the soy sauce in half (and used low-sodium soy sauce), used chicken breasts instead of thighs (because that's what I had), and also added cornstarch to thicken the sauce. The sauce ingredients may sound kind of non-traditional, but they work.  UPDATE: we also really like this sauce with pork--it's a good way to use up leftovers.

Hot pasta (fusilli)
Mixture of frozen green beans and frozen Asian vegetables (end of the bag)
Crackers, applesauce, sliced cucumber

Monday, May 28, 2012

What's for supper? Meatballs and cornbread

Tonight's dinner menu:

Meatballs in homemade barbecue sauce, like this
One leftover sausage and some leftover perogies from Sunday dinner
Fresh spinach for salad plus cucumber, chick peas, and carrot sticks--mix and match

Canned pineapple and orange pieces, chilled in the freezer
Store cookies.

What's up at the Treehouse?

We Canadians had our long weekend LAST week.  So today is just another school day.

We are going to build a lasagna-style garden for zucchini at the side of the house where we used to grow green beans.  Used to, because the last couple of years the rabbits and other critters haven't left them alone, along with spinach and several other things we like to grow.  Sprinkling various nasty meals, hot pepper, etc. does not seem to work on these iron-stomached varmints. But they don't have much of an appetite for zucchini, so we're going to put some in and hope their tastes don't change.

Mr. Fixit found a special clock last week, and it's now hanging on the Treehouse living room wall. I'm going to ask him nicely to post something about it here.  The clock looks something like this:

The Apprentice thinks she has finally found a job.   (It's pretty much for sure.)  It's not here in town, though; it's closer to her university, so we may not be seeing her much for the rest of the summer.

Ponytails is working on a variety of school projects involving leeks, supermarket shopping, and A Midsummer Night's Dream (not all for the same class).

Crayons/Dollygirl is taking every chance she can get to be outside. Homeschooling at the end of May...sometimes that's harder to get motivated about than in the dead of winter!  Last week we helped out at a church work day (our church is moving itself into a building this year), and she got to fill up a whole planter with pink and white petunias.

(Not that kind of Petunia!)

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

A grammar quiz for smart homeschoolers

Grandpa Squirrel is a generous donor of large Sunday newspapers and other interesting reading material for the Treehouse.  This week he sent over a magazine for Mr. Fixit with an article about vintage radios.

Mama Squirrel read the article and was grammatically appalled.  There were enough sentence fragments, run-ons, and strange turns of phrase in there to illustrate a whole lesson on sentence structure (which we did).  Out of curiosity, Mama Squirrel perused the rest of the magazine, and uncovered a few other zingers that the editorial staff had missed.  (We hope we are not getting ourselves into trouble by copying these lines, but really, we think that certain magazine editors should take a closer look at what gets printed.)

So here's the challenge:  what's wrong with these sentences, and how would you fix them? (If you can.)

Note:  I don't pretend that my understanding of grammar is perfect either.  If you think some of these examples are correct, feel free to say so.

1.  She, and other craftspeople, has a very nice display space for their wares.

2.  By the mid 1930's over 50% of North American homes had at least one radio.  Over 1 1/2 million in automobiles.

3.  A table model which resembles a church Cathedral usually with four dials on the front.  A small window screen which contains the channels panel and at the top red fabric of the speaker.

4.  The new AC model radios began to sell in large numbers as owners threw out their battery operated radio.

5.  By the 1930's the design of the radio and its case began to change.  It went from a square body box design and outside speakers which sat on top of the radio or close by.

6.  The designs became more compact and speakers in the body of the radio and their appearance became more desirable.

7.  Repaired items should be priced considerably lower than a, similar, perfect head vase.

8.  Ordering from private distributors is possible but not cost affective.

9.  Orson Welles played The Shadow on radio.  Then moved onto Hollywood after his famous Halloween production of War of the Worlds.

10.  Ideas for the designs came from many sources such as: popular fashion magazines or Hollywood movie magazines.

Linked from the Carnival of Homeschooling.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Making it from scratch: Stephanie's spice mixes

We've been following A Year of Slow Cooking since its first year.  It's still among my top ten (maybe top five) favourite food sites.  I've also bought the two Make It Fast, Cook It Slow cookbooks.  Not all the recipes have been winners here, but several have become regulars.

The site has a couple of hidden bonuses.  One is pretty obvious: all the recipes give gluten-free options.  This isn't something that currently applies to our family, but it's good to know anyway, especially if you might be cooking dinner for a gf friend sometime.

The other bonus is that, because of the gluten-free recipes, there are alternatives given for things like taco seasoning mix.  This is a good thing for us in several ways.  First, homemade spice mixes are lower in sodium, which is still something we're trying to watch around here.  Some Squirrels also get sick from eating MSG. 

Second, although seasoning packets aren't terribly expensive, mixing your own is probably a better deal.  I also find them a frugal option since they help to make a tasty meal out of other simple ingredients.  Ground beef plus spices makes taco filling; then you add whatever other bean, cheese and vegetable toppings you have, and wrap in tortillas or serve over rice or corn chips (for taco salad).

Plus you don't have to remember to buy taco seasoning, or sloppy joe spice, if you already have the makings for it on the spice shelf.  And, if you're really organized, you can even mix up extra and store it in sandwich bags to make it all as easy as ripping open a packet.

And the last good reason, for us, is that Steph's spice mixtures pretty much suit our cupboard staples and our tastes (with the exception of rosemary, which two Squirrels can't eat).  When you find something that works for you, you stick with it.

So I'm passing on the links to a couple of Year of Slow Cooking mixes that have worked for us, plus the spaghetti sauce mixture that I worked out from a Hillbilly Housewife recipe.  Thank you, Steph!

Sloppy Joe Seasoning  I used this a few nights ago to make a Hamburger Assistant-type meal in a skillet:  a pound of ground beef, a can of tomato paste plus water and seasonings, leftover cooked pasta, and a bit of cheese.

Taco Seasoning.  This one is in More Make it Fast, Cook it Slow under "Taco Dip," but the spice mix doesn't appear on the Year of Slow Cooking website. It's the same recipe as the one in this blog post, minus the teaspoonful of salt.

Enchilada Sauce

Mama Squirrel's Diner-Style Spaghetti Sauce

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Crayons illustrates Princess Padmini

Crayons/Dollygirl used Paint to illustrate a scene from Richard Halliburton's Complete Book of Marvels.  Halliburton tells the legend of Princess Padmini, and then tells how he took a little girl out on a boat in Udaipur and got her soaked in a sudden rainstorm, making a wreck of her cheaply-dyed holiday clothes.
"Weeping and wretched, shivering with cold, she just stood there leaving red puddles and yellow puddles and purple puddles of raindrops on the pavement....

"I wanted to say: 'My dear child, I'm so sorry--I promise never to let this happen again.  Will you ever, ever, forgive me?'

"But I couldn't say it.  All I could say [in her language] was how much, how far, what time, [good-by], and count to ten.  Again this didn't seem to be the right thing.

"And then I had a sudden flash of inspiration.  I knew just what to say:

"'Good-by, PADMINI....'

"The sunshine came back into her eyes.  She pressed my outstretched hand, then turned and darted through the rain into a grove of palms.  There she turned and waved.  I saw one last flash of yellow and purple and red and green, through the trees--and my Princess Padmini had gone...."--"Udaipur, Indian Fairyland" in The Complete Book of Marvels

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Have some cake with your icing?

Crayons/Dollygirl's birthday cake this year was a Small Chocolate Cake frosted with "Lorna's Super Chocolate Chip Icing" from Edna Staebler's More Food That Really Schmecks.  The amount given here will frost a layer cake reasonably, or a one-pan cake extravagantly.  We went with extravagantly.  But you could probably cut the recipe in half.

I put some of the icing into a decorating tube and made ruffles along the edges, along with a few powdered-sugar butterflies.  How do you make powdered-sugar butterflies?  Sink a small butterfly-shaped cookie cutter into the icing (that is, the top of the cake that's already been iced), carefully spoon a bit of powdered sugar inside the "walls" of the cutter, smooth it down, then gently lift up the cutter.  Repeat several times in other places on the cake--we had five butterflies.  I used the icing in the tube to give them chocolate bodies and antennae (which also helped show what they were supposed to be!), and a few dots on their wings.

And one warning about that, if you're blowing out candles--don't blow too enthusiastically or you'll have powdered sugar everywhere.

Lorna's Super Chocolate Chip Icing

6 oz. semi-sweet chocolate pieces (chips)
1/2 cup light cream (I used 2% milk)
1 cup margarine or butter (I used butter)
2 1/2 cups icing sugar (powdered sugar)
a bowl full of ice cubes plus some water (this doesn't go into the icing, it's for a quick cooling off)

In a saucepan combine the chocolate, cream/milk and butter; stir till smooth, remove from the heat, and whisk in the sugar--it will be thin. [Microwave version: heat in the microwave, stirring at 30-second intervals.]  Beat it over ice until it holds its shape (put ice cubes and water in a bowl, and rest the saucepan on top.  I put the bowl in the sink.).  Unless you have a very strong whisk, I'd recommend using a wooden spoon for this part--the icing will get thick.

A shortcut:  in the book, Edna says that she didn't have time to stand around beating the icing, so she just put it in the fridge to set.  I have done it that way, but this time I beat it over the ice, and it turned out really well.

Monday, May 14, 2012

What's for supper? Odds, ends, counting and measuring

One thing I think you need to know how to do, to make the most out of what's on hand for cooking, is figure out how to cook or bake things in different proportions, according to what you have and the number of people eating.  Today's example:  I had leftover mashed potatoes and thought of making a Perogy Casserole.  There were about seven lasagna noodles, plus some broken pieces, in the cupboard. But my recipe makes a 9 x 13 inch panful and calls for fifteen noodles.  Since that usually leaves us with leftovers, I figured it would work just as well to cook up what we had and use a smaller pan.  I didn't even bother reducing the rest of the ingredients; I wanted to use up the potatoes and I figured nobody would complain about a bit of extra filling.


Perogy Casserole, made with somewhere between seven and eight lasagna noodles

Meat and Vegetable Reheat: that is, a bit of sliced leftover beef from last night; a package of mushrooms, sliced; some leftover green beans; a cupful of beef broth; and a teaspoonful of smoked paprika, heated through in a covered skillet and thickened at the end with a spoonful of cornstarch. (Wow, does that make an awesome mushroom sauce--I think it's the combination of the mushroom liquid, the broth, and the paprika.)

Lettuce, carrot and celery salad

Dessert: this and that.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Charlotte Mason and the Three Faces of Education

"And Ennui.––This notion, that education is included in environment, or, at the best, in atmosphere, has held the ground for a generation or two, and it seems to me that it has left its mark upon our public and our private lives. We are more ready to be done unto than to do; we do not care for the labour of ordering our own lives in this direction or in that; they must be conducted for us; a press of engagements must compel us into what next, and what next after. We crave for spectacular entertainment, whether in the way of pageants in the streets, or spectacles on the boards. Even Shakespeare has come to be so much the occasion for gorgeous spectacles that what the poet says is of little moment compared with the show a play affords. There is nothing intentionally vicious in all this; it is simply our effort to escape from the ennui that results from a one-sided view of education,––that education is an atmosphere only."--Charlotte Mason, School Education, page 150
Is education only environment, or atmosphere? Charlotte Mason points out, in the passage above, the danger of never applying ourselves to seek out ideas, but only letting them drop in our laps, hoping they'll just sink in (something like the current worries over the bits and bites of news that come shooting at us online). If we never make a serious effort to go out and Think, we might end up worrying only about nothing weightier than how to tie a cravat.
On the other hand, she says, the idea that Education is a Life can also be abused. If we're so obsessed with chasing down every last idea, and so busy Thinking that there is no joy in it (another kind of information overload), we will bore our friends and exhaust ourselves.
Miss Mason also mentions a third approach to learning: "mind as machine," or as she puts it, the belief that "Education is the Cultivation of Faculties, leads to Abnormal Developments." She points out that this idea is not so far removed from "Education is a Discipline," but that the difference is just large enough to cause real mistakes if we don't see it. You don't read Shakespeare with children by giving them long lists of vocabulary to be quizzed on; in fact, you don't read it with them to enrich their vocabularies, or to teach them about the life of Julius Caesar, or what blank verse is; or because you want them to show off (or to show them off?) in front of the grandparents or the public schoolers. You read it with them because you want to give them something that already belongs to them.  You read it because it's worth reading, because it's beautiful or true, because it gives you new understanding of God and people. You read it, as you look at paintings and stars and cathedrals, to gain some lasting "mind furniture."

To wind up: my ninth grader came home from the public library recently and complained that a lot of the "teenage books" there all seemed to focus on the same few topics, most of them inappropriate. She gets that; she's not asking to read them. She just wishes that more writers would realize that lots of young people have broader interests than vampires and whatever. What's the "real world," anyway, and who's to say who is or isn't living in it? Is education just what a teacher tells you to memorize, and information just what comes at you over whatever gadget you carry around? Do we have to rebel so hard, trying to get whatever knowledge is out there, that we frighten ourselves? Or do we allow the hard work of learning to turn us into computers wearing tennis shoes?

We can let education drive us, or we can allow it to humanize us. We need all three of its faces, but, as Charlotte Mason says--"in proportion."

Midnight oil graphic found on

Linked from the Charlotte Mason Blog Carnival: Education is a Life.

Monday, May 07, 2012

What's happening around the Treehouse

We are still settling into some new routines.

Mr. Fixit has been finding things to fix.

This afternoon he's out with the Apprentice, looking for a new mattress set, because the Apprentice and Ponytails switched bedrooms and beds, and Ponytails' old mattress turned out to be on its last bounce.  The Apprentice and Crayons are now sharing the bigger bedroom, and Ponytails can do glam design things in her own room.

The Apprentice is taking a night course at the university, but she's here most of the time otherwise because she doesn't yet have a summer job. (Jobs are generally hard to find right now, and even hairstyling jobs are a bit tricky when you have to quit in September.) 

Ponytails got an excellent half-semester report card.  Her English class is just about finished reading The Hunger Games and will be moving on to A Midsummer Night's Dream.  Some of the grade nines are apparently not looking forward much to Shakespeare.  One student reportedly said, "Who's that?"

Crayons/Dollygirl and I read a scene from The Tempest, a chapter about how inventions are inspired, some of Orphan at My Door, and a chapter from Robin Hood. She also did some multiplication, some copywork, and we tried to see if we could stump Mr. Fixit on Ontario map questions. (What is the large lake southeast of Georgian Bay? If you go south from that lake to Lake Ontario, what Canadian city are you in?)

In the oven:  a pan of  Brownies for a Crowd.  Planned for supper:  fish and tortellini.  Weather: the sky looks like it's about to break open any time.

Coming up later this week:  something involving the number eleven.  Here's a hint.

Photo:  Mr. Fixit.  Copyright 2012 Dewey's Treehouse.

Friday, May 04, 2012

What's for supper? Stir fry night / cleaning out the fridge

Tonight's dinner menu:

Green Bean-Ground Beef Stir Fry, but made with carrots and shredded cabbage instead of green beans
Brown rice
Leftover beer bread

Homemade vanilla ice cream
Banana muffin cake

Thursday, May 03, 2012

What's for supper? (so hot out)

It just kept getting hotter and hotter today, so what might have been an oven meal became a mostly stovetop one instead.

Tonight's menu:

Swojska sausage and sauerkraut
Frozen perogies
A can of baked beans
Leftover coleslaw
Beer Bread (made with non-alcoholic beer), baked in the toaster oven (link updates 2020)
Vanilla milkshakes

Ten Ways to Use Leftovers

The Four Moms are looking at leftovers this week.

I've posted before about my ingredients notebook and the ways I try not to throw out food, also here.  If you read our What's For Supper? posts (link fixed), you'll notice they frequently include leftover-this, leftover-that.  And that's often the way our meals work out: more cooking one night, then an easier reheated or recycled meal the next day.  I suppose it's frugally significant that one of our holiday traditions is to go out for Chinese food on Christmas Eve and then reheat the leftovers for lunch on Christmas Day.

So it doesn't seem like I could say much more about it, except that I've noticed that most leftover ideas seem to fall into groups, and I think we've tried most of them at least once.  Here are the Ten Treehouse Leftover Categories:

1.  Put the leftover(s) in a sandwich.  If you have an electric sandwich maker, it will do a great job of squishing any leftovers into a bread "turnover."  Lacking that, wrap a tortilla around a filling of leftovers (and store in the freezer if you're not going to eat it right away, see #8).  Lacking that, heat the leftovers (in gravy or sauce if you have some) and serve over bread: the classic hot sandwich, staple of department-store lunch counters.  (Potatoes, rice, or noodles will also do fine underneath.)

2. Put it in the soup.  (Self-explanatory.)

3. Put it in the muffins.  Or the pancakes.

4. Put it in the granola, e.g. stale cereal. (I added a container full of ground-up shredded wheat and Chex dregs to a batch of granola last week, and it turned out really well.)

5. Put it in the cookie balls.  Or the cookies. (That one was originally courtesy of Kim at InAShoe, one of the Four Moms.)

6. Put it under the mashed potatoes, or the dumplings, or the biscuit dough.  Examples: Shepherd's Pie, Chicken Pot Pie, Fruit Crisp.

7.  Put it in the blender.

8. Put it in the freezer.  As in, if you're not sure what to do with it now, put it aside and wait until you have something else that just needs a cupful of beans, or a bagful of rice, or a bit of spaghetti sauce.  And don't forget that you can freeze yogurt, tomato paste, stock, baby food puree, and other things in ice cube trays.

9. Put it in the microwave.  (Or the toaster oven, or in a pot set on low on the stove.)  Heat and eat.  Or don't heat: eat whatever it is cold, or in a salad.  (That's a bonus category that snuck in there.)

10.  Put it in the compost.  All good things come to an end.

Linked from Four Moms and Leftovers.  Linked from Festival of Frugality #336.

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

What's for supper? Pizza chicken.

Tonight's dinner menu:

Pizza Chicken in the slow cooker.  Ingredients (I made it up as I went along):  one small can tomato paste, one small can pizza sauce, 1 pound boneless chicken thighs, one chopped pepper, half a chopped pepperoni sausage.  I added mozzarella cheese right at the end.
Hot fusilli
Carrot sticks
Yogurt-covered pretzels for dessert.