Friday, June 27, 2014

It's Been Too Long . . .

. . . since I've grilled.
 How do I know?  Perhaps the mouse nest in the corner is a clue . . .
 It appeared to be mostly grass clippings for structure
with fur (from Dusty's outdoor grooming sessions) added for comfort.
 Note the cherry pits on the left.  There was a much bigger pile deep inside the grill.
The holes were gnawed in order to get to the tasty kernels.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Small Successes: Once Again

Although I always enjoyed the format, it's been almost three years since I've posted any small successes.  The host site changed a few times and I lost track (and maybe focus).  Last night I stumbled on Small Success Thursdays at CatholicMom.Com, so I'm ready to begin again.

Listing a few small successes is meant to encourage me (and you, dear reader) to recognize that all is not inefficiency and craziness.  Appreciating even bits of progress or brightness is a gift to myself and those around me.

Enough intro . . . here's my list for this week:

  1. I made it to Confession.  This was like hitting "refresh" on my Lent.  Time to move forward . . .
  2. Examining my conscience prior to Confession made me realize that I must stop watching (halfway through 34 episodes) a culinary series full of cursing--lots and lots of cursing.  Maybe the fact that I wouldn't let anyone else in my family watch with me was the first clue???  The withdrawal hasn't been as difficult as I expected given how much I enjoyed the show.
  3. Rebecca and I have spent time on her writing homework every day this week.  Breaking it up into bits makes the process so much easier, with no last minute panic or hours spent the night before it's due.  

I hope you're inspired to discover your successes.  Feel free to share or read about other moms here.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Fair Trade Nutella

The idea of buying fair trade products always made sense to me, but not enough to actually make me do it.  I had heard that purchasing certified foods ensured fair treatment and living wages for farmers, as well as better land-use practices.

Picture me with eyes closed, hands over my ears, chanting, "La la la la la la la . . ."

Then one night as I clicked around the web, I came across references to child slave labor being used to process chocolate in Africa.  I had finally reached my tipping point.

It's been over a year since I resolved to buy only fair trade chocolate.  I admit it's a lot more expensive than my supermarket baking bars and warehouse-store bags of chips (and harder to find, too).  I'm generally a price conscious shopper, but once I made up my mind that it was the moral choice, I didn't have to fight my frugality any more.

For one thing, it makes sense that it costs more to give the farmers a just income.  But the clearest point for me is that--hello--CHOCOLATE IS A LUXURY!-- and I live quite comfortably in one of the wealthiest countries in the world.

My family has not complained about Mom's new plan, but they did miss Nutella.  I say DID because I finally followed through and made a batch from scratch.
 There are quite a few recipes online; I chose the ATK version.
 Their method of removing hazelnut skins is brilliantly simple.
Here's another link to the recipe with more chatting and better pictures.  Next time (oh, yes, there will definitely be a next time!) I'll try using 25-50% less sugar (1/2-3/4 cup instead of 1), but this Nutella is delightful.
Update:  My Nutella is runnier than what I see online, so I'll try decreasing or omitting the extra oil too.
UPDATE #2:  The first link (to the newspaper article) uses 8 times as much salt as the brown eyed baker's version!  I didn't notice and my latest batch is much too salty.  Use the lower amount (1/8 teaspoon) for starters.
Are you ready to switch to fair trade?

BTW, we now buy only fair trade coffee, too.  It's easy to find and tastes better than what I used to purchase--a simple way to start, perhaps?

Friday, January 24, 2014

Project Week

Every year, our "at school" children have two weeks of Christmas vacation followed by Project Week, time spent working at home.  The high schoolers write research papers, 7th graders report on an endangered animal, and 8th graders like Marianna construct a medieval town, castle, or cathedral.  

The students are supposed to spend at least thirty hours on their projects, and our 8th graders always do!  Usually the last few hours are late, late, late the night before returning to school.  Marianna worked hard and Len assisted with management coaching, so the final Sunday was not too painful this year (our family's fifth medieval project).

Here is Marianna's town:
 Some materials decisions:  plaster walls, paint mixed with sawdust for grass, dried grass for thatch, and glycerin soap to fill the well.
After searching the archives, I found Joe's castle from January 2012:
 And Daniel's from January 2009:

Unfortunately, I have not been able to find photos of David and Lauren's castles.  I'm sure they are disappointed!   ;-)

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

A Secret Family Recipe

My sister invited a new family to our Saranac Lake week this year, and they fit right in--a great match!  When J mentioned a special family recipe for an upside down apple pie, I begged her for it.  I'm not sure I'm at liberty to reveal the details, but here are some hints:
 Butter and brown sugar in a deep dish pie pan
 Pecans--this was supposed to look like a spiral.
 Place a regular, two-crust apple pie on top.  Bake. 
 Turn it out.  Patch if necessary.
 Even tastier with ice cream and salted butter caramel sauce . . .
 There was so much spill over (butter, sugar, apple juice?) that I had to pull out the foil and use a 2nd piece.
Baking side note:  I favor the flakiness and decreased fragility of a shortening crust, but so many friends recommend the flavor of a butter crust that I've been trying a combination of both fats lately.  I wasn't too impressed with the results until today when I tested a technique from Crazy About Pies.  I softened shortening and unsalted butter, mixed them into a mostly homogeneous mass, then chilled the resulting glob.  It made a great crust, not as flat and tough as the all-butter versions I've made.  I'll be using this technique again.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Yes, My Boys are Crazy!

 One ran to the mailbox, one took the dog out . . .

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Walking in a Winter Wonderland

Cheesy title?  Maybe, but it fits the day and recalls a song from the all-time-BEST Christmas album ever.  

I joke about our school system's wimpy response to inclement weather, but this truly was not a morning to have buses on the roads.  Here's what "no school" looked like today:
 In anticipation of the light snow, wintry mix, and freezing rain, I filled the bird feeder yesterday.

 The crape myrtle

 My coolest (ha ha) sighting today:  a strand of spider webbing coated with ice!

The bare trees stood straighter than bushes and anything with needles.  This small tree is bent nearly double.
Just after taking these pictures, I heard a branch fall from on high and decided it was not the best of ideas to traipse through the woods after all.
By the time Dusty and I went out, the ice on the pavement was melting from below, creating this version of a puddle.
By afternoon, ice was dropping from trees, roofs, and power lines, and the roads were mostly clear.  School is already cancelled tomorrow though, as we are expecting snow, sleet, and more snow just a few hours from now.  I'm looking forward to more family time...

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Prayers for Grandpop

My father-in-law has been suffering from MS for over 30 years.  When I met him he used a cane.  Next came the walker, then the wheelchair.  For many years he has spent most of his time in bed or the special chair in the living room, leaving home only rarely.  My mother-in-law is his primary caregiver, working hard to keep him in the best shape possible.

He has been a constant, quiet presence in our lives and the lives of our children.  Our 7-12 graders traditionally stay over at Grammy and Granpop's house one school night each week, keeping them in contact.

Lately the colonel has had difficulty swallowing (leading to the placement of a feeding tube) and breathing (a special oxygen mask is at home now).  We don't know how much time we have left, but your prayers for all of us are greatly appreciated.  Thank you.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Pumpkin Power

Len refashioned the compost bin this summer.  Now, in addition to an earlier remodel that made it possible to dump produce directly from the deck, the bin has two sections with removable sides.  Isn't it lovely?

Our garden did not do well this year.  It could be due to too much rain or not enough tending (I'm a big-time gardening slacker); we may never know.

Our most successful crops are our "volunteers"--pumpkins and butternut squash that grew from the compost!

My science program this year is inspired by Barb McCoy's nature study blog.  It's filled with an overwhelming number of lessons and outdoor challenges based on Anna Botsford Comstock's classic Handbook of Nature Study.  (free download here)  The book has a lesson on pumpkins, so we started our fall session in our own backyard.

The remaining comments will be from Rebecca (age 8).

The tendrils are searching for something to grab onto so they can help the plant climb.
Here is a tendril that's long and thin, and it's grabbing on to the fence.  It looks like it would feel squishy, but it actually feels like thin, metal wire.  In the background is a ripe butternut squash that we picked.  It had grown into the compost bin! 

This is a female flower, and the big bulb below the closed bud will turn into a pumpkin. 
The one above is also a female flower, but it is open.  Below is the same flower at a different angle where you can see the stigmas, which receive the pollen.

Here are two pictures of male flowers which make the pollen and do not produce any pumpkins.
The stems look fuzzy but are actually kind of spiky.  They're usually thick and strong enough to let the pumpkins hang without touching the ground.
The leaves are big and usually have five lobes.
Here are two unripe pumpkins.  They start out green but then turn orange.
This pumpkin is pretty big and it's almost ripe.  It's growing in between the fence of the garden and the fence of the compost.