Not a food post!

I started this blog to keep family and friends updated on our lives here in Virginia, but lately the blog has been all about me and my hobbies.  And I can go on and on about the things I love to do.  There’s a good reason I haven’t been posting much about the Ellie and Mac – they’ve been concentrating on their studies since the holidays and I’m determined to have everything finished by the end of June. We love the flexibility of homeschooling, but we still have goals to meet.  And when our school days get too “flexible”, we have to make up the time somewhere.

Noelle is finishing up the last chapters of math this month and couldn’t be happier.  This year has been a bit of a struggle for her; we’ve been concentrating on decimals and percentages with plenty of review of area, circumference and word problems thrown in.  We did a little pre-Algebra, some beginning geometry and dabbled in probabilities, and, while she understands it now, getting there was a challenge.  She’ll also finish her Latin studies this month.  She’s enjoyed it a great deal and is looking forward to taking the next class in the  fall.  We’ve still got a way to go in English and we really need to do some more work in composition and outlining.  I’m thinking of combining both with our history lessons and kill two birds with one stone.  Speaking of history,  we’re moving along nicely and have made it to the Greeks (at this rate, we’ll finish up the Roman Empire just before leaving for vacation at the end of June).  She’s slogging through The Black Ships Before Troy, a middle school version of The Illiad, with enough complaining that you’d think she was the one fighting the war.  But she loves Greek myths and the two big books of stories awaiting her is motivating her to read two chapters a day instead of one.  Science is meshing nicely with history right now, with Plato, Aristotle and Socrates being our main focus for the next couple of weeks.  Logic and typing are on-going studies and are getting done, if not done enthusiastically.

Malcolm, like Noelle, is finishing up math.  He has enjoyed the work this year, especially learning to tell time and read thermometers and gauges.  He’s adding and subtracting 5 digit numbers with ease and is slowly mastering money (the decimal point is giving him problems).  We’re nearly finished with the 7th phonics book and have started identifying common and proper nouns.  We moved through his history studies quicker than Noelle has through hers and we’ve just covered Julius Caesar.  Our extra history reading continues and, while Malcolm is usually not interested in history unless there’s a battle or someone dies (he takes a rather morbid pleasure in “bad guys” getting their comeuppance) , the children’s version of The Odyssey has captured his attention like nothing else has before.  Finishing science before the end of the year will be tough, but I’m determined to get it all done, even if it means doubling up on lessons and schooling on Fridays.

They’ve been putting in some time in the kitchen this year, learning some basic life skills. Both kids love to cook and help with making meals and goodies, so I’ve got each one helping with at least one meal a week.  Noelle is becoming more independent and is able to put together lunch for her and Malcolm with very little supervision.  This past week, I had her dust off her fraction knowledge and increase a recipe by half.  The banana bread was delicious and she got to see where exactly in life she’ll have to add fractions.

I’ve been thinking about having a few lessons this summer, mostly to keep them from getting too bored.  We haven’t really covered health topics this year (in Malcolm’s case, only peripherally as it pertains to the human body studies we’ve been doing for science) so I think that may be a good place to start.  I may also sneak some geography or nature studies in during our vacation in June – it just depends on how much scrambling we’ll be doing to finish up the school year at that point.

As for extracurriculars, tennis started this week.  They’re both excited to be playing again and I can’t wait to show you pictures of them smacking the ball around the court.

Categories: learnin' | Leave a comment

Meatless Monday

We’ve been in a bit of a rut for Meatless Monday the past few weeks (yes, already!) and I needed to break out of the vegetarian pasta phase.  This week, I tried a recipe from one of my favorite cooking blogs, Smitten Kitchen. This recipe is Chard and White Bean stew and is very much like the ribollita recipe I tried a while back (of course, I had to change it up a bit).

Spinach and White Bean Stew
1 pound baby spinach, trimmed and rinsed
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup chopped carrots
1 cup chopped celery
¼  cup chopped shallots (all I had on hand)
¾ cup chopped yellow onion
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 cup dry white wine
2 15-ounce white beans, drained and rinsed
4 cups vegetable broth (or less)
1 cup pureed tomatoes
1 cup fire-roasted diced tomatoes
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp dried thyme
1 bay leaf

Toasted bread slices, poached eggs, chopped herbs such as tarragon, parsley or chives or grated Parmesan or Romano to serve (optional)

Heat olive oil over medium. Add carrots, celery, shallots, onions and garlic, and saute for 15 minutes, until lightly caramelized. Add wine (scraping up any bits that have stuck to the pot) and cook it until it reduced by three-fourths. Add beans, broth, tomatoes, a few pinches of salt, freshly ground black pepper, thyme and bay leaf and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for 20 minutes. Add spinach and cook for 5 minutes more. Remove thyme and bay leaf. Add more broth if you’d like a thinner stew and adjust salt and pepper to taste.

I served it over toasted bread and I’m glad I increased the broth from the original two cups to four – the bread soaked up quite a bit of liquid.  I grated some Parmesan cheese over the top to finish.

I think a poached egg on top of this would be great, but I couldn’t decide if they were meat or not, so no egg this time.

Unlike the Ribollita recipe, this was quick and easy to put together.  Unlike the crockpot version I made, this soup had a lot of flavor – and the beans weren’t crunchy.  I think the flavors will blend quite well overnight and it will taste even better tomorrow.

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Happy Birthday, Malcolm!

Seven years ago, I couldn’t imagine life with a boy.  And then Malcolm came into our lives.

He’s a complicated kid, a bundle of contradictions, that keeps me on my toes.

He loves rock and roll.  And Vivaldi.

He’ll play Barbies with his sister.  And run his monster truck over them in the next breath.

He loves video games.  And reading.

He’s got a mohawk and loves tattoos.  But will put on his cowboy boots and button his shirt all the way up and call it good.

He’s particular about language, but will loudly sing the wrong words to the songs on the radio.

Seven years ago, I couldn’t imagine life with a boy.  Now I can’t imagine life without him.

Categories: kids | 2 Comments

No soup for you!

Or for me, either.

For this week’s Meatless Monday, I planned on making soup in the crock-pot.  I like my crock-pot and I love soup, so this was the perfect combination.  Add in the cold weather and I couldn’t go wrong.  Or I thought I couldn’t.

I was going to make Ribollita, a delicious Tuscan vegetable soup.  Usually this is made on one day, refrigerated overnight, then reheated the next day.  Slices of bread are added to thicken it, making a hearty meal out of a simple bowl of soup.  I made it two years ago using a recipe from Williams-Sonoma,and really liked it, but I didn’t like the process of spending hours cooking a soup only to stick it in the fridge.  When I saw this recipe in this month’s Food Network magazine, I thought I’d give it a try.

You know the saying “If it’s too good to be true, it probably is”?  Yeah…  Even Nick, who will eat just about anything and is pretty tolerant of my cooking flops, muttered something about being The Great White Knight of All That is Tasty Goodness and exclaimed “This soup shall not pass!”

To start with, the soup was pretty bland.  I expected this because the vegetables aren’t sauteed before being put in the crock.  Lightly caramelizing the onions, carrots, celery and garlic adds a layer of flavor and color to the soup, as well as softening the vegetables.  I thought substituting half of the water with vegetable broth might compensate for the flavor and the pancetta I omitted from this recipe.  I also added tomatoes, thyme and a bay leaf, and though they added some flavor to the soup, it just wasn’t enough. The biggest problem with this recipe, however, is that the beans, even after 9 hours of cooking, were not cooked through.  I don’t know about you, but I don’t expect my northern beans to have a crunch to them.

I think this recipe could be saved with a little bit of work.  First, the beans would need an overnight soak.  I don’t think there’s a way to get around this, unless you want to use canned beans – and I’m not sure how they’d hold up to the long cooking time.  Second, a couple of onions and 2 or 3 cloves of garlic need to be added to the recipe and the vegetables need to be caramelized.  I’d brown the tomato paste with the veggies for a minute or two and add in a can of tomatoes.  I’d toss that into the crock, add the water, cabbage, beans, thyme and a couple of bay leaves (and the rest of the ingredients in the original recipe).  *  It would add another 15 minutes to the prep time in the morning, but I think it would be worth it in terms of flavor.  Finally, I’d add the bread slices to the soup earlier.  The 10 minutes listed in the recipe was not enough time for it to dissolve.

I may give this another shot next month with my changes and, if I do, I’ll let you know how it comes out.  For now, I’m going to go digest the baby back ribs I used to soothe my Meatless Monday feelings of failure.

* If I were making this with pancetta, I’d brown it until just crisp, remove it from the pan, add a bit of oil to the pan and brown the veggies.

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We love pizza.

There’s not a person in this house that doesn’t love pizza.  Whether it’s Pizza Hut’s greasy, cheesy pan pizza, the mac & cheese pizza at CiCi’s, or the belly-busting Chicago style pie at Uno’s, we’ll devour it and ask for more.  I’ve made pizza at home, although not too often.  It can be a time consuming process, especially if I make my crust from scratch.  Most of the time, I’m more than happy to pay for someone else to go through the trouble of making it.

But a year or so ago, we tried a pizza recipe given to us by a friend of mine, who in turn found it in a vegetarian cookbook.  It became Noelle’s favorite after the first slice and, I have to admit, it’s pretty damn good.

The recipe is titled Dinner for Henry and it’s the pizza on the right.  Now, I know it looks weird and you’re probably thinking that butternut squash does not belong on pizza  – I was skeptical at first – but it works.  I’ve lost the recipe since the last time I made it, so I ended up winging it.  I roasted some butternut squash with some olive oil, salt and pepper until just tender, caramelized some onions, and toasted some pine nuts.  I spread all of that out on a crust (Pillsbury this time), crumbled some goat cheese and a little parmesan over the top and popped it in the oven.  I have to say this is one of my favorite pizzas (and Noelle will be ticked off when she finds out I ate the last slice for breakfast this morning).

The pizza on the left is sausage and more caramelized onions.  I sprinkled some provolone and blue cheese on top of that.  It was good, but the blue cheese was overpowering.  I think I would use about half next time (2 oz) and up the provolone.  I also think it needs something under the sausage – maybe a light ricotta sauce.

Pizza number three was a take off on a bread recipe I saw a while back.  The original recipe had oven-dried tomatoes and fontina cheese on rosemary focaccia and it looked amazing.  I spread some pesto over the crust, sprinkled the top with sun-dried tomatoes (well-drained) and a five cheese pizza blend.  Okay, that’s really nothing like the original, is it?

I definitely could have used more pesto.  I was worried that it would over-power all the other flavors, so I only used 2 or 3 oz spread thin over the crust. Next time, I’ll double the pesto.

Of the three, the butternut squash pizza was the clear favorite, with the pesto-tomato pizza coming in second.  The sausage one was such a flop that I just may try something new next time – maybe chicken with caramelized onions and roasted red peppers…

Categories: food | 2 Comments

I’m not doin’ nothin’!

Imagine that said it my most innocent voice.

It’s time to change the blog theme – it’s almost spring and the wintery theme that was up was just not working for me.  I want color!  I want greenery!  I want the outdoors!

I settled on this theme for now, but don’t get too attached to it.

And I’ve been working on something else in between schooling the kids, washing the mountain of laundry that’s in the laundry room and messing around with the blog – jammie pants!  My nephew, Maxwell, requested jammie pants for his birthday next week.  I raided my fabric stash (which is, sadly, low on boy print fabrics) and found some that I think he’s going to like.

Now I need to stop fooling around and get the kids back to their lessons.  We’re almost done for the day and it’s not even 1:30!

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It’s Pi Day!

In celebration of Pi Day (3.14), we made pie.

The kids put together a Mystery Pecan Pie…

…while I made a chicken pot pie.

A quick game of Skip-Bo replaced the reading of Sir Cumference and the First Round Table and the kids went to bed after a happy discussion of what we’d do for Approximate Pi Day (22/7).

Categories: family, food, learnin' | Leave a comment

Sticks and some string

The weather is slowly getting warmer here, but I am continuing to knit.  I had promised Malcolm I would make him a pair of fingerless mitts a while back and, with the same memory that can recall a hint at ice cream and the possibility of playing MarioKart, but cannot recall that he’s not allowed to sit on the couch without underwear on, he held me to it.  The fact that they had a connection to the most precious thing in the world to him is probably what spurred his constant nagging encouragement.

The duplicate stitching for the mushroom was a pain in the butt, to say the least, but not too shabby for my first attempt.  I would much rather have had the colorwork incorporated into the pattern and I may try my hand at rewriting the pattern when I make a larger size.  (Yikes!  Am I really going to alter a pattern?  That’s always seemed like experienced knitter stuff and something for those well versed in pattern making and math.  But, well, why not?  I almost always adjust recipes when I cook, so why should I follow a pattern?)

For those interested, the pattern for the Mario Mitts is found here.  I used Swish wool from Knitpicks for the main body of the mitts and some leftover  scraps (origins unknown) for the mushroom.

After some time off, I started my next project (I’m supposed to be making a pair of mitts for Noelle, but need a break from tiny needles).  I’ve knit quite a few dishcloths in the last 6 months – they’re quick, nearly mindless to knit and I’m slowly but surely using up the unholy stash of Sugar and Cream cotton I bought after learning to crochet in 2005.  Anyway, in searching for a new project, I came across a pattern for linen hand towels. I figured since I was making dishcloths, I could make some hand towels.  We never seem to have enough no matter how many I buy.  And I just happened to have some linen yarn sitting in my stash.  I have three balls of it, so I bought it for a reason.  But it’s been sitting there for almost 3 years and I just can’t remember why I bought it.  I’m sure I’ll think of it once I’ve bound off, though.

I have to say that I really dislike this yarn.  It’s stiff and scratchy and there is no give at all.  It hurts my hands and, as a result, I’m not progressing as quickly as I’d hoped.  I will finish it, probably during a marathon of Firefly this weekend.  I’m trusting the yarn will wash up as soft and drapey as it claims it will or I will be seriously po’d.  I’ll let you know.

Noelle started a new project this week.  She came to me on Thursday and said “Mom, I have the urge to knit something.”  After determining the amount of time she wanted to invest and her interest in learning a new technique, I gave her a list of options – coffee cozies, a scarf or poncho for her American Girl dolls, more beanbags, legwarmers, or a pillow cover for her room. She decided to make some cup cozies for our not-so-infrequent trips to Starbucks.  I was surprised – she’s shown curiosity when seeing me knit in the round, but was adamant about not learning to do it herself.  She sorted through our button stash (to add some pizzaz to the cozie), picked out a coordinating yarn and settled in to learn how to knit in the round using four needles.  It’s slow going, but she’s picked it up and will fly through the rest of the pattern once the ribbing is finished.

In addition to the knitting I want to work on this weekend, I’m going to be sewing up some pajama pants for my nephew.  I raided my fabric stash (of which there is sooo much more of than yarn) for material and that sent Noelle and Malcolm running for pencil and paper to make wish lists of things they want me to make for them.  If Noelle is old enough to knit, I think she’s old enough to run a sewing machine, right?  Right?

Categories: knitting | Leave a comment

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