Saturday, May 26, 2012

Best laid plans...

For all sad words of tongue and pen, the saddest are these, 'It might have been.' 
-- John Greenleaf Whittier

I was planning French toast for breakfast tomorrow, operative word being was.

You might remember that I mentioned we have trouble keeping our GF "white bread" around long enough to make into French toast or breadcrumbs. It really is delicious stuff. However, I had managed to reserve a loaf and a half for tomorrow's breakfast, even if I used a bit for tonight's dinner (which I didn't, as it turned out).

The Giant Schnoz had another idea. While most of us were out doing yardwork, she stole the leftover gluten free bread from the plate on the back of the stove.

It's the sort of thing she would have done the first year or two we had her, and we learned to keep food well out of reach. (Even so, there was the time she climbed on top of the dining room table to reach the chocolate stashed on top of a six-foot bookshelf...) But she slowed down, gradually enough that we didn't really notice the change. She slept more, she stopped stealing food (we congratulated ourselves on how well her training was going), she grew more and more mellow.

She also developed serious health problems, like food allergies -- there were fewer and fewer things she could eat without getting sick. Her toenails were brittle and broke easily, sometimes at the place where the nail emerges from the toe, meaning a fair-sized vet bill to deal with the situation and head off infection. Lately she had two UTIs in a row. On a hunch the vet tested her thyroid and found it low. That number, along with her low white blood-cell count (a low count despite the fact she had a UTI!) made him pronounce her immune system "practically non-existent."

He prescribed thyroid, and with the thyroid her appetite came back, along with her energy. She became bright eyed and playful. She dropped her excess weight. She lifted her leash from its hook and paraded around, demanding a walk. She began to steal food off the table and kitchen counters, something she hadn't done for years. (Maybe our training wasn't so great after all...)

Oddly enough, this dog who had always been a bit klutzy about catching, suddenly developed the ability to catch treats in mid-air. Perhaps she's better able to concentrate? Or maybe her reaction time has improved with her less tired, less sleepy state?

While I rejoice that we have our Schnauzer back, with all her quirks and mischief (thanks to that daily dose of thyroid), I do regret the loss of tomorrow's French toast...   

Graduation, homeschool style

Last night Youngest and I went to a homeschool graduation and dance. Because of a crazy schedule, we arrived late, but it didn't seem to matter.

The church was packed out, standing room only, and a slide show was going on. We stood just outside the sanctuary doors, unnoticed except by the others standing there (most of them had restless small children who obviously just couldn't sit any longer). We watched the rest of the graduation from that vantage, a tribute to each graduate in turn: slideshow with music, parents speaking words of hope and encouragement over their graduate, the graduate responding with love and gratitude. In closing, the pastor called all of the graduating seniors to line up at the front of the church. He then went down the line, praying a blessing over each one, a blessing that reflected their individual personalities, talents and dreams, that each would be used of God in the coming years.

Next came the dance. Youngest held back at first, unsure, but when she saw that the first dance was a familiar one, even though it had an unfamiliar name (the "Scottish Polka"), she began to smile. (It was actually the second dance; we were downstairs going through the receiving line, congratulating each graduate, during the first dance. We found out later it was the Virginia Reel, another familiar dance.)

I wish I had a picture for you. Just imagine people skipping, spinning, sashaying, twirling, running (!), ducking under a human arch, bowing, marching, step-hopping, whirling, and more, flashes of color and movement going by like a whirlpool made up of people.

As far as I could tell, everybody danced who wanted to dance. No wallflowers! (Except for children under ten. In that confined space, with the mad whirl of dancers, it seemed a prudent course.) Even the caller put on a song during a break, came out from behind the microphone, and took a turn about the room with her husband.

I have never seen so much fun, enthusiasm, and energy in one place... Youngest danced up a storm, and was bubbling over with enthusiasm as we drove home.

It turns out that we know the family that was running the dance, and they promised to put us on their email list for the monthly folk dances. Sounds like a plan!

Interrupted baking: line up for success!

I don't know if I added the brown rice flour to my bread dough this time around.

I've been making the triple batches of Gluten-Free Brioche found in Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day. This is a lovely "white bread" reminiscent of the milk-and-honey wheat-based bread I used to make. I leave out the vanilla called for in the recipe, which allows me to use it for pizza dough and breadsticks as well as white bread, hamburger buns, dinner rolls, cinnamon swirl bread, cinnamon rolls, and more. It's slightly sweet due to high honey content, but my family likes it, even in savory recipes. (Makes great French toast when it stales, too, though it's difficult to keep it long enough for it to go stale. The stuff gets eaten within two or three days.)
(See how it rises?)

The way it works, you make a triple batch of dough, let it rise on the counter for two hours, and then keep it in the refrigerator for up to five days. Anytime you want fresh-baked bread, you take some out of the refrigerator, shape it, let it rise, and bake it. Easy-peasy!

(And believe me, does this bread ever rise. If I don't transfer it from the Kitchenaid bowl to my large dough-keeper container, it'll overflow the top of the mixing bowl onto the counter, even cascading down the cabinets to the floor like a slow-moving Niagara Falls. Great motivation not to get sidetracked!)

Speaking of sidetracked... back to this morning's bread dough...

People kept wandering in and out of the kitchen, talking to me, as I was measuring and dumping ingredients in the bowl. I lost track somewhere along the way.

I guess if the dough is not stiff enough after the dry ingredients have absorbed the wet, that'll be a clue... besides, if I decide to add an extra cup of brown rice flour to a triple batch of dough, it should still turn out right. At least, I hope so. Usually if the dough is not stiff enough, I add a little extra cornstarch. (Later: I mixed it up, and it seemed about the same as usual. So, I added no "extra" brown rice flour -- this time.)

I think I'm going to take a page out of Eldest's book. The last time she made brownies, I watched. She read the recipe through, got out all the ingredients (chocolate chips, coconut oil, sugar, eggs, vanilla, GF flour mix, cocoa, baking powder, salt) and lined them up on the counter ahead of time, and then put each container away as she added its contents to the recipe. Even though she was interrupted several times in the process, she never lost track. Now why didn't I think of that?

Sounds like a plan!

(p.s. I probably did add the brown rice flour the recipe called for, as today's baking of bread turned out beautifully. Yum. Perfect platform for tonight's tuna salad sandwiches.) 

Disclosure: The link above is an Amazon affiliate link. If you happen to click on the link and end up buying the book, I get a little something, and thank you!

Friday, May 25, 2012

Gluten Free Crepes!

It's a holiday weekend! How about something a little special for breakfast on Monday...?

One of our favorite lazy-morning recipes is crepes. When we first went gluten-free, crepes was one of the first recipes I tried to re-create for our wistful eaters. (Wistful because they were mourning the wheat that had made up such a major part of our diet up to that point...)

It took some tweaking. As it turned out, the key to tasty crepes was in the GF flour mix. Anything with bean flour was unacceptable. (Bean flour adds protein and fiber, but also a distinctive taste that my family won't touch with the proverbial ten-foot pole.) However, our go-to flour mix is perfect for crepes and pancakes.

Crepes are not as hard as they sound!

Here's all you do:

Beat four eggs with 1 to 1-1/4 cups of milk. Add a cup of flour and a pinch of salt and beat until smooth. Unlike pancakes, you don't want lumps. Let mixture sit and thicken while you heat your pan.

Now for crepes, I'll use either a curved-sided stainless steel frying pan with a fair amount of melted coconut oil, or my trusty cast-iron skillet, which requires a lot of oil for the first crepe or two and then develops wondrous non-stick capabilities. We do not use "non-stick" pans per se. Not only do they give off toxic fumes when heated at too high a temperature, but they can shed little particles of chemical non-stick substance into your food. Even if they're new and non-shedding, somehow I just don't trust them. Give me the cast iron skillet instead -- I'll give the high calorie first crepe or two to the people in our household how need the extra calories, and I'll eat the later crepes that require little or no addition of oil. But I digress...

Add grease to your pan (before we cut out dairy as well as gluten, I loved to use butter for this) and swirl the pan to spread the fat. Ladle enough batter into the pan to make a good sized crepe. Now wait. If you try to turn the crepe before it's set, you'll have a mess. You'll know it's set when it starts looking dry instead of wet on top.

Some people pride themselves on pale crepes with minimal browning. We're rather hit-or-miss. As long as they're completely cooked in the middle, and not burned on the outside, they'll disappear at our house.

Usually the first crepe or two are hard to flip, for some reason, maybe it just takes a little practice to warm up. Ease your spatula (the pancake turner kind) all around the crepe, under the edges, until it's loosened from the pan. Then push the spatula deep under the crepe, lift it up, and with a flip of the wrist, turn it over. It only takes a minute or two more to cook the other side, and then you can lift it onto a waiting plate.

I usually try to get a small stack of crepes done (and another cooking) before I let people know they can help themselves. Of course, this wonderful smell fills the air, so they're ready just as soon as I give the good word, standing at my elbow, plates in hand.

Our go-to crepe filling is very simple: just powdered sugar and fresh-squeezed lemon juice. We shake the powdered sugar onto the crepe through a sieve, and follow up with a good squeeze of a lemon wedge. Roll up the crepe and sprinkle some more powdered sugar on top, and voila! Deliciousness! Our girls can eat three or four crepes each, but then they're growing teens. I usually manage one or two.

Recently, our youngest decided to make chocolate filled crepes. She made a simple chocolate ganache (chocolate chips melted with cream), spread it on the crepes, rolled them, sprinkled them with powdered sugar, and drizzled with melted chocolate.
Doesn't that look yummy?

Here's the flour mix I use for just about everything except yeast bread:

2 parts brown rice flour
2 parts white rice flour
1 part tapioca starch
1 part cornstarch

(I used to use potato starch instead of cornstarch, but one of the girls insists it tastes like bean flour to her. Since we don't have problems with corn, it works for us. I guess if we couldn't use corn I'd have to investigate some other option, like millet flour or arrowroot.)


TOS Crew: Heritage History

Here it is, my final TOS Crew review for the 2011-12 voyage. I've been on the Crew for four cruises now, and it's time to disembark. It has been an amazing experience, and I have to admit I've been dragging my feet, procrastinating fiercely on this review, not wanting it all to be over. But all things must come to an end...

Speaking of which, we're ending with a "goodie" -- especially if you're a bookaholic, as I am. Heritage History provides resources for a living books approach to history. (What is a living book? Here's an explanation I wrote some time ago.)

Members of this year's Crew were given the opportunity to review one from a selection of history curriculum CD libraries, which range from ancient times to the modern era -- pre-1923. As any lover of vintage books and reading probably knows, 1923 is an important year regarding copyright issues. Editions of books published before that time are considered "public domain" which means they are free to copy and distribute without cost. You can find oodles of free e-books on the web, more every year. I remember combing the Project Gutenberg website for old books in our early days of homeschooling, when we were just discovering the delights of reading living books.

It still amazes me that in our early years of homeschooling, when someone would ask our girls to name their favorite subject, the answer would be "history." You see, I detested history in school.  I chalk it up to the difference between history textbooks, which suck all the life out of the subject, and living books. When we began our homeschool journey, we started with textbooks because it was all I knew. (We burned out pretty quickly, too.) We tried several approaches before stumbling upon Charlotte Mason's philosophies. Combining her methods with a good booklist, we got the feeling we'd hit the jackpot.

(Actually, sometimes I wondered what we were doing wrong, once we'd settled down to reading aloud together from interesting historical fiction and biographies, and having the girls tell back each story in their own words. It didn't seem like "school." It wasn't! It was learning!)

Heritage History has gathered together a large collection of books written before 1923, on three reading levels: elementary, intermediate, and advanced. The elementary books are not picture books, but most are at a fourth grade reading level or above. Advanced books are suited to high school students, and "intermediate" means just that. With books of all three levels on one Heritage Classical Curriculum CD, you have a virtual library for all ages.

 Along with e-books in three formats (view on the computer, read on an e-reader, or print and read), you'll find study helps. Introductory material explains the philosophy behind the collection. A printable Study Guide provides reading suggestions for each reading level, a list of study suggestions arranged chronologically, a map collection (both colorful vintage maps and outline maps suited to student mapwork) to go with the reading, and reproducible forms to keep track of your student's progress. In addition you'll find teaching aids, including suggestions for a course of history study. I printed out the Study Guide and put it in a binder for reference, but you can also read it on your computer.

Our family received the British Empire collection, which covers the time period from 1707 to 1922. (Let me tell you right now that it was hard to choose just one CD out of the collection!) Click here for a description of the materials, plus a book list. The CD contains the complete illustrated texts of 57 vintage books plus a collection of over 50 maps, along with all the study materials mentioned above (and more... I didn't even mention the battle dictionaries, geography terms, short biographies, or historical summaries!).  British Empire CD is available for $24.99.

If you want to get a flavor for the books, you can read them online at the Heritage History website, along with helpful discussions of how to use living books in your history studies. (I can't tell you how many e-books we've read online over the years, or printed out and put in a binder to read on the couch. One of the things I love about the Heritage History collection is that it pulls together books of a similar theme, time, and civilization and puts them in a format I can download to our e-reader.)

This is history the way we love to study.

Read more TOS Crew reviews of Heritage History materials at this link.

Disclaimer: Our family received a British Empire CD for review purposes. No additional compensation was involved.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

TOS Crew: Judah Bible Curriculum

This is such a big review, it's hard to know where to start! You see, the Judah Bible Curriculum is a product that you can use year after year, with your whole family, from the early years (kindergarten, perhaps) through grade 12.

This is Bible study according to the Principle Approach (click on the link for more detail). This curriculum is based in the values of the sovereignty of God and the responsibility of the individual (with an emphasis on self-government). This is no surface, shallow, fill-in-the-blank study, nor is it merely reading the Bible together and answering discussion questions. The methodology employed is aimed at getting the students to think about what they've heard or read, to interact with the material, to learn to use study aids and to take Bible learning into themselves, where it becomes such a part of them that they gain a deep understanding of God and His purposes and Providence.

"Building Godly character into your students" is also a stated aim of the curriculum, achieved through study of individuals and events and learning from biblical examples.

This is a teacher-intensive study. Don't expect to be able just to jump in. While there is plenty of helpful material to help the teacher prepare lessons, even examples of the first few lessons. You can get an idea of how a lesson works by viewing a sample. (One of the things I like about the sample is it gives you the opportunity to listen to the first in a set of teacher-training audios that come with the curriculum.)

In the course of study, you go through the Bible in a year, focusing on five themes, the first semester in the Old Testament and the second semester in the New (see this link for more detail). You repeat the themes each year, every year with a slightly different emphasis and more in-depth study. Work for little children is mostly oral, or drawing pictures, while older students learn to organize learning and express their thoughts in writing.

Within each theme there are keys to study: key individuals, key events, key institutions, and key documents (which may not just occur in written form). During your studies, you and your students will create notebooks -- but these are not mere records of study, but valuable tools for future study and teaching. (I found the booklet of sample pages from student notebooks very helpful!)

Together you will read Bible passages, memorize scripture, fill in key worksheets (so much more than mere worksheets), and, perhaps most importantly, begin to apply scripture to your life.

The key worksheets were somewhat familiar to our family, as some of them were similar to Bible and character study we've done in the past. I was impressed by the teacher helps on the website, along with the Judah Bible Curriculum Manual that explains the methodology as well as guides you in lesson planning. The fact taht you are planning the lessons means you have to work harder than if you just had a script to follow, yet it affords flexibility -- and also means that you'll be learning much more than you would just following someone else's plan.

Because you are studying through the same themes (Creation, the Plan of Redemption, worldly kingdom of Israel, God's Kingdom, and the Early Church) for each year, everyone in the family can be on the same page, in a manner of speaking, even while studying at different levels.

This is an amazing study, and I wish I'd had more time to explore it before this review's due date. However, this is one review product that we'll use, even after the review period has ended.

Pricing and availability

This curriculum is available at the Judah Bible Curriculum website.There are two purchasing options, a download for $44 (PDF e-books of the K-12 manual and a booklet of notebooking ideas, plus mp3s of the eight-lecture Teacher Training Seminar to download or listen online), or hard copies of the manual and notebook ideas, and CDs with the lectures, for $74.

Read more TOS Crew reviews of the Judah Bible Curriculum at this link.

Disclaimer: Our family received a download copy of the Judah Bible Curriculum for review purposes. No additional compensation was involved.

Saturday, May 12, 2012