Monday, August 11, 2014

Banana Drop Cookies

As I’ve discussed before, I do baking on Fridays, and that includes some kind of baked good for us to eat for breakfast on Saturdays.  This last Friday, I had some overripe bananas to use, but had misplaced my banana bread recipe.  Instead, I tried a recipe for banana drop cookies.  The recipe is an inadvertent variation on one I found in a magazine several years ago.  These cookies taste like banana bread, but have a very cake-like texture.  We all enjoyed them, especially the Bat. 

We ate them with apple slices and milk for the boys and tea for me the next morning.  If I were to make them as a dessert, they would go very nicely with cream cheese frosting as whoopee pies.  As a more nutritious option (perhaps as part of a child’s special lunch), they would work very nicely as the bread part of peanut butter sandwiches.

Banana Drop Cookies

Yields about 3 dozen

1c sugar (or a little less)
2/3 c oil or shortening
1 tsp vanilla
1 c mashed bananas (about 3-4 bananas)
2 eggs, beaten
2 ¼ c flour
2T baking powder
½ tsp salt
1 c chopped nuts (optional)
¼ c sugar (optional)
½ tsp cinnamon (optional)

  • Combine all the wet ingredients.   
  • In a separate bowl, combine the dry ingredients, except for the three optional ones.   
  • Stir the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients, and then add in the chopped nuts, if using.   
  • Drop batter by spoonfuls, 2 inches apart onto greased cookie sheets, and bake at 400 until the cookies start to turn golden on top—about 8-10 minutes.
  • Once the cookies are out of the oven, allow them to cool entirely before removing them from the sheets.  The cookies are very soft and will break easily otherwise. 
  • If desired, combine the sugar and cinnamon in a bowl, and dust the cookies with them after they have been removed from the cookie sheets.

To keep them whole, I stored the cookies vertically in small loaf pans and bagged the pans.  The loaf pans also made an attractive presentation on our breakfast table.

This post has been linked to MYHSM and Busy Monday.

The Train

My boys love trains, even the 18-month-old Elephant.  And with three children, I face the difficulty of having more children than hands.  In parking lots, on sidewalks, and in stores, my solution has been to form a “train.”  I am the engine, and the boys, lining up youngest to oldest, are my train cars.  I call "all aboard," and hold the Elephant’s hand, he holds the Eel’s, and the Eel holds the Bat’s.  If dh is with me, then on of us is the engine, and the other is the caboose.  As we start our walk, once we’ve all formed up, the engine makes honking noises, and the boys often chug as they walk.

I’ve seen other families have siblings hold hands, but they usually place the youngest on the outside, and that makes me nervous.  It also usually involves one child on one side of the parent and the other children on the other side.  I prefer having all three children on one side and selling it to them as a “train,” because it encourages them to walk single file.

Making a train works beautifully for keeping us all safe outside and for keeping little hands off of merchandise in stores.  Better yet, pretending to be a train gives them something to think about other than wanting whatever is colorful at their eye level.

This post has been linked to Busy Monday and MYHSM.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Alphabetical Language Arts

It's been a while since I've written about our homeschooling adventure.  We homeschool year round, with the school year beginning in the spring (after Passover).  I'm also using a homemade curriculum, in part because my husband and I own books that cover almost all the topics we want or need our boys to learn from K through 12.  The topics we can't cover with our existing collection we can easily cover for free online or at the public library, and I keep a running wish list on Amazon.

My other reason for designing my own curriculum (and for having school year round) is that the Bat is very energetic.  If he were in a classroom environment, he would be in the special education system for ADHD, if not other learning challenges. He benefits from flexibility, routine, plenty of time for play, and short lessons.  He needs lessons that stay on topic and does not enjoy art projects. I need short lessons that teach him the material in a very direct manner and tie the information in with things that are relevant to him.  I do not want a lot of busy work.  I also need lessons that I can use to promote self-direction, do not take me away from the other tasks in my day, and are easy to catch up on if we fall behind. And that's exactly what we have.

On Tuesdays and Wednesdays the Bat works on reading and writing.  I read aloud a couple of Aesop's Fables (an antique translation that was one of my great-aunt's school books) and the Bat works on writing letters--capitals on Tuesdays and lowercase on Wednesdays.  We're adding a new letter every week, and he will start doing copy work in the middle of the year, once we've gone through the whole alphabet.

Once he finishes his writing for the day on Tuesdays, we talk about the sounds made by the letter of the week, and I read aloud a short article about something starting with that letter, while the boys eat lunch.  On Wednesdays, the Bat works on his reading skills after he finishes writing.

Most of my read-aloud topics come from The Golden Books of Knowledge, six volumes of a set published in 1961 and previously owned by my father.  While some of the information, especially about countries, is out of date, much of it is still perfectly serviceable.  The article on irrigation, for example, is fine, especially when augmented with conversation on modern techniques, such as drip irrigation.  We will go through the alphabet in this way twice in the course of the year, and I've laid out what we will read about each week.  Some topics are historical (Pythagoras), others technological (steam locomotives), and others scientific (the heart).

Reading from these articles has been a huge hit, often leading to conversations on the topic long after the article has been read.  The article on clouds comes up frequently, as the boys try to identify the type of each cloud they see.  Reading the article on bridges led to days of play dedicated to building various kinds of bridges.  We also read "unassigned" articles as the Bat and Eel show an interest.  Particularly popular have been the articles on lightning (read whenever there is a thunder storm), cats, spiders, and crocodiles.  I especially enjoyed the article on aerial railways.  For Independence Day, we read the article on the early history of the United States (which led to extracurricular study for me about Kosciuszko, who was mentioned in the article but is oddly absent from more modern texts).

In future years, I plan to continue having regular, alphabetical topics.  Ultimately, I hope this habit will lead us to having 26 research topics throughout the year, with each topic provided one week for researching and writing a report and one for preparing and delivering an oral presentation, and the report and any materials from the presentation posted on each child's private blog.  Obviously, all of that is a long way off, but in the mean time, our current routine serves us very well and makes excellent use of our time.

Halfway through the "semester", here are the subjects we've covered:

  • Asia
  • Bridges (types)
  • Clouds
  • Dogs
  • Evergreen Trees
  • Forests
  • Gold
  • The Heart
  • Irrigation (types, purpose, and history)
  • Jungles
  • The Kidneys
  • Early History of Steam Locomotives
  • Muscles

In the coming weeks, we will cover:

  • Inland Navigation
  • Owls
  • Permanent Snow
  • Quince*
  • Plant Roots
  • Steamships
  • Tropical Fruits
  • The United States (the 50 states)
  • The First Vaccinations
  • Whales
  • X-rays
  • Yams*
  • Zebras*
*I'll need to find other sources for these subjects.

At this point, I'm very pleased with the system I've put in place, both because it has encouraged the Bat in his learning and eased the process for him and because it has enriched our family, providing us with a wide range of conversation topics that have been educational and enjoyable for all of us.

This post has been linked to WFMWThe Mommy Club, Hip Homeschool Hop, Busy Monday and MYHSM.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Apple Cores and Fruit Parings, Part 2

A few months ago, I wrote about using fruit parings to make mystery juice and using the pulp left over from that process in lieu of apple sauce in baking.  I'm still doing that, but with a slight variation:  I no longer remove the seeds.

My new routine after making juice is to mash the pulp, pick out leaves and stems (and pineapple cores, if applicable), and include everything else in baking.  The apple, pear, and melon seeds give breads and muffins a wonderful texture, much like that of store bought bread that contains sunflower seeds.  Of course, the seeds themselves are nutritionally rich, containing proteins, fats, and minerals not found in other parts of the fruit.

I've especially enjoyed this recipe as a breakfast bread.  Its a variation on one found in Auguste Gay's
New Presentation of Cooking (1924).

Luncheon Bread

2.5 c flour
5tsp baking powder
2 eggs, beaten
1.5 c whole milk
2 tsp sugar
2 T butter or oil

Combine dry ingredients.  Add in wet ingredients.  You should have a stiff batter, if not, add more milk.  Bake in a greased loaf pan (or two small loaf pans) f
or approximately 30 minutes at 375.

I used 1.5 c of fruit pulp (with seeds) and about 1/3 c milk in place of the milk called for in the recipe.  The resulting bread was delicious, if a little crumbly.  It is not a good sandwich bread, but it does quite nicely toasted with butter or eaten cold with cream cheese or peanut butter.  It does not taste at all like fruit.

In other news, I've also been reading about uses for the pits in stone fruits.  Apparently they can be boiled to give the boiling liquid (commonly milk) an almond flavor.  The pits, even once boiled, can also be roasted and cracked open, and the inner kernels (noyaux) can be eaten or used like almonds.  Indeed, I've read that apricots have traditionally been grown in part for their pits.  Only eat noyaux in moderation, though, as they do contain a significantly higher concentration of cyanide than almonds.  That said, they should not be entirely discounted as a food source, as people around the world have consumed them for centuries.

This post has been linked to WFMW, The Mommy Club, Hip Homeschool Hop, Busy Monday and MYHSM.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Full Hands and Heavy Hearts

As the mother of three young boys, I've started receiving comments about the size of my family.  Generally, the comments have been good-natured--
  • "Wow, you have your hands full"
  • "You must be busy"
  • "Are you going to try for a girl?"
And others along the same lines.  It's usually pretty obvious that the comments are meant well, but they can be hard to take.  I've lost four pregnancies.  I'm lucky to have the three children I have, but sometimes it's hard to look at those three and not notice the absence of others.  For many other women, family size is restricted by other circumstances:  fertility or health problems, loss or absence of a husband, late marriage, poor decisions earlier in life, or even the loss of a child.  Some circumstances are more traumatic than others, but all are very personal.

Likewise, it must be hard for women who struggle with infertility to overhear comments about the number of children other women have. And comments to young parents can be terribly hurtful, especially for those who work hard to make the best of an unexpected situation under adverse circumstances.  When it comes to comments about a parent's children, you never know when you might be bringing up heartache.

I've seen a lot of lovely platitudes about families coming in all shapes and sizes and about all families being beautiful. Let's keep our comments, especially to strangers along those lines.  I think the world would be a happier, friendlier place if we did.

This post has been linked to WFMW, Hip Homeschool Hop, Busy Monday, and MYHSM.

Monday, July 7, 2014

The Tale of Two Lunches

Lunch 1:

Perhaps you've heard of, read about, or experienced the revamped school lunch program.  These lunches are available free to low-income children who may not otherwise get a full meal during the day or at a low price to better off students.

For years, schools have drawn students into the program by offering junk food--hamburgers, corn dogs, pizza.  The accompanying milk and apples have always found their way, disproportionately to the rest of the meal, in the trash.  During that time parents have complained endlessly about the lack of nutritional quality.  Now, a new set of guidelines requires that these meals include something resembling a vegetable, other than french fries, limits on the amount of fat, and limits on the sodium and sugar found in the lunches.  

Children, like most people, love junk food and hate sudden changes--especially changes that involve removing junk food.  So can anyone really claim to be surprised that school children do not want to eat the new lunches?  What does surprise me is that, while schools complain that the new, more expensive lunches are winding up in the trash, PARENTS are complaining the their children are coming home hungry after refusing to eat their lunch.  Far too many parents, it seems, lack the intestinal fortitude to enforce on their children the fact that throwing away perfectly good food is not acceptable!  Instead, they are calling for the schools to change back to the old system!  Exactly how spoiled are we?!

Lunch 2:

Meanwhile in India, the Indian parliament runs a lunch program for its neediest students.  Students who may not otherwise have food, are provided with a small, protein-rich meal at mid-day in a country where two meals a day (morning and evening) is customary for most of the population (at least, from what I've read).  

Unfortunately, the corruption and prejudice have been serious problems in this program, resulting in an unsafe food supply and multiple problems, many of which have harmed school children.  In 2013, 47 students in a northern Indian school were hospitalized after being exposed to contaminated cooking oil.  Twenty-three of those children died.  Riots ensued.

The school cook, who said she was told to use the oil after complaining that it smelled bad, along with the headmistress, who ordered the oil be used because there was nothing else face criminal charges.

And the 47 sick and dead students?  They were hungry enough to eat food that smelled bad.  These were children placed by their parents in a program known for unsafe food.  This was not the first, nor has it been the last incident, just the worst.  Presumably, these parents only did so because the risk of hunger was believed to be greater than the risk of poisoning.

This latter case--this tragedy--is what real want and hunger and desperation look like.  And India is a relatively prosperous country.  We are not talking about Niger--one of the poorest nations on the globe. People who are actually hungry do not put perfectly good food in the trash, and people who really face hunger don't even throw away marginally or potentially good food.

I am fortunate that my family has never been so desperate, but we have been in the position of eating less than ideal meals and smaller portions than we desired because I didn't know when we would next be able to shop.  I have been in the position of insisting my children eat the food they've been given because we could not afford to waste anything.  My children have been denied snacks, because I could not afford to waste food on non-meals.

We, in the US, have been pummeled with the notion that a fifth of our children do not have adequate access to food, based on the number of children who benefit from SNAP--which, incidentally, provides funds that are triple my monthly grocery budget for a family the size of mine.  The number of children who benefit from the lunch program is used as evidence of the claim of widespread hunger.  Now schools are complaining of the expense of wasted food, that a million children have dropped out of the program, and over a million and a half children are no longer buying lunches at school.

I do not pretend that the new standards are perfect.  I think they leave a lot to be desired.  But they have been, in effect, an impromptu audit of the program--one that was, it seems, much needed.  And that audit has exposed the old system as a means of hooking children on fast food and prepackaged junk, rather than one of providing critical nutrition to the needy.

The parents in the first scenario have clearly not been so hard up as I have, and my situation, while not rosy, has been far from real poverty (as demonstrated in the second scenario). It's time to reevaluate the qualifying criteria for the school lunch program, and our attitudes about food in the United States.  It's time for parents to refuse to allow school cafeterias to serve as indoctrination camps for future patrons of the fast food industry.  And it's more than time to bring back home economics (for all students), so that the next generation of adults will be prepared to feed themselves nutritious food on a budget.

In the beginning of the original story of Pinocchio, shortly after the puppet gains consciousness, he complains to Geppetto of hunger.  Geppetto, being a good father, provides his young charge with an apple, which Pinocchio insists his father both core and peel.  After eating the flesh, Pinocchio is still hungry.  Geppetto insists that Pinocchio eat the peels.  When those are gone, and Pinocchio is still hungry, he insists that Pinocchio eat the pips.  Once everything but the stem is consumed, Pinocchio finds that he is no longer hungry, and learns not to be ungrateful for his food. Where are the Geppettos in this country?  It would seem that we have far too many Pinocchios.

Foolishness may be wrapped up in the heart of a child, but adults should know better.

This post has been linked to WFMW, Hip Homeschool Hop, Busy Monday, and MYHSM.

Soap is Soap

For the last few weeks I've needed to buy dish soap.  Somehow, it never made it on my shopping list, and a few days ago, I really ran out.  I couldn't go to the store that day, and I really needed to do dishes.  What's a girl to do?

I buy bulk hand soap, because dh likes the liquid stuff.  Being desperate, I combined hand soap and water in approximately equal amounts, and did the dishes. The soap went further than dish soap does, cut through dirt and grease more easily, and was far gentler on my hands.

I have now been using this combination for about a week, and I am still very pleased with the results.  I've written before about the lengths to which I go to try to avoid dishwater hands (frequently with limited success).  Using diluted hand soap on my dishes has eliminated my need for dish gloves.  And of course, I can't complain about having fewer products to buy or track.

This post has been linked to Busy Monday and MYHSM.