Monday, August 31, 2015

Easy, No Knead, Vegan Challah

So, this is the challenge: create a bread that is moist, tender, flavorful, mildly sweet, & pulls apart into tasty layers when you tear it. But, it doesn't have eggs, butter, milk or oil. Oh, and did I mention that it should be super-easy to make?

Well, some friends recently asked me if I knew of a recipe that would do just that. I didn't. So, I did some online research for them. I couldn't find anything that was JUST right.

I always make bread by the Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day method  (and, I think EVERYONE should own their book!). I sought to use that method, but vary it so that it would be Vegan and Oil Free, and, of course, delectable. I also found a festive loaf recipe by Bryanna Clark Grogan, but it wasn't JUST what I was looking for - and it was a old fashioned recipe requiring kneading. So, I took those two ideas and ran with them.

I set about experimenting to create just the perfect recipe. It took a lot of tweaking, but the more I played with the idea, the more great variations I ended up with. Challah, Tsoureki, Crescent Rolls, Brioche a Tete, Greek Olive Rolls, Dinner Rolls . . . . and the variations are still being created. I hope to feature many of these recipes in the months to come.

The use of Tapioca Starch, Potato, and Sugar tenderizes & moisturizes the dough, and make a moist, tender, fluffy loaf without the use of oil or eggs. 

I'm featuring Challah today, because it is a very good "Basic" recipe from which the other variations can be made. And, it's pretty. And, well, this is the season for it! : )

It is SOOO easy to make - and produces such spectacular results! This recipe produces 2 loaves, 2 pounds each. (You could also make 4 small one pound loaves if you so desire)

Easy, No Knead, Vegan Challah **** (Scroll Down for Smaller Batch)
Measure into a 6 quart container*, in this order
3 Cups Warm Water (baby bath water temperature. If in doubt, make it too cool rather than too warm)
5 1/4 Cups Unbleached, All Purpose Flour
1/4 Cup Tapioca Starch (I get this cheap at the Asian Ethnic Market) (you can substitute Cornstarch, if you like)
1 Cup Potato Flakes (yes, that's right, the stuff people use to make Instant Mashed Potatoes)
1/2 Cup Sugar
1 Tablespoon Yeast
1 Tablespoon Salt
Stir well with a spoon till no patches of dry Flour remain.

The dough should look like this right after you stir it.

Cover loosely with lid (don't fasten so securely that it cannot "breathe")
Leave it on the counter for 2 to 5 hours.
Now, put it in the fridge till you're ready to use it **

The dough should look like this after it has sat out on the counter for 2 to 5 hours.


Note - do not "Punch Down" this kind of dough. 

When you're ready to bake the bread, remove it from the refrigerator and dust it VERY WELL with Flour. This is a moist, sticky dough, so don't be afraid to use lots of Flour!

Oil your pan (I use a Perforated, Non-stick Pizza Pan, like this one for baking)

 Gently Divide the dough in half, and divide one half into three pieces. Pull each piece into a long rope & dust with flour again. Lay the strands side by side, and braid them. It works best if you start at the middle and braid toward the end. If you've never braided bread before, this is a great tutorial post - but because of its lower gluten content, you may find this dough a little easier to form into ropes that the bread in the tutorial.

Shape another loaf with the second half of the dough if desired***, or return the remaining dough to the refrigerator to use later. This dough CAN be kept in the fridge for a week or more and still be quite good to use, but with this particular dough, you'll find the fluffiest, sweetest results if you bake it within a day or two of mixing.

Leave to rise for 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit, and bake in the middle of the oven, without steam for 35-40 minutes.

For best results, cool before serving.

Small Batch Easy, No Knead Vegan Challah
 (Makes 2 pounds of dough - for one large loaf or two small ones)
Follow above directions, but use these amounts
I prepare a batch this size in an 8 Cup Container - the one in the above pictures.
Be sure to add in this order:

1 1/2 Cups Warm Water
2 1/2 Cups + 2 Tablespoons Unbleached, All Purpose Flour
2 Tablespoons Tapioca Starch (you can substitute Cornstarch, if you like)
1/2 Cup Potato Flakes
1/4 Cup Sugar
1/2 Tablespoon Yeast
1/2 Tablespoon Salt

Stir well, then follow above directions - the same as for a large batch.

* For my 6 Quart Container, I use a new plastic shoe box from the Dollar Store.
** This dough CAN be used the day it is made - but it is a tad easier to shape after it is refrigerated.
*** If you bake two loaves at the same time, put one loaf on the middle rack, and one on the bottom rack. Then, set a timer to switch their positions half-way through baking, so that they brown evenly both on the top and on the bottom.

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Monday, August 24, 2015

10 Home School Lessons from A.C.E. Curriculum

A Page from my A.C.E. School Yearbook
I am a homeschooling Mom, but when I was a child, Homeschooling in our state could land a parent in jail. But, Prayer had been removed from public schools, and public schools also weren't teaching phonics-first (most still don't!), so Mom sent us to Christian schools. She made great sacrifices to do this, since she was a widow, and we didn't have much money.

When I was in 6th Grade, I went to a very small Christian School that used A.C.E. Curriculum. It was quite possibly the best academic experience of my life*, because it taught me skills that I have used constantly since then. The skills I learned did not depend on using A.C.E. Curriculum, but they were habits that were encouraged in users of that curriculum. These principles have been a great help to me, not only in my own life, but as a homeschooling Mom; I apply these principles when I teach my daughter.

1. Kids should learn academic self-discipline. In the A.C.E. program, each student was expected to make his or her own lesson plan. At the end of each day, we were to make a plan of what materials we would cover the next day. When I later transferred to public school, then went to college & grad school, if I knew what the syllabus said, I never again had to wait to get an assignment to start it. Nor did I have to wait for the night before the due date to get it done. I had learned to plan my own time. This inspired my 2 1/2 Minute Homeschool Lesson Planning which allows my daughter to plan her own lessons.

2. Kids should not be left to themselves academically. Although we were expected to be self-disciplined with our lesson planning, we were not left to choose what or whether we would learn. We regularly heard "Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it." (Proverbs 22:6) Children were expected to be raised in the Faith and in life skills by Christian adults who would guide them in the right way.

3. Don't move on until you "get it." When a new student started at the school, he or she was given a placement test for each subject, and then was given materials in the proper grade level for each subject. A student could be 11 years old, and doing 10th grade math, but 3rd grade reading if that was what they needed. Because, you really can't do 6th grade reading if you haven't mastered 3rd grade reading. Students were also given "patches" for areas of difficulty. I remember one girl in 7th grade was given a 1st grade workbook on how to tell time. She had never learned before. Then, when she finished that, she immediately moved up to 6th grade math. Many parents worry that Mastery type curricula are too easy, since the student isn't doing things that are as flashy as their peers. But the schools that are really "dumbed down" are the schools that pretend to teach Algebra & Latin to students that cannot read English competently or do simple Addition with accuracy.

4. A "C" is NOT passing! Mediocre work was not accepted. An 85% was passing - and only just. A person who got a 70% on an exam simply did not understand the material, and had to do it again.  This was such a blessing when the student moved to more difficult work. It is scary to think that when I go to the hospital, I might be treated by a doctor or a nurse who had "passed" an important class with a 70%.

5. If you work hard, you'll be able to play more! If we finished the assignment we made ourselves, we were done for the day! There was no homework unless we slacked off. There was a "light at the end of the tunnel" for each day's work.

6. You can't have too much Religion! As a student, I was quite worried about my A.C.E. school. It was "unaccredited," AND I spent THREE HOURS EVERY DAY on religion! We had Opening Exercises for 1/2 hour in the morning, then Private Devotions for 1/2 hour, then academic work to do in Bible and Church History, then afternoon Chapel! I was convinced that I was falling behind academically, and would be in bad shape when and if I transferred to public school. When I did transfer to public school, the Principal was also certain that I would be doing badly. He threatened my Mother, "Well, you've had your girls in an unaccredited school. We'll have to test them and see if they're at grade level. If they're behind, we'll have to put them back a few grades. But, we'll let them go ahead and start school at the level you say they should be at." A few weeks later, Mom called the Principal. Why hadn't we been tested yet? Well, as it turns out, we were at the top of our respective classes (I had NOT been at the top of my class before A.C.E. - I had been a mediocre student) - and he wasn't going to bother. You see, learning about the Bible teaches a lot of other skills like reading comprehension, logic, and historical understanding. But more importantly, God blesses the study of His Word.

7. A little motivation goes a long way. A.C.E. had a motivational system. Each week we could earn various privileges for doing an appropriate amount of school work, volunteer work, and Bible memory work. At the highest level of privileges, we were free to take a break any time we wanted. You can bet that I made sure I had the highest level of privileges every week!

8. Read for content. Most A.C.E. materials were workbook-based. There was a lesson to read, then there were fill-in-the-blank questions to answer that made sure we had distilled the important information from what we had read. Then, there was a test at the end of the workbook to be certain that the material had been retained. This approach helped me learn to read quickly for content, a skill that was a huge blessing in the subsequent years of schooling.

9. Learn Phonics First! Our school was very small - only about 100 kids in grades K through 12. So, those of us who were in 5th - 7th grade were on the other side of an accordion-curtain from the Kindergarten. All day, every day, I could hear the rigorous, intensive, phonics-first instruction given to the Kindergartners. There was no sight reading in sight! And, I still remember at the final assembly of the year, hearing those 5 year-olds (who were dressed in cute little suits and dresses) reading to all of us - long passages, straight from the King James Bible - without a flaw!

10. You can teach yourself most things you need to learn. Most people feel that if they need to learn something, they should sign up for a class, attend at inconvenient hours, and pay a lot of money for someone to teach them. Then, if the material is not properly spoon-fed by the instructor, they don't know how to study on their own, and they blame the instructor for their failure. But, I learned that most learning can be done by simply sitting down with the materials by myself regularly and studying on my own. After that, if I hit a snag, I could ask for help from a professional.

*Although I am a big fan of many ACE distinctives, I have not chosen the curriculum for my own use. I am a Greek Orthodox Christian, and the ACE Curriculum, while officially non-denominational, would not work for our family doctrinally. Besides which, I really LOVE customizing my own curriculum and having the relationship advantage of teaching my daughter face-to-face.

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Monday, August 17, 2015

How to Fix Sticky Spaghetti

We've all had it happen. Cook Spaghetti for dinner, drain it in the colander - then wait a few minutes.

There's a good chance that your Spaghetti is sticky! For most of us, that's not the ideal way to eat Spaghetti.

Now there are a few methods of preventing sticky spaghetti:


1) Put a little oil in the cooking water. This is not very effective, and for those who must avoid oil for health reasons, it is problematic.

2) Buy a brand that is less inclined to become sticky. This can help, but it's not an exact science.

3) Leave the Spaghetti in its cooking water - and just add a cup of very cold to stop further cooking. This was my Mom's method - and a pretty effective one. But, as you serve the Spaghetti, you have to wait for each serving to drain so that you don't get water on the plate, which could result in watery sauce.

But, let's assume that you've already drained your Spaghetti, and it turned sticky on you. What do you do NOW?

Here's my trick - and it works quite well:


Run cold water over the Spaghetti in the colander, tossing the Spaghetti to rinse all sides thoroughly. This will un-sticky it.

Then, simply rinse in your hottest tap water to re-heat, or for even hotter Spaghetti, microwave it hot again.

This works great for me, and is so easy to do.

By the way, when I have leftover Spaghetti, and am preparing it for refrigeration or freezing, I rinse it well in cold water, then add a couple of spoonfuls of water to the container to keep it moist. Then, when I remove the container from the fridge, the Spaghetti isn't sticky.

To thaw frozen Spaghetti, I simply rinse it well in hot tap water - it thaws and warms at the same time. If serving diners who don't like food piping hot (as is often the case with children), you'll find that you might not even have to heat the Noodles additionally after thawing in hot tap water : )

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Monday, August 10, 2015

Design Your Own Mini Unit Study

Design your Own Unit Study using a favorite book!
The first time I ever designed a Mini Unit Study, it was quite accidental. I'm not a "Unit Studies" sort
of Homeschool Mom - or at least, I didn't think I was.

( Personally, I don't care for Home School or Parenting Labels - and I refuse to wear one ; )

It all happened when my daughter was reading Ramona the Pest by Beverly Cleary. I had really enjoyed the book when I was a kid, and wanted to share the joy with my daughter, so I scheduled into our Home School Reading plan.

If you've ever read the book, you know that early on, Ramona's Kindergarten class sang the National Anthem. But, Ramona was not familiar with the Anthem, and didn't understand its words. She misunderstood the phrase "Dawn's Early Light" and began to think of the song as the "Donzer Song."

Well, imagine my horror when I discovered that my daughter didn't "get" the joke - she didn't know the National Anthem any better than Ramona did! And then, I thought - where do American kids usually learn the Anthem? Well, either at "Far Away School" (as we call traditional school in our house) or at Ballgames.

My Daughter was unfamiliar with both venues : )

So, we looked up the National Anthem on Youtube. We found a recording that had the words, and also included the last verse - which is distinctly Christian : ) And, we listened to it every day, and sang along until we had learned it!



Well, that wasn't quite enough to suit me, because the words in the song were just as abstract to my Daughter as they were to Ramona.

So, we got the book, The Rocket's Red Glare by Peter Alderman from the Library, and we read about the writing of the National Anthem.

And, that only created more questions.

The next thing we knew, we were looking up the history of Ft. McHenry, locating Chesapeake Bay on the Map, and finding out about the causes of the War of 1812 (mind you, my daughter is young yet, so we didn't study these things in the kind of depth that a high school student would!).

And, I realized that, whether we were a "Unit Study" family or not - we had just done a Unit Study of sorts!

Since then, I have created several Mini Unit studies. Unlike Purchased Unit Studies, I generally just prepare these as we read. A book creates questions as we're reading, and we have to answer the questions - so we do! This is an almost-no-work method for the Home Schooling Parent! : )

Most often, our resources are simple: Wikipedia, Youtube, and topical Children's Books from the Library.

So - I've created this list of Unit Study Generating Ideas that we can use over & over whenever we read a book. We don't necessarily answer every question for every book - these questions simply act as a springboard for designing a study that fits our needs and interests.

 

Steps to Design Your Own Mini Unit Study 


Choose a Children's Chapter Book (ones that are set in history are really easy & fun to work with):
Right now, we're reading a great book, Anna Maria's Gift by Janice Shefelman, so I'll use that as an example. We didn't use all of these ideas on this book - just some of them - these are questions that we can use and re-use for every book we read and examples of how to answer them using a single book. We simply do those projects that seem most helpful each time rather than get bogged down in doing too many projects per book.

1. Read about the Historical Time Period (Wikipedia usually works here). 

What was life like in Europe in the 1700's?

2. Find the Geographic Setting on the Map, and learn about the Places. If you're reading about George Washington, check out the Mt. Vernon website. If you're reading about Egypt, find out about Pyramids & the Nile River. 

Here, we're finding out about Venice Italy. Where is it, and what is/was it like?

3. Google Images for Cities, Holidays, etc mentioned (use parental guidance here - have your child turn away while you scan the images before sharing them - ask me how I know . . . )

We looked up images for Venice, Gondolas, and Venetian Carnival Masks. 

4. Look up New Vocabulary

 What is a Basilica, a Gondola, a Prioress?

5. Prepare & Dine on the foods featured in the book. 

The Orphans in the book breakfasted on Bread & Chocolate. Tough assignment, but somebody's gotta do it!

Of course, you could also feature other Italian dishes that were available in the 1700's. Do a little research to find out if Italians ate Pasta back in those years as you might expect. When was Pasta imported to Italy from China? (Hint: Marco Polo). You might find something like this.

6. Listen to any music mentioned - This can be as simple as Youtube or as fancy as attending a concert!

In this book, young Anna Maria plays Vivaldi's D Minor Concerto to her dying father (that's not a spoiler - it's in the first chapter). We listened to it on Youtube to make the story come to life




7. Read a Children's Biography of any Historical Figures featured in the book.

The composer Vivaldi plays a prominent role in this book - I expect we'll be looking for a children's biography of him soon!

8. Research Religious Principles mentioned (this works whether or not the book has a religious setting or religious characters - indeed, the example could be negative instead of positive). 

In this book, the Anna Maria is greatly offended by another character and struggles with forgiveness. Also, Vivaldi and the Nuns dedicate their time & indeed their lives to helping Orphans.  Two great moral lessons to learn.

9. Memorize a Bible Verse that Illustrates the Moral to the Story.

You don't have to be a great Biblical Scholar to find a verse that fits! Simply do an internet search for "Bible Verse, Forgive" or "Bible Verse, Orphan" and you'll get lots of nice options, like these:
Bible Verses on Forgiveness
Bible Verses about Orphans
Then, choose one to learn : )
Or, you can even go to Youtube and search for a song to help you memorize the verse or principle. This can take a few minutes to find exactly what you're looking for, but is well worth the trouble. Since my daughter is young - we sometimes pick songs for young kids. Like this:


Or, you can choose a more grown up style, like this

We also have several CD's of Children's Bible Memory Songs to choose from.

If you already know a verse, song, or hymn on the subject, recite or sing it together. 


10. Research any technology discussed in the book & find out about when & how it came into being, and how it worked. Did the characters encounter magnets, a catapult, a castle, a boat, a bow & arrow? If you're really technically minded, build a scale model : )

 In this book, the construction of Venice is briefly discussed, and the characters ride in a Gondola - both would be worthy of research 

11. Create an art project that depicts an item or scene from the book (this can be a simple drawing, or a 3-D sculpture - your call!)


The obvious choices here are making a Venetian Carnival mask, or a project involving a Gondola or a Violin

12. Locate the events on a timeline, and determine their relationship to the rest of history (Were these things before or after Jesus lived on Earth? Were your Grandparents alive when these things happened? Etc) 

This book takes place during the life of the composer Vivaldi - locating that on a timeline, and also discussing Baroque Music trends during that time period would fit in quite nicely.

13. Research Foreign vocabulary, and learn some of the rules of pronouncing words & names borrowed from that language.

 When do Italians use the title "Don" (I was surprised to find that the author did not misspeak when she said "Don Vivaldi" - I had no idea that the title "Don" was also used for Priests! One of the Characters in the book is called "Francesco" - is that pronounced "Fran-ses-co" or "Fran-ches-co" and why? : )

14. Math Questions. There are seldom Math questions IN a children's book, but that doesn't mean you cannot easily create math exercises that come from the text - after a little practice, your kids will be able to do this themselves. Think of dates, ages, quantity, distance, speed & time, and how to compare them. Like this:

How far is it from Cremona to Venice? How fast does a horse drawn carriage travel? Then how many hours were Anna Maria & Sister Bianca traveling at the beginning of the book.

The Events of this book happen in 1715. Assume Anna Maria is 9. What year was she born? Who is Pope in 1715? What year did he take office? How long did he serve? How many more years will it be from the date of this book until the next Pope serves?

How many years did Vivaldi write? How many compositions did he create in those years? How many was that per year? (this one will require Wikipedia or other research)

Imagine that you run the Refectory at the Orphanage. Assume there are 16 Orphans. Each girl gets two rolls and one ounce of chocolate every day for breakfast. How many rolls do you make every day? How many ounces of chocolate do you buy? If chocolate costs 2 Lire per Pound, how much do you spend on chocolate every week?

How many years after this book was the American Revolution?

What date did the last book we read happen in? How much before or after that book is this book?

How fast does a Gondola travel (again, research) - how far is it across Venice? How long would it take a Gondolier to travel across Venice?

Well, you get the idea . . . .

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Monday, August 3, 2015

Five Muffins from your Own Mix

Need a little something special to put in that lunchbox? Or a breakfast treat for overnight guests? Muffins are a mainstream treat with broad appeal. They're super tasty comfort food - but these have the added benefit of being 100% whole wheat & very low fat! Besides all that, since you can whip them up from your own mix, they can be ready to bake in a matter of minutes. These are great to pop in the oven while you do the dinner dishes, or to bake for weekend guests while the coffee is brewing - they're really that easy! : )

If you whip up the Stuffed Veggies Muffin Mix for your pantry, you're ready to make these five muffins in minutes:

      Zucchini Muffins



      Apple Cinnamon Muffins




      Vegan Pumpkin Mini Muffins


      Banana Walnut Muffins


      Cranberry Streusel Muffins






Note: I often add sugar & cinnamon (or just sugar) to the tops of muffins before baking for a special touch. If you're eating them warm & fresh, they're delicious this way. If you keep them for a day or two, though, the sugar will attract moisture and make the outsides sticky & damp. SOOO - either toast them in the toaster oven to re-crisp, or omit sugar topping in muffins that will be eaten from a lunchbox, or on the road. 

These freeze well after baking, making them a perfect treat to keep on hand to pack a quick lunchbox.

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