Thursday, August 23, 2012

Astrophysicist, stunt double, or....micro farmer?

Remember when you were a child and you used to play pretend? Army men, Cowboys and Indians, school, ballerina fairies? Why can't we still pretend like that? Be someone far more exciting than our own selves?

Husband and I recently attended a party near his old hometown on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. As we drove to the party, we mentally tallied the guest list and realized that we would only know one person, the host.

Turning to husband I said," You know what would be fun? Going to a party and pretending to be a completely different person! A whole new persona. We should do that! Who would know?"

Laughing, we decided that husband could be an astrophysicist (He works with a bunch and could probably answer simple questions.) Being covered with noticeable bruises and scratches, from helping a relative move last week, I tossed around BMX racer and a few other rough and tumble, but exciting, professions. Upon arrival we filled in our host; he suggested movie stunt double. And there we personas in place. Ready to make our entrance to society.

As the party progressed and we met new folks, references were made to various movies I had been in and to Husband's importance to the space program. However, somewhere in the middle of the evening my "real" profession was discovered.

But instead of titling myself as housewife/homeschooling mom the words " homeschooling micro farmer" sprouted from my lips. All of a sudden Husband and I were the center of attention.(Very ego boosting I must admit) "Microfarmer? That's so interesting!" "You raise your own meat chickens?" "Do you ship your eggs?" "Where can I get some?" "Can I buy my garlic from you?" "You preserve your own food? That is so awesome."

I'm sure the abundance of adult beverages had some part to play, but people were amazed that we are growing our own food, and have a bit left over to sell. In return I was dumbfounded that people on the Eastern Shore, land of factory chicken farms and roadside cantaloupe and corn stands would be so far removed from their food.

It was a great party. While it was fun being a stunt double for the evening, (thankfully no one asked for a demo) It turned out that I had a much better time being the real me, housewifery and all. We decided that being microfarmers was rather glamorous!

Monday, August 20, 2012

(Mis) Adventures with Sourdough

Middle son and his girlfriend, Blaine, were here for a short visit this month. Blaine was carrying with her a sourdough starter acquired from her Uncle Louis...which she was willing to share. Yeah!  A new thing to try. I like a challenge, which is a good thing, because this has been just that...a real challenge!

This isn't going to be a real how-to. There are many, many, many sites on how to make, keep, and use sourdough starter. I happen to be stubborn and want to use Uncle Louis's specific directions, even though they haven't yet resulted in edible bread. I'll just chronicle my mishaps; maybe you can learn what NOT to do.

After receiving the starter, I perused the 'net looking for advice on how to feed it and keep it alive. (Sourdough starter is at its most basic, a chemical reaction between the bacteria in the flour, the air, and creates it's own leavening agent. It must be "fed" periodically to keep that fermenting process going.) Uncle Louis said to keep it in the fridge, but I remember my mom keeping it on the counter. What I learned was that you can keep it in the fridge, it slows the process down, so you don't need to feed it as often.  And you can go away for a few days without hiring a sourdough sitter. Or you can keep it room temp and feed it more often. 

I opted for the fridge. When we lived in our old neighborhood Amish Friendship Bread made the rounds, which was kept on the counter and fed twice a day. I had starter in ziploc baggies everywhere....and no one would take it. It was like zucchini in August...everyone locks the doors when they see you coming with an armload.

Here're Uncle Louis' directions:
  1. 1. In a large bowl mix together 3 cups flour, 2 tsp. kosher salt, 1/2 cup sourdough starter, 1 1/4 cups water
  2. Mix thoroughly, cover, let sit overnight on the counter. (8-12 hrs)
  3. Scrape the dough out of the bowl onto a floured surface, let sit for 5 minutes.
  4. Stretch and fold over itself both ways twice. (kinda like a sheet) 
  5. Flip it over, gluten (stretched) side facing up. Sprinkle with some four if it is shiny. 
  6. Cup it in your hands (with a little flour) pushing the top upwards, then lay on floured surface and cover with a floured towel
  7. Preheat oven and cast iron pot (with lid) to between 430 and 450 degrees, the bread can sit for 20-30 minutes while the oven and the pot get hot. 
  8. Flip the dough, cover & bake for 30 minutes.  
  9. Uncover, cook for 30 more minutes, cool on a rack.  
  10. Add 1/2 cup flour to your starter and about 1/4 water, keep it on the counter overnight with the top loose, in the morning tighten the top and refrigerate it until you use it again.
Following the directions exactly, I got....a brick. Actually more like a stone. Very attractive, but my sharp bread knife didn't even dent the crust. 

Attempt number two, I made a few changes.
1. I kneaded it this time, until a finger pressed in it bounces back.
2. I didn't heat the pot when I preheated the oven.

Attempt number two also turned out like a stone. 

Attempt number three:
1. Took the starter out the night before and fed it. Left it on counter.
2. Let the dough rise for 10 hours rather than 8
3. And I did not knead it.

Attempt number three resulted in a slightly raised but very dense loaf, with a really tough crust. Also inedible. Lest you think this process has been truly wasteful, I will tell you that the bread did get eaten. All three loaves. Just not by people. (Chickens love sourdough rocks.)

By this time I was feeling quite the sourdough failure. So to cheer myself up, I made sourdough pancakes.

2 cups sourdough starter, room temperature (see below)
2 tablespoons sugar
1 egg
4 tablespoons melted butter
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon warm water

The night before using your sourdough starter, remove from refrigerator and let come to room temperature. Then feed the starter with flour and water. Let this sit at least eight (8) hours, preferably overnight. It is now ready to use in your sourdough pancakes.

In a large bowl add sourdough starter, sugar, egg, melted butter, and salt; mix well; set aside.

In a small bowl stir 1 teaspoon baking soda into 1 tablespoon of warm water. Important: Only add baking soda/water mixture to the pancake batter just before you are ready to cook the pancakes.

Heat your griddle and lightly grease it.

When ready to cook your sourdough pancakes, fold the baking soda/water mixture gently into the prepared pancake batter (do not beat). This will cause a gentle foaming and rising action in the batter. Let the mixture bubble and foam a minute or two before using.

For each pancake, pour approximately 1/4 cup sourdough pancake batter onto hot griddle.
When pancakes bubble, it's time to flip! Cook the pancakes 1 to 2 minutes on each side or until golden brown. Remove from heat and serve.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Preparing for Sixth Grade

Ah, Tuesday. The one day of the week that is usually errand free. Today is especially quiet, as the Boy is hanging out with a friend, building a tree fort in our side yard. Later they will head to a grandparent's home for an afternoon swim. 

So what to do with all my "free" time? A hot bath? Read a book? Hah! To begin with, I started a pot of tomatoes to simmer down into sauce, and also a pot of sauce to come up to temperature for canning. There's the never ending pile of laundry, a romp with the puppy, the garden to weed, and oh, yeah, I need to start preparing for school.

Yikes, we only have a handful of weeks left before our first day, traditionally the day after Labor Day. Usually I'm pretty well prepared come August. Not this year. I have not done one single thing to prepare. I haven't read any books, bought any supplies, hardly put any thought into it at all. Until this past weekend. It hit me....fall, and therefore school, is coming whether I'm ready or not. So I better get ready. Or at least get get ready.

For the past two years I have developed my own Waldorf style curriculum, based off a summer's worth of research and combining free/inexpensive resources. I have an aversion to pre-packaged curriculum and enjoy creating something that's entirely our own. But I am feeling burnt out. I just don't feel like it this year.

After discussing the subject with Husband, I decided to give myself permission to buy a few things that will ease some of the creative pressure. I tend to be really cheap when it comes to buying things that I can or could do myself. But doing so should allow time and energy to focus on other aspects like rhythm, field trips, social activities, handwork, and crafts. 

Giving myself permission was difficult, but not nearly as difficult as deciding what to buy. A naturally indecisive person like myself can get overwhelmed quickly by all the choices! There are lots of free resources that can give a person some ideas. There are a few packages that lay it all down for you: Live Ed, Oak Meadow, Christopherus (K-5 comes in a package, 6 and up is more piecemeal), Little Garden Flower/Waldorf Essentials, etc. I already know that I don't like a scheduled approach (Monday do x, y, and z). That helped to narrow things down. I want a guide, not detailed lesson plans for every subject, every day.

I started with my "go-to" resources: Marsha Johnson's yahoo group, Millenial Child, Bearth Institute, Path of  Discovery (Eric Fairman). From these sources I figured out Step I: What I want to cover this year:
  • First of all we need to review Egypt
  • Greece, which I didn't get to last spring
  • Geometrical Drawing
  • Astronomy
  • Business Math
  • Rome
  • Mineralogy
  • Physics
  • Middle Ages
  • And if I can get it in European Geography
In addition to the above subjects, the Boy is taking a formal Latin class at Lancaster Center for Classical  Studies. He will continue piano lessons with Tina Davidson, and will take a 5 week horseback riding course at River Valley Ranch. I still need to arrange handwork and woodwork classes with our co-op group.

Step II: I purchased the resources I needed:
  • Tales of Ancient Egypt (Green)
  • Roman History and Medieval History (Christopherus)
  • Making Math Meaningful (York) I bought the guide, teacher's work book, and puzzle book
  • String, Straightedge, and Shadow (Diggins)
  • Geology/Astronomy (Kovacs)
  • Ancient Greece (Kovacs)
  • Rome (Kovacs)
  • Earth, Water, Fire, and Air (Kraul) 
  • Compass Drawing (Harst and Weiderhold)
  • Painting and Drawing in Waldorf Schools (Wildgruber)
  • Geometric Patterns from Roman Mosaics (Field)

I'm using Christopherus's Rough Guide to Sixth Grade, Marsha Johnson's notes, and info from Millenial Child to pull it all together into lesson plans. 

I purchased all my MLBs and a few other supplies from Meadowsweet Naturals

And now it's time for Step III: The actual lesson planning. Without my guides in hand, it's a bit tough to plan too far ahead (I can continue procrastinating a bit longer). I will start with the Egypt review, then move on as more guides arrive in the mail. 

Today's job though, other than can tomato sauce?  Clean up the school room and get everything orderly for that first day. I think I need another cup of coffee and a romp with the puppy!