November 30, 2006

New and noteworthy, for holiday giving and receiving, for children of all ages

And in no particular order:

Butterfly Eyes and Other Secrets of the Meadow by Joyce Sidman, illustrated by Beth Krommes

The Barefoot Book of Classic Poems, compiled and illustrated by Jackie Morris

D'Aulaires' Book of Trolls by Ingri and Edgar D'Aulaire, recently reprinted by New York Review of Books Children's Collection

Exploratopia: More Than 400 Kid-Friendly Experiments and Explorations for Curious Minds by Pat Murphy, Ellen Macaulay, and the staff of San Francisco's Exploratorium

Alistair Cooke's American Home Front: 1941-1942

The Ode Less Travelled: Unlocking the Poet Within by Stephen Fry

Sheetrock and Shellac: A Thinking Person's Guide to the Art and Science of Home Improvement by David Owen

Home Schooling by Carol Windley, which did not win the Giller Prize this year

Through the Children's Gate: A Home in New York by Adam Gopnik; pair it with his previous Paris to the Moon

Climbing the Mango Trees: A Memoir of a Childhood in India by Madhur Jaffrey; two thumbs up from my mother, to whom I sent it for her birthday recently; good though not too new companion books would be the gorgeous Mangoes & Curry Leaves: Culinary Travels Through the Great Subcontinent by Alford & Duguid, and Jaffrey's own classic Invitation to Indian Cooking

November 29, 2006

letters to the editor

A couple of different responses to The New York Times article on unschooling, Nov. 26 -- one ahem, one amen:

To the Editor:

I am shocked and saddened to read about the growing numbers of parents who are joining the unschooling movement.

I consider “child-led learning” to be an incredibly foolhardy philosophy. Not even older teenagers, much less the very young, should be put in the position of making unalterable decisions regarding their future welfare.

Achieving a satisfying and rewarding career is tough enough for those with a mainstream education that encompasses the breadth and depth of subject matter.

Many unschooled children may very well become deeply disappointed when, as adults, they find that the doors leading to exciting endeavors in disciplines like science, medicine and technology, among others, are forever closed to them.

Somehow, tossing precious potential to the winds seems a costly and irresponsible way to provide a freedom-filled childhood.

Mary K.

and this:

To the Editor:

We are home-schooling our children. Although we’ve opted to pursue a classical, college preparatory approach to our children’s education, we know many “unschooling” families, including several whose unschooled children have gone on to college and who seem to be well-adjusted adults leading happy, productive lives.

We see no reason to heed the concern and call for regulation expressed by Prof. Luis Huerta of Columbia University. As your article noted, there is little data suggesting that the unschooled population is at risk.

Also, given how many barely literate children graduate from government-run and supervised schools each year, it would be imprudent to divert the attention of our legislators and officials toward unschoolers.

We would rather see our taxes used to address the well-documented and distressing state of our country’s schools and the millions of children who leave them unable to pursue basic college work or to perform skills necessary to support themselves.

Margaret M
Charles S.

Unplanned blog holiday

Last Wednesday thanks to small and very remorseful child who shall remain nameless, my laptop developed water on the brain....

Can get online and fetch email but keyboard is kaput so can only cut and paste like ransom note. veryveryvery tedious. Can't be fixed, need new computer, but that means a trip to big city so who knows when. So haiku and fibs and archy-the-cockroach-lowercase and Tarzan-speak order of the day. So bye for now ;-)

veryveryvery cold snowy and windy since last Weds too, near minus forty, icy roads, travel even to town dangerous. ah, home.

November 22, 2006

Well, it looks like a book...

This week in Canada is Canadian Children's Book Week. Excuse me. Make that TD (as in the bank Toronto-Dominion) Canadian Children's Book Week, which means that for the past seven years, every year first grader across the country is supposed to get a free Canadian children's book. This is supposed to big year, as it marks the 30th anniversary of CCBW as well as the 20th anniversary of this year's giveaway, Franklin in the Dark, about Franklin the Whiny Turtle. I've never liked Franklin, not in book form and not on television, and not even for free, so my first grader won't be helping the celebrations (and hence the link lack).

Last year's offering was the classic Canadian children's poetry book, Alligator Stew by Dennis Lee; but there have been some clinkers over the years (which you can tell by the number of copies that show up chez Goodwill and at garage sales), including The Girl Who Hated Books and Nicholas at the Library; you can just tell by the titles that someone is trying too darn hard to get kids to like books. Of course, it's the 20th anniversary this year of Kids Can Press's picture book edition of Robert Service's The Cremation of Sam McGee with illustrations by Ted Harrison, but I can see where some teachers and parents sadly would consider that inappropriate for first graders.

The problem with the substandard offerings, and substandard assumptions about what children would enjoy reading, is that they don't do anything to encourage children to enjoy either reading or books. But it makes the adults feel better, and what's not to like about a bunch of bankers patting themselves on the back?

Speaking of CanKidLit and twaddle, here's something from the life is too short/too many good books, too little time department: Degrassi "Extra Credit" graphic novels, based on the Degrassi High television show. Not on my shopping list any time soon.

November 21, 2006

The gods are laughing

So much for my plans for the next few days.

Just got back from chores to find a message on the answering machine from the electric company advising us of a "planned power outage" tomorrow and Thursday, from 9 am to noon and from 1-4 pm both days.


No power means no water, no light, no heat (did I mention those cold daytime temperatures coming?), and none of the niceties like CBC radio or that nice new KitchenAid mixer. Of course, this isn't a problem for many of our neighbors, most of whom spend the day in town and none of whom homeschool. All I have to say is thank goodness for my vintage O'Keefe & Merritt gas stove. I think I'll mix up the batter for Davy's cake first thing tomorrow morning, and maybe some cookie dough, and we can do the baking throughout the day to keep warm. If it snows, so much the better, because we can spend most of the day outside playing, and we can at least have hot chocolate, cookies, and oranges.

And NPB is for Nonfiction Picture Books!

Here's the Cybils list of nominated Nonfiction Picture Books, compiled by Chris Barton at Bartography -- there are some gems here, for history, geography, biography, art, natural history, science, and more. Just the sort of things home educated children like to find under trees...

Thanks, Chris!

All of the lists of nominated books in each category are being put up at Cybils Headquarters, too. Just look for the heading "The Nominations".

P is for Poetry!

Now that the nominations for the first annual Childrens and Young Adult Bloggers Literary Awards (the Cybils) have closed, Poetry administrator, the indefatigable Susan at Chicken Spaghetti has ready already her post, P is for Poetry! The Cybils Long List, complete with links.

Now to whittle down the long list to a short list. I'm very glad I have my elves to help, especially since they're the target audience.

Rose Levy Beranbaum has a blog

Go figure.

I've been a fan of Rose Levy Beranbaum's for years, and have used her Cake Bible as, well, my bible for about 15 years, but only this week I discovered her blog. And not only that, she answers readers' questions, just about all of them from what I can see. So if you haven't discovered it yet either, this is one of my gifts to you this holiday baking season, along with the advice that her other books, especially Rose's Christmas Cookies and Bread Bible, are as much fun to read as they are to cook from, especially if you enjoy the "kitchen chemistry" approach, which is especially handy for homeschoolers...

(Christmas Cookies also makes a very nice present this time of year, especially if you tie a cookie cutter or two onto the bow, or add in some pretty sprinkles or sugars. And don't forget to give it early enough so that the recipient can make use of it during the month of December!)

Plans for the week

On Sunday, Tom and the kids loaded up Laura's 4H heifer, Bunny (born on Easter) in the trailer and then we all headed over to the livestock auction mart just outside of town along with all the other Beef Club families to weigh the kids' heifers and steers; Laura's heifer calf weighed in at 612 pounds, lighter than some of the others but then she's one of the youngest animals. I really like that this club is a family affair, with younger siblings and both parents on hand. Afterwards, we stopped off for what we thought would be a quickie visit with Tom's parents to drop off some eggs, but ended up staying for lunch and a good part of the afternoon; we enjoyed moose roast and beaver tails. Well, the moose was moose, but the beaver tails are fried dough, with a batter similar to doughnuts, just pressed out in the shape of a beaver tail, and then rolled in cinnamon sugar. A very enjoyable, quiet visit with my inlaws.

Nice quiet day yesterday at home, and the weather couldn't have been lovelier for chores -- just above freezing, sunny, and perfectly still. Unfortunately, that's changing as of tomorrow, and by Friday the daytime high will be only -5F. Gah.

Have started preparations for Davy's birthday on Friday, and yesterday afternoon started making the shortbread trees for his cake; Davy wants a winter woodland scene, and has already found the animals for the top of the cake -- deer, moose, fox, etc. But no toy trees in the collection, so we made them out of brown sugar shortbread dough with cookie cutters; on Thursday, the kids can decorate them with green icing and powdered sugar "snow".

This afternoon is music lessons as usual, with a few errands tossed in -- delivering the standing egg order to one of our customers who works at the bank, picking up some packages that are waiting at the post office (I'm wondering if they could be more poetry books via the Cybils....), and the regular visit to the library for more goodies.

Tomorrow we'll be at home again all day, so Davy and I will make his cake -- a chocolate sheet cake, with lots of space for the animals and trees. Laura's and Daniel's Friday art lesson has been moved to Thursday this week to make room for the art show hosted by their teacher; we hope to get there on Saturday. Since we'll be out of the house until 5 pm or so on Thursday -- it being just another day here up North -- I don't have much chance of getting a turkey dinner on the table by 6:30, so I'm thinking of something fowlish and sort of Thanksgivingish but easy and crockpot-friendly, like chicken and dumplings.

Friday is Davy's birthday, and we'll be home most of the day (did I mention it's supposed to be -5F during the day?) but after his special dinner and cake have to run into town -- Laura and I for her 4H Baking Club meeting, where the agenda for the evening is, appropriately enough, cakes (she's hoping to bake a small cake for him as an extra present); and Tom and the boys to see the town tree lighting, which has never been on Davy's birthday before, and possibly bowling or swimming after.

Saturday or Sunday we'll have our proper Thanksgiving supper, with turkey (or more likely roast chicken) and all the trimmings, including pecan and pumpkin pies. And then rest. At least until next Tuesday, when it all starts up again!

November 18, 2006

"Speak roughly to your little boy,

And beat him when he sneezes;
He only does it to annoy,
Because he knows it teases."
-- "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" by Lewis Carroll
Which might be considered a nursery rhyme and child-rearing advice all in one.

UK Children and Families Minister and former probation officer Beverley Hughes announced this past week the creation of a new National Academy for Parenting Practitioners next year. From The Guardian:
Many parents have lost confidence in how to bring up their children properly and feel inadequate, isolated and unsupported in coping with the pressures of modern family life, the government has warned.

Mothers and fathers often feel 'disempowered' as parents, and find it particularly difficult to enforce rules so their child does not misbehave, according to Beverley Hughes, the Minister for Children and Families.

In an interview with The Observer, Hughes voiced alarm that parents have much less faith than previous generations in their abilities to raise and guide their children, and wanted help to deal with their conduct.

'I've talked to a lot of parents and one thing that has really struck me, and this is across all social classes, is a sense of lack of confidence around the parenting role - and particularly around setting boundaries for children,' she said.

Hughes ... [announced] plans ... for a new National Academy for Parenting Practitioners to provide useful, reliable advice to parents and children's experts on what has been proven to work, which will start work in autumn 2007.

Many parents clearly wanted help in 'understanding their children's behaviour' when difficult situations arose, she said, adding: 'Increasingly what many parents say they want is help with feeling comfortable with their own authority with their own kids, and being able to set down boundaries and stick to them.'
One help the new, erm, Academy will offer is nursery rhyme classes, according to the Minister, who said,
"Some parents already know that reading and singing nursery rhymes with their young children will get them off to a flying start -- often because this is how they themselves were brought up.

"For other parents without this inheritance these simple techniques are a mystery and are likely to remain so -- unless we act and draw them to their attention."
No word on whether the projected, though apparently not mandatory, classes will teach the modernized nursery rhymes currently in vogue.

The always sensible Carlotta at Dare to Know shares her thoughts on the preposterous pronouncements, and just why parents have lost confidence -- "if indeed they have", she writes -- here.

November 17, 2006

Poetry Friday II: the Cybils' selection of the day

My second Poetry Friday selection today is an excerpt from one of the poems from the Cybils-nominated Butterfly Eyes and Other Secrets of the Meadow, written by the prolific, lyrical, and award-winning Joyce Sidman and illustrated by Beth Krommes.

All of the poems in Butterfly Eyes are riddles, which is a wonderful way to engage children in both the reading of, and listening to, poetry. My three, who've had some of the local white-tail deer families come up to edge the ice skating pond to investigate the new winter activities, didn't get past the first line of this one before calling out the answer:

excerpt from The Gray Ones
by Joyce Sidman

We are the tall ones with crowns of velvet
the high-steppers
the flag-wavers
We are the silent ones that browse at dusk
the bud-nibblers
the ear-flickers
The gray ones that linger at woods' edge
Swift Still
Here Gone ...


A Teacher's Guide for Butterfly Eyes, to use with students from around grades 2 to 5, is here. In addition to several writing and science activities, there's also an art activity -- how to make your own "scratch-art animals" based on the book's scratchboard art (similar to wood engraving) by Beth Krommes. For more writing ideas, try Joyce Sidman's Poetry Now and Poem Starters pages.

Poetry Friday I: This was a boys' (and girl's) day

Ice on the Round Pond
by Paul Dehn (1912-1976)

This was a dog's day, when the land
Lay black and white as a Dalmatian
And kite chased terrier kite
In a Kerry blue sky.

This was a boy's day, when the wind
Cut tracks in the sky on skates
And noon leaned over like a snowman
To melt in the sun.

This was a poet's day, when the mind
Lay paper-white in a winter's peace
And watched the printed bird-tracks
Turn into words.


Paul Dehn was born in Manchester, England, and educated at Oxford. He was a film critic, playwright, award-winning screenwriter, and also published several books of poems, including The Day's Alarm and Romantic Landscape. Dehn won an Academy Award in 1951 for his first screenplay, the thriller Seven Days to Noon. He also wrote the screenplays for Goldfinger, The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, Murder on the Orient Express (for which he was nominated for his second Oscar), and several of the Planet of the Apes movies (Escape from..., Conquest of..., Battle for...).


Susan over at Chicken Spaghetti volunteered for the week's round-up. Thanks, Susan!

November 15, 2006

It's snowing books

This Cybils gig is pretty nifty. After some early research, when my other poetry nominating committee members and I discovered that we couldn't quite come up with all of the titles through our libraries, one enterprising member began requesting review copies for all of us. I sent along my mailing address, with no great hopes that the publishers would spring for postage to Canada.

But yesterday at the post office to collect one of (shhhh.....) Davy's birthday presents to be presented next week, I was surprised by a stack of boxes and envelopes containing several hardcover books and a couple of uncorrected proofs of

Meow Ruff: A Story in Concrete Poetry by Joyce Sidman, with illustrations by Michelle Berg

Rainbow Soup: Adventures in Poetry by Brian P. Cleary, with illustrations by Neal Layton

Mites to Mastodons by Maxine Kumin, with illustrations by Pam Zagarenski

Butterfly Eyes and Other Secrets of the Meadow by Joyce Sidman, with illustrations by Beth Krommes

The Barefoot Book of Classic Poems, compiled and lushly illustrated by Jackie Morris, which came with a Barefoot Books catalogue, which had us oohhing and ahhing last night accompanied by chocolate chocolate chip cookies

Hey There, Stink Bug by Leslie Bulion, with illustrations by Leslie Evans

So a big thank you to the folks at Barefoot Books, Houghton Mifflin, and Charlesbridge Books, the especially diligent members of the poetry nominating committee, and our fearless committee leader, Susan at Chicken Spaghetti.

The kids can't believe the largesse, and have already absconded with most of the books, which is as good a recommendation as you can get for children's poetry books -- Davy the new reader with Meow Ruff, Daniel the nature nut with Stink Bug and Mites to Mastodons, and Laura with The Barefoot Book of Classic Poems (she has her mother's weakness for gorgeous illustrations and compilation volumes) and Butterfly Eyes. I'll be posting my thoughts (and theirs) on these books and the ones I have from the library.

If you haven't been to the Cybils website lately, it's definitely worth a look, for a variety of reviews of nominated titles, and lists of all the nominated books, which The Idaho Statesman recently suggested using as reading lists; and -- just a thought here -- possibly a holiday gift guide for your favorite young readers. My three are already trying to figure out how to properly bind Butterfly Eyes, which was one of the two uncorrected proofs, and whether to ask Santa for the hardbound edition. You can see all of the nominated poetry titles here, and if you have a favorite new poetry book that hasn't been nominated yet, please enter the name before the November 20th deadline.

A new hunk to help in the kitchen

Last year at about this time my old Sunbeam Mixmaster (more plastic than chrome, unlike my late grandmother's Sunbeam, and which after 40+ years is still going, though not quite as strong) gave up the ghost after 12 years. Which made the usual Christmas baking routine quite a bit different -- some of the usual favorites I just abandoned, others I tried with the hand mixer or by hand.

Every so often, I'd open the Sears catalogue -- out here in the boonies my shopping options are pretty limited, and is a shadow of its American self -- but couldn't get past the sticker shock; $160 for the usual Sunbeam, and $200 for the slightly more chrome "Heritage" model, and about twice that for the KitchenAids I'd been eyeing; the KitchenAid Artisan, with its 5-quart bowl, seemed especially appealing because whenever we doubled our favorite cake or cookie recipes, the dough would come crawling out the top of even the larger Sunbeam bowl.

Last week I hauled out the new Sears Wishbook and started dithering again over my choices. Then my mother phoned and in our chatting I mentioned my dithering to her. A few hours later my mother phoned back to announce that she and my father would be sending us an early present of a new KitchenAid Artisan stand mixer. How's that for generous, thoughtful, and absolutely wonderful?

Had a phone call yesterday morning from my friend at Sears to say the beast had arrived. Davy and I wrestled it into the back of the truck while the other two were at music lessons, and within an hour of arriving home I was making dinner and the kids were making cookie dough. I'm delighted to report that you can make a double recipe of cookie dough, with four-and-a-half cups of flour, without it coming out the top of the bowl. The power of the machine is a thing of wonder -- I've never creamed butter so well or with such good results. And unlike my old mixer, the hunky KitchenAid doesn't skitter gradually across the kitchen countertop; it's heavy and sturdy and doesn't go anywhere. It's a breeze to clean, though the nifty plastic collar is great for keeping too much mess from starting in the first place. I've already started thinking about our next project, something challenging enough for the hunk, and I think it just might be West Indian fruit cake...

Recipes to be posted later as time allows.

November 14, 2006

More apologies

for the sporadic blogging. We've been busy with homeschooling, farm chores (which take longer in the snow -- slogging through it -- and cold -- needing to give the animals more feed so they can stay warm), and other activities.

Except for having to say goodbye to our noble broilers on Friday, we had a dandy time in the big little town up north. We went to a few stores we don't have here, and found some more Schleich animals for the kids, including a beaver and a fox (I'd have liked to buy them as Christmas presents, but unlike the kids I can't keep straight what they already have). Also three amaryllis bulbs, one for each child, which we potted up yesterday in the enclosed hockey-puck-shaped coir medium that reconstitutes in water. And at the Home Hardware store while inspecting wood stoves, one of which Tom would like to get for the basement, I discovered an Australian stove that's also a baker's oven that I find very appealing; the only disadvantages, though considerable, seem to the price (over $2,000 CAN) and the fact that we'd have to go pretty far for any parts or assistance, given the complete absence of a North American office. Had a very cozy visit with my father-in-law's cousin and his wife, an older couple who retired to town several years ago and find themselves rather at loose ends without an entire farm to tend; on our last visit, on a very hot day in August, we found Uncle W. servicing his snowblower. But the highlight of the whole day was undoubtedly seeing a moose cow and her twins early in the morning on our drive north.

Today we have music lessons; tomorrow Homeschool Gym Day for the kids, when I'll slip out to get some last-minute things for Davy's birthday next Friday and a get-together in the evening to make (gah) Christmas ornaments (I'm not one to start the Christmas preparations or festivities before Thanksgiving); and Thursday a homeschool field trip to the RCMP detachment and a doctor's checkup for me afterwards. Sunday is the big weigh-in for Laura's 4H heifer, and she's pretty excited.

November 11, 2006

Remembrance: "Nothing forgotten"

Not as well known as John McCrae or erstwhile Canadian (by virtue of his service in the RCAF) John Gillespie Magee, Jr., Canadian poet, writer, and radio broadcaster Mona Helen McTavish Gould deserves to be remembered as well, not only for the lyrical poem she wrote about her brother, Lt. Col. Gordon Howard McTavish of the Royal Canadian Engineers, after he was killed in 1942.

This Was My Brother
by Mona Gould (1908-1999)

This was my brother
At Dieppe,
Quietly a hero
Who gave his life
Like a gift,
Withholding nothing.

His youth....his love....
His enjoyment of being alive...
His future, like a book
With half the pages still uncut --

This was my brother
At Dieppe...
The one who built me a doll house
When I was seven,
Complete to the last small picture frame,
Nothing forgotten.

He was awfully good at fixing things,
At stepping into the breach when he was needed.

That's what he did at Dieppe;
He was needed.
And even death must have been a little ashamed
At his eagerness!

From Tasting the Earth, 1943, via my battered paperback of the apparently equally out-of-print A Pocketful of Canada, edited by John D. Robins with wood engravings by Laurence Hyde.


On Wednesday the kids and I watched the National Film Board movie, John McCrae's War: In Flanders Fields; highly recommended for learning more about the man behind the poem, as well as the horrors of war (though suitable even for young children).

We're off shortly for services at the town cenotaph, and then at Legion Hall.

November 10, 2006

Poetry Friday: Grandmama's Birthday edition

We're leaving bright and early Friday morning, around 7 am, to take our 50 broilers to the slaughterhouse up north, so I'm posting this now.

Happy Birthday wishes to Grandmama for a wonderful day, a grand year, and a tasty, festive (chicken?) dinner!

Laura recited this poem the other year at the local arts festival, and did so well that she was invited to perform it at the best-of/end-of-the-festival concert and recital:

Afternoon with Grandmother
by Barbara A. Huff

I always shout when Grandma comes,
But Mother says, "Now please be still
And good and do what Grandma wants."
And I say, "Yes, I will."

So off we go in Grandma's car.
"There's a brand new movie quite near by,"
She says, "that I'd rather like to see."
And I say, "So would I."

The show has horses and chases and battles;
We gasp and hold hands the whole way through.
She smiles and says, "I liked that lots."
And I say, "I did, too."

"It's made me hungry, though," she says,
"I'd like a malt and tarts with jam.
By any chance are you hungry, too?"
And I say, "Yes, I am." ...

To find out how the afternoon ends, pick up a copy of the classic Favorite Poems, Old and New selected by Helen Ferris, Miss Huff's colleague at the Junior Literary Guild.

November 08, 2006

Speaking of my liberal tendencies...

congratulations to Senator-elect Bernie Sanders from the great state of Vermont, always dear to my heart since my college days, when he was mayor of the great city of Burlington.

A Rum punch

I'm just a farm gal, and an expatriate liberal one at that, but it occurs to me that the midterm elections have handed the President an awfully expedient way to save face and turn that darn cruise ship in a different direction, however slightly.

Bread again

The other day in my bread post, I wrote
The whole rising process is perfect if you're homeschooling or farming; you can make your dough, set it to rise and go off and do something else. If you're longer than an hour, don't worry; the longer rises give more flavor and also make recipes using more whole wheat flour (or all whole wheat flour) more tender; you can let dough with lots of whole wheat flour rise for 6-8 hours.
So I was happy to see that in today's New York Times, foodie Mark Bittman, author of one of my favorite cookbooks How to Cook Everything (not entirely accurate but still quite comprehensive), in his weekly "Minimalist" column has an article called The Secret of Great Bread: Let Time Do the Work. The article is based on a class Bittman took with New York bread baker Jim Lahey, from the Sullivan Street Bakery (no longer on Sullivan Street, though), who calls his method "a truly minimalist breadmaking technique that allows people to make excellent bread at home with very little effort. The method is surprisingly simple — I think a 4-year-old could master it — and the results are fantastic.” The recipe is in today's Times too, and calls for an 18-hour rising period, which allows for an awful lot of reading, or farm chores.

When I get the chance, later today, I'll post my favorite (non-Bittman, though) no-knead, long-rise bread recipe...

Hat tip to my mother for letting me know about the article this morning.

Updated, as promised: One of my favorite whole grain whole wheat bread recipes, with which I use our own stoneground organic whole wheat is from the "Breads" volume of the (now out-of-print but widely available at a garage sale near you) Time-Life "The Good Cook" series, and is originally from Doris Grant's Your Daily Food: Recipe for Survival; Mrs. Grant popularized her loaf in England during World War II to encourage working women to eat well despite food rationing. From "Breads":
Because it is high in bran content and low in gluten, whole wheat flour calls for special breadmaking methods. For a light-textured loaf, whole wheat dough either must be allowed to rise for six to eight hours or must be made with a large proportion of gluten-rich all purpose or bread flour. For a dense-textured loaf such as the one shown here, whole wheat dough must be moistened until it is almost as soft as a batter -- a tactic that not only softens the bran, but also obviates any kneading.

To speed rising, the read is made with more yeast than usual. And the yeast is nourished with sugar, honey or molasses so that it begins to grow vigorously before it is mixed with the flour. Prepared this way, the yeast will cause the dough to rise to half again its original volume in 20 to 30 minutes.

For the rising, the dough is spread evenly in the dish or pan in which it will bake. After it is baked, the fully cooked bread can be given a crisp crust by moving it to a baking sheet and returning it to the oven for 10 minutes or so.
And here's the recipe:

The Grant Loaf (makes three 9"x5" loaves)

10-1/2 cups stoneground, whole grain whole wheat flour
2 packages (2 tbsp.) dry yeast
2 tsp. salt
5 cups lukewarm water
1 tbsp. brown sugar, honey, or molasses

Mix the salt with the flour. In very cold weather [probably not a problem for those of us in North America with central heating], warm the flour slightly -- enough to take off the chill. Place in a cup 3 tbsp. of tepid water, sprinkle over it the dry yeast, and leave for several minutes for the yeast to soften before adding the sugar, honey, or molasses. In about 10 to 15 minutes this mixture should have produced a thick, creamy froth.

Pour this into the flour mixture and add the rest of the water. Mix well -- by hand is best -- for a minute or so, working from the sides to the middle, until the dough feels elastic and leaves the sides of the mixing bowl clean. The consistency should be such that it will just drop off the spoon.

Butter three 9"x5" loaf pans and leave them in a warm place. Divide the dough, which should be slippery but not wet, into thirds and place these in the warmed pans. Put the pans in a warm place, cover them with a cloth and leave them for about 20 minutes, or until the dough rises to within half an inch of the rims of the pans; if you leave the rising dough too long it can sink again in which case you are best mixing again and letting it rise a second time, otherwise the loaf will be either hollow or soggy. Bake the loaves in a preheated 400F degree oven for approximately 35 to 40 minutes, or until they sound hollow when rapped on the bottom. When bread is done it should come away from the sides of the tin easily. Tip out onto a wire grid to cool.

I'd like to try the ingredients of the Grant Loaf with Jim Lahey's methods, especially the longer rising time, though I'd try with a reduced recipe for one loaf only in case of the hollowness or sogginess problem. If I do, I'll post here about the results.

November 06, 2006

Possibly better than bread

Chocolate Sandwich Cookies, from Nic at bakingsheet. What else is there to say beyond thank you?


Last week Melissa in her new Lilting House, inspired by JoVE's post on meaningful work (who was in turn inspired by Melissa, but that does turn things into a funhouse mirror, doesn't it?), solicited bread baking advice and recipes, which turned into two posts, here and here, and don't miss the comments. And then those two posts turned into today's Impromptu Mini-Carnival of Breadmaking!

Since I didn't want to overload the comments section, I sent Melissa my thoughts in a separate email. Then I realized I had an almost complete blog post and just as I was thinking about fixing it up and posting it, lo and behold appeared the bread carnival, which couldn't be any more appropriate to our weather and imminent Thanksgiving preparations. So here it is, with a few small changes and additions (just to keep Melissa on her toes), and apologies for recommendations for those books which, as usual, seem to be out of print:
  • Yes, a big wooden board is just fine for kneading. If it's really big and heavy, it won't move. Just to be sure, you can keep it in place by putting a tea towel underneath (if dry doesn't work, just moisten it lightly). But don't knead for more than 15 minutes, which will make your bread tough.
  • When you go yeast shopping, you'll find regular old dry yeast and "rapid rise" which works without "proofing" (mixing with liquid); buy the first. You don't need rapid rise, regular will do; besides "proofing" is fun, quick, and counts as a science experiment for your kids. And when you buy the regular dry stuff, either in the little packets or in a small canister (more economical, even if you bake bread for only a few of the winter months), keep it in the freezer next to your coffee and popping corn to keep it alive and happy.
  • You don't need to sift flour, for bread (or any baking for that matter) if you measure it properly, which means never scooping directly with the measuring cup, but dropping the flour into the measuring cup and then scraping off the excess with the flat side of a knife. Voila, one less kitchen implement.
  • The fancy pans from Williams-Sonoma, Pampered Chef, etc. are nice but not really necessary. For example, stoneware pans when you have lots of lively kids and lots of helpers tends not to be the most practical material. Pyrex is nice because you can see what color the crust is on bottom, though glass (and enamel) pans need to be baked at a lower temperature and (along with dark tin and dull aluminum finish pans) gives bread a thicker crust. The nonstick pans may not be all that good for you and don't give a very nice crust. Of course, if you make free-form oblong or round loaves, all you need is your regular cookie sheet. If you don't have any bread pans and don't want free-form loaves, you can also use a casserole dish, a big coffee can, a cast iron frying pan, or even a clean flower pot. If you find you like this bread baking business, and you do it regularly, and you like the loaf shape for sandwiches, then you might decide to invest in several nice metal stacking loaf pans (and maybe hint for gifts of fun extras from places like King Arthur Flour, which I heard from my father over the weekend still does send free, beautiful, and wonderfully helpful and inspiring print catalogues. You can also see if you can find a supply of inexpensive baking pans at a nearby restaurant supply shop.
  • The whole rising process is perfect if you're homeschooling or farming; you can make your dough, set it to rise and go off and do something else. If you're longer than an hour, don't worry; the longer rises give more flavor and also make recipes using more whole wheat flour (or all whole wheat flour) more tender; you can let dough with lots of whole wheat flour rise for 6-8 hours.You can make the dough in the morning, let it rise until after lunch, then shape it (or punch it down and let it rise again) and let it rest for another hour or more -- good if you have rest time or readalouds -- before baking. Of course, it's ready around dinnertime, and the tendency is to gobble the delicious loaf with the meal, leaving nothing for breakfast. Which is why you want to bake at least two loaves. You can also make the dough at night before bed, let it rise overnight, and have it baked either before breakfast or lunch (you can refrigerate it overnight too if you wish). Bread dough is incredibly flexible and forgiving and not at all scary. Like knitting, which so many other home educating mothers do, and which I just can't seem to figure out...
One of my favorite baking cookbooks is the Harrowsmith Country Life Baking Book, edited by Sandra J. Taylor; that's where the following recipe is from, and just a note that it requires bread flour, which you can find at the supermarket (bread flour is great because it helps make sure you get a nice light loaf, especially important for the confidence of beginners). This is a nice basic loaf, good and simple for beginners.

Old-Order Amish Bread (makes two 8-1/2" loaves; if you want more, just double the recipe)

1 package (1 tbsp.) dry yeast
1-1/2 cups warm water
5-6 cups bread flour
2 tbsp. sugar
2 tsp. salt
1/2 cup oil (safflower, canola, sunflower, etc.)

Stir yeast into water and set aside for 5 minutes.

In large bowl, combine 2 cups of the flour, sugar, salt, and oil. Add yeast mixture to flour mixture and blend well. Add remaining flour, 1/2 cup at a time, until dough leaves the sides of the bowl. Dough should be elastic but not sticky.

Turn out onto floured surface and knead about 8 minutes. Place in greased bowl and rotate to grease top of dough. Cover with plastic wrap or tea towel and let rise until doubled (about 1 hour).

Punch down dough, cover again, and let rise again, for 45 minutes. Punch down and knead again. Divide into 2 pieces, shape into loaves, and place in two greased 8-1/2" loaf pans. Cover and let rise again until dough is 1" above pan rims, about 40 minutes.

Bake in preheated 400F for 10 minutes. Reduce heat to 350F and bake 25 to 30 minutes more. Remove from pans and cool.

From the same cookbook, for Felicity fans, which includes my daughter and I think at least one of Lissa's; requires whole wheat flour, a little rye flour, and cornmeal:

Early Colonial Bread (makes two 9" loaves)

1/2 cup yellow cornmeal
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 tsp. salt
2 cups boiling water (you may have to help with this; it makes Laura nervous...)
1/4 cup oil
2 packages (2 tbsp.) dry yeast
1/2 cup lukewarm water
3/4 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup rye flour
4 to 4-1/2 cups bread flour or unbleached all-purpose flour (bread flour makes a lighter loaf)

Combine cornmeal, brown sugar, and salt in large bowl. Add to pot of boiling (boiled) water, and stir continuously (but gently) to prevent lumps. Add oil and set aside to cool to lukewarm, at least 30 minutes.

Mix yeast and the lukewarm water. Stir into cooled cornmeal mixture in large bowl, then add whole wheat and rye flours, mixing well. Add enough flour, by the half cup, to make a moderately stiff dough. Turn out onto lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic, about 6-8 minutes. Place in greased bowl, turn over to grease top, cover with tea towel or plastic wrap, and let rise in warm place until doubled, about an hour.

Punch down dough and turn out onto lightly floured surface. Divide in half, cover, and let rest for 10 minutes. Shape into 2 loaves and place in greased 9" loaf pans. Let rise until doubled.

Bake in preheated 350F oven for 45 minutes. Cover loosely with foil after the first 25 minutes if browning too rapidly.

If you decide to tackle larger amounts, I like this recipe from Mrs. Restino's Country Kitchen by Susan Restino; it doubles easily:

Whole Wheat Bread (makes 3 loaves)

In a small bowl mix:
1 cup water, room temperature
2 tbsp. dry yeast
1 tsp. molasses

Allow to sit for 10 minutes, until foamy. Then pour into a large bowl, along with
3-1/2 cups tepid water
2 cups milk
1/2 cup molasses (you can play around with reducing the amount)
1/2 cup oil
1 tbsp. salt

Mix in (but no need to knead at this point):
10 cups whole wheat flour (I grind our own organic wheat to make flour, but that's a whole other post)

Cover and set to rise or double in one hour. Then beat down and add, one cup at a time, beating after each addition,
7 to 8 cups unbleached white flour (or whole wheat flour if you prefer)

Knead and add flour as needed until the dough becomes smooth and workable. Knead an extra 10 minutes. Cover and let rise again, for 1 hour. Divide dough into 3 equal pieces. Grease 3 loaf pans. Shape loaves and let them rise 30 minutes or until doubled in size. Preheat oven to 400F, but turn down to 350F as soon as you put the loaves in to bake. Bake 40 minutes. Remove from pans to cool 2 hours before storing.

Some more postscripts to my original postscript, though as rule I'm not keen on "children's cookbooks"; I think they can learn more from a regular, adult cookbook:

Loaves of Fun: A History of Bread with Activities and Recipes from Around the World by Elizabeth M. Harbison, with illustrations byJohn Harbison; I bought this last year to go along with our chemistry studies, and it's been loads of fun. I think this was a recommendation from Concierge at the sadly now-defunct Itinerary for Marlette & Giuseppe...

The Kids' Holiday Baking Book: 150 Favorite Dessert Recipes from Around the World by Rosemary Black, which I tripped over at BookCloseouts; breads, cookies, cakes, and more, for many holidays (though not Guy Fawkes' Day; if you want some wonderful Guy Fawkes ideas and recipes, visit Karen at lightingthefires, who was literally lighting fires yesterday in celebration).

And in closing, from the prolific Louis Untermeyer via my falling-apart copy of The Joy of Cooking,

"Why has our poetry eschewed
The rapture and response to food?
What hymns are sung, what praises said
To home-made miracles of bread?"

November 04, 2006

Right at the rink

I mentioned yesterday that the kids went skating for the first time on the pond in the pasture behind the house. It's a "new" pond for us, one that had been dry for years and years until this year's spring rains, and it's big enough for hockey games and, more importantly, close by the house and easy for the kids to get to on their own several times a day. Our other "rink" is the dugout about a mile north of the house, which pretty much requires Tom or me to go with the kids. So everyone is thrilled with the new rink, the kids because they can go skating often, and me because I can go skating once a day and the rest of the time keep an eye on them from the house. We'll have to get some small square straw bales out there for benches, but in the meantime Davy pulls the wagon along, for sitting on while they pull on their skates.

While Laura and Daniel were at art lessons yesterday, Davy and I ran a few errands that turned out to be skating-related. We picked up some more Fry's Cocoa and mini marshmallows for hot chocolate. Then, while dropping off yet another box of outgrown toys and clothing at the Goodwill shop, Davy found a pair of skates for himself (for all of $3.50, and in good shape, too). And at the hardware store, I decided to spring for three blaze orange safety vests for the kids to wear over their parkas and two orange watchcaps complete with deer patches on the front (Daniel is using my father's orange Cabela's cap with earflaps, so he didn't need a watchcap). The thing is, while I bought these items for the kids to wear while hunting with Tom in the early mornings -- and yes, they all went out again today -- they are dandy for skating. Or rather, for keeping an eye on skaters; if I can see three little orange heads bobbing around like pumpkins, I know that all is right at the rink.

November 03, 2006

"Island Story" at LibriVox

While discussing Charlotte Mason, Our Island Story by H.E. Marshall, and other history books for younguns with a new internet friend the other day, I stumbled across the news that Our Island Story is now available, since September, as a free audiobook from LibriVox; part one is here and part two is here.

Rather more economical than the pricey (around $30 a pop), though no doubt gorgeous, professional alternative from Naxos Audiobooks, which is offering the unabridged story on CD in three volumes and as a one CD abridged Best of Our Island Story collection.

Poetry Friday: Sharp November frost edition

It must be November...

because I have a frozen moose hide in the back of my truck (courtesy of my brother-in-law, who bagged his antlerless moose on the first day of hunting season, Wednesday, but was going to leave the hide behind until Tom reached him and begged him to pick it up); because my kids were up at 6 am this morning while the stars were still twinkling overhead to accompany Tom on his first day hunting (which ended up as just a walk in the woods); and because, as the school bus went by 30 minutes ago, my three were already on the pond behind the house, skating in the c0ld, swirling snow, fog, and blustery wind. From the back window in the boys' bedroom, I can just make out a dog walking carefully on the ice, and a small orange cap going around and around in circles.

Rhyme of November Stars
by Sara Teasdale

The noiseless marching of the stars
Sweeps above me all night long;
Up the skies, over the skies
Passes the uncounted throng,
Without haste, without rest,
From the east to the west:
Vega, Deneb, white Altair
Shine like crystals in the air,
and the lonely Fomalhaut
In the dark south, paces low.
Now the timid Pleiades
Leave the shelter of the trees,
While toward the north, mounting high,
Gold Capella, like a queen,
Watches over her demesne
Stretching toward the kingly one,
Dusky, dark Aldebaran.
Betelgeuse and Rigel burn
In their wide wheel, slow to turn,
And in the sharp November frost
Bright Sirius, with his blue light
Completes the loveliness of night.


Head over to Kelly's at Big A little a for the day's Poetry Friday round-up, not to mention the Cat Edition of PF. Thanks, Kelly!

November 02, 2006

A couple of contests

Best Passages in Children's Books, hosted by Nancy at Journey Woman. There are categories for funniest passage, passage with most poetic use of language, and most memorable passage, and there are prizes, too. Entries need to be in by Sunday, November 5 at midnight. Thanks to Fuse #8 for the tip.

And trying to hunt down a copy of The Barefoot Book of Classic Poems, the new compilation volume which is one of the nominated titles in the Cybils poetry category (which means it's my duty to read through and review but which is nowhere in my library system, perhaps because it's so new), I paid a visit to the Barefoot Books website, where I found out that the friendly and no doubt barefoot folks at Barefoot Books are running a poetry contest for children. Entries due on or before December 31. Kelly at Big A little a has a glowing review of the book here.

Halloween carnival time

The spooky Halloween edition of the Carnival of Children's Literature is up and running at Scholar's Blog. Michele, who did a wonderful job, welcomes "ghosts and ghouls, fiends and monsters (and fellow Bloggers)".