Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Hatching Eggs: Incubation

This is one of my favorite living green/homeschooling projects we've done yet. 

 It's...just...so...amazing. We are watching the life cycle first hand, and so are our children- learning, growing, understanding... it's incredible.

We decided to try a couple of new chicken breeds this year, so we had to purchase some eggs. We chose six, and they came in the mail. (Yes, we got a kind of alarmed phone call from the post office early one morning saying we'd better come pick up the *live* eggs... but not so upset as when we got our last package of bees.)

Since the incubator has room for seven eggs, we also grabbed one of our own. We'll do a second hatch after this attempt with more of our own eggs, but this is where we are for now.

First, we had to sterilize the incubator. 
 This is done by adding a scoop of food-grade sanitizer to a one-gallon bucket (follow the instructions on your sanitizer as it may be different than ours).
 Add water to the powder to create a cleaning solution.
 Then we had to take the incubator apart to carefully clean and sanitize each piece.


 Then we could unpack the eggs.

They were sent with a warming pack...
 ...and packed in a foam case.

Different breeds have different egg colors. These eggs are Golden Laced Wyandottes (lighter) and Black Copper Marans (darker).

Don't worry about the apparent scratches on one of the Maran eggs. It's a coating, like paint, that all eggs have until they dry (at which point the egg is permanently colored). This one must have just been bumped a bit (or stepped on by a hen) before the coating dried.
Here's our rooster defending the one egg we took from our hens. He's not terribly thrilled.

We took the lightest colored egg in this photo, and it's an Australorp egg. Since our rooster is a Silver Laced Wyandotte, this chick will be a mutt. That's OK with us- we're very accepting.

Then we placed the first eggs into the incubator.




 Then we set the incubator for 21 days- the average time it will take a chick to hatch.

On Day 21 we'll be spending a lot of time in the kitchen, waiting to see this amazing event.
We know that many of the eggs won't hatch. In fact, we'll be lucky if 4 of the 7 do. But in some sense that's part of the learning process.

In the next two weeks we will bear witness to a very small life cycle, but a life cycle none-the-less. Our family will welcome a number of new little lives into our home and our children will help to raise them, feeding and protecting their little charges. And the education they will receive in the process will be priceless.

Have you done any fun natural living or homeschooling projects lately?

Whole Foods Reflection and Menu, Week One

Week One in our 40-day Whole Food Challenge has been great. I am pleased to say that many of our dietary changes haven't been changes at all. In fact, we were in day 4 before one of the kids asked for a treat.  

This is good, very good.

Some things have been more challenging- primarily the time involved in preparing "slow food." There have been tough a couple of evenings when the baby's been fussy, the dog needs to go out, I'm thinking about the papers I still need to grade and yet I'm standing there, at the kitchen counter, just peeling carrots.

But there is a beautiful rhythm and simplicity in just peeling those carrots. I want to capture that.

We have worked a few details out: "local" food is a goal, not a restriction (thus the star fruit in the picture below). We are working to increase the number of foods we obtain directly from local farmers, but we are also open to the occasional papaya. Likewise, we have decided that even if a food contains five ingredients or less, if we can't pronounce each ingredient then we don't eat it.

So, here's what we've been eating this week:

Breakfasts: (all served with at least one raw fruit)

Fried egg sandwiches (fried in a bit of butter, with peanut butter on toast)

GF Oatmeal, sweetened with local maple syrup

Apple, Banana and Oat Muffins

Green Monster Spinach Smoothies with toast (homemade bread or from a local GF bakery)

Southwestern omelets with homemade salsa, a grapefruit and farmer's market bacon




Lunches: (all served with at least one raw fruit and one raw vegetable)

All-natural peanut butter with homemade jam on organic corn cakes

Shrimp cocktail with homemade sauce (just homemade ketchup with some horseradish mixed in)

Quesadillas with local cheese, spinach and black beans on rice tortillas

Hummus with rice tortillas, carrots, celery and red pepper

All-natural peanut butter on homemade bread with homemade pickle slices on top (don't knock it 'til you try it- I was raised on this stuff!



Snacks:
Homemade Applesauce (unsweetened)

Almonds and dried cherries (unsweetened or sweetened with honey)

Plain, organic yogurt with berries and honey

Cheese (not deli- real cheese blocks) with apple slices

Organic GF rice crackers with local cheese

Hard boiled eggs

Plus fresh squeezed juice of all sorts (thanks to our new juicer- so fun!)


Dinners:
Bacon-wrapped chicken thighs, roasted carrots and parsnip, sauteed spinach

Hamburgers with homemade buns and pickles

Coconut chicken satay (something like this recipe here) with steamed carrots and sauteed kale/spinach mix

Tofu and vegetable stir fry over brown rice

Corn pasta with homemade tomato sauce and spinach salad


Of course, there are a lot of "homemade" items on this list. I've been working up to this challenge for a while, so my pantry is pretty well stocked with homemade stuff that I can pull out when needed. Don't think I'm making all this each and every day. No, the jam, salsa, pickles and ketchup were made over the course of last summer when the veggies were in season, and I make huge batches of bread and tortillas to freeze, which cuts down on kitchen time.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Unschooling Week

A friend sent me an email this week asking if she could pay us a visit. She was concerned because she didn't want to interrupt our schooling, posing the simple question: "do homeschoolers have vacations?"

This struck me as funny at first. I don't really know- we're kind of inventing this as we go- and I hadn't really given it much thought. I had some lessons planned for this week, but I realized that I wasn't tackling them with the same gusto that I had been a few weeks ago, so perhaps this was the time for a short break? The fact that Ben and Ava had a couple of public-schooled friends coming over for playdates throughout the week seemed to reinforce the idea that we weren't going to do a lot of structured lessons anyway. So, I asked the kids if we should be on vacation. They agreed that it might be a good choice, so vacation it was. :)

But, as is my way, I continued to think about this homeschool vacation of ours. What is a vacation, really? If you physically go to a school on a regular basis then vacation is surely time when you don't go there. Since school happens for us in our home- on the couch, at our kitchen table, etc.- then we really weren't taking that kind of vacation. Was it a vacation from learning? From lesson plans and objectives, yes certainly. But from learning? I think not.

I have many friends who are "unschoolers," folks who use no formal lessons at all but rather use life experiences to teach their children (think baking for fractions, gardening for earth science, etc. ). While that isn't the exclusive road our family has taken at this point in our homeschooling journey, I confess that I am finding a lot of truth and wisdom in that approach this week.

In the absence of lessons we have done a whole lot of learning. We attended an Angelina Ballerina event at our library yesterday where Ava took her first ballet class (this will have to be a continuing trend, by the way, judging by her enthusiasm and the cuteness factor of a 2 year old in a tutu, er gown). That is learning. I also discovered her "reading" a book to herself all curled up in a corner this week. This is a pre-reading indicator which she has stumbled upon independently, and should surly be considered learning.

Eleanor has discovered the fun involved in skipping, and has begun to feed the dog on her own (great gross and fine motor skills). She is babbling nonstop and is mimicking behavior all day long. This must also be learning.

Ben participated in Lego day at the library during which time he undertook a "secret challenge" to build a tower which met his personal specifications. This was an incredible opportunity to showcase his new spatial recognition and engineering skills. Learning.

So really, who is on "school vacation"?

Our family may not be doing formal lessons this week, but we are indeed learning. Thus, we are calling this our "unschooling week"- our week to freely explore the things which interest and challenge us. Though we may return to a bit more structure next week, we will maintain our commitment to discover and explore our passions just as we did this week, during our foray into unschooling.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Oven Roasted Carrots and Parsnip

This is a favorite at our house, and it's super easy to boot!

Ingredients:
4-5 Parsnip
4-5 Carrots
2 Tbs. Olive oil
Salt and Pepper

Directions:
1. Wash and peel carrots and parsnip. Use as many as your family will eat- we tend to use about 4 or 5 of each. Cut them into spears (kind of like a french fry).
2. Toss in a bowl with olive oil, salt and pepper.
3. Spread on a baking sheet and cook in a 350 degree oven for 40 minutes or until the veggies are fork-tender.

Serve!

Here's the visual difference between carrot and parsnip

In a bowl with olive oil, salt and pepper
 If you have leftovers, they go very well into a stew the next day. We typically pair this recipe with a whole chicken so the following day I make chicken and rice soup with leftover chicken and roasted veggies. Yum!

How to Make Dill Pickles

I was using some of our pickles from last summer in meals this week and I realized that I'd never gotten around to sharing the process for making and canning dill pickles. So, here it is.

The first, and most difficult, step of the process is wrangling some cucumbers away from the little hands that helped to pick them. *smile*

Ingredients

  • 8 pounds cucumbers (pickling variety produce the crunchiest pickles, but I use whatever I have)
  • 4 cups white vinegar**
  • 12 cups water
  • 2/3 cup pickling salt
  • 16 cloves garlic, peeled and halved (or minced garlic can be used if you prefer)
  • 8 sprigs fresh dill, plus a pinch or two of dried dill 
  • If you like pickles with a kick, add 4 whole peppercorns or one jalapeno pepper to each jar

Directions

Before you begin, soak cucumbers overnight in an ice bath. 

  1. Sterilize 8 quart jars and canning lids in a large pot (or two). Keep hot until you're ready to pack them.
  2. In a large pot over medium-high heat, combine the vinegar, water, and pickling salt. Bring to a rapid boil for five minutes.
  3. Wash and slice the cucumbers as you'd like (spears or slices- or both, like us). Uniform sized spears will help when you're ready to pack them into jars.
  4. In each jar, place 2 half-cloves of garlic in the bottom and a pinch or two of dried dill, then enough cucumbers to fill the jar.  (If you're using peppercorns or jalapenos add them now.) Then add 2 more garlic clove halves, 1 sprig of fresh dill and another pinch of dried dill. Pack the cukes down well into the jars because when you fill them with brine whatever can float, will float.
  5. Fill jars with hot brine. Leave half an inch of headspace from the rim of the jar to the brine, and make sure the brine covers the cucumbers.
  6.  Seal jars by placing the lids on top and hand-tightening them, making sure you have cleaned the jar's rims of any residue.
  7. Process sealed jars in a boiling water bath. Process quart jars for 15 minutes. (You will likely have do to a couple batches to fit 8 jars into the bath, unless yours is a lot bigger than mine.)
  8. Store pickles for a minimum of 8 weeks before eating. Refrigerate after opening. Pickles will keep for up to 2 years if stored in a cool dry place. (I use my basement pantry.) 
Wait at least two weeks, three is better- before you eat the pickles to allow them to marinate in the brine.
Recipe adapted from here and here and here
**Since 2001 all vinegar has been classified as gluten free, thanks to the discovery that the distillation process cancels out the harmful proteins. The only exception is malt vinegar. However, if you are a recently diagnosed Celiac, and must therefore be extremely careful with your diet, you may choose to avoid vinegar for a while. Read more information here. I have also successfully used apple cider vinegar (with 5% acidity- check the bottle before you use it), but it creates a slightly different flavor than when you use white vinegar. 

Friday, February 24, 2012

Moments to Remember: Our Eggs Arrive

This Friday I'm linking up with Homeschool Creations and 1+1+1=1 to share a moment from our homeschooling week:

Despite all formal learning that I may have intended for the week, what truly stole the educational show was that our hatching eggs arrived! You'll see a more detailed post from me soon, but suffice it to say that we are so excited to be incubating 6 purchased eggs (breeds we don't yet have, but would like to), and one of our own eggs!
Eggs in the mail...

Lucas, our rooster, was none-too-pleased that we were taking one of his girls' eggs
This has been a tremendous learning experience over the last 36 hours, and will continue to be so- twenty more days until we have a new set of chicks to play with and care for!


Thursday, February 23, 2012

Angelina Ballerina Day

Have I mentioned yet today how amazing our library is? Today, we took Ava and a friend (and we dragged the rest of the family with us) to an Angelina Ballerina event at our library. It didn't matter that we weren't terribly familiar with this adorable British mouse character to begin with, because when we left (with our cardboard container mouse ears and pink painted tutus in tow), we were fans for life. We borrowed the books from the library and have been reading them ever since.

The library arranged for a free, sample ballet lesson for all those interested. Here's a peek:
Oh yes, this is a dress-up gown rather than a tutu. After much ado about which of her tutus she was going to wear, Miss Ava chose her own unique style and was the only little girl in the class to don a Sleeping Beauty gown.
She dances with a scarf... without a scarf... this little girl has her own beautiful rhythm.

Though Eleanor appears to be stunned by all the long legs in tights...

...she begins to dance quite beautifully in her big sister's footsteps (but likely not in those footsteps for long!)...

And while I'd love to see my strong, handsome son out there as well, for today his shyness has overcome him and he curls up in a corner with a book.

Still, I take heart in our family dance tonight- at home and free from prying eyes- that the dancer in each of my children will take root and soar.
I freely admit that I don't do New Year's Resolutions because I don't ever follow through with them. Honestly, the craze of the holiday season (which starts for us in November and runs through February due to an unnatural number of family birthdays) makes me too busy to thoughtfully consider self improvement. I'm a firm believer in reflection as part of the change process, and I just don't get enough of that during the Christmas season.

So I wait until Lent.

This may seem strange, but I really do love Lent. I don't see it as a time of deprivation; rather I see it as a time of renewal and self-evaluation. "What can I do to improve my life?" I ask myself. "What can I do to bring myself closer to the human being that God wants me to be?"

This year during Lent, we have chosen to work together as a family to improve our health, and to do this we will eliminate all processed foods from our diet. Yes, all of them.

The criteria for our approach to the "whole food" diet is simple:


1. The food must be natural or organic, if possible.
2. The food must be as locally sourced as possible.
3. A packaged food must have five ingredients or less, or else the food must have been prepared in our own kitchen, with our ingredients.

So by all means, follow along with our new health adventure. I'll post recipes and some meal plans in case you are so inspired to follow suit.


Cheers!

Apple, Bannana and Oat Muffin Recipe

These babies are gluten-free, are whole food diet friendly, and taste great. Our family is eating them a lot all the time lately.

Here's the recipe (and I highly recommend making a double batch of these because they freeze really well):

Apple, Bannana and Oat Muffins
(Adapted from Mamas Like Me's recipe)

Ingredients:
2 bananas, mashed
1 egg
1/4 cup oil
1/3 cup milk (almond milk also works)
1/2 teaspoon gluten-free vanilla
1/2 cup raw honey
2 medium apples, cored and finely chopped
1/2 cup gluten-free flour mix
1/2 cup almond meal
1 3/4 cup gluten-free oats (you can use steel cut oats but I recommend softening them in a bit of water in the microwave first or your muffins may be a bit crunchy)
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon

Everyone mashes banana

Group effort...

Ben peels apples (with supervision, of course)

Wet ingredients and dry ingredients before they are mixed. (By the way, the child-sized cooking utensils are from For Small Hands and they were such a wonderful investment!)

Yummy delishousness coming out of the oven!
1. Preheat oven to 350F degrees. Grease muffin pan with butter (no cooking spray for whole food folks!).

2. In a large bowl combine bananas, milk, oil, sugar, vanilla and egg. In another bowl whisk together dry ingredients – flours, oats, cinnamon and baking powder. Add dry mixture to wet mixture, mix well. Dust apples lightly with GF flour blend to cover, then fold into mixture.

3. Spoon the mixture evenly into muffin cups. (We filled ours right up to the top.) Bake for 25 minutes or until tester comes out clean.

4. Cool on a wire rack.


Rainbow Veggie Casserole

Here's a look at one of our family's staple "whole food, gluten free" recipes. We call it "Rainbow Veggie Casserole," but it's based on this recipe.

Ingredients are simple: olive oil, sea salt, Parmesan cheese (for whole food families use shredded cheese, not the cheese in a jar variety), gluten-free bread crumbs (Italian style is good, or add 1 tsp. Italian seasoning), and pepper- plus whatever vegetables you choose. 

 Layer the veggies you choose. Here, I have used two sweet potatoes, two carrots and a red pepper (all peeled and diced) in the bottom layer, one sliced, large red onion in the next, two sliced, large zucchinis in the next, and last, one sliced yellow pepper. (Change up the veggies depending upon what's in season: turnips or golden potatoes are great in the bottom layer, and tomatoes are great rather than yellow pepper on top.) This picture is done to show what's in each layer- when you are creating this dish you should layer each to the edge of the pan.
 After the veggies are in the pan, you should spread about a half cup of bread crumbs and a half cup of Parmesan cheese (previously combined in a small bowl) over the vegetables. Then drizzle one Tbs. of olive oil over it all. Top with a bit of sea salt and pepper.


 Bake at 400 degrees for 35-40 minutes, or until tender.

 Notice I don't have any pictures of the finished product? That's because we ate it all. Everyone loves this recipe, so we use it often!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Lego Day

Our library is amazing. Little did we know that today's Lego activity was going to be such a hit with the kids who attended that an official Lego Club would be formed, complete with monthly missions and meetings!

For us, this is excellent news.

Here's a peek at our fun today:
We can't wait for another opportunity to share our Lego building interest with other, like-minded children! Next up, a St. Patrick's Day challenge using only green Legos!

 

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