Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Sourdough Bread, Biscuits, Tortillas, Quick Breads, Muffins, and Scones

I am allergic to yeast, both baker's and brewer's. I was really surprised five years ago when the allergist tested me and then put me through an elimination diet and challenge, but the results stood. I had hoped this year that when I started working with sourdough I would be able to eat it, but no, it appears I am even more allergic to wild yeasts.

I do try to bake sourdough bread for my family each week even though I can't have it. The love bread and it makes meals, especially lunch, easier to prepare. I use an einkorn converted sourdough starter and einkorn flour. After reading many sourdough recipes online I was able to combine several ideas to get a bread that works for us.

Each week I make einkorn tortillas; usually Tuesdays and Fridays. I'm still messing with recipes and the tortilla maker in an attempt to get perfect tortillas. I even bought a Cuisinart food processor to try to make it easier by eliminating the need to spend so much time rubbing fat into flour with my bare hands, but I hated the results. I know a lot of people love Cuisinarts, but I took mine back after six days.

I also make einkorn biscuits several times a week; I hope to get a blog post up later this month demonstrating my recipe and process. Again, I had to tweak several recipes to come up with one that rises well with nice flaky layers. Midway through testing recipes I had to change course and find a recipe that wasn't for buttermilk biscuits. I think I hit gold as I now have a recipe that rises beautifully, tastes delicious, and has a very manageable dough that doesn't lose anything when the scraps are reworked.

When I realized that the sourdough bread wasn't going to work for me I turned to savory quick breads on soup night, but that's on hold right now while I avoid buttermilk this month. I must say that I baked a gorgeous Irish soda bread on Halloween that was enjoyed by all of our guests.

Muffins are probably the first bread I ever baked; they are more like cake than bread but since we eat them as breakfast and snacks rather than dessert they fall into the bread category around here. Muffins were one of our go to gluten-free breads as they are easy to bake and convert well to gluten-free. They do have more sugar than I like to feed the boys regularly so now that I am working with einkorn I make them far less often, make once a month as a breakfast treat.

Scones have always been a favorite of mine; they are basically a slightly sweet biscuit, often with the addition of other ingredients such currants or dried ginger pieces. For decades I had been making a simple corn scone from the Moosewood Cooks At Home cookbook but now that corn is off the menu for me (maybe that will change once I get my histamine issues under control) I am working on a basic scone recipe by tweaking the successful biscuit recipe to include more sugar.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

I'm Really Bad at This

Either I forget to write something or I write a draft and leave it sitting there.

Tuesdays are usually a busy day for us and Election Day was no different. We had a full load of lessons and chores plus we spent the afternoon visiting at a friend's house. After dinner we turned on the TV to watch election results and stayed up way too late.

On the way home we stopped at Trader Joe's and picked up one of their new brined organic whole chickens. After sprinkling it with a small amount of kosher salt and a generous amount of dried thyme I popped it into the oven at 400° on convect roast. It was delicious! I'd say it was one of the best organic birds we've eaten. Alongside we had roasted Dutch Baby potatoes and broccoli - a simple meal that everyone enjoyed.

With a freshly roasted chicken carcass on hand I threw together a quick chicken broth so that I have some on hand that qualifies as safe on the low histamine diet. It boiled gently for 2 hours and then I strained and froze it. I have so much frozen stock that I had to label this as safe so that I can tell them all apart. It isn't as delicious or nutritious as a slow-simmered stock but it will do for now.

Monday, November 5, 2012

No More Broth!

For now, anyway.

I've been having major allergy symptoms for some time now (off and on my whole life, really, but almost uncontrollable this past year, to the point of leaving me unable to sleep) and decided to try a histamine avoidance elimination diet for four weeks to see if bringing down my systemic histamine levels might help. Unfortunately, slow-cooked broth is off the menu as meat products release histamine after they are cooked (naturally occurring histidine converts to histamine). The only broth I can have is broth that is cooked for two hours (not twenty-four) and frozen immediately. I don't have any of that right now so I'll have to skip drinking broth until I get some made with fresh bones (not frozen leftovers, that whole histamine thing).

Instead of drinking a mug of broth this morning I had a cup of nettle infusion. Nettles are a natural anti-histamine and I've been meaning to try nettle infusion for quite some time; I even already had some in the house. I enjoyed the infusion with a spoonful of sage blossom honey and it was really delicious.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Sunday Morning Pancakes

For some time now we've had a solid at-home Sunday breakfast routine going - Pancakes and Bacon.

Saturday evening I blend together Einkorn berries and buttermilk and then allow that to sit covered overnight. In the morning I add melted butter, leavenings, sweetener, and eggs, and then I adjust the consistency of the batter by adding either more buttermilk or a small amount of Einkorn flour. I cook them on a vintage electric griddle (which has improved my pancake making by a significant margin) and serve them with Kerrygold butter and real maple syrup.

(This is a riff on Sue Gregg's blender batter pancakes; I freely offer her credit for introducing me to the idea of blending whole grains with buttermilk.  My method the next morning is a little different, as are the ingredients I add.)

These are by far our favorite pancakes, even better than the buttermilk pancakes from Marion Cunningham's The Breakfast Book, which were are favorite for a long time. As a bonus these have the extra nutrition from the whole grain and the soaking.

Our favorite bacon is from Beeler's. We buy it from our local health food store and I'll admit to grabbing four packages at a time just in case they are out of it sometime.

When we camp we make our Sunday pancakes with homemade biscuit mix using Einkorn flour, Real Salt, pastured lard, and Featherweight (corn-free) baking powder. I mix that with buttermilk and eggs and the pancakes turnout very much like the pancakes I remember from growing up - tender and fluffy.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Hodge Podge Saturday

I have been way off my game with meal planning. I have a November meal plan made but haven't been pulling things out of the freezer to defrost, which means I have to change to plan. Breakfast has been pretty much off my radar and each morning we're scrambling to figure out what to eat. Today it was homemade gluten free doughnuts, which made the boys happy.

We pulled together a simple lunch: I made hard-cooked eggs and biscuits and Papa made salads.

By dinner time we'd put the kitchen into disarray while investigating our electrical problems (we have a circuit that is out but didn't trip the breaker). I wanted to clean up and figure out what to make for dinner, Papa wanted to go out to eat. We settled for bringing something in, which I really didn't want to do but it's hard to disagree with a tired, hungry man who has spent his entire day working on a house problem.

Friday, November 2, 2012


I'm suppose to make a nice slow cooker meal on Fridays, as we are out of the house all afternoon. However, preparing for and having a huge party Wednesday night has thrown me off a bit and I didn't defrost any meat. I did make einkorn tortillas at lunch, so I think we'll have tacos for dinner using pre-cooked and frozen meat. I made refried beans after the party so we have those too; the dinner won't take much prep.

I enjoyed my broth this afternoon. I was talking with a good friend and she reminded me how important bone broth is.  When it gets hot in summer I stop drinking it and I think my health is showing the effects.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

It's NaBloPoMo ...

... (aka National Blog Posting Month) and I've decided that this is the blog that I will post to this year. If you're unfamiliar with NaBloPoMo it's a challenge that bloggers to take to have a blog post everyday of the month. Since next to no one reads this blog I don't know that it matters that I chose this blog, but food is where my interest is right now so this blog makes the most sense.  I doubt I'll write everyday as already I see some very busy days mid-month, but I'll be making an effort to post more often.

Just to keep things real, tonight we had tater tots and hot dogs for dinner (both from Trader Joe's so perhaps there weren't quite as bad as they could have been). Sometimes I'm not feeling well and getting any meal on the table is an effort. The package of hot dogs was left over from camping and the tater tots had been purchased to try out a brunch recipe. The guys had Udi's gluten-free buns (I did NOT feel well enough to make Einkorn rolls) and we all had fruit instead of a vegetable (so that I didn't have to cook one).

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

R.I.P Holistic Family Yahoo Group

It is with great sadness that I post this. I have been informed by Beth Sutton of Enki Education that the Holistic Family Yahoo! Groups have been deleted.  The main group, Holistic Family, was founded in 2006 by myself and another Enki Education user, Kari. The entire groups are gone and there are no archives available. For the HF members that means that every word we ever wrote to the group is simply gone. While I have been told that a notice was posted on the main page two days before the deletion, I was not personally given any advanced notice so that I could offer my opinion or choose to try to preserve any of my posts. I think an email would have been the least they could have done.

This is the second time that I have been a member of a Yahoo! group for Enki users that has been deleted.

The Plan (and Some Pre-First Day of Homeschool Excitement)

Since my last post I thought we had come to a decision regarding this coming homeschool year (we'll start the week of the fall equinox). T-Guy wanted to move into grade 8 and to use Oak Meadow, so we ordered that. J-Baby didn't want to use OM7 (we'd already covered the science and history), and while I had written that I would consider moving him into grade 8, once I looked at the OM8 assignments I thought maybe they were more work than he would be willing to do.  Not more than he was capable of, just more than I thought he'd be willing to do. I've tried to make children do more than they want to and I've never found it to work all that well. So I thought we'd piece together our own grade 7, with J-Baby joining T-Guy for the OM math and science.

Yesterday J-Baby brought up the idea of moving into grade 8 (I hadn't offered it as an option). We talked about the level of work required and I mentioned my concerns; he thinks he can do it. It's true that he is a different child than he was just a few months ago, more helpful and more willing to do work. I decided that we'll give it a month or two and if it isn't working out we'll come up with something else.

The decision takes a weight off me; I know what we will be doing academically for the first couple of months. That gives me more time to imagine and plan everything else we will be doing - the Waldorf-y parts of our days. Our festivals, crafts, handwork, cooking/baking, etc.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

The Real Work of Feeding a Family

We just spent a month away from restaurants. Every meal we ate - breakfast, lunch, and dinner - was prepared at home. There were a two dessert exceptions made; we took our nephew (visiting from Europe) to the local organic ice cream shop (they use liquid nitrogen to freeze the ice cream on the spot) and one evening we purchased root beer floats from a charitable club as part of their fundraising efforts at an outdoor musical event.

This isn't the first time we have taken a month of from eating at restaurants, although I think it may be the first time we have ever done it without someone else buying us a restaurant meal. One reason I chose July this time around was that I was fairly certain we wouldn't have any extended family gatherings to attend (which almost always happen at restaurants unless I am hosting).

When we have done this before it was all about saving money; this time it was about the foods we eat and also resetting that desire for restaurant meals. Plus I sometimes need the push to make meal plans and carry them out even if I am busy, under the weather, or simply not in the mood for what I have planned. That did happen to us a few times this month; I cooked several days when I wasn't feeling well, and one night when I planned something for dinner which no one wanted I came up with a plan B.

I recognize that for many people, not eating out isn't a choice, but a reality. However, I have also seen documentaries that show that even the very poor in the USA choose to eat fast food, sometimes because they find fast food to be cheaper than cooking at home based on the time available to the them as well as the skill set they have. I've read about people making all sorts of food challenges and decided that this time I wanted ours to be about making permanent changes.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Sue Gregg's Whole Grain Bread (With Einkorn)

I had high hopes for this bread; the dough was easy to work with once I realized that it wasn't going to behave exactly like dough made with commercial wheat. In my experience Einkorn doughs are always sticky at first.

I used my new Kitchenaid mixer (a new 1 horsepower model from Costco) and found myself wishing that I had chosen the Bosch instead. I can't really imagine the KA handling a double batch of this dough. I'm going to spend another week with the KA before I decide if I should take it back or not. The Bosch is just so much more expensive than the KA, especially if you want the stainless steel bowl, and I don't like the aesthetics of it, especially the blender port since I have a Vitamix and don't need the Bosch blender.
Anyway, I digress. I started the dough last night so that the freshly ground Einkorn flour (done in my Vitamix) could soak with buttermilk. This morning I added in the rest of the ingredients (including several cups of 80% extraction Einkorn flour) and followed the directions for all four rises. The first rise occurs in a bowl, the second rise occurs again in the bowl, the third rise occurs in the bread pans (pictured above), and the fourth rise is the oven spring that occurs at the beginning of baking, which in this case was evident but not dramatic.
These are the lovely loaves! It was hard to let them cool completely before cutting in, but I was disciplined. In honor of such lovely bread I also made fresh sweet butter from raw cream.

Yum! This bread has a nice crumb, good flavor, and it slices easily and evenly. I definitely prefer this recipe to the one I used last week, and I would make it again. I do hope the Kitchenaid mixer can manage a double batch as bread baking in the heat of summer isn't something that I want to do everyday; with a double batch I could bake once a week and freeze the extra loaves until needed.

I still need to tackle sourdough bread, but this bread will do for now and may even be preferred for sandwiches and toast.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Sue Gregg's Banana (Nutless) Muffins

A couple of weeks ago, in an attempt to find more Einkorn recipes, I searched the interwebs and found Sue Gregg and her blender batter recipes (though nothing was specifically written for Einkorn). I was intrigued by her waffle/pancake recipe, started it that evening, and received rave reviews for the pancakes I served the next morning. Such success warranted ordering one of Sue's cookbooks and I chose her Introduction to Whole Grain Baking With Batter Blender Baking and the Two Stage Process because it mentioned incorporating traditional foods techniques.

(As an aside, Sue Gregg's name sounded very familiar to me, and then I remembered Evelyn Gibson of Gibson's Healthful Living which was a shop/cafe we used to go to when we were first married. I'm pretty sure my friend's mom knew both Sue and Evelyn through her sales of Bosch Mixers and also grain mills. Sue lives in Riverside which is pretty close to me.)

Yesterday I had two bread flops. Not failures, as they rose and are edible, but nothing I would invite others to break with us. The first was my fault; I misread the salt measurement and it tasted flat. The second was yet another attempt to bake the Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day master recipe (using Einkorn) in the boule shape, this time employing a cast iron pot as a baking vessel.  It still spread and we ended up with a 1.5 - 2" high loaf of bread. I'm starting to think that Einkorn, with its lower gluten content, doesn't work well in the high moisture, no-knead recipes.

I decided to take a break from bread baking today in the hopes that I would regain my bread baking mojo and knowing that we had enough bread to eat, even if it wasn't the most delicious bread. Still, before bed I stopped to think what food I should be preparing and I realized that J-Baby didn't have much for breakfast (he doesn't like to eat oatmeal day after day). I could have made him a smoothie, but I decided to try Sue Gregg's blender batter muffins instead.

I'm finding the blender batters easy to make and I love that they incorporate freshly ground grain. Even better, the grain grinds with the soaking medium (in this case, buttermilk). Into the Vitamix went the buttermilk, melted butter, warmed honey, and Einkorn grain. After a minute I added the banana, then once it was well-blended I poured it all into a mixing bowl, covered it, and left it to soak overnight. I prepped the leavening/seasonings and headed to bed.

Sue Gregg mentions adding 1/2 cup flour to your muffin batter in the morning if you prefer rounded tops. We do, and I have 80% extraction Einkorn flour so I added it to the batter, mixed in a beaten egg, and finally gently folded in the leavening/seasonings before filling my muffin tin and putting the muffins into the oven to bake.

Papa and I really liked the muffins! The boys were slightly less enthusiastic, and their reasons for rating these muffins lower than the muffins from Moosewood Cooks At Home were the reasons that Papa and I loved them so: they were less sweet and had a bread-like texture rather than being sweet and cake-y. But these are muffins I can serve at breakfast with fruit without feeling guilty; those other muffins are very much a dessert.

So far Einkorn has performed better in the recipes for doughs and batters that include fat, dairy, and a small amount of sweetener, although it could be the hydration that is an issue. Next up I plan to try Sue Gregg's yeasted whole wheat bread, using Einkorn, of course.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

A Peak Into a Real Food Kitchen ...

At any given time there are various bowls on my counter, filled with soaking grains or beans. Here we have pinto beans, navy beans, and oats. The pintos were for tonight's supper, the navy beans are slow cooking in the oven right now for tomorrow's supper, and the oats were used to make baked oatmeal for this mornings breakfast (with leftovers for tomorrow).

Tonight there is only one bowl on the counter, a simple overnight no knead bread dough made with Einkorn flour. I've yet to get started on making sourdough; that will be a task for August, I think. Lately I've been playing with overnight soaked whole Einkorn quick breads (pancakes, biscuits, etc.) but since we have leftover oatmeal for tomorrow's breakfast I'm not going to grind and soak any batters tonight.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Simple Baked Oatmeal

Baked Oatmeal isn't exactly new, but it's a breakfast that I didn't grow up eating and thus didn't serve to my own family until recently. Not that I served them Frosted Flakes or Pop Tarts either (which I did grow up eating almost daily), but my weekday breakfast modus operandi has been to keep it simple. Truthfully, oatmeal as a porridge is easier to make, especially since I soak the oats in the rice cooker overnight and then the timer takes over and cooks the oatmeal so that it's ready when we awaken. But oatmeal as porridge is pretty much just carbs whereas baked oatmeal adds protein via eggs and milk. It also tastes a little bit like bread pudding, which is a major plus in my book; it's worth getting up early to put it in the oven.

I came across baked oatmeal on the Nourished Kitchen blog and the first time I made it I followed Jenny's directions with the exception of leaving out the nuts (allergies) and dried fruit (I don't like dried fruit in my breakfasts - it's a texture thing).  We liked the flavor of the baked oatmeal, but the texture was a little difficult for me and J-Baby to get past; even with a 12 hour soaking the steel cut oats were definitely chewy.

This time I made the baked oatmeal with gluten free quick oats from Bob's Red Mill. It was a little more difficult to rinse and drain the oats this morning, but the results were worth it. This was a creamy baked oatmeal that even J-Baby could get on board with. I also used melted unsalted butter in place of the coconut oil as J-Baby has started complaining of stomach aches when he eats coconut oil. I think the butter made for an even more delicious baked oatmeal.

I soaked the oats with homemade whey (leftover from draining homemade yogurt). While others have said that soaking with whey added a tangy or tart taste to their baked oatmeal I haven't had this happen, but I do rinse my soaked oats before I cook them. I figure the soaking liquid has done its job in helping to neutralize phytic acid in the grain and I know that tangy oats don't go over well with J-Baby. (See the aforementioned soaked porridge which J-Baby will not eat because it is tangy, although Papa loves the added tang. But then, Papa also likes the texture of steel cut oats and dried fruit baked into things; he's easy like that. J-Baby is more like, well, me.)

Jenny's recipe states that it makes 12 - 16 servings; with a teen and a man eating we cut it into 12 servings and sometimes, like this morning, the teen has to eat two servings. But who can complain about a growing young man having a second helping of something so nutritious as baked oatmeal?

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Einkorn Bread

I've been experimenting with Einkorn flour for a little over a week now. Einkorn wheat is also known as the first wheat, more ancient than faro or spelt. It has 14 chromosomes to modern wheat's 42 chromosomes and may be better tolerated by those with wheat and gluten sensitivities.

I'm using my family as guinea pigs: my youngest was diagnosed (by an allopathic medical doctor) with celiac disease at age 6, however, that diagnosis was based on symptoms, challenges, and the absence of symptoms when on an elimination diet rather than on a biopsy or even genetic markers. I've always wondered if he truly has celiac disease, but keeping him away from gluten reversed the damage and has kept him healthy. Also, I was allergy tested and the test, followed by elimination and challenge, indicated an IgE-mediated allergy to wheat and several other gluten containing grains. When Papa did a gluten elimination his sinus issues decreased significantly. We came to see gluten as a food enemy as it didn't seem to be doing any of us any good.

(I wouldn't test Einkorn if we had a true celiac diagnosis confirmed by biopsy, and none of the companies producing and selling Einkorn wheat recommend using it if a person has celiac disease.)

So why try Einkorn?  I've read that it is different and I am curious to see if we can use it in our diets. J-Baby and I didn't have immediate reactions to Einkorn, but that could indicate gut healing rather than a lack of sensitivity, so we are on the the second stage of our experiment, which is using Einkorn for six months (of course we'll stop earlier if there are obvious reactions).

Ideally, I will move on to making sourdough so that we benefit from fermenting our dough (which reduces phytate), but I haven't started that yet.  Last week I worked with the high-moisture content artisan bread dough recipe with so-so results and also made two different overnight soak batter/dough recipes (those turned out great). Today I decided to try using Einkorn flour in a regular bread recipe, one that doesn't try to conform to traditional practice but one that also is basic in its composition, containing fresh milk, butter, salt, sugar, water, yeast, and flour. It's the kind of bread my grandmother, or more likely, my great-grandmother, would have made on a regular basis.  I followed the recipe for white bread in my KitchenAid mixer recipe book since the Einkorn flour I purchase is made with an 80% extraction flour which has most of its bran and germ removed.

I haven't found Einkorn to work all that well in the artisan bread recipe; in forming boules it spreads rather than rises and while baking it in loaf pans contains the spreading it doesn't rise very much nor does it get the oven spring that the artisan dough made with wheat flour gets. The bread is still good, just rather dense.

This is the rise I got using the very basic recipe I outlined above. This kind of dough doesn't rely on oven spring so you want an excellent rise to add lightness to your bread. My first rise took a little less than an hour to double (it is summer and the kitchen is probably at 76°) and the second rise took about 30 minutes.

These are the baked loaves. The crust browned beautifully; I love my Pyrex loaf pans because I can see what is happening with the entire loaf as it bakes.

And wow, what a delicious bread it is! The entire family remarked on how much lighter it is and how it is more like bakery bread. T-Guy mentioned how it is going to make better sandwiches than the artisan loaves and I know it will make better toast.

So those is one of those places where I will sometimes deviate from traditional foods dogma and simply choose real food. I'll likely tweak the recipe to use honey instead of sugar, or I'll use Rapadura whole sugar, but loaves like these are worth forgoing the sourdough process. Not that I don't love sourdough, because I do and I am looking forward to eating it again. But I can make two loaves of this bread in a morning without having to prep anything ahead of time, and the results are outstanding.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Cooking Ahead -- Genovese Pesto

A not-so-very pretty picture of a very beautiful sauce.

I love pesto.  I was first introduced to it more than two decades ago and since then its popularity has really exploded in the USA. These days you can find it in most supermarkets. Unfortunately, even the more natural brands often use walnuts or another nut in place of the pine nuts I love so well, and sometimes they use a non-traditional oil such as canola oil in place of olive oil. At Trader Joe's yesterday the jarred pesto was made with cashews and the refrigerated pesto was made with walnuts; I can't eat cashews or walnuts, ugh.

It's okay though, because pesto is so very easy to make. I grabbed a basil plant (that is how TJs sells fresh basil), a hunk of Parmigiano-Reggiano, and a bag of toasted pine nuts, knowing that I had lemon and olive oil at home.

This evening I whipped up a batch of fresh pesto in my little Oskar Jr. food processor (from 1988). I looked at recipes and decided that as usual, I would wing it. I cleaned the basil, stripped the leaves from the stems (maybe 2 C.) and added them to the food processor bowl, then added some pine nuts (1/4 C.). I gave these a whir, added about 1/2 C. extra virgin olive oil, 1/2 C. grated parmesan, kosher salt, and a few grinding of fresh pepper, and whirred again. I wasn't happy with the consistency so I added more cheese and nuts, plus a squeeze of fresh lemon juice. One last whir and it was good to go. I put it in a jar and added a drizzle of olive oil to help keep it fresh in the refrigerator.

Pesto is good for so much more than pasta. I love it on pizza (hence the decision to make it at all) and also on baked potatoes and even rice. I stir it into plain risotto, add it to soups, and dollop it in salads. Of course, it's great as a marinade for fish and makes a delicious sauce for chicken. It's like having food insurance in the refrigerator, and you can also freeze it (although I usually freeze it without the cheese or nuts).

I leave the garlic out of my pesto; I have a child who exudes garlic from his pores every time he eats it and honestly it just isn't worth it.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Caramelized Onions ~ An Update

The last time I blogged here (a long, long time ago) I posted about doing caramelized onions in the crock pot, using butter.  Since then I've started using coconut oil and it is even more delicious!  I also simplified the process: I use my little Crock Pot, add nothing but the coconut oil (no seasonings later), and don't bother with removing the lid toward the end.  I get a small batch of onions that lasts me a week or two.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The Post That Took Months to Write ...

... or, Is Waldorf (or Enki) Education Still What We Need?

When we started our home education journey T-Guy had just completed his second trip around the sun, while J-Baby was close to completing his first. In other words, the boys were young. Life Learning (aka unschooling) is what appealed to me most at that time; I liked the idea of children learning through living and delving into subjects as their own interests inspired them. I knew some successful life learners and it seemed to be working out well for everyone. Of course, that path didn't end up being 100% right for us as a family, and so we turned to Waldorf and Enki.

Our long foray into holistic education has been wonderful and was the right choice for the elementary years, but as I sit and contemplate planning another year of Waldorf-guided studies I find myself thinking that this really isn't how I envisioned our later home learning years. My goal has always been to raise children who could figure out how to learn what they want to know, not to continue to spoon-feed them information that I have chosen. Now, Waldorf doesn't have to equal spoon-feeding, certainly, but reading the various Live Education guides it sort of seems like it does, and there is no doubt that Waldorf education is teacher-driven. As I contemplate reading very long passages out loud to them I wonder why they learned to read (just kidding, but barely). Not that there aren't times that we enjoy reading out loud, but as a method of introducing material it gets old fast. I have never really wanted to recreate a Waldorf school here in our home. Okay, that might not exactly true: there have been moments where I wanted to recreate an Enki or Waldorf school in my home. With me as the teacher. And a handful of students. Not all of them my children. But that is fantasy, not reality.

We have attempted to give our boys a glorious childhood. They are everything I think children should be: healthy, curious, open, kind, loving, helpful, imaginative, connected to their bodies, and more. Just the other day (um, month) J-Baby (days away from being 12) happily joined in make-believe play with two younger friends, coming up with a makeshift oven for them to bake cookies in. Then the boys watched a couple episodes of their (current) favorite science program. Later in the afternoon they walked to the park and tossed a football around with a friend. That evening they helped Papa set up our new generator and practiced baseball skills. We ate dinner together, sitting around the table with not an electronic device in sight. They climbed into bed and sank into new books borrowed from the library. They have a really great life.

I can't help but feel now that a transition must happen, one where they take the responsibility for their learning. Already, their interests are quite different, with T-Guy focusing on the humanities while J-Baby concentrates on science and technology. Each time I teach a block I have one child far more interested than the other (at least it flip flops). Plus, it seems inevitable that the child who loves the block subject already knows most of what I am presenting, just from their own reading and researching.

How many times can this happen before I acknowledge the frying pan smacking me upside the head? I know their strengths and weaknesses and yet I continue to pour time and effort into introducing new material to them, except it often isn't new at all. They don't need an Introduction to Physics block (a subject they have tackled with Papa several times using multiple kits), they need to practice math skills. They don't need to revisit Medieval History, the need to expand their writing skills. They are really good at finding new information for themselves; they need me to help them with skills.

I am radically rethinking next Fall's grade 7 plan: I'd be lying if I said I wasn't considering ditching the Waldorf method altogether. We need a skills year more than we need anything else. I know that I can trust them to be curious and continue to learn about history and science on their own. I know that they will read literature, listen to classical music, explore the great outdoors, use their bodies, and more. What they can't do for themselves right now is figure out how to write a good five paragraph essay or put the Pythagorean Theorem into practical use (they've known what it is since they were little).

I think they are old enough that I can ask them: What do you want to learn this year? What are your goals for your education? What are your goals for your future? What skills do you think you need?

For example, I know that T-Guy has been contemplating trying to get into the local charter school for high school, in part because he thinks he may want to play sports and in part because several of his homeschooling friends will be there. I don't know if this is the best choice for him, but I do know that I should do my best to help him qualify to enter the school, which will require that he complete algebra in 8th grade. Since we've been working a year behind according to the public schools, we are only now completing grade 6. Math doesn't interest him and I haven't really pushed it. But he is going to have to push himself if the charter school is truly something he wants.

J-Baby doesn't think he wants to go to the charter school. He is highly interested in music, science, and technology and I think it is probably time to loosen some of our technology rules so that he has time to explore programming.  At his age Papa was building his first computer with his own father, and that early interest in computers led to a mostly satisfying, successful career that supports this family in a comfortable manner. I'm rather glad that my ILs didn't say No Computer For You! 

This doesn't have to equal the end of Waldorf Living, if there truly is such a thing. In many ways to me it is living simply, in tune with our children, honoring who and where they are. It seeks connection - to each other, to nature, to our community. It is living lightly, with fewer things. It is growing food and/or sourcing it locally, choosing the most humane food options we can afford, and not wasting the food we do grow and buy. It is sitting down for real meals we cooked from real food, not boxes and packages full of unpronounceable ingredients. It is using less, buying less, buying used, recycling, choosing not to buy bottled water, choosing to wash dishes rather than buying disposable, choosing cloth napkins and cleaning rags over paper, and doing everything we can to be good stewards of the earth.

As time passed after I started this post T-Guy came to me and told me that he doesn't want to work a grade behind any longer; he is of an age where the kids define themselves by their grade and he wants to be in the correct grade for his age. I have no problem with this and we looked at some of the options and he decided that he would like to use Oak Meadow for 8th grade. Now, I don't have the best track record with OM because I was forever trying to make it more Waldorf, but I am willing to give it another try, especially as the plan is for T-Guy to take on the responsibility for choosing and completing his assignments.

The other thing I am willing to try is allowing J-Baby to work up a grade now that he is more mature and developmentally able to stretch himself a bit. He looked at OM7 and didn't think it would be very challenging plus he hated the book list. So effectively we are skipping 7th grade, although we've already covered the history and science and we're actually going to do 7th grade math as that isn't something we think they are capable of skipping.

Thursday, March 15, 2012


I kind of fell off the face of the blogosphere this past month.

We got busy. Good busy.  Hey, let's buy a camping trailer busy.

It takes time.  I'd been researching since January, and by mid-February we were ready to actually look at trailers. Except the kind of trailer we wanted didn't exist at your run-of-the-mill RV dealership. Nope, we wanted a fiberglass "egg" trailer along the likes of a Scamp, Casita, Trillium, or Escape. Or one of the many vintage brands of fiberglass trailers no longer made.

Escape said I couldn't tow the trailer I wanted from them, not with my minivan. So when all of a sudden that same trailer popped up used just an hour from me (seriously ~ these trailers are built in Canada and there are fewer than 150 of this particular model in existence) I did what any sane person would do. I said we should look at it, and if we liked it we'd buy a truck. So we looked. We liked it. We bought it and a truck. Bye-bye Corolla.

Then there was getting the trailer home, having it inspected and registered, and finding a place to store it. We had to move into too, so we went through the house to find extra housewares and linens.

We've missed camping, and the learning that comes with camping. Some of our best learning comes when we travel to new places (or find new things to explore in some of our favorite vacation spots). Camping puts us at the ocean more often, and in all sorts of beautiful state and national parks. And lesson work can always come along, ready to be done when the boys are looking for something to do.

We've already had our little trailer out for a weekend and we are looking to head out again as soon as we can.

But, well, we didn't start that Physics block, and we haven't been reading our Isaac Newton book. The boys kept up with fractions, history, science, reading, and PE, and probably lots of other stuff that I don't know about.  I'm starting to think we'll just go with life learning for the rest of grade 6, with the addition of math skills work and maybe some new math learning.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Please Join Me ...

... today at the Homespun Waldorf Winter Carnival. I am so honored to have been chosen to write a guest post for this weeks Nourish series. The carnival has been fantastic so far, so be sure to take a look at the previous posts, and know that there are 8 posts to come after mine.  Plus there are weekly giveaways!

If holistic and natural living appeals and you haven't joined the Homespun Waldorf forums yet, please do come on over. Membership is free and it is an amazing community! It isn't only for homeschoolers, either, but all those interested in Waldorf in the home.

And now, a completely gratuitous cute children photo:

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Whirlwind Wednesday

Today was busy! We had PE and T-Guy had his first baseball practice of the season, so there was a lot of sitting in the fresh air and sunshine for me, which is always good. Of course, temperatures in the mid 70s, in February, are very good. Well, maybe except for the whole global warming issue. To be fair, it was cold and rainy just yesterday.


Today the boys:

Did two lessons in their Kumon Grade 6 Fractions workbooks.

Had PE (Volleyball, which the parents find hysterical.  The homeschooled kids love it.)

T-Guy had baseball practice, which counts as an extra session of PE.  A long session.

J-Baby did fractions games on the iPad while T-Guy had baseball practice, then he played Yahtzee, which is kind of math.

Spent some time with Papa exploring Garage Band on the iPad.

Did more fractions work, or rather, prime factoring in their other fractions workbooks.

Made the waste books from Isaac Newton and Physics For Kids.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Simple Tuesdays

Monday is a combination of busy and home; we don't go anywhere but we get a lot done.  It's a heavy homeschooling day and a heavy kitchen day. Tuesdays, by comparison, are simple. We do our morning chores and tidy, we do some homeschooling, we have lunch with Papa, and then we visit with friends. Then we fix a simple dinner or choose to go out, which is what we did tonight.


Today the boys:

Completed their music practice.

Worked on fractions, doing two lessons in their workbooks. The concept of borrowing came up, and honestly I don't think it is one I was ever taught. I always convert the entire mixed number into an improper fraction and so far that is exactly that I've taught the boys, but their book did it differently so we spent some time at the white board doing it this "new" way. It does make it easier to finish the problem as there isn't the final conversation, just an occasional simple reduction.

Read the first two chapters of The Borrowers. This is our children's literature selection for the rest of February.

Did two lessons in their other fractions workbook, one that is more story problems and real world applications.

Heard the rest of chapter one from Isaac Newton and Physics For Kids.

Played Yu-Gi-Oh, Dungeons and Dragons, and Monopoly. We consider playing games quite educational, and the public schools must agree as the students in my mother-in-law's classroom also play board and other games.

Monday, February 6, 2012

I thought it might be nice to blog our homeschooling days again, at least for a short while. It always helps me to see how much we really do.

(We aren't in a Waldorf block this month.)

Today the boys:

Did their music practice.

Completed two lessons in their fractions workbooks. This is getting easier everyday.

Did WiiFit Plus for PE

Listened to The Story of the World: Volume 2 Chapters 1 - 3 in audiobook form. We've decided to do the entire book again, this time with activities.

Colored in three maps and put them in their main lesson books (MLBs). They also colored in a laurel wreath, created illuminated initials in their MLBs, and then used a template to create axes. I'll add in pictures tomorrow.

Listened to part of a chapter from Isaac Newton and Physics For Kids. This is our new family learning project/book, to be completed in the evenings with Papa.

I'm sure there was more in there, but this is all I can recall.

Moving Forward With Grade 6

People who read this blog (I think there are two of you) maybe astounded confused by the number of times we change course over the space of a year. Either I am brilliant and move constantly to meet the needs of my children or I am fickle / can't make up my mind / still haven't found anything that works. I hope it is the former ...

We have 5 blocks left in our homeschool year. Our current Ancient Roman History I block has been preempted by illness and a need to get back to basics and work on skills. Actually, a nice conversation at Homespun Waldorf left me thinking that my boys had already learned enough of Roman History for now and that we can move that off the calendar this year regardless of the traditional Waldorf curriculum. We'll keep going with in-depth math work for the next three weeks.

Our next planned block is the grade 6 Physics block and I am thinking that we'll leave it on the calendar. It may be just what we need to refresh our little homeschool and inject some enthusiasm and excitement. Plus it is very hands on, which is perfect for the March doldrums. The trick will be finding a way to keep it fresh as the boys have spent countless hours exploring physics with Papa and on their own. (Can I say here that I am looking forward to teaching a grade at some point in the future where the boys haven't already learned most of what I am planning to teach? I wonder if it is possible.)

After that would have been our Ancient Roman History II block, which will be replaced with another skills block, this time focusing on the writing process. I finally got hold of a Lively Lessons Story Board and think it will really help us. We've also added another computer for the boys to use, so they will start writing using a word processing program.

Astronomy comes in May. It's another subject that the boys have studied extensively, so it will need a fresh approach. Or perhaps we'll do it as a part time block and add in something else, like continuing decimals and percents work.

Our final block of the year is supposed to be an introduction to The Middle Ages, except, as always, the boys already know quite a bit of history from this time period. Honestly, this is the block I expect to have the most trouble with, as most of the boys' friends will be done with schooling / homeschooling for the summer. I'n thinking of having the boys review The Story of the World Volume 2 (gasps heard 'round the web from the Waldorf purists) over the rest of this homeschool year (starting now) and then jettisoning this block in favor of some low pressure skills work in writing. We'll have to see how it goes.

I feel really relaxed about all of it. Coming to understand with the very basics of the grade 6 (fractions/decimals/percents plus the five paragraph essay) has given me the compass that I've been lacking all year.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Giving in to Illness

Oh, this is so hard for a mama!  Mamas aren't supposed to get ill, right? And when they do they are supposed to soldier through and be over it before anyone notices that mama was ill to begin with.

Only this time, it hasn't been true. Mama ran a fever for five days straight last week. Mama is spending lots of time in bed resting. Mama is still struggling to breathe deeply after even the slightest exertion.

I don't know what it is. At the doctor early last week my lungs were still clear and my cough was dry, but I was struggling with deep breathing and as my inhaler was empty we trudged off to the urgent care. Common cold, he said. Which is what I figured, and I don't go to the doctor for a cold, but I needed an inhaler that night. Oh, you're feverish and achy, especially your neck? Possibly the flu then. Here's a prescription for an inhaler - don't let it leave your side.

Of course, the fever continued, the cough got wetter, and the breathing even more difficult. I'm not even sure of some of the basic details of last week as I was in a fog. Papa helped out a lot, depute not feeling 100% himself. A good friend let the boys play at her house a couple of afternoons.

This week I surrendered. I have tried, repeatedly, to get back to the daily chores, etc. and my body refuses. I want to cook, to bake, to tidy, to do errands, and my body responds with body aches, exhaustion, and low fevers. Honestly, I am rather tired of the whole thing. So I've been doing the bare minimum, and slowly I can feel my health returning.

In this, we have returned to workbooks, and it is working out just fine. The boys have been able to keep up their fraction work and practice. They've watched some science and history programs as well, and they've still made it to PE. They've read and listened to audiobooks. They've done their daily music practice. It's all flowing rather well, and I imagine I need at least one more full week before I feel 100%, so we'll stick with what we're doing for now. It's very possible we'll keep this up until our next block is scheduled to start at the end of February.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012


Yes, we are still working on fractions.

I want to write this post for all the people out there who think that their grade 6 or grade 7 student should know fractions by now. It's not that easy. We holistic home learners can be so flexible when it comes to when a child learns to read and so very inflexible when it comes to math skills.

We did fractions in grade 4, the very gentle introduction that Live Education brings to the student. We did about half of Life of Fred: Fractions in grade 5. Technically we worked with fractions before grade 4 when we were using the Miquon Math Lab materials. And here we are still doing fractions.

I want to tell you something about teaching fractions: they will expose your child's weaknesses with other math skills. It's okay to have weaknesses and it is really good when you can find them, because it means you can strengthen those skills.

Today my boys were reducing fractions. Yes, we've done this before, but we are reviewing the early fraction work so that they can become Fraction Ninjas (thanks to Papa for the label, because they boys are really into the idea). I can tell you right away that J-Baby still struggles with knowing his multiplication facts inside out and backwards, because his answers are wrong when he doesn't remember his multiplication facts. T-Guy, on the other hand, makes mistakes because he doesn't reduce enough. Part of his problems is taking directions literally (so if the instructions don't say to reduce again if necessary he doesn't), but the other issue is not finding the greatest common factor.

In a nutshell: J-Baby can easily find the greatest common factor but sometimes does the math wrong, T-Guy does the math correctly but doesn't always find the greatest common factor.

(Can you imagine how this would play out in a classroom? I am one teacher with two students and they each have a different weakness. My guess is that there are other things that could be going wrong and that it must be hard for a teacher to address the needs of 30 students.)

I realize that math and writing skills are the most important things we need to be working on this year. Soon I will determine just exactly what our goals will be and I will imprint them in my brain.  Grade two was place value and reading at the Frog and Toad level; in terms of skills everything else was gravy. I'm inclined to think that grade 6 is going to be all about having a solid understanding of fractions, decimals, and percents and the ability to write a five paragraph essay.

I didn't fully realize before that the story content of the Waldorf curriculum is the easy part. I'd bring stories to the boys, we'd draw (or paint or model), we'd summarize, and we'd write a little bit. They know so much about history and science and have been exposed to a great deal of children's literature (all of these things being partly what we've brought to them and partly what they have sought on their own). They've been to museums, plays, and concerts. Well-rounded describes their content learning, but their skills aren't exactly where we want them to be. Which isn't exactly where everyone else is (hence my reminding everyone that all skills come in their own time), but isn't where they are right now either.

This is where I stumble.  Do I trust in unschooling, in their inherent desire to learn and the belief that sometime soon they will set goals for themselves and dive into math and writing? Or do I acknowledge that I am not going to harm them with skills work and make it a part of everyday life, something that they simply must develop the discipline to do? (I do pause for a moment and realize that this is exactly who I am, a person who had difficulty choosing between two options when both have something going for them.) Is requiring skills work a fear response on my part (how will they get into college?) or simply requiring them to develop the skills they need (yep, buddy, everyone has to learn fractions)?

Homeschooling can be fraught with questions we don't ask ourselves otherwise. I don't wonder if I am pushing my children to learn to do the dishes or vacuum the house. I don't think that having them fold their own laundry is pushing them. I don't consider myself unfair because they must care for the dogs. I make them suck it up and eat kale when they don't want to. I do all these things because I believe they are good for them, that they help develop them into caring, responsible, healthy people.

So maybe, for now, we push forward with skills work and see where it takes us.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Sick Days ... Sweet Dogs ... Strange Vibrations

Yesterday was a sick day, today will be too. The boys aren't thrilled to be missing park day, especially as they know that most of the moms don't mind sick children attending. But I do mind; I think people who are ill should stay home and recuperate, more to care for themselves than to prevent the spread of germs to others (although that is good as well). Since my boys don't have the instinct to slow down and care for themselves I must care for them, and that includes keeping them home. Heck, I had Papa stay home yesterday, finally convincing him that taking time to rest on the first day he is ill will go a long way to shortening his illness.

I was just sitting here and realized that my house and body are vibrating to this odd low hum. I suppose it is the construction going on at the church down the street. When asked what my husband thought the church might be building he responded "bomb shelter" without skipping a beat. We're actually guessing a basement for their new building, but it could be a bomb shelter.

Puppy Girl likes to turn her paw out when she sleeps. Sometimes it is especially cute as she will rest her head on her paw. Other times it just looks like it might hurt. Both dogs sleep a lot; that is part of their low energy charm. Big Dog is a dreamer, often running and barking in his sleep; he's probably keeping us safe even during his naps. They take turns on door duty now; there is almost always a dog blocking the front door.