June 17, 2011

New Guest Blogger on The Book Blawg

I have some exciting news. My son, Chris, who is 10, will be writing short reviews of some of his summer reading on one of my other blogs, The Book Blawg. Right now he is reading through the Redwall series by Brian Jacques and the Dragon Keepers Chronicles by Donita K. Paul, although I am letting him choose his writing topics. I also plan to format the posts only but not edit his writing, as much as it irks me to publish something with grammatical errors :).

June 6, 2011

Sourdough Bread Part I: Starter

"You start it," said Ma, "by putting some flour and warm water in a jar and letting it stand till it sours." "Then when you use it, always leave a little," said Laura. "And put in the scraps of biscuit dough, like this, and more warm water," Laura put in the warm water, "and cover it," she put the clean cloth and the plate on the jar, "and just set in in a warm place," she set it in its place on the shelf by the stove. "And it's always ready to use, whenever you want it."
- Laura Ingalls Wilder, By the Shores of Silver Lake

Why Sourdough Bread?
For a while, I've been thinking about making my own sourdough. At a certain point, I realized that commercial baker's yeast is a processed food.  You can make the most healthy, whole grain, organic bread, but if you are using yeast that you buy in the grocery store, you are adding a shelf-stable manufactured product. It's the bread equivalent of pasteurized milk - or worse, milk powder.

Second, I've been using the no-knead Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day method and love it. I just don't like the yeasty taste that my bread gets if I don't bake it within a day or two of mixing it. It's not that I don't like the taste of sourdough or yeast, I just don't like the particular sour yeasty taste that my bread takes on when I add commercial yeast.

Third, we've been making some dietary changes in our family in order to address some health and behavioral problems. Primarily, this has involved removing dairy from our diets, but sometimes we wonder if the combination of dairy and gluten causes problems as well. We're not really at the point of going gluten-free, and I think we would know if anyone in our family had a serious gluten intolerance. But the bacteria and yeast in sourdough helps pre-digest the gluten in bread, in the same way that aged cheese and yogurt have less lactose than milk, because the bacteria feed on the lactose and gluten and break them down.

How to get Sourdough Starter
Sourdough starter is a symbiotic combination of wild yeast and lactobacillus. There are several different ways to get your own sourdough starter (sometimes called a sponge). You can grow your own, like Mrs. Ingalls did. You can borrow some from a friend. Most interestingly, you can order starter on the internet. San Francisco sourdough gets it's distinctive taste from the wild yeast that populate that geographical area; and you can buy Alaskan sourdough, Italian sourdough, Parisian sourdough, etc. - some strains are over 100 years old. A strain that has been around a while is bound to be dependable. Of course, some say that eventually your sourdough starter will be overtaken by your local wild yeast. Fresh sourdough starter generally runs $6- $12. King Arthur Flour is a reliable source.

However, being a frugal person, I opted for the free starter (and seeing as how this is my first time experimenting with sourdough; I don't want to pay for something only to kill it or loose interest if it doesn't work). You can get Carl Griffith's 1847 Oregon Trail Sourdough Starter free for the cost of a self-addressed stamped envelope. Instructions are at carlsfriends.net.

Carl is long gone, but his friends keep his sourdough culture alive and will dry it and send it to you. What a deal! The only drawback is that you have to take a little time to re-activate it. The Carl's Friends website has instructions. Put some in a dish, add some water, and stir:

Add a little water and flour, and when it bubbles, stir it and add a little more flour and water. The whole process takes several hours. Store it in a non-airtight container. A French canning jar with the gasket removed is perfect - it lets gasses in (and out) yet protects from accidental spillage, insects, and one-year-olds:

If you are going to be using the starter daily, keep it out at room temperature. If you need to store it, put it in the refrigerator.

Feeding Your Starter
I've only been doing this for a few weeks, so I am certainly no expert. You can find a ton of advice (often conflicting) on the internet about how to care for sourdough starter. There are YouTube videos, online courses, and endless websites. But here's the simple, what-works-for-me version:

So, the bacteria and the yeast feed on the four. After a while, they run out of flour and then the bacteria starts eating the yeast. This products hooch - the alcoholic liquid that forms on top - and is a good sign that you need to feed your yeast. Just add a tablespoon of flour and a tablespoon of water. Some sourdough experts say that you should add the same weights, not the same amounts of flour and water, so depending on the density of your flour the amount of water will be different. However, I try to keep my starter the consistency of pancake batter. So if it is too thin, I don't add so much water, and if it is thick, I add a little more.  If you add too much flour and water, see what happens:

I found a great article at GNOWFLGLINS, 6 Tips to Prevent “Sour” Sourdough, which advises you to pour off the hooch rather than stir it in; and to feed the starter more often. So I feed my starter 2-3 times a day when it is out on the counter, and 3 times a week when it is in the fridge. I put in a tablespoon of flour and water, give it a stir, and that's it. If I'm going to bake bread, I take it out of the fridge several hours to a day before, feed it 1/2 a cup or so of flour and water, and let it sit until I am ready to bake.

Next up: Sourdough Bread Part II:  Baking

May 5, 2011

Refried Beans

Beans are a great, cheap, nutritious food. My boys, however, act like they are allergic to beans - even though they ate them when they were little. At a certain point, we noticed that whenever we went out to eat, they would quickly devour bean dip with tortilla chips, even as they disdained the same beans which appeared on their plates next to the rice. Go figure. So the obvious solution was to make my own bean dip, a/k/a Frijoles Refritos, or refried beans.

Now, I know some of you like to soak dried beans and cook them all day, but I needed something that was quicker and took less preparation. After googling some recipes and a little experimenting, I came up with this:

Garlicky Refried Beans

2 cans pinto beans
3 T fat or oil (olive oil, coconut oil, lard, bacon grease, etc.)
1 or 2 cloves pressed garlic
1/2 t. onion powder
dash or two of cayenne powder (red pepper)
1/2 t. cumin (optional)
1 t. coriander  (optional)
dash or two of black pepper

salt to taste, about 1 1/2 t.
squeeze of lime juice (2 t. )

Open cans and drain the beans, reserving the liquid. Heat the oil in a cast-iron skillet or your
favorite frying pan. Add garlic and saute for just a minute, until it barely starts to brown. Dump in the beans, spices, salt, and 2 T. of the reserved bean juice. Cook on medium-high heat for a few minutes, until the beans look hot and you have had a chance to find your potato masher in the drawer. Reduce heat and mash up the beans until fairly smooth. Add as much bean juice as you need to reach the desired consistency, keeping in mind that the bean dip will thicken as it cools. I usually find that the liquid from one can of beans is just right. Add some lime juice. Stir it all up real good, scraping the bottom of the pan; and serve warm with tortilla chips.

A couple notes:
- You can use black beans instead of pinto.
- If you are not fond of garlic, skip the fresh garlic and add 1/2 t. of garlic powder instead.
- On the other hand, if you prefer your beans oniony, sautee fresh minced onion in oil instead of (or in addition to) the garlic. Adjust amounts of onion powder and garlic powder accordingly. Dried onion flakes will work as well.

Play with the amounts and kinds of spices until you find a blend that you and your family love. Yum!

April 27, 2011

Instilling Honor in Boys Through Literature

Cindy, homeschooling mom of nine, has a list of literature (fiction, biographies, and poetry) on her blog which tends to instill honor in boys without moralizing:
Our goal is not to produce self-righteous prigs like our old friend Eustace Scrubbs before he met the dragon (See: The Voyage of Dawn Treader) but rather to motivate our sons by the examples of true heart change whether that heart change is in the real man Stonewall Jackson or the fictional mouse Reepicheep.
My boys have read a few of these already. How about yours?

March 18, 2011

Irish Soda Bread

Happy St. Patrick's Day! My friend Julie over at Mommie Cooks posted this yummy-looking recipe for Irish Soda Bread, so I decided to try it. Our family is spending a couple weeks eliminating dairy (milk) from our diets, so I made a couple of modifications to the recipe:

- Rice milk instead of buttermilk (added a tablespoon of lemon juice and let it sit while I mixed up the dry ingredients).
- Instead of 4T melted butter, 2T each olive oil and coconut oil (warmed slightly).

I also substituted one cup of whole wheat flour for white and nixed the caraway seeds, because I hate, hate, hate them.

The bread was easy to make and all my boys loved it - and asked for seconds!

February 20, 2011

Children in Church and Sermon Notes

Years ago, I found a form on the web for young children to use to take notes in church. Recently, I tried to find it again and was unsuccessful. However, I did find this form from Blue Ridge Bible Church which is perfect for my older kids to use.

BRBC's post on Kids and Sermon Notes references another really good piece by John and Noel Piper called The Family: Together in God's Presence which discusses both the practical aspects of teaching children to take notes, worship, etc., but more importantly the "whys" of family-centered worship. A must-read for those attending family-integrated churches or who prefer to keep their children with them in church services. I explained to my 5-year-old who can't read enough to sing along that his job during worship is to "listen very hard" and that seemed to click with him.

After a lot more google searching for the old form (most searches for "kid's sermon notes" and the like pulls up Sunday school or children's church lessons and activities), I discovered that Ginger, a friend from our old church in Texas, has created a very similar Worship Notes for Children form. I think I'll give this one to my 5yo and maybe my 8yo, who isn't quite getting the hang of note-taking on the other form. Thanks, Ginger!

February 12, 2011

Dairy-free Cornbread

When I want to make really awesome cornbread, I use Patsy Watkin's Rocking Cornbread recipe, which I cut out of the newspaper several years ago. It involves melting butter on the stove in a cast-iron skillet, adding the ingredients including buttermilk, then baking it in the oven. You can add corn, cheese, and jalapenos if you like, and it's really, really good.

However, when we want something easier to assemble, dairy-free, and just pretty good, I use this recipe:

Beat together:
2 eggs
1/2 cup oil
1 1/2 cups rice, almond, or soy milk (or other milk substitute; or you could just use milk if you don't need it to be dairy-free)

Then add:
1 1/2 cups cornmeal
1 1/2 cups flour
6 T. sugar
1 t. baking powder
1/2 t. baking soda
1 t. salt

Bake in a 9" square pan at 400 degrees for 25-30 minutes.

You can fiddle a bit with this recipe and it will still come out well. I've used whole wheat pastry flour when I was out of white four; and more white flour when I was out of cornmeal. Just make sure you use a total of 3 cups flour with approximately half of that being cornmeal. If anyone tries this recipe with gluten-free flour, let me know how it turns out!

January 9, 2011

Hot Cocoa

My boys love hot cocoa. In fact, sometimes I think they go out to play in the snow just so they can come in and demand cocoa. But have you ever read the ingredients on a packet of store-bought cocoa? Yuck! Instead, I make my own dry mix in a big batch and just add it to hot water as needed.

My basic recipe is:
3 cups non-fat powdered milk
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
3/4 cup sugar
dash of salt

I use 4 tablespoons of mix for every 8 oz of water.  You can punch it up with vanilla extract, chocolate syrup, chocolate chips (or grated chocolate if you want to get fancy), peppermint or peppermint flavoring, cinnamon, etc. And don't forget the marshmallows!

January 6, 2011

Free Homeschooling Resources

If you are homeschooling and have not visited Successful Homeschooling - you need to! Carletta has a website, a monthly newsletter, and a blog, all full of helpful information. This week she has compiled a quite comprehensive list of Free Online Homeschooling links. I see all my favorites listed, plus a lot of sites I was unaware of. My older boys got mp3 players for Christmas, so I'm off to download some free audio books!

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