Archive for the ‘DIY Projects’ Category

Keeping Home Education Organized: Part 1

Howdy to all of you!  For a while there I thought it was almost spring… until I heard the weather report on the radio while driving the kids to the 4-H building to pick up their fruit orders from the fundraiser.  As fundraisers go, it’s one of the better ones we’ve had to do over the years. At least it’s useful and I can definitely come up with something to do with a box of cooking/baking apples (apple pie comes to mind) or 6 whole pineapples (like freezing them for smoothies or other later use.)

With temps. being below normal all winter (except for a freakishly nice streak last week), it’s too early yet for the many gardening tasks ahead, a so far only a few precious tomato seedlings just beginning to sprout this week, I’ve been turning my attention to other tasks… teaching the kids to cook, trying to keep school lessons graded on-time and recorded in the grade book, looking over the lessons for the rest of the spring term and doing lesson planning, making lists of curriculum subjects we need more of before the rest (so I don’t have to pay over-night or 2-day shipping fees, or else lose a week or two waiting on books) and planning for our trip to the nearest home-school convention in May.

A lot of these tasks are paperwork organizational ones.  I don’t claim to a paper organizing guru… especially in some areas… like the incoming mail from my (snail) mailbox.  On the grade-book, lesson planning and student planner front I’ve gained a great deal of confidence in the last year.  Through trial and error, we’ve learned more about ourselves and what works (and more importantly what doesn’t) for our family.  I’ve tried a lot of planners and planning pages that are out there in the marketplace (mainly 2 types… those available in the stores and those that are available online that you can print out and use), but they always seem to end up requiring a goodly amount of “tweaking” in order for them to work for my family and I always end up with this random mix of pages I printed out that really don’t look like they belong together.  From an artistic point of view, I find the lack of cohesion annoying at best.  My main complaints of store-bought student planners are number one that they are almost always dated and lack flexibility and two that they are typically designed for high school students.  Research has shown though that these organizational skills are best formed in 2nd/3rd graders, not jr. high and high school.

The best store-bought planners I’ve found for Elementary students are little spiral-bound assignment notebooks made by Mead (yes the people that make notebooks and Trapper Keepers that you remember from your school days.)  These are inexpensive (usually $3 or so) and I can find them at a couple my local (non-chain) grocery stores.  Each page has sections for 3 days and (Subject, Assignment, Date) at the top of each section.  You can use it one of two ways: 1 section per subject and all the assignments for that subject for a week (probably how the manufacturer intended it) or you could use it like we do.  I simply list all of the subjects/assignments for one day in a section and where it says Date:  I write the day of the week.  Then I just cross the completed assignment with a highlighter.  It’s simple and it works… for assignments… but it lacks planning pages for activities, home- school co-op, sports/clubs, church and for longer-term school and club projects… you would have to get another different planner for that sort of thing.   My kids’ complaint with these little planners…” THEY ARE SO BORING-LOOKING MOMMMMMM! ” I ask you… just how many planners should a 2nd to 5th/6th grader really be asked to maintain (even with a great deal of adult help)?  The answer to this question should never be more than ONE!  These are kids who have trouble keeping track of their shoes, toys, mittens and just about everything else that comes in pairs or more… so a pair of planners (one school-work and one social life) is just too much!

Having your student’s “paperwork organizational brain” all in one book makes their life and yours a great deal easier.  I had some specific requirements I struggled to find elsewhere (or if I did find it the format was super boring or not quite what I needed in some aspect or other.)

My Requirements:

* We school 6 days a week,  so we need either a 3-day per page or 6-day per page

* Longer-term Project planner pages for research papers (which we will be starting in the Fall), literature log/book report to ensure independent reading, and projects/goals for 4-H etc.

*Social organization pages.

*Month at a glance calendars to accompany the 5 weeks of assignment pages every month.

*Cohesive artistic design.

 

To this end result I used the Printmaster Platinum 6 program on my computer to design something that would work for my kids,  a planner that met our needs and wouldn’t bore the children to tears.  I may eventually design another version or two… or three…. as we all know that all children are very different.  For now the boys and decide we all like the “chalkboard” look… so we went a little old-school for our first home-school student planner.  I am going to try to add this on here as a downloadable file (you all let me know if it didn’t work.)  I will add pictures of the completed project after I try my link myself from our other computer which is the one that works with our printer.  It is meant to be copied with additional copies of the assignments, social and project pages for each month.

Daily Assignments

(Please Note: You are welcome to download and print it for personal use only, but please be respectful and don’t copy for commercial use.)

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It’s Been a Long Time (Since Last Year’s Garden)

Wow, it has been far too long since I’ve made a new posting.  All of the computers in the house were broken for several months and our library (20 miles away) has a 30 minutes time limit per patron/per visit for internet usage. Unfortunately our twice a month trip to the library was barely enough computer-time to delete all the junk email from my inbox.

So, I deeply apologize for being completely out of touch for approx. 2 months or so there.

We’ve had a rather mild winter here in South Dakota once again. And I am wondering if we will have another drought summer with lots of grass- hoppers as we did last summer.  (However, our tomatoes and peppers really seemed to enjoy the hot summer weather last year.)  I say lots of grasshoppers, but of course it was NOTHING like the nearly Biblical Plague of Grasshoppers that Laura Ingalls Wilder describes in her book, On the Banks of Plum Creek… I can certainly be thankful for that.

We’ve started a few vegetable plants indoors already in our windowsills. Lettuce, Herbs and a few cherry-type tomatoes, all of which make good container garden plants. Toward the end of this month we will be getting the indoor mini greenhouse out of storage and setting up our grow lights and really getting busy starting our heirloom vegetable and flower transplants so they will be ready to set out in the garden this spring.

Varieties We plan to Grow in 2013: (Not a complete list, but a nice start of one.)

Beans: Gold Marie Vining (wax type pole bean), Royal Purple Pole, and Chinese Long Bean

Broccoli: Purple Sprouting and Romanesco

Carrots: Amarillo (yellow), Atomic Red (red), Cosmic Purple (purple), Snow White (white), plus an heirloom orange carrot

Cabbage: Red Express

Cauliflower: Cheddar, and both a green and a purple variety.

Celery: Red Re-Selection

Cucumbers: Dragon’s Egg, Boston Pickling, Uzebeski

Eggplant: Ping tung (very sweet elongated variety)

Popcorn: (the only corn we will grow this year) Dakota Black

Peppers: Lipstick, Chocolate Bell, Orange Bell, Yellow Bell, Red Bell, Green Bell, Mini Bell, Anaheim, Santa Fe, and Sweet Banana.

Pumpkins: Red Warty Thing, Cinderella, the pumpkin that looks like it’s covered in peanuts and a blue pie pumpkin that my grandmother always grew in Oregon.

Tomatoes: Black Prince (which we loved last year),  Black Icicle, Orange Icicle, Green Zebra, Chocolate Cherry, Yellow Pear (which come up wild here every summer), Pink Caspian and Nature’s Riddle to name a few.

*Traditional garden center hybrids like Better Boy and Early Girl have never really done well for us here on this farm, but many of the heirlooms we’ve tried have done very nicely on our farm here.  One notable exception to that was the “Mr. Stripey” plant I bought last year at the local big box store… it was the weirdest tomato plant I have every grown… huge plant with weird fuzzy leaves, lots of blossoms… but it never produced a single tomato fruit  despite plenty of bees and other pollinators(I am sure that other people do fabulously with this variety… it just never did anything for us, making me wonder if it’s not adapted to the Southern US or something?)

We’ll probably grown a dozen or two others, but I can’t remember them all off the top of my head.

A Holiday Craft Re-Post

Today I am re-posting a craft project idea, an Ornament How-to for the Christmas Season that was written by one of my dearest friends and fellow blogger.

As I’ve mentioned before, Aimee is a Home-schooling Christian mother and she is full of great ideas for Christmas gifts and decor on a tight budget.

The recipe included is not gluten free, but I will look for one that I can add to this later.

DECEMBER 9, 2010 · 8:06 PM

Salt Dough Again

The boys and I made salt dough ornaments again today; and things went much better.

It has been very dry here, the humidity in the house dipping below 40%; so I have been boiling a stock pot of in the kitchen for hours at a time to try to combat the dry skin, static and other effects of low humidity like the struggles we have been having with out salt-dough (the bread I made over the weekend was pretty bad too).  Today’s dough worked much better than the last 3 times I have made it this season, so maybe the boiling water helped the humidity in the kitchen enough?  I’ll be doing it next time too, just in case it is the key.

The recipe I used today:

  • 1.25 cup HOT water
  • 1 cup salt
  • 4 cups flour

I started with the cup of salt and the 1.24 cups of HOT water and spent a good 3 or 4 minutes quickly stirring the mix to dissolve the salt as much as possible before the flour.  The salt did not dissolve 100% of the way for me though.

As I kneaded the dough I still had to add more water – but by bit – but I got DOUGH.  I suspect in total it ended up being 1.5 cups of water or even a little more, but that last part I add so “little by little” I can’t be sure.  This time the dough rolled out nicely too, such a pleasant change.  I was able to get the dough rolled out thin, thinner than the other 2 batches we’ve made.  (2 batches of “cookies” made, one attempt at dough thrown out).

We work on flexible plastic cutting boards.  I love them.  They define a space for each person; especially the boys.  They also move an entire project if I need to slide the boys part (they do tend to drift into each other, must be my boys).  Also if I need one of the boys to “hand me” their project, they can slid me their entire cutting “board”’ like when I help Big Brother roll the dough and he does the rest.  The flexible cutting boards protect my counter from the cookie cutters and other tools; and they make clean up easier since I can simply pick up a good part of the work space and dump it in the sink.  Salt dough can be a very messy project, even for adults alone, and any help in the clean up department is always welcome.

The boys had a great time.  Big Brother worked and worked on his dough, in his space.  He really made an effort at rolling out the dough nicely, though he really struggles at it; rolling the rolling pin AND applying pressure at the same time is more than he can do, but he is only 5.  After Little Brother and I finished our’s I helped Big by rolling his dough out for him, so he could just use the cookie cutters and then transfer the shapes to his pan.  However, he worked at least 25 minutes independently and really made a good effort, did not get frustrated or give up.  I love to watch him.  For Little Brother I roll the dough and let him place the cookie cutters, and then I help push them down “hard”. Little brother then picks up the cookie cutters and I pull the extra dough off and transfer the shapes to the cookie pan.

Momma puts the holes in the ornaments and puts them in the over. 

I set the oven at 170 (the lowest it goes) and just let them dry.  After the first 30 minutes I flip them over and then I just leave them.  Today we put 28 of them in the oven.

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2 Responses to Salt Dough Again

  1. Wow! This is great stuff!
    “If people were concerned about what really matters in life,
    there would be a shortage of craft supplies in the stores!
    Blessings!
    Julia</strong)

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The Adaptable Pumpkin Pie

 

 

Happy Thanksgiving y’all!

   The daily management of meals is complicated for families with multiple food allergens.  When the holidays arrive, the stresses of meal management multiply to seemingly a thousand-fold.  This year our holiday meal issues will include managing for the following foods issues: 2 people who are allergic to milk and bananas, 1 person who can’t eat foods with gluten, 1 person who’s allergic to soybeans and avocados, 1 person allergic to strawberries and 1 person who’s diabetic.  This traditional pair of Thanksgiving recipes is written toward persons with these food allergens and with substitution suggestions for the diabetic too.

A Little Schoolhouse On the Prairie Moment (aka An After-schooling Lesson):  Allow your children to help you with your holiday baking.  The youngest toddlers will have fun with a bowl and wooden spoon, older toddlers and preschoolers can help w/ cookie cutter decorations and stirring.  Older kids get an arithmetic lesson in measurements and fractions when they help measure and stir the ingredients together and can practice understanding temperature by setting the oven to preheat at the correct temperature.  Ask your teenagers/preteens to convert temps F to C and measurements to metric system for fun or research for the family the origins of various holiday foods to share this information with the family during the meal.

Traditional Pastry Crust

(A Gluten-Free/Soy-Free/Dairy-Free

adaptation of my grandmother’s pastry crust)

*This recipe makes a 2 crust pie or 2 one crust pie plus extra to be used for decoration

1 cup Spectrum Palm Shortening (or lard… grandma always used Crisco, plain or butter-flavored)

     *if using lard, chill it in the freezer for an hour or two prior to use.

 3 cups Gluten-Free All-Purpose Flour blend w/ xanthan gum already in it (I like Jules Gluten-Free Flour or Namaste Perfect Blend flour) or more as needed

    *amount of flour needed will vary due to natural moisture in the flour blend and the type of “shortening” used, lard is softer and will need more flour to make a good crust, however, it’ll also make a little bit larger batch.

1 tsp. salt

1 tsp. cider or rice wine vinegar

Ice water

   Place  flour, salt and shortening in a large mixing bowl.  Cut the flour mixture into the shortening with a fork or pastry blender if doing it by hand.  I prefer a more mechanical method for the sake of speed.  I place these ingredients in the bowl of my Kitchen Aid stand mixer and cut the shortening into the flour using the whisk attachment.

Add the vinegar and mix well (many of the gluten-free recipes I have come across in the last 2 years for baking have contained a small amount of vinegar with the explanation that it helped somehow activate the xanthan gum that is used as a binder to replace gluten???  Not sure if that’s right or not, as what I know about xanthan gum is that it activates in most liquids, but I liked that the tiny amount of vinegar gave the crust some pleasing  flavor, as it was otherwise a little blah to me after using butter flavored Crisco for many years.)  Add the ice water very slowly by the teaspoonful, mixing well between additions.  You will find this recipe needs less liquid than your typical wheat-flour based pie crust, especially if you use lard in place of shortening.

Once mixed, divide dough into 2 portions.  Form into 2 discs and wrap in parchment or wax paper and chill dough for several hours in the fridge.

Remove from the fridge.  Line the surface on which you are rolling out your dough with parchment or waxed paper.  Sprinkle the paper with tapioca flour or cornstarch.  Place your disc of dough in the center of the paper and sprinkle this with tapioca or cornstarch too.  Place another piece of parchment or waxed paper on top.  Using your rolling pin, roll out dough into a thin sheet.  Remove the top layer of paper and gently lay your pie plate on top of the dough upside-down.  Carefully and gently flip the plate and dough over together.  Press the dough down into the pie plate gently then cut away excess dough with a knife.  Crimp or flute the edge of the pie using your favorite method.  Shapes may be cut out of excess dough using cookie cutters to place on the pie after it is filled with it’s filling.  Try leaves, pumpkins, acorns etc for Thanksgiving or stars, mittens, trees, reindeer etc. for Christmas.

*For a 2 crust pie, repeat the dough rolling instructions for the 2nd crust after filling the pie with it’s filling, then crimp or flute and decorate.

** For a pie shell that is to be filled with a chilled filling, place the  crust in the pie plate, prick crust w/fork to prevent air bubbles, then cover with foil and fill the crust with dried beans or pie weights.  Bake at 350 F for 20 to 30 minutes (depending on your oven).  Cool and fill with chilled filling or wrap tightly in plastic wrap and freeze for later use.

Traditional Pumpkin Pie

Gluten-Free/Casein-Free/Soy-Free

with low-sugar suggestions

Pie Filling:

1 (15 oz) can solid pack/pure pumpkin puree (or if you prefer, roast a pie or heirloom pumpkin in your oven, scoop out flesh and use this in place of canned pumpkin– directions to follow at the end of the post.)

1 cup sugar (or 1 cup Splenda/Sugar blend or 1 cup Stevia in the Raw, if using sugar substitutes, plan to keep this pie chilled in the fridge to prevent it from molding if making it ahead or if you have leftovers)

1 can (15 oz) coconut milk (unsweetened)

3 eggs

2-3 teaspoons ground cinnamon (to taste)

1 tsp.ground  allspice

1 tsp. ground ginger

1/2 tsp. ground cloves

1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg or mace

In a large mixing bowl, mix sugar (or substitute) and eggs with a whisk until well blended.  Add pumpkin puree and whisk until well blended. Pour in coconut milk and once again mix in very well with a whisk.  Stir in spices until thoroughly mixed.

Pour into your prepared pie crust.  Decorate top of your pie as desired, sprinkling top of decorative crust pieces with a little granulated sugar or colored sugar sprinkles for sparkle.  Bake at 350 F for approx. one hour (or maybe a little longer… you want to bake until the filling appears to have set up since this is a “custard” type pie) depending on your oven.  This crust does not brown quite as much as a wheat flour based crust, so personally, I’ve been able to skip the step of covering the edge of my crust with foil and baking at 2 different temperatures.

To Make Your Own Pumpkin Puree:

    Choose pie pumpkins or small to medium sized heirloom pumpkins (the green Jaradale and the light orange and dark red-orange “Cinderella” pumpkins are among my favorites for this).  Depending on your timing, you can cut the pumpkins in half, scoop out the seeds and place cut side down in a baking pan with a little water in it and bake for 30-60 minutes (depends on size of pumpkins) or until tender when pierced with a fork. Remove from oven and allow to cool.

OR

knock the stem off your pumpkin(s), wrap the whole pumpkin(s) fully in foil and heat your oven to 200 F, place wrapped pumpkin(s) on a cookie sheet(s) and place in the oven before going to bed, allow pumpkin(s) to slowly roast ovennight. Check to see they are tender first thing in the morning and remove from the oven to cool.  When cool enough to handle, cut in half and scoop out the seeds.

For both continue as follows…

Scoop out flesh with a large metal spoon and place into a large bowl or the bowl of your food processor (this may need to be done in several batches).  Mash puree by hand with a fork or potato masher or puree in a food processor.  Set aside the amount needed for your pie or other recipe.  Portion the rest out into 1 qt. freezer bags and freeze for later use.

This roasting, mashing and freezing process also works with other types of winter squash and is an excellent way to preserve the squash crop from your garden.  (Summer squashes can be grated raw and frozen for later use as well.)

The 1st of the Long Awaited D.I.Y. Projects

Well, my friends, I hope this month of September is finding you all healthy, happy and busily harvesting if you had a garden this summer.

I had hoped to get busy on this series of posts of some D.I.Y. projects months ago, but as many of you know it has been a totally crazy-busy summer and not all of it in a good way… but I shall navigate my way away from that particular topic before I get on my soapbox and start preaching once again on the ills of the Nanny-State.  I haven’t had much opportunity this season to be on the computer, particularly after “my brain” PINKIE (my pink laptop) died in early August.  This is the 2nd hard-drive and fan that I will have to have replaced in my laptop, since purchasing it in Sept. 2009 (does not include the cd-rom that went out on it or the power jack that broke… far too many repairs for a 3 year old computer in my opinion)… so anyway, it awaits repairs until they can be afforded and for now I am using the netbook that I bought last winter to do my taxes while waiting for the power jack to get fixed (took 2 months for the repair shop to get the right part, since the manufacturer sent a dud the first time)… netbook is primarily used by the kids for research and play.  The netbook is slower, but it’s been a good little computer.  Lesson Learned: Don’t buy a computer because you like the color!

DIY Project #1

Staining Unfinished Wood Furniture

This type of project is great if you want to save a little money and like quality wood furnishings for your home.  This idea is also fabulous if your personal tastes run toward the unusual, unique or funky!

If you are lucky to have a shop that carries unfinished wood furniture nearby and find yourself in the market for a new desk, an entertainment center or some other wooden object for your home or office, do yourself, your pocketbook and a local business a big favor… stop by and see for yourself the unfinished gems these businesses have to offer.  If you don’t have such a shop locally or within reasonable driving distance, check online and order some mail-order catalogs.

We have a local shop that sells unfinished furniture and refurbished pre-loved furniture  in Mitchell, SD (about 35 miles from us one-way).  We love to stop in there on occassion (usually a Saturday we are in town already for an excursion to the lumberyard/home center or to the fabric store)… many times we just window-shop… other times we find a piece tha we fall in love with.  Over the years we’ve purchased a pair of pre-loved wingback chairs, a loveseat, a dresser for the baby and an unfinished wood entertainment center designed to fit into a corner.

Love the entertainment center as we did, it sat in the basement for several years before we got around to working on it.  There were several debates over “how we should finish it” that had to ironed out during that time and even the kids weighed in with their individual opinions on the matter.  Pioneer Pa loves “wood” (as in traditional stained wood finishes)… he is fond of saying “If it’s wood, it’s good!”  My answer to that is that the entertainment center is already made of wood and plain old brown wood is rather boring and lacking in personality.  I love painted wood furniture, painted to look like furnishings from an 18th or 19th century farmhouse.  I also love to infuse my love of color into my home.  In Farmer Boy Charles’ opinion, the entertainment center should be green and yellow and John Deere all over.  Henry said it should be red, white and blue… and painted like the American Flag (could have been cute, but was not going to go with anything else in the room.)  As green is a favorite color of mine and several of the chairs in our living room were already green, green also going nicely with our wall color (a faux finish with an orange-peach basecoat white washed with a nearly white “peach” glaze), the pecan colored wood bookshelf and the autumn oak colored hardwood patterned vinyl flooring, we decided to go partially with Charles’ suggestion of a bright green and compromised on the stain vs. paint debate by choosing a tintable Minwax water-based stain in “Northern Ivy”.

Supplies Needed for this Do-It-Yourself Project:

Unfinished Wood Furniture (or old funiture that has been sanded for refinishing)

1 qt. Minwax Water-based woodstain in your choice of color

Minwax Spray-on or paint-on water-based Poly-acrylic wood finish in your choice of satin, semi-gloss or gloss finsh to seal the wood after staining

Minwax Water-based Wood Conditioner (optional, highly reccommended if you are working with a softer wood such as pine)

Sand paper (in fine and extra fine grits)

Screwdriver (choose one that matches the type of screws on your furniture piece)

Tack-cloth or a barely damp cotton cloth

Painters rags

vinyl gloves

Newspaper or drop cloth

Old clothes and shoes you don’t mind staining

Step-by-step Instructions

1. Using the appropriate type of screwdriver, remove all hinges, knobs, latches and other hardware from your furniture piece.  I like using a plastic zipper bag to store the hardware (if you want to purchase new drawer pulls, knobs etc. you can to achieve the desired look.)

2.  If you are using the water-based wood conditioner, apply it to your furniture piece according to the manufacturer’s instructions on the product label.  If you are not using the wood conditioner, skip to step #3.

3.  Lightly sand your piece to remove any “raised grain” in the wood surface along with dents, scratches or other imperfections (unless you love the distressed look then you can feel free to leave some of the flaws in your furniture item), including the wooden portions of all drawers, doors and shelves.

4. Using a tack-cloth or lightly dampened rag, remove all the sanding dust, you can use a vaccum cleaner attachment to remove dust in grooves, molding/carving or other difficult places if needed.

5. If you used a damp cloth, allow several hours for any moisture to dry before proceeding.

6. Stir your stain well, particularly if it has been sitting for any length of time.  Put on vinyl gloves to protect your hands and nails… stain… well… it stains. I didn’t bother with the gloves for this project and looked like a green handed monster for almost a week. You may also wish to use an old shirt and jeans (do NOT wear good clothes for this project), old shoes and possibly your husband’s old BBQ apron.  Also protect your work surface with newspaper or a drop cloth.

7. Open the can of stain and using a painters rag, test it in an inconspicuous area (like the underneath side of a drawer or the bottom of the piece) to make sure you love the color you choose (different woods will yield slightly different results with the same stain due to the natural wood color and wood grain of various species of wood).  If you don’t like it, stop here and choose another color… I know that’s another trip to the hardware store… but you want to love this thing you are making for 20 or 50 years, right?

8.  If you are please with your color choice, proceed as follows…

9.  Using  painters rags, wipe on stain in approximately 18″ x 18″ sections then wiping off excess stain with a clean painters rag.

10. Repeat step # 9 until you have stained the whole piece.

11.Allow stain to dry for several days.

12. Lightly sand any rough feeling areas where the wood grain may have raised with fine grit sandpaper.  If you like a distressed look, you can also lightly sand any corners and edges to give a lightly worn appearance.

13. Using a tack cloth, remove sanding dust.

14. Apply 3 coats of spray-on or paint-on Poly-Acrylic finish in your choice of finish, allowing finish to dry and then sanding lightly with extra-fine sandpaper between the coats and removing any dust with a tack cloth.

15. Allow your project to thoroughly dry for several days.

16. Reattach all of the hardware.

17. Find a buddy to help you move the piece and place it in your room where youd like it to be.

Mystery Recipe Monday- July 9, 2012

Okay everybody, I know it’s been quite a while since we have done the Mystery Recipe Monday thing… but I really feel like we should get back into the habit once again.  All of you really seem to enjoy it when I post recipes, as we get lots of visitors and regulars who stop by to see what the “good lookin’  Modern Pioneers have got cookin’!”  Many of you will remember parts of that line from a Hank Williams Sr. song entitled “Hey, Good Lookin’, Whatcha Got Cookin’!”

Today we have something really good lookin’ a-cookin’ in the Modern Pioneer Kitchen. (Oh, and it’s also really good tastin’ too!)  I (Modern Ma) am so delighted with my newly remodeled kitchen that I have been itching to get in there and really put this beautifully functional and just plain beautiful work-space to hard work. We finished this huge home improvement project (stay tuned for several upcoming DIY posts about remodeling a farmhouse kitchen on a budget), just in time… for a monumental heat wave… OF COURSE!  So the past couple weeks have been mostly salads and foods that can be cooked via microwave, such as turkey enchiladas made with ground turkey I had            pre- cooked and frozen for later use and Spanish rice made with leftover rice I had also frozen as an easy prepare staple for hot or busy evenings.  Due to the heat-wave, Pioneer Pa and I decided to put off having an anniversary cake until the weather cooled (our wedding anniversary being June 29th and being as this one is #10, I felt like I ought to do a special dessert.)

Having seen a variation of Red Velvet Cake done in blue by the Betty Crocker test kitchen , I decided try my hand at a beautifully decorated Gluten Free version of my own variation a Black Velvet Cake (okay I was actually aiming for a Royal Purple Velvet, Pa’s favorite color being purple… but alas I was completely out of both red and purple food coloring… trying to use up much of my old Wilton gel food coloring before the kiddos return home)… so I did it with black food coloring which I had a lot of (if you think red and yellow food coloring makes little boys hyper-active, try giving them black food coloring! Grab a putty knife and prepare to scrape those boys off your ceiling!).  Yes, Black Velvet Cake, sounds very “Elvis Presley”, but it should be very beautiful and dramatic (is anything quite so elegant as a black and white cake in the world of desserts?)… quite suitable for a 10th Wedding Anniversary.  Especially considering that we had a Christmas In June Wedding, which was also quite stunning and dramatic in it’s own right.

So, now for our Mystery Recipe Monday recipes.

Black Velvet Anniversary Cake

(A Special Gluten-Free Dessert for Special Occasions )

*WARNING– This cake is NOT FD&C DYE FREE and NOT DAIRY FREE

2 pkg. Betty Crocker Gluten-Free yellow cake mix

6 large eggs

2/3 cup. canola oil

1 TBSP Cocoa Powder, leveled

1 cup plain soy or almond milk

1 tsp. cider vinegar

1/2 cup water

1/2 of a large jar of Wilton Gel Food Coloring (Black)

Prepare cake mix, as per manufacturer’s directions, adding the cocoa powder into the cake mix before adding the wet ingredients. Substitute the soy/almond milk, vinegar and 1/2 cup water for the water called for on the box.  Mix in food coloring

Grease  four 8 inch or three 9 inch  round cake pans and divide the batter equally among the pans.  Space them equally in the oven on both racks and bake at 350 F for 30 to 40 minutes or until a toothpick test comes out clean.  Remove from oven and cool in the pans on a cooking rack until about room temp. If your cakes mound up in the center, you can level them once they are removed from the pans with a serrated bread knife.

Place bottom layer on a cardboard circle or a  cake plate/cake stand. Fill with cream cheese icing or another favorite filling (such as raspberry or blackberry jam, or both jam and cream cheese icing together would be lovely, 2 layers of filling).  Place next layer on top of  bottom layer, leveled-side down, and once again fill between layers with icing or favorite filling.  Repeat for 3rd and 4th layers.

To seal in crumbs, thinly frost cake w/ room temp. cream cheese icing, starting at the top center and working out toward the top edge and then down the sides with a large angled (off-set) metal spatula.  TIP: If you have a rotating cake stand or a lazy-susan from your spice cabinet, place your cake plate/round on it and use this to smoothly turn the cake as you frost it… this makes the job a little faster and easier and usually results in a more professional looking cake.

Once cake is crumb-coated, place in the fridge for about 2 hours to set the icing.  Remove from fridge and frost cake again so that cake does not show through the icing.  Return to fridge for about 2 hours to set again.  At this point,you can either serve it as is or decorate it with contrasting tinted icing using a piping bag and decorating tips for a special occasion such as a birthday anniversary or even small wedding or wedding shower. Once again, allow a couple hours in the fridge for icing to set, especially in the summertime, it will solidify the shortening/cheese mixture that is the basis of your icing and prevent all your hard work from sliding down the side of your cake.

Cream Cheese Decorator Icing

(Note: if you have a stand mixer, definitely use it for making decorating icing, as this type of icing is quite thick.)

8 oz pkg. cream cheese, room temperature

3/4 cup vegetable shortening

3 lbs powdered sugar (approx. as moisture levels in this product can vary, adjust as needed)

2 tsp. double-strength vanilla extract

1 to 2 tsp. rum flavoring

1 tsp. raspberry flavoring

2 to 3 TBSP Almond or Soy milk

Using an electric mixer (stand type if you have one), cream together the cream cheese and shortening.  Slowly add in sugar1/2 cup at a time, beating well between additions.  After adding 1/2 of the sugar, add in the flavoring extracts and 1 TBSP of milk.  Mix well.  Add more sugar, a little at a time, until most of it is in the icing.  Add another TBSP of milk then finish adding the sugar.  Adjust thickness of icing by adding more sugar or milk as needed for a spreading consistency to ice the cake with.  To make stiffer icing for piping decorative designs and borders onto cake, thicken with more powdered sugar.

To make black decorator’s icing (that doesn’t taste like ink), darken your icing with baking cocoa (powder)… this will also thicken consistency slightly, then begin adding black gel food coloring until desired color is reached mixing color in between additions (let stand 5 to 10 minutes when color is a shade lighter than you think you want, as they sometimes darken a little in a buttercream/cream cheese style icing with time.  You can always add more color, but you can’t take it away… you can add more “white” icing, but you may end up with far more than you need.)

You can find Wilton Cake Decorating supplies at many local discount or craft stores (such as Walmart, Ben Franklin Crafts or Hobby Lobby) or at http://www.wilton.com .

To decorate the cake above:

1. Using black icing in a disposable decorating bag fitted with a coupler and a #2 round tip to  pipe a pretty scroll design on the sides of the cake, which I repeated 5 times around the side of the cake. (I used a tool I’ve had for years called a pattern press to mark my scroll-work, this product is no longer available unless you get lucky finding one in a thrift shop, but you can find a design or clip-art you like, print it out and trace it onto waxed paper and then use the wax paper to position the design and mark the design onto the cake using a toothpick to prick the wax paper and leave marking on your cake icing.)

2. Using Tip #107 and white icing in another disposable decorating bag fitted with a coupler, pipe drop flowers onto the scrolling vines.

3. Using the black icing and #2 tip again, pipe dots into centers of flowers.

4. Using  a #10 tip and white icing pipe a line of white icing around the base of the cake at the plate.

5. Changing black icing bag to a #97 ruffle tip or a #104 rose tip, fat end up, pipe a ruffled border at the base of the cake on top of the line of white icing (this will help it flare out like a ruffle), wiggling up and down slightly as you pipe around the cake.

6. Changing black icing bag to a #10 round or a # 32 star tip, pipe a ball border or a shell border on the top edge of the cake.

* Refill our decorating bags with icing as needed as you go, leaving  enough room to twist the bag closed at the top so icing does not squish out the top and make a huge mess.

For more complete instructions on these decorating techniques, please check out the Wilton link above or consider purchasing a very basic starter kit from Wilton locally.

You might even be able to find cake decorating class locally that you can take (possibly with your spouse if he’s interested, or with one of your kids… most 7 or 8 year-olds are plenty old enough to learn cake decorating with parental supervision.)  My mother took the first two courses in a local Wilton Decorating class and taught me at the age of 5 while she was practicing at home.  As a teen, I self-studied the more advanced classes.

For Pioneering Families in this Modern Era,  the basics of cake decorating are a terrific skills to consider learning.  Not only is is a great, fun-filled family activity, it can also be a frugal, money-saving skill compared to the rapidly increasing costs of having a cake professionally decorated by a bakery… particularly when you are at a stage where weddings, anniversaries, baby showers etc. are frequently in order.

New Frontiers in Education Part 2

(The 1st “Homeschool” many of us remember, reading aloud with grandma. Pictured are Aimee Packard’s sons, Theo and Charles being read to by her mother Patrica Wells)

Welcome back if you are returning to read this sequel to New Frontiers in Education (Part 1- The Why’s of Homeschooling).  If you are a new reader to Modern Pioneer Family and interested in the topic of Homeschooling (or interested in supplementing the education your child is recieving from a public or private school), then we encourage you to read our previous post on this subject.

I asked my dear friend, Aimee Packard, a homeschooling mother of two wonderful boys, to write a guest post for us on my blog about Homeschooling (as a New Frontierr in Education.)  It just happens that Aimee is very passionate about this topic and not only did a fabulous job writing about it, she went above and beyond and wrote 2 guest posts for us to read and consider here on Modern Pioneer Family.

One of the reasons I wanted to cover this topic is that in the Colonial and Pioneering periods in North American (both in the United States and Canada, our northern neighbor), education of the family within the home was a mainstay of our culture.  Even when those homes were represented by a covered wagon for families moving westward, children were being educated.

There still exists in North America today where public schools are so few and far between that parents consider homeschooling a better option than busing their children 40 miles or more one way to the nearest school (that would be the length of the trip if the family drove it, add in the school bus route and you could easily end up with a 2 hour trip one way  or more for students to just to get to school and another 2 hours + to return home.)  If school began at 8:20 am and got out at 3:30 (an average school day most places), this could easily put a kindergartener getting on the bus at 6 am (probably waking up at 5 am) and not  returning home until after 5:30, if they happened to be the kids furthest from the school.  This is a situation my own family has faced at our current public school and when the school district was considering consolidation with the next nearest school which would have added at least another 45 minutes each way, well that would not have been an option we’d have chosen as a family had it materialized.  By the time our boys get home, do their few little farm chores (feeding the dogs, rabbits and chickens and gathering eggs) and eat supper they are too tired or too irritable to really apply themselves to doing any assigned homework.  Thus both their grades and their learning is compromised.  If, I want to keep them caught up to their grade level, I must supplement their education on weekends, school holidays and in the summer.

Another reason I asked Aimee to write these posts, is that my oldest Farmer Boy, Charles is deeply interested in doing  his “schooling” as it was done during the Pioneering Period of American history.  He longs for a one-room schoolhouse and a tiny class consisting mostly of his siblings in which he can get all the personal help he needs to learn.  The larger public school classroom (while it does help with many of his social skills challenges) seems to be too distracting for him to adequetly  learn his most difficult subjects like reading for comprehension and other subject matter heavy in reading skills (social studies, science).  Farmer Boy Charles, has requested to make his sister’s playhouse into a one-room schoolhouse (at least for summer use) until his sister is old enough for playing house with her dolls, which will probably be 2 to 3 years.  The playhouse in question is larger than most storage/garden sheds, approx 10 ft x 14 ft and nearly tall enough for a small loft area to store things. (We already have 2 folding desk-chairs we found 2nd hand for $10 each and there is probably just enough room for 2 1/2 students (baby in a playpen), Ma a small table as teacher-desk, a blackboard and maybe a bookshelf for reading and art materials.  Given we have a busy, sometimes chaotic household with several dogs and other distractions, we are definitely considering using this space as a schoolroom for a time, because both boys are having serious struggles in education and the school doesn’t do the excellent job we would like to see them doing in many of the major core areas.  There is also our decided lack of a Sunday School space in which to do much of their religious education and such learning begs for a “special space” without in which to really study and play WITH GOD. (I have been teaching a curriculum of Sunday School Education called “Godly Play” based on Montessori method for over 10 years.  For info you can check out www.godlyplayfoundation.org & for resources  www.godlyplayresources.com.)

And now that I have gone into some depth about why I asked Aimee to cover the topic of Homeschool (because I felt my own children would benefit from my learning more about it mostly), here is her post for you to consider and ponder in your hearts.

New Frontiers in Education

(Part Two)

The “How-To” of Home Education

by Aimee Packard

*REPEATED Disclaimer:  I am going to discuss how to home school; actually I am going to discuss how to gather information if you want to really research home education for your family, this post really doesn’t talk about the how-to of homeschooling at all, not in a daily schedule or curriculum for a certain grade level sort of way.  However, none of this, or any of my comments should be taken as an attack on parents that choose to use the public school as a tool to educate their children.  This piece will be pro-home education

There are many basic steps to “seriously thinking about homeschooling”.  I will list them out, and talk about them, give you a few options and starting places.  Again, remember entire books are written about this topic, and actually about some of the subtopics; this is a brief concise starting point, how-to get started in seriously considering the option to homeschool or the option to supplement a lackluster education being provided in public schools at home with additional help for struggling students or to cover subject matter NOT covered in local schools.   However I am not going to be put them in a strict order.  I’ll order them for the sake of writing clarity; but the order you choose to approach the steps in doesn’t need to conform to my sequence.  Everyone thinks, takes in data, and processes information differently, that is what makes homeschooling work.  Adults are no different than children – and we all have our own “needs” when approaching a new, or not so new, topic.

Let me say from the start I LOVE my library and I love my librarian and I LOVE that she does Inter-Library-Loan (I.L.L.) for me.  (I love her for many reasons, but her active I.L.L. is on the top of the list).  It is a strict rule of mine I do not buy any homeschooling book – either for my own edification, or to use directly with the kids – with out physically viewing it first.  I have requested so many books I.L.L. (because we have a small local library) and been so glad I did when I did not like them; or after reading the book once did not feel it was worth buying to own.  Get to know your librarian!!!  He or she will be an amazing resource for you now, and especially as you start to educate at home.  Request books you library doesn’t have; check them out, read books before you buy (or decide not to).  There are so many good books out there; search on amazon.com and then go to the library.  You’ll find some you need to own; you find some you don’t read more than a chapter of and some you will be glad you read once, but can always request again later if you want to reread it.

  1. There are many “schools      of thought” on home education; Montessori (http://www.montessori.edu/) ,      Waldorf (http://www.whywaldorfworks.org/),      classical, Charlotte Mason (http://simplycharlottemason.com/      — one of my all-time favorite homeschool websites, by the way),      un-schooling.

We are a classical education family that schools at home: that means our education at home some what resembles the school classroom, with many text books, work books and seat work.  We seek a classical education; one based in great books and a challenging outline (see more here: https://scribinglife.wordpress.com/2010/08/16/classical-education-at-home/ ).  When you start reading, you will find a “theme” that fits your personality and your family, and your faith, and then go from there.  Look at all the books and websites and media available as a big buffet.  It doesn’t hurt to look, even to try a taste.  Take what you want, what works, and leave the rest; but do not be afraid to LOOK,

1.    One free resource is http://www.currclick.com/product/22668/Homeschooling–The-Other-Side-of-Education?it=1  Homeschooling- The Other Side of Education.  It is a much more complete look at what I have been discussing in these two posts.  It is free and a fast easy read.  This e-book is worth the time to cover the basics.

2.    http://classicalacademicpress.com/images/free_resources/20091210_ICE.pdf  is another FREE e-books (about 45 pages if I remember correctly) that give a solid introduction to Classical Education.   It is an excellent resource.  Even if you do not feel drawn to Classical Ed it is a good (FREE) read to start you thinking and asking question about education.

3.    State laws for the State you live in.  Every state has laws that govern home schooling, school attendance and school recording.  LEARN YOUR LAWS.  If you are in a highly regulated state and thus will be expected to do a great deal of reporting and recording, that could realistically affect you schooling choice.  http://www.hslda.org/laws/ is certainly a starting point; just be sure you are aware of what is legally required of you in your home state.  Knowing the laws to which you are required to adhere will help you in making your homeschooling decisions and it also will help you defend your rights to homeschool, if there is ever a problem with your school district, local or state government.  If you know your rights as a homeschooling family, then you will know if educational officials ever try to encroach on those rights.

  1. Network.  Find support.  Most states have yahoo groups.  My locations have live support groups (Park Day and other events are very common).  Make connections, homeschooling can be very lonely; and experienced home education families can be a Godsend to get you up and running and though that first year (or that first year of high school). Join a message board to two; great conservation and tons of experienced parents happy to help you.
  2. Surf the web!!!  There are some great sites (and some real losers too).  Look around, browse.
  3. A good site, not so much how to, or why to: but to show you what tools are out there to help you, to guide you, and to assist you in educating your children, either full time or after school if you decide the education they are currently receiving is not up to muster (and trust me, test scores be damned, it is not) go to your local library and check out (or request on inter-library-loan) 100 Top Picks for Home school Curriculum: Choosing the Right Curriculum and Approach for Your Child’s Learning Style by Cathy Duffy.  The last actual publication was 2005 (I hope there will be a new one soon) but there is up-to-date data on her website.  http://cathyduffyreviews.com/.
  4. http://oldfashionededucation.com/
  5. http://www.homeschooldiner.com/ is a fun site, and not overwhelming.
  6. http://www.welltrainedmind.com/  join the discussion board too – very active.  (I am there)
    1. Finally, most important, is READ, read, read, read…..here are a few suggestions to get you started.  Look them up on amazon.com and look at all the linked books, explore – be a kid again, nothing you look at or read can hurt you.  If you do not like it leave it and go on.  There are many many good books out there, and many great websites.  All you have to do, all you can do, is start reading and educate yourself about your child’s education.
    2. The Well Trained Mind. http://www.amazon.com/The-Well-Trained-Mind-Classical-Education/dp/0393067084/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1333066699&sr=1-1  It is a blue print to home education, both they why (not from a Christian stand point, from and education stand point) and the how.  Read it now, even if you never plan to home school
    3. Honey for a Child’s Heart. http://www.amazon.com/Honey-Childs-Heart-Gladys-Hunt/dp/0310242460/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1333066983&sr=1-1   By Hunt the power of reading with your children, no matter where they do their school work.  The greatest power a parent has is the power of reading.
    4. When Children Love to Learn: A Practical Application of Charlotte Mason’s Philosophy for Today  http://www.amazon.com/When-Children-Love-Learn-Application/dp/1581342594/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1333068776&sr=1-1
    5. Real Learning: Education in the Heart of the Home http://www.amazon.com/Real-Learning-Education-Heart-Home/dp/0971889511/ref=sr_1_3?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1333749060&sr=1-3
    6. Finally one I have not yet read; but really want to:  Educating the Whole Hearted Child — Third Edition http://www.amazon.com/Educating-WholeHearted-Child-Third-Edition/dp/1932012958/ref=pd_sim_b_24

Remember if you choose to educate your child fully at home, or to supplement, you are not facing teaching everything a child needs to learn and you have forgotten off the top of your head.  There are books and full curriculums to walk you though it; you are not alone.  There are  many resources out there that are available for free or of little cost, so do not be daunted in your desire to educate at home by advertisements for expensive full-curriculums that all insist they are THE BEST, you can pick and choose from affordable and/or free lesson plans and materials to piece together a curriculum that will suit your child’s needs.

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