Monday, November 23, 2015

Russian Tea

I posted a while back about saving citrus rinds to make a tea to soothe sore throats.  Yesterday, I made a batch of concentrate of that.  Afterwards, I got a second round of use out of the rinds and spices by making Russian spiced tea.

After pouring my cold treatment into ice cube trays, I covered the boiled rinds with a quart of water and added 1/4 of a cup of sugar (I could have used less) and a "family size" bag of black tea--the kind they sell for making iced tea.  It's approximately equivalent to two regular tea bags.  I brought it to a boil and had spicy tea all afternoon.

Alternatively, I could have done the same thing by adding mulling spices to black tea. And I keep dried citrus peel on hand to make mulling spices. I could also have combined and stored loose black tea with mulling spices for homemade "winter" tea, which would be a lovely gift any time of year.

This post has been linked with Busy Monday, MYHSM, and WFMW.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Sandwich Bread

I don't bake yeast breads. Paying attention to a timer or remembering to knead risen dough just isn't going to happen for me. I do all my baking on Fridays, and it has to be done before lunch. For several years now, I've been making Swope Bread every week. It's a variation on a recipe of the same name that I got off a bag of flour from Bob's Red Mill. Unfortunately, the recipe is no longer accessible on their website. This is my version:

Swope Bread

3 c flour
1 tsp salt
1/4 c sugar
2 tsp baking soda
2 c buttermilk

  • Combine the flour, salt, and sugar in a large bowl. 
  • Combine the buttermilk and baking soda separately. You can put the baking soda in with the dry ingredients, but I find that it's less likely to clump if I dissolve it in the buttermilk first. 
  • Stir the dry and wet ingredients together to form a stiff batter. 
  • Pour into a greased loaf pan, and bake at 375 for 45 minutes to an hour.

This recipe has served me very well. It's easy to make, slices pretty well, and is dense enough to be good for sandwiches and toast. Then, a couple weeks ago, I accidentally bought self rising flour. Self rising flour won't work right with buttermilk. I needed a different recipe, one that called for baking powder (the ingredient that makes self rising flour self rising). I found my answer in Auguste Gay's New Presentation of Cooking:

Luncheon Bread

2.5 c flour
5 tsp baking powder (omit if using self rising flour)
2 eggs, beaten
1.5 c milk
1/4 c sugar (original recipe calls for 2 tsp, but less than 1/4 c yields a loaf that is a bit dry for modern tastes)
2 T oil

  • Combine all ingredients in a large bowl. Pour into a greased loaf pan, and bake for about 30 minutes at 350.
This bread is lighter and has less flavor, but is still very easy to throw together and works very well as sandwich bread or toast. I'm so glad to have multiple quick bread recipes in my repertoire now that are good as everyday bread.

This post has been linked to WFMW, MYHSM, and Busy Monday

Monday, November 9, 2015

Mexican Inspired Mini Pumpkins

A few weeks ago, I shared several ideas for cooking with mini pumpkins, and I recently had the opportunity to use one of those ideas.  Mini pumpkins have small cavities, so they are a wonderful vehicle for transforming a small amount of some leftover food into a whole new main dish.  In this case, combining odds and ends of inexpensive materials produced a really elegant looking and filling dinner. Here's what I did:

Pseudo-Mexican Mini Pumpkins
Serves 6

3 mini pumpkins, halved and seeded
3/4 cup cooked beans
garlic powder, cumin, and chili powder to taste (omit if the beans are already seasoned)
3/4 cup grated cheese
6 T enchilada sauce

  • Place each pumpkin half on a muffin tin cup, and bake at 350 until tender--about 30-40 minutes.
  • While the pumpkins are cooking, season the beans if necessary.
  • Keeping the cooked pumpkin halves in the muffin tins, fill the cavity of each half pumpkin with approximately 2 tablespoons of the bean mixture.  The cavity should be completely full and slightly mounded on top.
  • Top the beans in each pumpkin half with 2 tablespoons of cheese, and pour 1 tablespoon of enchilada sauce over the cheese.
  • Return the stuffed halves to the oven, this time on the top rack. Continue to bake until the cheese has melted and begun to brown.
This post has been linked to WFMWMYHSM, and Busy Monday.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Road Safety

I write here a lot about what I do and about what I have my children do.  Only rarely do I discuss my husband.  Today is an exception.  My husband drives a pilot car.  He's one of those people with orange flags and flashing lights driving in front of or behind oversized loads.  Most of the loads he escorts serve the energy industry, but there are plenty of big loads out there for agricultural, mining, and construction use, among others.

Oversized loads can be wider, taller, heavier, or longer than a legal load, or an combination of those. Pilot drivers serve as the truck drivers' eyes, monitoring his large blind spots and making sure he safely navigates roads meant for much smaller vehicles. Whenever my husband is on the road, he encounters people driving unsafely around these big loads, impeding the pilots, or being irritated with the pilots and trucker for holding up traffic.  Pilots conversing on social media complain of similar problem, and the National Pilot Car Association exists in part to raise awareness about the dangers oversized loads pose to the public.

This is a load my husband recently escorted. It was over 16 feet tall. A normal truck trailer is 13.5 feet.

These are the blind spots of a normal semi.  Truckers transporting wide and long loads have much bigger blind spots.  It's generally safer to assume that they can't see you than that they can.

Pilot drivers don't exist only to help truck drivers navigate safely, but also to help surrounding traffic navigate safely around the load and to make sure the truck adheres to its permitted route, rather than becoming a real traffic problem.  So I asked my husband for his advice on how to be safe around an oversized load.  Here's what he wrote:

Oversize loads can vary from wide to tall, from long to heavy and any combination of these. They are also very dangerous. Accidents involving oversize loads lead to a higher number of fatalities than accidents involving legal-sized commercial vehicles. To protect the public, states require pilot cars to escort these loads. There may be only one or as many as four pilot cars in front and behind an oversize load. Some states also require police escorts.

For a little perspective, the average minivan weighs about 4000 pounds.  By comparison, a normal tractor truck without a trailer weighs between 20 and 25,000 pounds.  Legally, trailers can carry up to 20,000 pounds per axle.  The load pictured below, including the tractor and trailer, weighed about 125,000 pounds and isn't particularly large.  Some loads weigh over a million pounds. That's a lot of weight.  They can't maneuver easily, and they take a lot of space to stop.

For your own safety please observe these practices when driving near or around oversize loads:

  • Stay back several car lengths from the load and/or escort, and avoid getting between the load and escort.
  • Watch the truck driver or pilot car driver for signals. If they move into a lane to block it, this means that the lane is no longer safe for traffic. If they move over to open a lane, it is safe to pass. If you see a pilot car driver in the on coming lane watch for their signals, if they are waving a flag or a stop sign slow down and prepare to stop. The load may present a hazard ahead.

  • Oversize loads have to be concerned with aspects of the road and its surroundings of which ordinary motorists often ignore. A tall load may need to stop and move under a wire or cable slowly to avoid tearing it down (a major safety hazard). A wide load may need to drive across the center of a bridge. A heavy load may need to cross a bridge slowly. A long load may need to take turns very slowly.
  • Drive to stay alive. Be cautious, be careful, and don't do anything sudden, risky, or dangerous.
Pilot car drivers are not on the road to make your life hard, to make you late, or to ruin your day. They are there to do a job and to protect you. Oversize loads help to keep your power on, keep the gas coming to your furnace and stove, bring the materials for constructing the bridges your drive on, and many, many more essential items. Be courteous and be safe.

And if you know any teen who is learning to drive, please teach them to drive carefully around all trucks and oversized loads.

This post has been linked to WFMWMYHSM, Busy Monday, and HHH

Monday, October 19, 2015

Studying Inventors in the Early Years

Every month, I prepare a lesson for the boys (in kindergarten and first grade) about an inventor.  The idea is to enrich our science lessons and introduce them to history. I choose the inventors based on my sons' interests. I read them a brief, simple biography of the inventor discuss and look at pictures or diagrams of their inventions, and preferably do some relevent activity.

Sometimes I'm able to find child appropriate information about them, but not always.  When I can't find an appropriate biography, I do some reading and write a short essay myself (three to five paragraphs).  When writing these biographies, I try to emphasize the skills, talents, curiosities, goals, and knowledge base that the inventor used or fostered that led to his success, because one needs more than good ideas to be successful.  This practice I picked up from vintage textbooks and fairytales.

When possible, the activity is a field trip.  When we studied the Wright brothers, for example, we visited an aviation museum.  Sometimes we make a small toy that demonstrates some concept some part of the technology we are discussing.  If I can't find anything like that, I find or create a worksheet or wordsearch about the ideas the inventor explored.

This month, we learned about Igor Sikorsky, who invented the first functional helicopter. I wrote a brief biography to read to the boys, and we checked out a library book about helicopters that has lots of diagrams about their parts and function so I could point out Sikorsky's innovations.  We discussed the problems he addressed, like counter rotation, steering, and redundancy, in addition to revisiting the issue of lift, which we discussed when we learned about the Wright brothers.  We also talked about how the idea of a helicopter was inspired by a Chinese children's toy, and how that toy was inspired by the flight of maple seeds.  Then we made paper versions of that toy.

In many cases, finding materials that are child appropriate, but not geared towards preschoolers can be difficult.  I initially found the instructions for a paper helicopter, for instance, on a website for a college level engineering class as part of a lesson plan for an experiment on aerodynamics.   But when I looked up "helicopter worksheets for children" and "helicopter projects for children," I was confronted with an endless array of cartoonish coloring pages. Word searches also tend to focus on adult or high school audiences when they are science themed.  I've given up on finding good primary school word search puzzles, and make my own, using about a dozen vocabulary words for our subject.

When I am able to find lesson plans already prepared (as I was when we studied Robert Fulton), I generally look for upper elementary material.  This way, the information is child appropriate but includes useful and detailed information.  Then I pick and choose from any worksheets in the lesson plan items that my first grader can complete independently or that can be reformulated as a discussion questions or other oral work.

I've really enjoyed learning about inventors with my boys.  Their being so young has not impeded their ability to understand major concepts, and they've really had a lot of fun learning about how their favorite things came to be. It's helped their understanding of past versus present and their ability to narrate.  They are developing an interest in the past and the ability to apply abstract scientific concepts to real life.

This post has been linked to WFMW, MYHSM, Busy Monday, and HHH

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Basic Fruit Bread

I tried a new recipe for our Saturday breakfast last week.  It's a simple fruit bread from the Royal Guide to Meal Planning (1929).

I used chopped, boiled persimmons that I foraged and froze last winter, and the bread turned out beautifully.  I think any relatively fibrous fruit would work pretty well.  The original recipe calls for 1/4 cup of sugar, but I used 1/3 cup, because I know the recipe's in this book often skimp on the sugar, yielding drier and less sweet results than modern taste buds expect.  The result was soft, but easy to slice, and it refrigerated well.

Since I do all my baking for the week at once, I made this recipe first, and let it sit in while I prepared the other doughs and batters for the day, instead of setting a timer for 25 minutes as the recipe suggests.

As I have written before, vintage recipes were written for audiences that had slightly different expectations than modern ones.  For example, this recipe assumes that the reader will use whole milk.  If you switch to low fat milk, you cannot skip the shortening.  Modern flours are much more finely ground than the 1929 counterpart, and therefore more absorbant.  That means the liquid measurements are lowball estimates for the modern cook.

Fruit Bread

1 c soaked prunes, raisins, figs, or dates, stoned and chopped
2.5 c flour
1/4-1/3 c sugar
1 tsp salt
5 tsp baking powder
1 c milk
~1 T shortening or oil

  • Thoroughly mix the flour, sugar, salt, and baking powder.
  • Mix in the milk with a fork, and then knead in the fruit.  
  • Knead in enough oil or shortening to produce a soft dough, and shape into a loaf.
  • Place on or in a greased pan, and allow to rest in a warm place for twenty to twenty-five minutes.
  • Bake at 375 for approximately one hour (In this case 375 for about 45 minutes worked for me. 350 for an hour would probably work as well).
This post has been linked to Busy MondayMYHSMWFMW, and HHH.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Corn Soup

I recently  planned to make corn chowder, but discovered I lacked some of the ingredients.  Instead, I mocked up this corn soup.  It smelled and tasted wonderful, was very inexpensive, and made a filling lunch.

Corn Soup
serves 10

2 c corn ($1)
1 onion, chopped ($0.25)
1 c cooked rice (I used rice that I had saved after it stuck to various pots) ($0.25)
4 c stock (free, if home made)
1 c milk ($0.19)
1 tsp each salt, cumin, garlic powder, and oregano 
(to taste and depending on what you have on hand)
1/2 tsp each black pepper and paprika 
(to taste and depending on what you have on hand)

  • Combine all ingredients, except the milk, in a pot, and allow to simmer until the onion is cooked.  Or combine all the ingredients, except the milk, in a crockpot, and cook on low overnight. 
  • Puree soup and then stir in milk.
  • Garnish with fresh herbs, green onion, cheese, ground pepper, or sour cream.
This post has been linked to WFMWHHH MYHSM and Busy Monday.