Friday, 30 January 2015

Narnia Scarf (also Magic Midnight variation) for true winter weather

There are some beautiful photographs of Northern Britain having been swept by waves and snow, as the blizzards have journeyed across the Atlantic to visit.

The cold weather has made me thankful for all the scarves I crocheted over the Christmas period for the family!  The one in the photograph above was dubbed the Narnia Scarf by the children; although the photograph doesn't do the sparkly yarn justice, the grey is speckled generously with bright diamond glittering like snow in a grey sky above the snow-topped green trees.  I think it really is reminiscent of a Narnian woodland!

My mother has also been thankful for the gift in this weather and has been wearing it out these past weeks!  I made a variation for my grandma who tends to wear more formal black coats; Magic Midnight has black yarn taking the outside rows instead of the sparkly grey above... the glittering grey yarn comes next for the twinkling frosted sky... and white yarn replaced the green for snow covered trees.  It looks truly beautiful, but I don't want to ask for it to photograph... she needs to keep hold of it in weather like this!

How I made them

Thursday, 29 January 2015

We Know (experiences in handling perceived negativity)

I try to avoid mentioning that we home educate when in conversation with someone new.  I will try to give an answer that satisfies but dodges bringing it up.   It is only if someone directly asks a question like “why aren’t they in school?”, “what school do they attend?” or “when do they go back to school after the holidays?” that I will bite the bullet and answer with “we homeschool.”
I avoid it because it usually leads to a jerked back “oh!” then “can I ask why?”  As fellow home educators out there will know, it is not a straight-forward explanation.  There are many reasons, many small or seemingly insignificant to someone else, some of which are personal to individual children, that led us to choose this path.  Most often, people are genuinely curious but I try to keep my answer brief, as occasionally, despite this, I can often see the questioner becomes bored, confused or defensive.  If a person is genuinely interested they sometimes still seem to be looking for indication we are not/our situation is not perfect, that we are attacking their way of life, and so get in on the defensive.  As we live near well-regarded state schools, some seem to assume we are limiting our children's opportunities, especially if their own children have gone through local schools to get an honours degree at uni and now hold down a respectable job; because they are so naturally proud of their own offspring, they cannot seem to recognise that any other path is valid or assume that my husband and I seem to think we can offer the children an education that could lead to better things than their own treasured children have achieved.

Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Glorious Chocolate Cake with Marshmallow Cream

When I saw the Pioneer Woman aka Ree Drummond showcase the “best... frosting” from a recipe on Tasty Kitchen by MissyDew, I just sighed.  As gorgeous as the Red Velvet Cake looks, it was the frosting that drew me in.  It reminded me of a war-time mock cream recipe from Marguerite Patten’s "We'll Eat Again", though hers uses cornflour which I would imagine gives a slightly more blancmange finish to it... do let me know in the comments if you have tried it, does this hunch have any truth to it?
There are interesting snippets about the American history of this recipe in the comments under the Pioneer Woman’s post.  It seems that the more usual cream cheese frosting is a newer concept, and that the marshmallow-like textured mock cream is the traditional way of finishing a Red Velvet cake.

Ultimately, Red Velvet Cake is a chocolate cake.  And you can’t go wrong serving up chocolate cake.  Looking at the marshmallowy goodness of the frosting, I knew I wanted a sandwich cake...

(But incidentally, if you do fancy a red Red Velvet Cake with cream cheese frosting... feel free...)
My Red Velvet Cake, with natural colouring and without saturated fat

Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Secrets to Thrifty Online Grocery Shopping

Doing the grocery shop online has a ton of benefits if done wisely. 

It can save you time and effort, of course, but to save money there are a few things we like to keep in mind...

Monday, 26 January 2015

Finding our Maths Hook

Mathematics is a subject that fascinates me; sadly it is not one that I have a great aptitude for.  If I could go back in time, one of the things I would change would be to not be put off by assuming there was something I didn't get... that the teacher was asking for something more, something I didn't understand beyond the simple sum she was quizzing me on... that the myth that mathematics is something complicated for whizzkids only and is boring had not been dumped on me before I was even given a chance to grasp the basics.  So often, learning mathematics felt like being tested on something I didn't know yet rather than being introduced to something new and interesting.

I did not want that to happen to my kids.

Maths is the language of the universe.  That statement alone grabbed the older ones in the early years.  Maths helps us work out the littlest and the biggest questions - not just what two add two makes.  We created a box to contain the "Secrets of the Universe", always spoken like it is an introduction to a 60s sci fi TV show... "Seeecrets ooooof theeee Uuuuuniveeeerse!"  Once a week, the printer mysteriously printed out another secret just for us...  basic fractions to colour in, for example, or introducing multiplication.  (We used the Box of Secrets printouts generously posted by Mark Warner on Teaching Ideas to decorate the box.)

It was going so well... the children would excitedly show and tell a visitor the new secret, and about the box, and how they were learning the language to unravel the "Seeecrets ooooof theeee Uuuuuniveeeerse!"  And the visitor would reply...

Sunday, 25 January 2015

Steak, Bacon and Onion Pie, and Isle of Wight Pudding

I love when a whole Sunday dinner takes an hour to produce from start to finish. My vegetable casserole epiphany makes life so much easier, by keeping my kitchen tidier of pans and hob-free, and makes use of the oven. We had carrots and green beans placed in a casserole with a little splash of water from the kettle, lid on, and put in the oven at 180C for 1 hour while I got on the rest.

The photograph above made it into the blog rather than one of the cooked pie because the filled base just looked so pretty with all of the onions rings tossed through the pink strips of rasher.  The idea for this pie came from a Not-Really-Stargazy Pie I used to make quite a bit a few years back.  There were no fish heads peering out of the pie, as the sardines came from a tin, so there was no stargazing... but it tasted amazing, all punchy with onion, lemon and black pepper and little salty bites of bacon.  The only thing I changed here was to use Fry's steak strips instead of sardines and maple or plain rashers instead of the streaky bacon,.. god bless Holland and Barratt's January buy-one-get-one-for-a-penny deal. It made a gorgeous Sunday meal with the vegetable casserole, mashed potatoes and gravy, then followed by...

Isle of Wight Pudding and custard. A bit of research turned up that Isle of Wight Pudding is also called Vectis and is traditionally a suet roly-poly deal filled with a little syrup, currants, apple and lemon. This was news to me... at school we had a cakier pud that was dripping in golden syrup and sultanas.  It was amazing.  And so wrong to be eating it at noon on a weekday to be followed by double maths.  You really really only need a small portion because it is so sweet, despite adding the lemon juice, but you really really need to try least once.  Especially after the lemon and black pepper seasoned pie here...they just work so well one after the other when the lemon subtly follows through rather than gets boring.  The salt quantity might look weird, but this works along with the lemon to counterbalance the intensely sweet syrup and fruit.

Saturday, 24 January 2015

Fizzy Volcanoes

The kids love it when Daddy takes a lesson.  This week, instead of computer science or maths revision they all gathered around the table build a volcano!

Friday, 23 January 2015

Simple Traditional Pixie Bonnet (with Festive Design in Bright Colours, or with Burgundy, Navy and White)

I have been catching up on my pre-Christmas posts, and they seem so long ago!  I see that I wrote I would post the festive hats I had been making.  Although it might feel a bit late for making festively coloured hats, it is certainly still cold enough around here to warrant hats!  My kids are still wearing theirs, and tot pictured here yesterday refused to remove it after modelling and so wore it indoors for the afternoon.  It is always good to know that my handiwork is appreciated by someone!

These were really simple.  I was influenced by the traditional pixie bonnet look of old, and have had comments from neighbours such as "they remind me of the hats my friends/siblings and I used to wear!" so I guess this brief worked out.

They work nicely in navy and burgundy too if you have children who prefer less brightly coloured hats.  Still add the white stripe in to keep a festive look.  If anyone would like me to post a picture of this version, just let me know. 

Of course, plain colours will also be nice.  When I was younger, winter accessories were always in school colours - it wasn't in a school uniform requirement as I went to an ordinary state school, just a sort of unspoken rule - and so my hats, along with the sea of bonnets and balaclavas, were always knitted in royal blue.  Thinking back, though I cant remember noticing at the time, everyone looked so neat and smart like that!  I don't think that tends to be done anymore, but the hats would look nice all done in black to match a smart black winter coat.

This size fits my kids age 2-6.  For the older ones (all under 10) I chained on an extra 8. Otherwise, continue the pattern as below for either size. 

Thursday, 22 January 2015

Sloshed Steak Stew

Well that was an unexpected month away from blogging! I came down with the Christmas cold this year! It is usually my husband gets bit poorly on festive days, but on the evening of the 25th I felt very floppy and lethargic... and I knew it wasn't just the season catching up with me!  This cold really took it out of me. I am so thankful that my husband was off work for a fortnight and spent it looking after everything, including me.  And I am very thankful that, although the children seem to be getting a wee round of coughs and lethargy, that each of them are getting over it in a couple of days each.

Finally, I am back to my usual self - fortified with vitamins and making lovely warm comfort food for us all again.

On Sundays in our house, the traditional weekly roast is paid homage. In a world of choice, it is nice to have a straight-forward gravied protein, veg and potatoes meal.  The protein is occasionally a Cheatin' roast, but not always for variation and cost reasons. It sometimes appears as a plate pie, sometimes as a stew or casserole.  This is a great version which works with whatever booze you want to slosh in for flavour.  It is based on a real Braising Steak recipe I used to watch my Nanna make on Wednesdays; the steak strips in this end up just as tender as I remember hers to be.  It can be slow cooked as well as done in the oven, but I do somehow prefer the texture of an oven stew if we can get away with baking it. I justify it by baking a pudding on a Sunday too as a treat - we had an amazing pear cake with custard after this.

Our favourite flavours for varying the following basic recipe are
Red or White Wine
Dark Beer/Stout and Mustard
Brandy and Prune
Whisky (if using whisky, definitely replace a couple of carrots with swede.)
Gin with Blackberry or Hedgerow Berries and Bay

The basic recipe with the variations goes like this: