Monday, January 30, 2012

The Ho Hum...

School had been progressing fine all morning.  Since Christmas break we'd been purring along at a nice steady pace. Everyday, hitting our marks, chalking up day after day and week after week of math, science, grammar, history etc. Learning was happening, but...

...homeschool can get a little ho hum in the winter's gray. 

Not dull and boring, mind you. 

Learning about Catherine the Great and Napoleon and dipping our collective toes into a bit of physics could never be boring. Yet, the ho hum does creep in upon us as it was threatening to do that afternoon.

The skies had been overloaded with clouds and soaking rain, completely absent was even the slightest glimmer of sunshine. The ho hum thrives on damp cloud-filled days and this day, the ho hum had just about declared victory when into our homeschoolin' afternoon waltzed the lowly potato...

Time seemed to be galumphing along when my thoughts turned to dinner. Hamburgers, ho hum, hardly a blog-able feast. We usually serve baked sweet potato fries with our burgers, but I was almost out of those. Grabbing a large bag of russets, I washed six or seven and decided to feed them through the food processor thinking to fry them for a cozy ketchup-laden side dish. Unfortunately, the processor's blade turned out to be a very thin one and my potato slices were more like potato chips...hmmmmm.

The child reciting poetry to me as I was potato processing noticed the chip-like shape of our potatoes and the light bulb lit over both of us simultaneously.

"Let's roast 'em on really high heat with oil and salt."

"Yea, like potato chips!"

While placing our pre-chips in a big bowl of cold water, I asked someone to look up how to bake potato chips. Meg, who was working on her math was happy to comply. While looking up the instructions, her brother and I fixed a test batch and popped them into the oven.  Meg read us directions that helped us to hone our craft a bit AND she found directions for microwaving chips.

Soon we were chip crazy, testing the exact times necessary to bake our chips for the width that they had been sliced, dreaming up crazy seasoning possibilities, and using every kitchen tool we owned to see which really met our chip needs.

In the process, Meg also found a very interesting video about how potato chips are manufactured {here} and began shouting out details like...
"Did you know that the average potato yields about 36 chips?"
"Wow, those industrial potato peelers can peel 12,000 pounds of potatoes per hour!"

Meanwhile, Cole was prepping the next batch for the oven.

We learned that chips did best when thoroughly dried before they are coated with olive oil and salt. Using a clean dish towel Cole placed slices in a single layer and added another towel to the top and pressed and  pressed until little moisture was left on the potatoes.

We also learned that only a few at a time can be placed on the pan so that the chips don't steam each other and yield a soggy mass o'potatoes instead of crisp ones.

Soon we had it down to a science.

Did someone say science

Soak in water to prevent browning (or oxidation), then dry, 

oil and season, 

bake for 5 minutes at about 400˚, turn pan in oven and bake for three more minutes, 
remove from oven, place on cooling rack, 
add a little more salt if needed, 
eat enough so that when the next batch comes out of the oven 
there is enough room on the cooling rack, repeat.

We think that these are very best right out of the oven. If they get cold (none of ours lasted long enough to get too cold!) just reheat in a 400˚ oven for a few minutes to re-crisp.

Perhaps the very best lesson we learned, is that while it is important to know the formula for the mechanical advantage of a lever {I know I use it everyday...wink}, it is equally important to know how to have fun and do some experimenting in the kitchen {I actually do use this skill most everyday!}. 

The kitchen-warmed oven, the sense of discovery, the cooperation of classmates, the quick gratification of eating food crafted by our own hands and minds...

 ...the ho-hum didn't even stand a chance!

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Salad-of-Wonder

Have you read any good cookbooks lately? 

I have. 

I've been on a cookbook binge this month and I can't quite get my fill of all of the new cookbooks that have been produced over the last year. Happily, the local library is full-to-bursting with shelves of the latest and greatest in cookbookery, so other than the eventual late fees that I will pay in a few weeks, this habit of mine is quite economical. 

That is, until I come across a gem of a book that I can't bear to be without, then the price increases just a bit. 
Which leads us to my latest acquisition:

Melissa Clark is a Food Columnist for The New York Times Dining Section, which is not surprising--her writing is simply good reading. Each recipe in this book begins with an essay of sorts that introduces the dish or the style of food or the inspiration behind its creation. The food itself is simple and fresh, and different from my normal, everyday fare. Others have given the recipes credit for breathing new life into their dinner preparations.

I've read nearly all of the recipes and I heartily agree with the Boston-Globe's opinion of Ms. Clark's food philosophy,
Clark is a gifted raconteur, and a master of a special kind of combination headnote-and-essay that is uniquely her own. That would be enough for those of us who enjoy reading cookbooks. But it’s the recipes that really showcase her easy genius. 
Easy genius. That says it all!

Cook This Now is currently earning its keep on my cookbook shelves with a recipe called Honey-Roasted Carrot Salad with Arugula and Almonds. {Ingredient list and printable option are located at the end of the post.}

This simplest of salads and is composed in three stages. First, however, you need to preheat the oven to 400˚.

Part One:
Next, the carrots. Peel about 5 medium carrots and cut them into 1/2 inch rounds. Place them on a baking sheet (covered with parchment paper if you prefer) in a single layer and drizzle olive or canola oil over them (about 1 and 1/2 to 2 Tablespoons). Add to that a sprinkling for 1/2 to 1 teaspoon of kosher salt and about 1/2 teaspoon of freshly ground pepper.

Toss the carrots to make sure all are well coated and place baking sheet in the oven for about 25 minutes. Stir the carrots about three times during the 25 minutes.

Part Two:
Time for the honey. In a small bowl, whisk together 2 teaspoons of honey, 1 teaspoon of water, and a large pinch of salt. Add the almonds and toss to coat. (**If you don't have almonds, make the salad anyway. The almonds add much to the taste, but the salad is delicious without them too.)

Add to the carrots in the oven during the last 5 to 7 minutes of cooking time and stir well. When carrots are caramelized and tender, remove from oven and allow them to cool completely.

Part Three:
Dressing anyone? Whisk the lemon juice, salt, and pepper. Add 1/4 cup of olive or canola oil and mix very well.

To assemble:
In a large salad bowl, add about 8 cups of arugula which is often sold in a plastic box-type container in the produce section with spinach mixed with it. The salad is still wonderful with the arugula/spinach mix, however it is at its absolute best with arugula alone.

To the arugula add the carrot and almond mixture and toss. Finally, drizzle the dressing over the entire bowl and toss to coat. Voila!  There you have it. Spring, in a bowl.

The first time I ate this salad was the first time I had encountered arugula on its own. The only other times I've eaten arugula have been when eating a mixed green salad or what my Man calls "Backyard Salad" so named because he thinks the greens look much like the weeds in our backyard.

Arugula, is so so so good. I'm seriously considering growing a crop this summer! I downed the entire salad in two sittings all by myself. I did share a bite with Kate who came asking for more a few hours later, but alas the Honey Roasted Carrot and Arugula Almond Salad-of-Wonder was history.

It's that good. 

{Printable Recipe HERE}

{Adapted very slightly from Cook This Now}

For the SALAD:
1 pound carrots, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch rounds
2 tablespoons canola oil (or olive oil)
Kosher salt, to taste
1/4-1/2 teaspoon black pepper
2 teaspoons honey
1/4 cup roasted almonds, roughly chopped**
2 bunches arugula (about 8 cups)

1 1/2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon ground pepper
1/4 cup canola oil (or olive oil)

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Thanks Tim Tebow...

Last Saturday, all six Wrights were seated on the couch watching one of our favorite football players take quite a beating on the field. Before things got too ugly for Tim Tebow and the Denver Broncos, a wonderful commercial aired that put the certain defeat of the team in perspective.

Yes, the team and their outspoken QB went down in flames that day, but all was not lost. Tim Tebow scored a win on an eternal scoreboard. As a result of his outspoken faith, boldly displayed in the public arena, thirty million viewers got to see this...

Wow, indeed!

To read more about Tim Tebow and his work off the field, click {here}.

Happy Sunday everyone! Praise HIM well!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

My Many Excuses...

Dear Blog Readers,

Thank you so much for turning your heads in our direction this morning...I'm dreadfully sorry to report that there is no fresh post for you to read this morning and I am terribly sorry. I have many excuses for my lapse in posting...a few of which I'd like to share with you now, so that you may choose your favorite.

  1. I gave my students a difficult science test this week and was forced to use blogging time to grade it. {Actually, the test, is harder for me to grade than it was for them to take. I think I understand now all of the true and false and multiple choice tests I took in school. Essay tests are apparently for rookie teachers!}
  2. I am, at this moment (if it is way too early in the morning when you are reading this) most likely hanging on to a treadmill at the local YMCA for dear life, having selected an unwise incline percentage in my pre-coffee state.
  3. I decided that since my man expects me to join him in the morning, way too early, at the local YMCA, that I'd better get to bed instead of writing a blog about a salad that I found in a new cookbook that I fixed for my very own self last week and haven't been able to stop thinking about since. {Peer pressure is such a cruel master when that peer is your Man whom you REALLY don't want to wimp out on in the snowy dark morning and also whom you are pretty certain will buy you a big dark steamy cup of coffee post-YMCA as a reward.}
  4. Instead of writing a fresh new post tonight, I spent a crazy amount of time on the couch with my kiddos. No TV, no games, mostly just a little pretending and a lot of staring out the window at the snow...and maybe a bit of reading, but just a teensy bit.

There you have 'em. Certified excuses, pick one or all of them, as all are absolutely true! If I survive that treadmill in the morning, I'll be back with a real post in a day or two!

Monday, January 16, 2012

"This Can't Be Happening!"

"I wonder if they have a special alert phrase for when we walk in here," I wondered aloud to my Man as we, for the second time in as many visits found ourselves exiting the local bookstore with a partially dressed child in our arms.

Last time, the mess for the bookstore employees was minimal, the mess for the parents...maximum.

The last time we'd entered the hallowed aisles of our local bookstore, we fell into our usual habit where each family member enters the front door, looking like a normal person and then, once inside, picks up an irresponsible amount of speed with which to reach his or her favorite section.

Molly charges to the "kids' section" with Kate at her heels, Cole heads to the shelves that hold his favorite authors, Meg can be found heading toward the series books near the kids' section and is always looking for something fresh and new. My Man makes a beeline for the religion section and I bid the whole gang adieu and get lost in the literature/fiction section and then in the cookbook aisles.

The religion section is near the children's section, so the kids are in close proximity to their Dad, and he can keep half an ear on them while scanning the shelves and all of us can look at our favorite books. This practice has worked well for us in the years since the bookstore has been in business UNTIL last time...

...last time when from the kids' section we heard, "Oh no! Momeeeeeeee, there's poooopeeeee in my pants! Oh no Momeeeeeeeee!" we all bolted. Poor Molly was in dire straits, obviously still plagued by a stomach virus that I mistakenly thought had run its complete course. All six of us appeared in the center aisle of the store and then Kate and I followed Molly on her awkward course toward the bathrooms.

The bathrooms are in the very back of the store. The.Very.Back. The entire way through the store Molly chanted loudly, "This can't be happening, this can't happen, please don't let this happen...Mommy, I need a fresh pair...did you bring a fresh pair? Mommy, I need a fresh pair, did you bring a fresh pair? Ohhhhhhhhh this can't be happening, don't let this happen."

Poor kid. I didn't pick her up and go running because I was afraid of making things worse for her by rearranging the mess. So knees locked together in penguin-like fashion, Molly finally reached the bathroom and we went inside and got to the work of assessing the situation.

It became clear that Molly's less-than-fresh pair would have to be discarded and her jeans would need to be carried home in a biohazard container. I considered wrapping my scarf around her southern end to provide adequate cover, but soon decided that my scarf would not cover enough territory. Kate was dispatched to get her Dad who had returned to the religion section.

When I gave my Man the situation report, he headed to the car to get the emergency blanket. I told Molly that we were going to have to leave the store and go home.

"Yike (like) dis?"

she exclaimed, looking at her uncovered parts? I explained that her Dad was on his way with a blanket and that she would be sufficiently covered as we exited the store. And exit the store we did, heads bowed slightly, we all filed out offering silent apologies to the unfortunate employee that was responsible for emptying the bathroom garbage cans that evening.

{For a week after this particular bookstore debacle, Molly never left the house without a backpack full of "fresh pairs" which she had packed on her own..."Jutht in case," she told me with a knowing look.}

This time while we were at the store, a telling ruckus drew my Man and I from our prospective corners to find white foam covering two little girls with surprised expressions on their faces. Foam also covered most of the section of the aisle where the girls were standing. Kate handed my Man a deflated version of this...
...Blobby Robby, now Blobless Robby, had exploded. 
Kate was thoroughly covered and had to make a trip to the bathroom and remove her sweater and replace it with her puffer vest which would leave her skinny little arms totally exposed on our trip to the car. White foam dripped from Kate's hair and was sprinkled over Molly's head as well. 

While my Man was helping Kate with her clothing, Cole was helping me clean up what foam we could with toilet paper from the restrooms. 

It soon became apparent that our efforts were in vain, the more we tried, the worse the mess became. I walked to the front desk and explained what had happened and offered to purchase Blobless Robby. Happily, the employee said that that wouldn't be necessary.

Kate and Darrin soon joined the rest of us at the center of the store, and after a short pause for a purchase, we again made our head-bowed walk out of the store.

"If they don't have a code word for us, they should," said he, "I felt like I had to buy something for the trouble we've left them with THIS time."
{Blobby Robby's insides mixed with high quality bathroom toilet paper.}
Pretty Huh?

Last week, my Man and I went on a date. We enjoyed an early dinner out and a movie. Still not quite ready to call it an evening, we headed in the direction of the bookstore. As we approached we noticed lights on and saw employees with vacuum cleaners in action. 

The employees may or may not have spotted our approaching van from afar and yelled a single word to one another which, of course, we were unable to hear as we got closer. All I know is that when we got to the store, the doors were locked and the lights were out. Not a soul remained in sight.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Book Joy! (and a video)

It. is. finally. snowing.

I was wondering if winter would ever get around to it! I love the snow. It makes me feel all cozy inside and puts me in the mood for a big pot of chili and a quiet corner and a good book. You're surprised, I know (wink).

Today I'm determined to cuddle up with a good book and maybe a child or two...or three...or four - all the better to stay warm!

Kate has already polished off a large (for her) book this morning which has been one of my all time favorite books to read to the kids. It was bittersweet to hear her reading it aloud to herself, as I missed the cuddling and the sharing of a grin over all of the charmingly funny lines. Kate's pick for today was...

This book is such a treasure!
 It is smart, funny and oh so charming with lines like:
"Toes are to dance on..."
and "Snow is to roll in..." and 
"Buttons are to keep people warm."

Illustrated by Maurice Sendak, of Where the Wild Things Are fame, this book will long be one of my favorites.

After he finishes his assigned reading (Treasure Island) Cole, will settle down later today with

 The Star of Stone by Italian writer, P.D. Baccalario.

It is the second book The Century Quartet. The first book, Ring of Fire, is one which I plan to pinch from of his bookshelf later this winter and read for myself.  

Meg, like her dad, is a non-fiction reader and is currently enjoying a digital copy the young adult book, It's Not About Me: Live Like You Mean It, by Max Lucado.

As for Molly, later today I think we'll settle down with this:

The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats.

While we are thinking about books, and before I get my chili pot all heated up, I thought I would share a video that would appeal to the bookish and non-bookish alike...

Now don't you want to go grab a good book?
Happy Weekend!
{As with all bookish posts, click on the title of the book for more information from the website.}

Monday, January 9, 2012

Pure Joy...

At dinner tonight my Man asked the kids what one of their favorite memories of Christmas this year was. As each child responded, I saw this memory flicker in Kate's eyes...

The item in the purple box was on the tippy tippy top of Kate's dream list for Christmas this year. The gift  was a battery powered dog that barks and walks and wags its tail. Kate named her new pet Cocoa and they, dog and owner, are currently in the process of living happily ever after!

(Photos of Kate and Cocoa by Megan)

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Way to Goooooo Mountaineers!

The Pride...




(Even the ones who didn't choose you in a bowl picking contest...oops!!)

Monday, January 2, 2012

**Alert** Men in the Kitchen!

We returned home from our Christmas travels eager to watch a big time football game on TV. 
Cole's New York Giants were playing my Man's Dallas Cowboys. 

The hours leading up to the game involved unpacking, menu planning, grocery shopping, all of that getting-back-to-real-life stuff that is necessary for re-entry in to the regular. On a supplemental grocery gathering trip, my Man decided to create a mini-tailgate party for our evening's festivities. So,
but for one (exciting and yummy and to-be-posted-later) dish that I made, our food last night was solely provided by the men in my life.

If I hadn't told you of the men in the kitchen thing, you'd have figured it out anyway because of the...

...pepperoni and cheese...

...and the pepperoni and cheese...

...and the paper plates and nacho chips.

That, however, is where the typical man-food stuff ended and the skilled-prep man-food began.

Enter, Cole-the-Giant fan who, at the beginning of this football season, discovered this...

...cute little cookbook that my sis gave us a few years ago for Christmas. There are a few recipes in here that have long since made it into regular rotation, but this recipe...

...had not been tried until Cole decided to tackle to speak. 

Happily, Cole has mastered this particular selection, making it first for us earlier in the football season, then for a gang of his buds on the occasion of the big LSU vs. Alabama football game, and again last night to add to his dad's tailgate feast!

Ranch Buffalo Wings

Here's what you'll need:

1/2 cup butter, melted
1/4 cup hot sauce (Cole likes Texas Pete but Frank's will do in a pinch)
3 tablespoons vinegar (Cole recommends apple cider vinegar, but use what you've got)
24 chicken wings
1 envelope ranch salad dressing (Cole swears by the Hidden Valley brand)

Here's what to do:

Preheat oven to 350˚. Combine melted butter and hot sauce.

Add vinegar and stir well.

 Next, pat those little wings dry with a paper towel.

 After the wings are dry, give each one its own bath in the hot butter sauce. 

After each wing is coated with sauce, place on baking sheet and sprinkle each wing with the dry ranch dressing mix.

Bake for 40 minutes or until chicken is brown and juices run clear when pierced.

Now all that's left to do is eat the man-feast and... the Giants cream the Cowboys!
Much fun had by all...

except of course...the Cowboys.

They didn't look like they had too much fun at all.

Thank you gentlemen, it was great!

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