Wednesday, December 19, 2007

gluten-free gingerbread circus!

As most people know, Tal is allergic to wheat and wheat-related grains (basically, he can eat rice, sorghum, corn, quinoa, and other starches such as tapioca and potato). So Christmas time is a time of marathon baking, now. We not only need to bake all the usual fare (but gluten-free), to be shared at the (yes, DAILY) festive dinners we'll be attending or hosting for the next couple of weeks, but we also need to have enough on hand so that at every gathering where cookies/cakes may be presented, we have a suitable (and exciting!) alternative or two. That's all on top of the breads, buiscuits, pies, cakes, etc. that we bake, regardless. It should be renamed: Standing in the Kitchen Month.

So for those interested, here is the latest: a Gingerbread Circus! It was Tali's idea, and thank goodness Rhiannon was also excited about it! It took us about 8 hours, spread out over two days... phewf. This thing better be delicious when we devour it! We also have about 50 individual cookies, iced and ready to be packaged up for various events.

The recipe is adapted to be gluten-free from my friend Miki's (and her Mum's) family recipe

Gingerbread Boys
1 ½ cups white rice flour
1 cup tapioca flour
½ cup corn flour
½ cup potato starch
2 tsp guar gum
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground allspice
1 tsp ground cloves
1 tsp ground cinnamon

1 cup butter
1 cup natural cane sugar
½ cup molasses
1 egg

Combine flours, guar gum, salt, baking powder, and spices in a bowl.

In a separate (large) bowl, cream the butter with the sugar and molasses until fluffy. Add egg and dry ingredients, and continue mixing until thoroughly combined. Shape into a 1-inch thick, flat puck, wrap in plastic, and refrigerate approximately 3 hours, until firm.

Preheat oven to 350° F. Lightly grease cookie sheets.

Roll 1/4–inch thick, and cut to desired shapes. For curved walls, engine cylinders, etc., drape a rectangle of dough over a clean (label- and glue-removed) tin can. If the dough does not reach the bottom to stabilize the can, place small bits of dough around the bottom to stabilize. Some small shapes (cones, etc.) will hold their form during baking.

In this photo you see Tali's original design specifications (the drawing with the orange roof and circus performers dressed in blue), as well as our scrap-paper model (on the right, by Tal's hands), and all the pieces, carefully cut out on the tray and on the table.

Bake until lightly browned on the edges. The darker you let it get, the sturdier will be your gingerbread construction!

Frosting Paint:
for gluing and decorating gingerbread constructions

2.5 cups confectioner’s sugar
¼ teaspoon cream of tartar
2 egg-whites
1 or 2 drops of 100% essential oil of your choice: vanilla, orange, and peppermint are our favourites!

Beat all ingredients until just mixed, then continue beating until stiff (on high with a mixer). A knife drawn through should leave a clean path. This time we added a little butter to the icing, to make it softer... mmmm...

Separate into bowls and tint with natural food colourings. We typically use:
turmeric (yellow)
spirulina (green)
beet powder or juice (red/pink)
cocoa (brown, or black when mixed with spirulina)

This time we actually just blended carrots into one part, and beets into another, and found the textured colours we got quite beautiful! And they were tasty, too! Here's Tal's explanation of the colouring:

Add water ½ tsp at a time to thin frosting paint, as necessary. Keep covered and refrigerated when not in use.

We also used some melted dark chocolate to attach the walls, tightrope standard, and standing people to the base.

What did the kids do in this??Obviously, this required a lot of adult help. The kids planned it all, with some architectural-stability advice from me. Taliesin helped make the dough while Rhiannon was at preschool. Then we worked out the pieces together; I cut the papers, they cut the gingerbread. Day 2: We all mixed the icing. Then we tried propping it up, together, but it was just too fickle for the 3 sets of hands together, so then the kids painted individual cookies while I (with plenty of guidance and a few holding-up assists) stuck all the main pieces to the board with melted chocolate. We popped it in the freezer multiple times with various (cups & bowls) supports to hold it while the chocolate hardened. When it was all pretty stable, they finished the circus implements (Tali made a hamster-wheel and trapeze, which are inside the tent), and iced and decorated the whole thing. The white-chocolate path was my addition. :--)

5-year-old rationale:

Taliesin eats his carrots heartily, because, despite our efforts to explain to him that our families are all genetically predisposed to needing glasses, he believes that "carrots are good for eyes", and maybe they will keep him out of glasses. And we can't really argue with the first point, and, after all, we're glad he enjoys them!

At dinner this evening, Tal exclaimed out of the blue: "There's a bunny in the world who doesn't like carrots!"
Mama: "Really?"
Tal, smiling: "But he's in a book."
Mama: "Well I'm sure there must be SOME real bunny who doesn't like carrots..."
Tal: "Where!?"
Mama: "Maybe in a country where rabbits live but carrots don't grow."
Tal: "What country is that?"
Mama: "Um. Maybe someplace in Africa. I don't know, but I'm pretty sure there are rabbits in some of the grasslands, but maybe no carrots. Other root vegetables, maybe. I don't know."
Tal: "Oh, yeah. Right."

...later, while Pappa was brushing his teeth, Mama overheard:

Tal: "Pappa? I think all the people in Africa are blind."
Pappa: "Huh?"
Tal: "They're blind because they don't have any carrots to eat!"
Pappa: "Well, uh... I see. That's interesting, but maybe not really true..."


Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Consumerism Movie

New link added in the Learning Links section (lower left):

The Story of Stuff

Just watched it with the kids. The "what you can do" part at the end is a bit low-key, but it's a start, anyway.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Sinterklaas Komt!

Here, we are busy preparing for Sinterklaas' birthday party. Normally the festivities would happen tonight, but we've asked him to come a couple of days late this year, so that Uncle and Ginger can join in the festivities.

Meanwhile, Rhiannon will have her sharing day at preschool, tomorrow... so today we made taai taai, to serve to her friends!

(You can click the images to enlarge them.)

Taai taai turns out to be an incredibly simple recipe: honey, flour (we substitute a blend of gluten-free flours), baking powder and spices (mostly ground anise). Unfortunately, making it into the lovely, stamped shape shown here (image ripped off of is impossible for us. We searched everywhere to find instructions for using the wooden form we have, and experimented with both butter and flour, but in the end just made cookie-cutter shapes, since all our attempts failed. Of course, the wooden form we have is really meant for a completely different kind of cookie: speculaas. But I thought it would work!! Oh well. The taai taai are delicious, and the Pieten seem to have made some gluten-free pepernoten for us, as well, this year... Add to that the chocolate letter that we just KNOW Sinterklaas will be delivering any time now.... and we're all set to party for de goede Sint. :--)

The children have, of course, been setting their shoes out for many days already, and have even had some correspondence with Sint en Piet. In fact, we were thrilled to discover that after Piet retrieved Rhiannon's drawing from her shoe and took it to the Netherlands, Sinterklaas liked it so much he posted it on his website!!! Now THAT is something we never expected!! But certainly proof that Sinterklaas did, in fact, get the drawing.

Here you can see them singing their songs by the woodstove. Tal's horse, Sneaky, and Rhiannon's baby, Ganja, are of course, singing, too.

Prettige Sinterklaas, iedereen!

Earth Walk: coming part-circle!

Well, the earth walk concept is beginning to achieve its goals. The idea is that we walk 2 or 3 times every week through the same general area, and see how the seasons affect the landscape, the animals, and plants, there. There's always something wonderful to learn, every step of the way, but we've now witnessed some pretty drastic changes in the same spot, and within the children's attainable memories.

Last autumn you may remember we spent a few earth walks in the meadow and associated marshes and alder forests. We looked for ferns to harvest, there, explored the riverbanks, etc. Well this last weekend we unfortunately did not make it down during our massive snowstorm, but stayed home tabogganing, etc. in the approximately 14" of snow we got. (Yes that's right: in 2 days it built up to 14 inches - that's 36cm!!) Then on Monday we walked Tali back from school (at the forest classroom), and saw the flooded meadows. In the area we had hiked through looking for ferns, ferns still grew, waving gracefully under the water. As Tali stood looking at the alder forest, which, temporarily, grows out of the river, he said, "this is a rainforest. Will those rainforest whales come, now?" (Background info: The Vancouver Aquarium has a few arapaima, tropical rainforest fish that breathe air and swim around the trees to eat the fallen fruit when the Amazon river floods every year.)

On Tuesday we did earth walk, (and thus picked Rhiannon up from school), and I finally brought my camera. You can see that 14" of snow was completely gone in only 2 days of heavy rain and 12-degree breezes. The river had gone down a bit, but was still more of a lake than a river. Here you see the alder forest next to the bridge, as it looked last September 18th, and the bridge as it looked on our earth walk, yesterday.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

dig this crazy month!

Collection of photos -- there will be no extensive explanations, because although the main jobs for the month are done, we now have to catch up on a month's worth of stuff we let slip...

Halloween pumpkins! This day Mama and Rhiannon were really sick, and Pappa was on his first day post-layoff... not such a lovely Samhain as we had hoped, but we did manage to create these lovely pumpkins and a delicious pizza, together.

November Weather...
Wild Food: sea lettuce harvested and eaten during a power outage!
Magic class continues, with a couple of boys very intent on om's!
French Class: Tali takes French with our friend Mara, at school. See him singing his song...

And now see Rhiannon's remix of the same song!

Hopefully I'll get back to documenting our learning pursuits a bit better, this month.

PS: Oh yes... and if you want to visit the website that consumed our every moment, this month, go to . We're very happy with the way it turned out! For those who don't know us, it's my father's website. But yes, we're willing to customize the program for anyone else who wants an e-commerce website. I do the site & graphic design, Markus does the programming. We quite enjoyed working together, despite the long hours. :--)