Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Wild Food: Miner's Lettuce, Fiddleheads and Cattail Shoots

First a couple of photos of our earthwalk (Tali's and my weekly trek out to pick up Rhiannon from preschool). We noted that the skunk cabbage, now at the tail-end of it's bloom, is shooting its leaves up -- look how tall!

And Tal became one with the moss, growing a green beard in his glory...

Wild Green Omelet
OK -- not totally wild; the eggs were farmed and the milk was store-bought... but we rejoiced, anyway! As you may have read on our other blog, our ducks recently started laying! What better reason for an omelet?!
We just gathered what we found on the way home from preschool, today, which happened to be the following:

  • Siberian Miner's Lettuce leaves and buds -- this is just before they bloom, so the leaves are still rich, dark and juicy. They have a very distinct taste, somewhat similar to spinach (and many of the same vitamins as spinach, I believe). One of our May Day traditions is to pick a heap (with lots of flowers) and eat a big salad of it for Beltane dinner.
  • Lady Fern Fiddleheads -- just in time! They're nearly all open! We just take a few at a time; something in my vague memory tells me that fiddleheads are not healthy if eaten in large quantities, so we don't. I'm really going to have to research that one!
  • Cattail Shoots -- yummy, soft and starchy, they're also really beautiful in cross-section! They're just beginning here in the pond. We also harvested some roots to make cattail flour but then, as wild-fooding with kids goes... we lost them somewhere between the pond and home. Oops.
Stir-fried the fiddleheads and chopped cattail shoots a little, then added miners lettuce, and duck-eggs with a bit of milk and a dash of salt. Duck eggs are much more viscous than chicken eggs; they make a much denser omelet. But yum!

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

plastic world

Remember the consumerism movie I posted earlier (The Story of Stuff)?
Here's a little video-series to go along with it, thanks to Thomas Morton:
Garbage Island

Thursday, April 10, 2008


Tal is dancing again... with all his heart!

little ramble on learning

Today I went to Tal's learning group and sang some songs with them for their current Canada study. We sang two songs about our island, spent time looking at a map of the island and where we all lived, etc. Then we did some Katajjak (Inuit throat singing), and played some rhythm instruments. Then we moved on to look at mining in Canada, and sang the Hard Rock Miner. The whole thing was supposed to take less than 1/2 an hour, but because the kids were so enthusiastic and involved, took nearly an hour. Because it's an open classroom, that wasn't such a big deal; I was able to just let the learning and enthusiasm of the group carry the time, and I think it was really successful. I haven't taught kids in years (since Tal was a baby) and I left feeling totally fulfilled and thrilled, myself.

We sing a lot at home, but Tal is often reluctant to join in, and certainly won't do it in public, although he has plenty of opportunity. Once, recently, I was singing something on the way into his school and he blushed and told me to stop singing before somebody heard me! Today he actually seemed happy to have me there, and... he sang along!! So after we left I thanked him for welcoming me into his morning and letting me do my thing. His response was an enthusiastic "thank you for coming to sing with us, Mama!!" I just about cried. My teaching has come full circle and the joy I find teaching other people's children has made its way back to my own!

So now for some more thoughts on learning. The following are various viewpoints I've come across in the past few years. The last one is my own belief, but I'm throwing them all out for the sake of contemplation; I think this is very interesting.
  1. We learn at an ever slowing rate from birth onwards, so that the first few years are the richest, and it slowly curves off until we reach middle age, at which point the curve either levels off or heads down again (ack?!).
  2. We learn at a relatively steady rate throughout our lives, ending up wise and learned.
  3. We learn at an exponentially increasing rate throughout our lives, as new learning builds upon prior knowledge/experience... so that the richest "learning years" are in our old age.
  4. We learn here and there and everywhere, gathering as we go and forgetting things that are less important or less used.
  5. Learning needs a new name. Call it "growing". We're always growing, always changing, and our personal collection of feeling and memory grows, changes, evaporates or is stored for future retrieval in an amorphous, patternless flow that may roughly follow the flow of our lives. There is no more or less "learning" theres always constant change.
*And if we consider past life experience to be a part of learning (for those children who remember past lives, it most certainly is!), how does that affect all of the above?

So if I'm right at all in my belief, why do we "learn" in "school", and then in "university", and then, for the most part, begin life applying the skills we learned without considering further education? Of course it's black and white; I realize that. But I do believe that many of us subconsciously see our learning leveling off at the end of our "formal schooling". So do we then also subconsciously close our minds to further learning? And why is it that so many people have to venture out after finishing highschool or university for "self-discovery" adventures? Why weren't they given the opportunity to discover themselves earlier? Why don't we accept our children for the open, creative, natural forces of change that they are, and rejoice in the opportunity to share our growing with them?

I'm often criticized for underestimating the school system and the enormous effort that is put out by parents and teachers to provide a rich and varied environment for our children's education. I certainly have been critical of some common teaching methods, and our family has made a pointed choice to opt out of mainstream education. But as more of our friends become more involved in the mainstream education, I hear of a lot of parents and teachers who do seem to hold the same values we do, and to try to apply those in that "mainstream" education. Yay! And for my part, I'm ever so glad to be welcomed into my children's lives -- I'm growing well, these days!

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Recent Wild Foods

After 3 weeks of pneumonia (I'm almost better, now, thank you!), various graphic design projects and other adventures occurring (yes, we have a stove again, now, but now we have no hot water, the water-heaters can only be sold to tradespeople, but local tradespeople are too busy and do not answer telephone calls...etc...etc...), I've been having a bit of trouble finding time to post. Life, however, and therefore unschooling, continues despite my silence. So tonight I'll at least try to update on some of the most successful wild foods.

First a wee note on un-successful wild foods, though. Please remember that just because I post about our roaring successes, doesn't mean this Wild Food adventure is always easy. We've had plenty of failures. For the past couple of months we've been waiting to harvest some seaweeds, thinking they'd be perfect winter-fare... except that all the low tides have been at night (this has changed, now; and today we had our first 2008 tidepool adventure). We also tried tapping broadleaf maple, to discover that although they're reportedly bountiful, not a drop is flowing. (Did we miss it or is it yet to come? We've been watching the dry jugs for nearly a month, now.) Then there are always those days where we set out for some particular thing and either find it tastes putrid, is nearly impossible to harvest, or is simply non-existent. And then, if the universe smiles upon us and we find something tasty, we have to hope that everyone is still interested in the adventure: "Mama! I just want to climb trees, instead, today!" Heh. Still, when it works it works, and then the hurdles are forgotten in the joy of feeding ourselves from the wild.

Today we went to the beach at low tide, explored the tidepools, and harvested a few goodies for dinner: Not on the menu, but fun to investigate were urchins, sun stars, sunflower stars, sea stars of various types, snails, shellfish, barnacles and crabs of various types, buffleheads, geese, and mallards... and rocks to climb on!

Saccharina sessilis or Laminaria saccharina (Sugar Kelp)

The kids felt accomplished after because it was easy to harvest, and plentiful. We cooked some with our rice for dinner, and it was (to me) like eating an ocean cloud. It made the rice so fluffy and tasty; I am drying the rest and plan to harvest it quite often, now that we know where to find it in large quantities. There is really no comparison, though, between fresh (albeit probably rather polluted) seaweed and dried. Yes we washed and soaked it well, thereby probably ridding it of it's toxins and nutrients...

Red Gracilaria (sea moss)

Apparently this is an aphrodisiac in the Caribbean; we think maybe it's a human-repellent -- it smells horrid. I ended up composting it; hopefully the garden will enjoy it more than we would.

Green Gracilaria
It doesn't smell bad, but since I wanted to look it up before eating it, I dried it instead of trying it fresh. I still haven't found any information on the green varieties, though I assume it's edible, based on the fact that the red variety is widely consumed.

Ulva (Sea Lettuce)
Our old standby! Taliesin thinks it tastes boring, but as long as it's mixed in with something tasty he doesn't mind it. We mixed it in with our rice and laminaria. We've not found it very plentiful anywhere on Bowen (yet), so there was none left over for drying.

How long can we keep our dried seaweed?Dr. Ryan Drum of OceanVegetables.com says that "In proper storage, most totally-dried sea vegetables stay nutritionally and medicinally secure indefinitely. The minerals do not degrade; the phycocolloids slowly fragment over years; the pigments slowly fade, especially the chlorophylls; fats slowly become rancid; proteins fragment slowly to polypeptides and amino acids."

We've been harvesting the young leaves for salads and as a cooked green in Nasi-Goreng (one of our favourite family meals), recently. My personal favourite is a salad made with 80% dandelion greens, 19% diced tomatoes, 1% chives from the garden, and a blended dressing of grapeseed oil, (lots of) grated fresh ginger, a couple of minced green onions, balsamic vinaigre, and honey. Yum.

I think we're going to have to harvest and store some of the young greens. They get rather bitter after the plant blooms, and ours are all showing fat buds in the centre of the leaves. Of course, then there are also the petals to eat, the blossoms to fry and eat with syrup... but still... I'd love to have some dried or frozen leaves to add to future meals.

My family's tradition has been to eat nettles for Easter. (Sometimes my parents wonder aloud at how I became so "earthy" and "nature-loving"... is it beginning to become apparent, yet? Thank you, Mum and Pappa!)

So this Easter my Mum asked if we could all do a little "Wild Food Day" together to get the easter nettles from the edge of the property.

We did! Honestly, I've never loved nettles very much other than for tea (so hairy!), but my Mum cooked them with some onions and really they were very delicious, that way!

Thursday, March 13, 2008

More Education News....

Wonderful news! The British Telegraph reports:
Teachers mull ending homework for pupils.

I don't agree with assigned homework, personally, although I realize there is an endless spectrum of children, including many who may benefit from and even enjoy homework as part of their education. But I think generally that if kids are participating in a classroom education, they should be inspired as opposed to required to bring the work home. If my son doesn't want to do math questions, I don't make him. And I just about blew a fuse when he was sent home with a worksheet he found too uninspiring to finish at school. But it has happened more than once that he's been so inspired by what he did at school that he came home eager to teach me and continue the learning in his own way, here (finger-knitting and robot-building would be this week's examples).

So Yay! for these enlightened teachers, and Yay! for the millions of British students who will benefit from the change they are suggesting. Now just to hope that the movement picks up a little here. It's worth noting that our friend Chris began the Great Canadian Homework Ban. Hopefully that spreads around a little, too! I suppose it all begins with parents like us, not requiring our kids to complete homework. :--)

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Kids talking politics.

In February 2008 the Canadian conservative party began a junkmail campaign of mail-in "ballots". We've been receiving a few such flyer-ballots every week. This most recent flyer-ballot was sent by Lee Richardson, of Calgary. Why he's sending things to coastal BC I don't know, but I find it disturbing.

This video is a record of my conversation with the kids (3 and 6) about it -- interesting to observe their perceptions and thoughts (some rather innocently poignant, I thought), and also how easily I can change those, with pointed questions. (Apparently 3-year olds are very easy to influence!)

I obviously think this campaign is not only deceptive, but also stupid, patronizing, and a massive waste of money, time and paper. But I'm not a Liberal, either. I just want to make that clear.

What's in your mailbox, these days?

Ryerson University considers group-studying "cheating".

CBC reports:
Student faces expulsion for running chemistry study-group on Facebook.

Excerpt from the article:

He said the group was a place on the internet where students could ask questions about homework assignments and that it was no different from any library study group or peer tutoring.

But the university, while not commenting on the case, said it has to ensure that students are doing their own homework.

When Direction Doesn't Matter

Apparently I also printed this way, and Markus' old Brio trainset is proof that at least one of he or his sister printed backwards, as remeoR seems to be printed on some of the pieces... I wonder when our brains settle in on one way of perceiving the world. And if I just never correct her, will she continue this way? She also reads picture-books upside down, by preference. And sometimes she prints letters all on their sides, with the words heading vertically or horizontally.

Note that she appears to be printing upside down and backwards, but she's actually printing left to right, from her perspective, just upside down. So from her perspective it's just inverted letters going the right direction; from ours it's a perfect mirror-image.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Wild Food: Sheep Sorrel Sushi

I've been eating sheep sorrel ("sour grass") with my family since I was a child, and it's one of the first edible salad greens my kids learned to recognize, in the wild. It's good for vitamin C, and delicious in salads, etc. Not safe to eat too much, as it can cause diarrhea, but really who would want to eat too much of something so sour, anyway? Still... as a condiment or mixed-salad ingredient, it's wonderful! I looked it up to see if it had any medicinal qualities, other than being a laxative and high in vitamin C, and found that it's used as both a diuretic and anti-inflammatory. Great! There's a great entry for it at Flora Health.

We have a surplus of sushi ingredients from Taliesin's birthday dinner (yesterday), so we thought we'd experiment with sourgrass sushi! It was delicious! The sourgrass punctuated the delicate rice and fish flavours very nicely!

Stuffed cheeks are a sure sign of enjoyment. :--)

For those interested in child-friendly chopsticks, this photo illustrates how we do it, with a little bit of rolled up foil or paper and an elastic band.

Now we think it would be a good idea to try a sushi meal made of wild seaweeds (can we even make Nori?!), wild plants, home-caught seafoods, and... something starchy that we can't think of just yet. Maybe cattail roots or shoots.

Maybe wild mushroom soup instead of miso?
(And what's with YouTube not understanding a portrait-oriented video? Hmph. So it's stretched.)

This is Tal's "seaweed taco":

... endless variety is available if only we allow ourselves to endlessly rejoice in and play with our food!

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Happy Birthday, Tal!!

Taliesin turned 6, today! He is now swamped with lego Technic. Quite by accident, and while none of us knew ahead of time he'd be so interested in articulated lego creations at this time, (he's been inventing robots, launching rockets, climbing-machines, etc with regular lego for a few weeks, now), everyone in the family bought him lego Technic. 3 different types of loaders (oops, but he doesn't mind) and one robotic flying-machine complete with 2-faced pilot!

Tal refused to have a party, this year (yes Mama tried to encourage him, to no avail). So we've just had family day, with activities and meals chosen by Tal. Here's the rundown:

  • breakfast: fried eggs, raisin-toast and bacon
  • lunch: sprouts and pepperoni! No bread allowed but we served a bit, anyway, and he seemed to eat it, regardless.
  • cake: cheesecake with blackberries from last summer, and chai
  • dinner: (yet to happen) edamame, sushi, and miso soup

activities: lego building, punctuated by brief outdoor excursions. :--)
It's been a great day, so far, and the kids are thoroughly enjoying themselves.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Prenatal Unschooling Visit

Beautiful days we've been having. A dear friend (and fellow unschooler, and mother of 2 of my kids' friends!) is getting very close to having her twins, and has been put on bedrest, to keep them in a little longer. With a and 3- and 5-year-old, bedrest is not so easy, so Tal, Annie and I spent today distracting her kids and generally entertaining the lot of ourselves, at their house. So nice to just drop everything and feel like I'm doing it for a good reason! We'll be there again, tomorrow. :--)

Our boys especially adore each other, and spent a lot of time in the trees, today. We both actually kept the boys home from school, today, she because her son is anxious about his mother being on bedrest, and has a cough and asthma problems; I because we thought it would be nice to go hang out with a good friend, instead of whiling away the morning at school without him. It's at times like these that I am very glad to have made the decision to unschool. It means that without any fear of criticism or failing we (both mothers) felt totally empowered by our choice to keep the boys home, and watched happily as they bonded 20 feet in the air, shared lessons of compassion, communication, and friendship, and also gave generously of their time to their doting and free-spirited 3-year-old sisters.

Tal will be back to school on Monday, probably with his friend (unless the twins have made their appearance). But I can't help but feel that the learning we all shared today was pivotal in our family's unschooling journey.

I'm crossposting this to my family blog.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Time for some photos...

I've been neglecting to take my camera with me quite a lot, lately, but I do have a few photos from the past sunny days to share. We've been mostly pruning & weeding the herb gardens. But we've also been exploring the forests and swamp and meadow, seeing how the spring is beginning...
This first photo is Rhiannon with her "grass blanket and pillow" which she carefully made herself, before laying down for a wee sun-nap. Both kids have been nesting a lot, lately: making little nests of any appropriate material and creating eggs of little stones, rosehips, leafbuds, Alder cones, etc. Then they either gift them to me or to each other, and/or leave them around the yard in little nooks and crannies to surprise the birds.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Reading List

I thought it would be a good idea to gather together a list of books we love. So here it is (at least the beginning of it; I hope I remember to add to it, occasionally!) I'll put a link to it in the resources, on the left, too.


Saturday, February 16, 2008

MATV: Mothers Against Television

When I was a child, we had no TV, until I was a teenager. So of course, as older kids we watched TV at our friends' houses. When I was a teen, and we finally got a TV, we were allowed to watch about 1 show per day (1/2 to 1 hour), and cartoons, evangelism, and the Disney Hour on Sundays, with the rest of the family. This was in the 80's. We thought we were deprived. But really, the shows I remember watching weren't so bad: Video Hits, Degrassi, The Wonder Years, the Cosby Show, etc. Really they were responsible, reasonable, entertaining shows. We got two channels, sometimes 3 in good weather, and the most offensive options we had before 9pm were GI Joe and the A-Team (to my recollection).

Things seem to have changed. When we first lived here, (before having kids) we were given a TV and VCR, which we happily installed, in our special "TV cupboard", so that at any moment a painting could open and our living room become filled with sound and drama. While pregnant, I got hooked on North of 60, and ended up watching that and sometimes Oprah, almost 5 days/week. Luckily I bored of Oprah, but watching North of 60 continued for a few months into Tal's earliest life. Then North of 60 vanished for some reason (ended? changed times? don't know), and I stopped watching TV, thank goodness. Still, we got a couple of highly recommended kids movies for Tal when he was 2: Finding Nemo and Monsters Inc. They're really great movies -- for much older children, and for adults!! The first event in Nemo is a violent fish-attack, and death of Nemo's mother... on it goes... Monsters Inc. is a little less terrifying, but still we're subjected to watching a little girl in a torture-machine. One day, when we sat Tal down to watch one of these movies, the TV's picture tube imploded in a near-silent poof of darkness. We never bought another TV.

We do have a computer, and every couple of months we show the kids a carefully chosen and pre-screened DVD. We also use YouTube as an educational tool, and have often found great answers to our questions, there. Other than that, our kids have no experience of TV. They don't know what a "commercial break" is, they don't know the familiar sound of "after these messages", they don't know who Spongebob, Dora and Pokemon are, though their friends are gradually teaching them the lingo.

So what this means is that they are innocent. They're fragile, they're easily amazed, and also easily frightened. My children are afraid of pirates (wouldn't you be, if you understood that what a pirate really was, was a thief?) What it means to have no TV is that my children are almost never bored. There is such a colossal amount of activity to be found inside or outside the house, that they are easily engaged and carry their interests from one activity to another, and to higher levels. I'm not gloating; that's just the way it is. It also means that I have no instant babysitter for those times they're building blanket-forts and carrying quilt-cases full of "Santa's presents" (read: every seen object, unceremoniously dumped into the quilt-case) around and dumping them in every corner of the house, and I can't keep up with the mess, let alone convince them to stop while I -- please -- make -- dinner ------ please?! They're not afraid of darkness (usually), or bumps in the night, because they have no nightmare-context from TV. They are afraid of weapons (though with Tal's school-experience, that's changing, now). They are routinely upset by the news, when I make the mistake of listening to it in their presence.

Bad Experiences...
And now this: A couple of weeks ago we went to some (yet childless) friends' house for a visit. The friends thoughtfully put on the Discovery Channel for the kids, prior to our arrival, and when we entered the room the kids were transfixed by somebody's hand reaching into the anus of a bull-buffalo, dripping blood onto the white snow. I whisked the kids out of the room, assuming we'd just caught the bloodiest moment of a veterinary show, and explained to them that the buffalo was not hurt, but the vet was helping him, and sometimes at the doctor a little bit of blood comes, and it's OK. Bison are big, so a "little bit" of blood is more than for a person. When we came back up, the people were heaving great arm-loads of bloody buffalo-intestines about on the snow. As the kids mouths dropped open and I tried to pull them away again, the TV-voice declared: "Well! A bit of a surprise autopsy!" And thankfully he was silenced by our friend. Tal was a bit upset. Rhiannon was quite traumatized, had nightmares for 2 nights, and still, 2 weeks later, says once in a while that she doesn't want to go to that scary house again. (Sorry, to our dear hosts... we assume she'll change her mind eventually!)

Then off to the best friends' house, a few days ago. They were playing some sort of video game, which was an entirely new concept for the kids. It took Tal quite a while to even understand why it was different from a movie. The game wasn't bloody, but had plenty of threats to the main character, and was generally destructive and violent. Tal's friends were trying to teach him which weapons to use, but in the end understood that he needed to learn: "push the lever up to make him go forward". He was suitably amazed, and now wants his own video game system, of course (not that we'll be getting one). He did say he wasn't upset by the shooting, because it was only robots, and robots don't hurt if they get shot, but then he very pointedly asked me if there are games where you don't have to get chased by scary dinosaurs.

And finally, today: London Drugs. They have a wall of TV's at the back of the store, and as we approached I heard enough sound to warn me that the children should probably not walk back there, just then. Markus led them around through other aisles to the toy section for distraction, and I walked back past the TV's, only to discover the following 4 scenes, displayed across a bank of about 20 TV's: A talk-show of some sort on the left (no sound), the great crashing sounds I'd heard coming from the Ice Age movie in the middle, and on either side of Ice Age, lower-volume bloody scenes of mass-murder and war (to the left guns and bleeding dead people; to the right swords and bleeding dead people). I was so angry I walked in to the electronics department and asked them who's in charge of the TV's. They were defensive, but generally said they were in charge, but had chosen safe channels (the sword-killing was on the Discovery channel), and they didn't have time to monitor what was on, all day. Fair enough, but why couldn't they play movies or something? WHY?!

I have the number of their manager, but I know my single angry-parent's voice to one single London Drugs manager will make no difference at all in the larger picture. In the larger picture it appears that we as a culture have deafened our ears and hearts not only to the sheer horror we're broadcasting into our living rooms for entertainment, but to our own children's needs. It's disgusting. I'm horrified.

I'm not squeamish; I'm not even vegetarian. I believe in taking responsibility for the way we live, even if that includes killing to eat meat. But kill ethically, and don't broadcast it all over the world for entertainment (sick gratification). We're not teaching our children about life; we're teaching them about death. We're not teaching them about peace and joy and growth; we're teaching them about murder, anger, and revenge (even in non-violent shows, these days, the behaviour is often vengeful). I'm horrified that the images and thoughts we're pumping into our lives every day are so obscene. What does this do to us as humans? What does it do to our compassion, to our happiness, to our ability to share, support each other, and survive as social animals? What does it do to our children, and to our future as a species?

Not much good, I think.

So I thought: "I wonder if there's a Mothers Against TV organization?" And I Googled it. I found only this article:
She says she hopes somebody starts it. So here I am. I'm starting it:

Mothers Against TV.

Join me.
Tell your friends about it.
Comment here to share ANY resources, research, organizations, etc. that you know of, to support this cause. I don't want to debate the issue, so if you don't agree, please don't post here; that debate, in blog-comment-form would at least overload my brain, if not this blog's capabilities. Comment only if you support the idea.

If I can get enough interest, I'll start a separate (multi-user) blog for it, where we can all share thoughts and resources.

But first: Get rid of your TV.

Forgive me, I know I'll regret being this forward, but right now I am too impassioned to speak mildly. Maybe this passion is enough to start a movement. I hope so.

PS: Yes, I do know about Mothers Against Violence. It is an organization of mothers whose lives have been touched by gun-violence. So of course, it's very related to this. But my beef with TV is not only the proliferation of gun-violence, there, but the desensitization, documented lack of inspiration, creativity and attention span it causes in children, and the proliferation of violent behaviour of ANY kind that I believe it precipitates. Not to mention consumerism.

...see further comments added May 23, 2008, as a new post...

Friday, February 15, 2008

no-sugar, no milk, no wheat, no eggs: Fruit-Nut Cookies

We just invented these to share with Taliesin's class, which includes a few other kids with allergies/food restrictions. We're quite happy with them! The delightful part is that all the fruits and nuts and spices (or not) are interchangeable, so really the variety is endless.

Taliesin's Fruit-Nut Cookies
  • Finely chop about 2-3 cups mixed dried fruits -- it's important to chop them, even if they're small, like currants or raisins, so that they soak up the liquid faster and become stickier.
  • Pour about 1-2 cups very warm fruit-juice over the fruit mixture and soak for 15 minutes.
  • Chop finely and mix in 1-2 cups sweet raw nuts. If you use 1/2 - 1 cup ground nuts you will need less rice flour, later.
  • Stir in about 1/2 tsp salt.
  • Optional: Add spices.
  • Add enough sweet white rice flour (glutinous rice flour) to make the mixture very heavy and sticky. It should form balls. This is usually about 1/2 - 1 cup, depending on the fruits.
  • Using a spoon, pack the mixture into balls on a baking tray lined with baking paper. They don't expand at all, so you can pack them pretty tightly onto the tray.
  • Bake at about 350 for 15-20 minutes, until the cookies bounce back when pressed (elastic as opposed to mushy).
Flavour combinations we've enjoyed:

dates, figs and fresh apples
prune juice for soaking
1 cup chopped pecans and 1 cup ground almonds (use less rice flour)
fresh grated ginger or (but it's cheating on the no sugar rule) chopped candied ginger

raisins, currants and dried apples
powdered cinnamon stirred into fruits
apple juice for soaking
pecans and hazelnuts

dried apricots, dates and fresh oranges, chopped
bit of nutmeg, stirred into fruits
press the juice out of the oranges for soaking
thinly sliced almonds, and ground almonds

apricots, figs, and dates
apple juice for soaking
fresh grated ginger and freshly-ground cardamon, soaked with the fruits

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Saturday Walks with Pappa

Markus just documented his hike with the kids, today, and I'm glad at least one of us is posting something. You can read his lovely entry on our family journal, Tales from the Phantom Rickshaw.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Wild Food: Needle Teas

I am sometimes (thankfully less often as time goes by) asked how I expect my kids to learn anything when I'm not teaching them. Or how I can expect them ever to succeed in life with "no skills", and how can I stomach the guilt that must come with unschooling... etc. I used to defend myself because, quite frankly, I was scared. Recently I've stopped answering those questions, partly because people who ask such ridiculous questions rarely seem willing to open their minds enough to hear the answer, anyway, but also because I'm not scared, anymore. I have started to notice all the ways my kids are learning in everything we do, and with what joy and inspiration they compel themselves to learn "school skills" without my even encouraging them.

So today's Wild Food post is a celebration of all that happy, free learning. As I looked through the photos I kept noticing various "skills" appearing naturally. My only intentions, this day, were to get some fresh air, taste some yummy teas, and spend a bit of time with the kids and Opa. See what comes of having a good time ...

Gross Motor, Strength, & Agility: In other words, we hiked around a bunch, and the boys especially took great delight in teetering, leaping and cascading on the steep hill and stumps.

Biology, Observation & Classification: We went out and found Red Cedar, Douglas Fir, Grand Fir, and Ponderosa Pine. The kids practised recognising various types of conifers, and spent quite a bit of concentrated time picking off all the needles, and depositing them into the buckets. Opa helped find a Grand Fir whose branches we could actually reach. Rhiannon was particularly excited about the long pine needles, and went to great lengths to reach and pick a whole heap of them, herself.

Magic: We found this caterpillar happily munching away at some frozen, frost-coated blackberry leaves! We have no idea what it is, but we were all a little enchanted to find it living so happily in the cold winter!

Fine Motor Skills, Herbalism, Health, Cooking, and more Identification: Once inside (and after a bit of a play time) we sorted out the various needles into piles and talked about how healthy each type is, all while cutting up the leaves and putting a couple of tablespoonfuls of each into four little teapots. Then of course each of the four little teapots had water added, and we sat around waiting for them to steep for a few minutes, sniffing and comparing the smells.

Cedar: anti-viral, and high in vitamin C.
Douglas Fir: antiseptic, antioxidant, vermifuge and antifungal.
Grand Fir: diuretic, expectorant.
Ponderosa Pine: anti-bacterial, and contains vitamin C.

Shamefully, I've lost my notes on these at the moment, and cannot describe more... suffice it to say that the medicinal qualities of these various needles (and others that we didn't harvest) are interesting and varied. It is usually better to pick the young needles, so we'll probably revisit this project in the spring, as more of a harvest-and-store, instead of just a taste-test. Also many tree barks, roots and cambiums are useful... also this will be explored, eventually! ... and let us not forget pine-needle baskets! :--)

Printing, Spelling, Division & Grouping: Eventually, we had to organize in such a way that we would each get to taste each type of tea, and remember what type it was, at the same time! Not so easy, splitting 4 types of tea between 5 people! We decided it would be easier if some of us shared cups, so we split into 3 groups, according to who had been sick recently and was most likely to pass germs on, and who might already have had the same illness...

We got 3 each of 4 types of cups, so that each type of tea could go into a particular cup. One of each type of cup was then labeled with the type of tea it would contain, and by that label we would know that all such cups contained the same type of tea. Phewf. Complicated? We nearly confused ourselves into forgetting which tea was which, but it all worked out in the end. Because of all the confusion I didn't even ask if any of the kids wanted to label the cups; I just did it quickly while we still knew what was what. But guess who was still busy copying out words onto extra labels, long after teatime was over... Rhiannon!

Tastebud Excercise: Time to taste! The teas were all interesting, but the biggest surprise was Douglas Fir: it smells like bland dust, or perhaps clay, but tastes wonderful! And the Ponderosa Pine was good too; even a bit citrus-y. What an adventure. We all enjoyed ourselves thoroughly, and plan to harvest large quantities of new Pine and Douglas Fir needles, in the spring.

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 eetsmakelijk.nl) 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!