Thursday, May 28, 2009

Growing Up

My small herd of offspring has shown remarkable signs of growth this week and I'm trying to process everything.

The Princess lost her first tooth. It should have come out months ago as there are big teeth coming up behind it but she seemed nervous about letting it go and refused to help it along. I think she though it was going to hurt. It fell out quite by surprise in last night's bath but the new teeth are pretty much in place, so no goofy gap-toothed photos to share, darn it. When we told her to make sure and tuck the tooth under her pillow she informed us that she didn't believe in the Tooth Fairy which rather bummed me out. Seeing my look of disappointment (or possibly realizing she was losing a chance for free money) she decided to put the tooth under her pillow anyway.

MonkeyBoy has been taking a class called A Guide to Democracy through the new eastside Village Homeschool Resource Center. This wan't his first choice but when it turned out to be the only offering for kids in his age group I asked to him to just try the first class and he was hooked. The teacher is fantastic and my boy, who has always claimed that "history is stupid" is now loving learning about how our country works. As part of his final project, he was required to attend a City Council meeting which neither of us were excited about.

We finally got it together to attend yesterday's meeting and what a surprise! My boy paid close attention, asked me a lot of questions, took lots of notes and, not surprisingly, drew some fabulous portraits of the council members. We sat through the entire two hours of topics which ranged from beekeeping to sewer systems and found it far more entertaining than we'd imagined possible. When we left, my boy was thrilled. He couldn't believe that he sat through the whole thing and actually followed most of what was going on. I was also pleasantly surprised at his maturity.

And here's the thing that's getting me slightly ferklempt today: The Dark Lord is now enrolled at Portland Community College. He's taking his placement test tonight which will determine his fall classes and he plans on taking a weekly non-credit guitar class over the summer. My boy is starting college! How crazy is that?
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Picnic Perfect

Picnic season is here in the Pacific Northwest and I couldn't be happier! We've been making the most of sunny days with lots of outdoor meals. I love to pick up little containers of delicious things at the New Seasons deli but that adds up pretty quickly so I'm trying to keep that to a minimum (though their smoky/peppery fromage fort is a new addiction).
When we packed up to celebrate my husband's birthday last weekend, we had so much good food: bread, lentil salad, cheeses, carrot salad, crackers, chips, fresh fruit and a few different spreads and dips (also a fabulous cake--more on that soon). This wildly diverse feast had no particular theme--it ranged from Tex-Mex to Mediterranean and it was all good.
The recipe I want to share with you today is always a huge hit. I was given this recipe years ago by a lovely homeschooling mom who has since, sadly, returned to Texas where this dish is apparently quite common. The recipe she shared for Cowboy Caviar is made with black eyed peas, avocado, tomato, and other tasty additions, along with a liberal splash of Louisiana style hot sauce and the resulting mixture is about the best thing you could ever put on a corn chip. This stuff is crazy good and a snap to make. I hope you'll try a batch soon, ideally on a picnic blanket beneath the shade of old trees on a sunny day. The recipe is here--enjoy!

Sunday, May 24, 2009

A Happy Birthday

Today my sweetie turned 45--he likes to say he's hit the halfway point but I'm not sure how he knows that. It's been a good day. We spent many hours at Blue Lake Park which included time out on the lake in a paddleboat, a generous picnic, a birthday cake, and a little napping time in the shade of the grand old trees.
Later there was ice cream and a dusk amble through Jamison Square and Tanner Springs parks.
The birthday boy--man-- is now happily painting. I think it's been a good day for him. That's what I hoped for, anyway. He's been working so hard lately with lots of weekends spent in the office so I wanted to make sure today was a relaxed day full of good things.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Where I've been.....

The last month or so has been a challenging one around my house and I have felt emotionally drained often enough that I've had a hard time writing anything of substance. I hope that's OK and I hope my few regular readers haven't totally lost interest.

The big drama in our family has revolved around The Dark Lord and high school. He made his own decision to stop homeschooling and enroll in a public high school as a freshman last year. He got off to a great start, made lots of friends, found an after school drawing club that he loved and things went well during his freshman year. This second year, however, has been much more challenging and he's lost a lot of his enthusiasm. What was a positive experience has turned to drudgery with no end in sight. There have been meetings with the principal which were encouraging but not truly helpful. There have been meetings with the vice-principal which were downright awful due to her annoying combination of condescension and chirpiness. I've been to conferences, talked with teachers, talked with other parents, made phone calls, read books---it's not unlike many years ago when some big shift in his development took place and I was desperate to talk to others, find answers, and help him transition.

When I talked with family members about his struggles I was told either that my expectations for him were too high or that he'd just need to tough out his high school years. Is it really too much to expect a formerly self-directed child to enjoy learning? Is there any more reason to expect him to tolerate a learning environment that fails to meet his needs? Or am I coddling him when I look for alternatives and try and help him sift through his options? This is the kind of stuff I've been struggling with lately, along with my son's obvious ambivalence about his situation. He's had a hard time weighing the options and making decisions about next year and the whole thing has been very stressful, most especially for him.

One option we'd hoped to have was enrolling him in PCC's Gateway to College program which is a dual credit program allowing kids to earn their high school diplomas taking college classes. Brilliant. The program focuses heavily on academic readiness and support so kids who haven't been terribly successful in school get what they need to do well. It's a great program and sadly, not available to us due to the school district in which we live.

As it turns out, Gateway isn't the only dual credit program out there and we began to look into the Early College Academy run through a statewide charter school. In the lower grades, it's an online curriculum not unlike Oregon Connections Academy which was a disaster for my kids. But the early college program, like Gateway, allows kids to earn simultaneous high school and college credit. With a little planning, my boy could have both his high school diploma and an associate's degree by the time he's 20. And the college tuition? Free. Early College Academy doesn't have the built in support piece in quite the same way, but they tell me that he will have a counselor who will meet with him as necessary to help him develop his organizational skills and help him plan and meet his goals. He feels like this is enough and is ready to make the switch.

Starting in September he'll be taking two classes at Portland Community College and his load will increase after that if things go well. He'll have a little breathing room and hopefully the ability to refocus on his goals. Plus, at PCC he can take classes like this, so he's pretty excited and so are his parents.

Next up: figuring out what to do with MonkeyBoy who has lost all interest in high school for next year. I'll keep you posted.....

Monday, May 18, 2009

A Perfect Weekend

We've had one of those abrupt Portland springtime shifts from cool rain to high temperatures and sunny skies virtually overnight. On Friday, Day 1 of this lovely weather spell, I sat outside with a bunch of sun starved mamas and soaked up as much as I could. Saturday and Sunday weren't much different though we changed locations a few times. We visited both Peninsula Park and Blue Lake as well as spent quite a few hours in the garden, listening to the plants grow.We took my new picnic basket (thanks, Mom!) out for a spin, ate quite a bit of ice cream, and spent lots of time outside. I finished a sweater, started a pair of socks quite a few times before deciding that I'm just not up to a Cookie A sock right now, and have moved on to less taxing things like embroidery and simple sock design. I am happy to report that I have shifted from pasty winter white to the deep brown I consider my true skin color. Apart from a truly disappointing meal, it was about as perfect as a weekend gets. Here's hoping for a summer full of similar weekends.
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Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Cake, Anyone?

Epicurious just posted thirty top-rated cake recipes. Coconut layer cake? Rum Scented Marble Cake? They all look good, but could anything beat Persian Love Cake? Oh, my!

Chocolate Financiers

Usually when I make meals to take to friends in need, I stick with the tried and true and rarely branch out. But this particular friend, in addition to needing a meal high in iron, also sticks to a gluten free diet. The beef stew was an obvious choice, as was the spinach salad but what about dessert?

I found this recipe on Smitten Kitchen ages ago. In the weird circularity that it The Interwebz, she pulled the recipe from Gluten Free Girl who pulled it from David Lebovitz. With all those links, I'm not even going to type up the recipe as you should have no trouble looking it up.

And you should. These tasty little bites are worth all of the 5 or 6 minutes you'll spend in prep time. Seriously--these are a snap to make, involving little more than almond meal, cocoa, sugar, butter, and eggs. Almond meal is usually on the shelves at Trader Joe's, but you can also throw blanched almonds in the food processor and make your own.

Your result will be like a mini-brownie, but with a chewy texture and rich, nutty flavor. They're fairly sturdy and should travel well, but none of mine have made it too far as everyone here has hoovered them down immediately. I had to sneak out the batch for my friend under high security.

As for the name--financiers--does anyone out there have any idea where this comes from? I picture serious men in pinstripe suits heading off to the bank, but that just seems so wrong for these tasty treats.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Dairy Magic

I recently had the opportunity to take a class called Dairy Magic from Chris at Lost Arts Kitchen in which a small group of students met in her home kitchen to learn the secrets of making yogurt, mozzarella, and cream cheese. Classes at Lost Arts Kitchen focus on teaching basic cooking skills to those looking to incorporate slow food traditions into modern life.
I've made mozzarella before but my results aren't always consistent. I haven't made yogurt but I know homemade is delicious. And home made cream cheese sounded absolutely heavenly. I got a few friends together and we all signed up to spend an evening in the kitchen.

Chris gave us a general introduction to the properties of different types of milks and talked about different specialty supplies. Then we began heating milk, straining, scooping, pouring, and tasting. I enjoyed the class immensely but my favorite part was, unsurprisingly, the part at the end where we got to sample our fresh mozzarella on Chris' still-warm-from-the-oven bread with a selection of tasty chutneys. I brought home a stack of recipes, and samples of each thing we made. The cream cheese was absolutely heavenly on Tastebud bagels the next morning.
I've already ordered one of the recommended books and will begin tracking down the culture for the cream cheese soon as that is something I particularly want to make again, perhaps for this year's Shavuot blintzes.

I can't wait to see what's up next on the class schedule for Lost Arts kitchen. I really enjoyed my first ever cooking class and hope to return soon.