Archive for July, 2008

RegularBread.

Here’s that bread recipe, including how I made it into pizza. Enjoy!

RegularMom’s Versatile Whole Wheat Bread:

1 1/8 cups warm water (110 degrees F)
3 tablespoons honey (or 1 tblsp. of sugar, or to taste, but add at least 1 tblsp. of something to activate the yeast)
1 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour*
1 1/2 cups bread flour*
1 teaspoon salt

 * I use King Arthur brand.

 In bread machine:

Add water and honey, stir to dissolve it a bit, then sprinkle the yeast in. mix gently and let stand for about 5 minutes to proof.

Add oil, whole wheat flour and bread flour. Add salt last and mix gently into just the flour on top so that it doesn’t mix in with the yeast. (Salt kills yeast and keeps dough from rising.)

Set your bread machine to “dough only” and start it up. Watch the mixture for the first few minutes. If it seems too dry (little piles of dry flour are forming at the corners of the pan) then add tiny amounts of water until the dough looks slightly sticky and no dry flour is piling up anywhere. If the mixture seems too watery, sprinkle tiny amounts of flour onto the mixture until it looks only slightly sticky.

Let the machine run through its dough cycle.

When it’s done, turn out the dough onto a lightly floured surface. Punch it down and knead it for a minute or two. Then form it into a loaf and set it into a greased loaf pan. Cover with a damp cloth and let rise for another half-hour or so until it’s looking like a nicely rounded loaf of bread.

Bake at 400 degrees F for about 20 minutes. When it’s done, the top of the loaf will have browned nicely, and the bread will sound hollow when you tap on it.

Remove from loaf pan and cool on a wire rack for at least a half hour before slicing it.

If you don’t have a bread machine:

Mix the honey and yeast with the warm water in a large bowl and let sit for about 5 minutes to proof. Then add the olive oil and the wheat flour and mix until you can’t quite get a spoon to move around in it anymore. Mix the salt into the bread flour and slowly add it to the dough mixture, using your hands to knead it. Once all the flour is in, knead the dough for about 10 minutes. Shape into a ball, and place in a large oiled bowl. Cover with a damp cloth and let rise for about an hour – until it’s doubled in size. Then turn out onto a floured surface, punch down the dough, shape into a loaf, place into greased loaf pan, cover with damp cloth and let rise again. Follow baking instructions above.

 If you want to turn this into pizza dough, split the dough into two pieces when it comes out of the machine. Use a rolling pin to flatten each piece into a somewhat round circle, or try spinning it with your hands. (I’m terrible at this, so far, but it’s fun to try.) You’ll end up with two pizza rounds. Brush each lightly with olive oil, then add cheese and toppings. RegularDad loaded his pieces with garlic and oregano when he got home the other day, and it tasted fabulous. (I didn’t do that for ours because some kids don’t like the spice.)

Bake your pizzas on a large flat cookie sheet at 400 degrees F for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the cheese is bubbly and browned.

If you want to turn your dough into rolls, separate the dough into 8 pieces and shape into rolls. Bake at 400 degrees F for about 10 to 15 minutes, or until each roll sounds hollow when you tap it. Awesome for healthy dinner rolls or sandwich rolls for park days.

If you want pita bread, separate the dough into 8 pieces and roll flat to about 1/8 inch thick. Bake on a baking stone in your oven at 400 degrees for about 3 to 5 minutes. Remove each pita and cool between two damp cloths to prevent them from getting dry and hard. When they’re cool, cut them down the middle, and use a butter knife to gently pry open the pocket.

For flat bread, do the same sort of thing, but poke a lot of holes in the flattened dough with a fork to keep the center from rising. (Any time I make a batch of dough that doesn’t rise properly, I turn it into flat bread.)

So, there you have it — my basic bread dough, and the things I’ve done with it.

Go for it.

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Successful recipe almost does RegularMom in.

So, a couple of nights ago, on a whim, I made some homemade pizza.

No big deal, just thought I’d give it a whirl. Nothing fancy. Just my standard bread dough flattened and slathered with some organic jar sauce and a bunch of mozzerella. RegularDad was working late, and I didn’t have the heart to bake a whole platter of chicken just for the three of us.

You know. That kind of whim.

So, I baked a little pizza. And I told the kids if they didn’t like that I’d make hotdogs instead. I told them that it wouldn’t taste anything like the pizza we get from the pizzeria because I don’t have That Kind Of Oven. I was expecting them to not really like it.

But, they LOVED it. They ate every scrap and raved about it. They wished I’d made two. They said we should DEFINITELY make more pizza for the play date we were hosting the next day.

I thought it over. It seemed like a good idea. We were having just a few friends over to splash around in our little pool and our even littler slip-n-slide. People were bringing fruit and ice pops. It would be hot, but not as hot as it had been during that last icky heat wave. And the kids get REALLY HUNGRY when they swim. It’s just a fact of life. It wouldn’t be too hot to turn on the oven or anything. So, this morning we dashed over to the supermarket to pick up more cheese and I made more dough, and halfway through our swimming play date event, I brought out these little slices of homemade pizza.

And the kids DEVOURED them.

I made another pizza. This one with pepperoni. And the youngest guest, the one who’ll be turning three next month was all: I WANT THE ONE WITH THE RONI!!!!!!! RONI!!!!! RONI!!!!!! Pretty soon all the kids were yelling RONI!!! RONI!!!! And scarfing down these pizzas.

And so I made a third and final pizza. This one half pepperoni and half plain. And I hid two little slices away behind the coffee machine for RegularDad, because if he came home two nights in a row only to hear about this pizza AND NOT BE ABLE TO EAT ANY OF IT, he’d be upset.

At the time, it didn’t feel like a whole lot of work. But between all those pizzas and then the iced tea I made and the juice I served to the kids, and then later on the ice pops and fruit I brought out….well…. I seem to have overdone it a bit.

Everyone left around 5:00. They all grabbed the final remaining slices to munch on in the car on the way home. Then I got busy cooking dinner. Soon RegularDad arrived. “Dinner’s running late,” I told him, “but here: have this pizza.” He took his plate and disappeared into the little basement family room. He came back 45 seconds later and asked if there was any more.

By the time I’d finished getting dinner on the table, my feet were beginning to sing the Ave Maria. By the time I got the girls into bed, I was done for. I’ve been stuck on the couch ever since, sipping grape juice and watching Law & Order reruns.

Yeah, it was pretty good pizza, I guess.

So, do you want the recipe? I’ll give it to you, but with fair warning. You must mentally and physically prepare yourself for this one.

I’m going to bed now. You give it some thought. I’ll check back with you in the morning.

A-typical park day.

The long heat wave around here finally came to an end this week, so yesterday we met a bunch of our friends from one of our homeschool clubs at a nearby park. Me and another mom talked on the phone late the night before and picked a park that had a nice stream with an historic covered bridge over it, not to mention shade trees and lots of playground equipment. It seemed like the perfect place to meet.

The operative word in that previous sentence being “seemed”, of course.

In spite of the fact that this particular park was only a mere 8 minutes’ drive from my house, we were still about a half hour late. And in spite of being so late, we were still the first ones in our group to get there, which means that we were actually about 20 minutes early if you look at it the right way. The only problem was that, even though we were the first ones in our group to arrive, the place was MOBBED. There were about 100 kids running all over the place, and about half a dozen young adults with navy blue tee shirts with the word “STAFF” printed on the back. It was some sort of day camp that had descended upon the park we’d picked.

I wandered around the area for a few minutes, making sure no one from our group was lost in the fray, and then I asked the girls if they wanted to go ahead and eat their lunch while we waited for others to arrive. They said no, and wandered toward the playground area which featured old fashioned (read: high) see-saws, and a merry-go-round, not to mention the standard jungle gym and a few swings. The swings were overrun with day-campers so the girls veered away from them to the see-saws, but the see-saws had giant orange cones surrounding them, which made it look like they were designated UNSAFE and soon to be dismantled. The merry-go-round had cones around it as well.

“It looks like you can’t use these,” I said to the girls. “Why don’t you play on the jungle gym instead?”

A little girl from the day camp approached us at this point and said, “Oh, you can use them. It’s okay.”

“Are you sure?” I asked her.

“Uh-huh. Only kids in the camp aren’t allowed on them. If you’re not from the camp, you can go on that stuff,” she said, and then wandered aimlessly off towards the picnic tables.

I stood uncertainly, watching her disappear into the vast crowd of children and then asked the girls once again: “Wouldn’t you just rather have your lunch now while you’re waiting for your friends?”

“No,” they said.

At this point, one of the camp counselors approached me, and confirmed what the little girl had told me. The cones were only there to keep the camp kids off the equipment. “We had two broken arms on that stuff last year,” he said to me with a smile, “so we decided to just make the kids stay off that stuff from now on.”

“Oh,” I said. “Well, thank you.”

“You bet,” he said and then jogged off towards the soccer field.

So, the girls decided to try out the see-saws, but the joy of it was short lived because the seats were hot and when my 7-year-old went up high she ended up in the branches of a tree where various hornets were buzzing around. “AHHHHH!!!!” she yelled. “There’s wasps up here!”

So the girls got off the see-saw (with all limbs mercifully intact) and stood around looking bored. I went to my car and got a frisbee, but the girls weren’t interested in that either. So, they wandered around for a while longer until finally, another girl from our group arrived. The girls hugged each other as if they hadn’t seen each other in years and then ran off towards the merry-go-round. “We can go on it!” my 5-year-old shouted in explanation. “The campers can’t go on it, but WE CAN!!!”

So, while I was watching this, and the other mom was getting out of her car, another mom from our group arrived and there was the parking of cars, the exchange of hellos, and I had my eye on that merry-go-round where the girls were spinning happily, and suddenly a group of campers ran over to the merry-go-round and started yelling at the girls to get off it. Our girls tried to explain that they CAN go on it, but the camp kids (not realizing that this particular subset of children was NOT FROM THE CAMP) tried to assert some sort of weird pre-teen authority and just as I started walking quickly over to them from the parking lot, a camp counselor finally realized what was happening and rushed over to tell the camper girls that our girls ARE allowed on it, and the whole thing defused right there.

This was rapidly becoming one of the most complicated park days I’d ever been to. But since not everyone from our group had arrived yet, and we didn’t have everyone’s cell phone number, we couldn’t just leave because that would confuse the hell out of the people who were still on their way. So, we decided to make the best of it, and found an empty picnic table and brought out the food.

And so, the afternoon settled down. The majority of campers soon imprinted their brains with the little subset of children who ARE NOT PART OF THE CAMP AND THUS ARE ALLOWED TO DO ALL SORTS OF THINGS THAT THE CAMPERS CAN’T and they pretty much gave us a wide berth. At some point, the camp counselors removed the cones from the merry-go-round area, which was nice, because those cones were really getting in the way of our girls’ running feet. Us moms sat at the picnic table chatting and keeping an eye on our kids, and everything was fine for a while, but pretty soon there came from our crowd a sudden change in the screaming from “fun” screaming to “terrified” screaming. Clearly, something over at the merry-go-round was wrong, so I got up and went over there and all the girls were perched on the apparatus as if the sand beneath it had suddenly turned to toxic lava.

“What is it?” I said.

They all pointed to a certain place on the sand where there was an enormous cicada killer crawling around with a couple of males, mating.

“GIANT WASPS!!!!” the girls screamed.

A boy from our group wandered by and said, “Those aren’t wasps. They’re cicada killers.”

And so they were. Cicada killers are a type of wasp, though. Here’s a link if you’d like to see what they look like. Scroll down a bit to see a picture of one next to a nickel, and you’ll see why the girls were screaming. They really are huge and creepy looking.

“What are they DOING?” one of the girls asked.

“They’re mating,” I said.

“Oh,” said another girl. They all got down off the merry-go-round and stood next to me, staring down at these mating giant wasps.

“It’s a WEDDING!!!” one of the girls said, and she started to hum the Wedding March. Pretty soon, all the girls were humming it. And the situation with the GIANT WASPS was over. Or so I thought.

The next hour or so passed somewhat uneventfully. Our kids wandered down various paths and back, pretending all sorts of forest-adventures. At one point, me and another mom walked them down to the stream than ran under the covered bridge and let them splash around a bit. A couple of kids changed into swimsuits and went all the way in. My 7-year-old asked to do the same, but I didn’t have bathing suits with me and told her no. She spent the next few minutes moping. And then the next ten minutes trying to ACCIDENTALLY fall in. Once I realized what she was up to, I told her that if she fell in, we’d have to leave. Not long after that, another little girl cut her foot on a rock. A mom was dispatched to find a first aid kit and the girl’s mother, and the kids clustered around her bleeding foot in diagnostic fascination.

After she’d been doctored up, we all eventually made our way back to the main play area. It was late afternoon by now. The campers were leaving in droves. Pretty soon, there were only a few of them left waiting for some running-late-parent to pick them up. The park quieted down. Some of our group left, but the weather was so mild and the park so calm, that some of us decided to stay a bit longer. The girls had some cookies and water, and then ended up back on the merry-go-round, spinning and giggling in the late afternoon sunshine.

It was all so… idyllic. Those last few minutes before the shrieking began.

As I was getting up to gather what remained of our picnic lunch, one little girl from our group on the merry-go-around began SCREAMING IN ABSOLUTE ABJECT TERROR. My head snapped toward her and I watched her backing away from the center of the merry-go-round, still screaming, and then she staggered a bit and tumbled off the edge of it and landed in the sand. And the screaming just went on and on and on.

And that’s when I remembered the cicada killers. And I started to run.

By the time I reached her, she’d rolled over to the grass and hunched her body into a little ball. I picked her up, but she went limp in my arms and started to sob. I hugged her tight and asked her what happened, but before she could really even say anything we both looked down at her leg and saw the GIANT CICADA KILLER still perched on the hem of her shorts and she SHRIEKED and I SHRIEKED too and we both started beating at it with our hands and it fell off her and she rolled away again and started to sob hysterically and beg for her mother.

Her mother had left, though. She’d taken her toddlers home but this little girl had wanted to stay longer so another mom had agreed to give her a ride. The other mom and I sat with the little girl, trying to calm her down, while all the other kids stood by in commiseration. One of the boys found the insect in the grass and stood over it in fascination. And finally I said to the little girl, “Do you want me to kill it?” She nodded at me, so I went over to where the thing sat in the grass, wings waving slightly and smashed it into the ground with my shoe and twisted my foot until the thing was unrecognizable. “There,” I said. “All gone.” Then I made everyone come back to the picnic table for some ice water. The other mom dialed the little girl’s mom on her cell, and we let her talk to her mom until she calmed down.

Our afternoon ended with a quiet session in the sandbox, and a few minutes on the swings.

So, there you have it. A not-exactly-typical day at the park for us crazy homeschoolers. But hey, at least I know what cicada killers look like now.

From white to yellow in 37 days.

About a month ago we signed the girls up for some karate lessons. RegularDad took karate for a while as a kid and its something he always wanted for our girls. We managed to find a very affordable summer program for them. And not only is the program affordable, but the teachers are quite excellent. They love the kids, and they know how to work with the kids. It’s become something the girls simply cannot live without.

Last night, they took their first tests and, of course, passed from white belt to yellow belt with ease. Here are a few shots of them after their tests.

We’re not allowed to photograph the actual tests because it’s too distracting. It’s a standard policy at this place. I like how they take it so seriously. Because, let’s face it, it takes a lot less to distract my 5-year-old from a karate test. Or from anything, really.

But that’s not my favorite thing about this karate school. My actual favorite thing about it is this little blurb they’ve got on their website. It’s one of those “satisfied customer” reviews, and it’s just incredible. Here’s a paraphrase:

…I can’t help getting sentimental at this Black Belt testing time. I remember dragging my son to your studio when he was 5-years-old because another little boy on the school bus smashed his face into the bus window, injuring him badly. He wouldn’t actually join your class for a year, but finally did when he turned six. My husband and I think it was because your strong voice frightened him into it. Can you imagine that?

Let’s all take a few minutes to just sit and Imagine That, shall we? Friends, that is ONE SERIOUSLY SATISFIED CUSTOMER.

Not to mention yet another EXCELLENT plug for homeschooling. With a little karate thrown in for good measure.

Lisp? What lisp? I don’t hear any lisp.

Not too long ago, I posted a bit of a rant about my in-laws and how they have come to believe that my daughters have permanent lisps and how my homeschooling them will be detrimental because I am not addressing these lisps. And my dear blogging-buddy Katherine posted a recommendation to read Me Talk Pretty One Day, by David Sedaris. And because Katherine is so awesome and brilliant, I took her advice and picked up a copy of the book on one of my many escapes excursions to my local bookstore.

And I’m very glad that I own this book. Me Talk Pretty One Day is a series of hilarious essays on various topics, the first of which addresses his childhood lisp and how the school system handled it by marking him as a Special Needs Case and forcing him to spend time with the school’s speech therapist. Here’s an excellent passage:

My therapy sessions were scheduled for every Thursday at 2:30, and with the exception of my mother, I discussed them with no one. The word therapy suggested a profound failure on my part. Mental patients had therapy. Normal people did not. I didn’t see my sessions as the sort of thing that one would want to advertise, but as my teacher liked to say, “I guess it takes all kinds.” Whereas my goal was to keep it a secret, hers was to inform the entire class. If I got up from my seat at 2:25, she’d say, “Sit back down, David. You’ve still got five minutes before your speech therapy session.” If I remained seated until 2:27, she’d say, “David, don’t forget you have a speech therapy session at two-thirty.” On the days I was absent, I imagined she addressed the room, saying, “David’s not here today but if he were, he’d have a speech therapy session at two-thirty.” [page 8]

Funny, yes, but also an achingly accurate assessment of how children are commonly treated without respect in classroom situations. How quickly they are typed, classified, segregated, and humiliated by their teachers, and consequently by their peers.

That’s pretty much the only essay related to American public education. The rest of them range from a seriously hysterical situation he finds himself in while using the bathroom at a friend’s house for a dinner party to the adventures of moving to France and learning the language, to his father’s very bizarre hoarding habits.

If you haven’t read this one yet, then by all means, run on out and find a copy soon. It’s a keeper.

Many thanks to Katherine for the recommendation.

Busy bees.

Bad moment for groundhog mama.

Once, when my youngest was two years old, I lost her at the zoo for about a minute and half. The entire minute and a half that I had lost her, I could hear her, I knew where she was, yet I was prevented from getting to her by a sluggish elevator door and a long flight of stairs. There’s a part of me that will FOREVER be running down that LOOOONG flight of steps, hollering her name, listening to her cry, and thinking to myself: It only takes ONE SECOND for someone to grab her. ONE SECOND. Oh God! Oh God, God, GOD!!!

Luckily, in this instance, a zoo volunteer had already reached her and was standing with her looking around for me, understanding that the wild-banshee-type shrieking she and everyone in the vicinity could hear was THIS KID’S MOTHER. I arrived moments later, shaking and breathless, and gathered my baby into my arms, and the zoo-volunteer smiled at me and walked off. And then I strapped my kid into her stroller and wouldn’t let her out for the rest of the afternoon no matter how much she fussed. And when people in our group tried to make pleasant conversation with me, I’d stare blankly at them and nod vaguely, no longer having the ability to comprehend or make small talk of the mommy variety. And we got through the day, and she’s fine. Doesn’t really remember it. Bears no lasting emotional scars or anything.

But I haven’t taken the kids to the zoo since. It’s like this mental barrier I’m having difficulty getting over:

Zoo + Small Children + Mom Burdened With Cooler and Backpacks = ULTIMATE HORROR!!!

At some point, I’ll get over it and take them to zoo again. Like maybe for a high school graduation present or something.

I know, I know. They’ll be fine. They’re older now. I’ll be fine. Everything Will Be Fine.

But then again… who needs the zoo, really? I mean, we’ve got the Discovery Channel. And the Internet. We can watch exotic animals right here at home. It smells better that way, too. 

Oh, well. I could go on and on about this, but that’s not what I wanted to tell you about. What I really want to tell you about is this groundhog that lives under our shed with her four babies.

We first discovered this groundhog mama and her babies about 2 months ago when she first brought them up to daylight to see how tasty the grass in our yard was. We were actually getting ready to go out somewhere when I saw her crossing our yard followed by her four rambunctious little ones. Wanting to get a picture, I very quietly stole upstairs to grab my camera. But the minute I reappeared in the dining room with it, the girls looked at me and said: OOOOHHH!!! What is it? And then they looked out the window and saw those little groundhog babies, and that was the end of it. Out the door they went, and all hell broke loose.

As it is wont to do in my backyard.

From time to time.

So, out the door the kids went, with me trailing along after, and the groundhog mama sort of panicked and ran for it, and assumed that her babies would run along with her, I guess. Within moments, she’d dashed around towards the front yard. Her babies tried to follow her but they couldn’t keep up, and at the last minute they all dashed under our little plastic picnic table and hunkered down. All of them, that is, except for one little guy.

See that little guy over at the right? The one that’s SEPARATING FROM THE GROUP? Who do you think he reminds me of?

If you guessed my youngest daughter on that day at the zoo, you win the GRAND PRIZE. I’m not quite sure what the GRAND PRIZE is yet, but it’s yours. Or it will be, just as soon as I figure out what it is.

Right after I snapped that shot, that little guy scooted even further away from his family and hid himself under the bushes along the side of the house. The girls were both cooing and shrieking with excitement by now, and the cat was Slowly Waking Up From Her ENDLESS Nap to see what was going on. And where was Mama Groundhog?

Oh, yes. Right there. All the way around the front of the house, hiding under my car.

My car, and the long trek back around the side of the house, it all began to take on these surreal aspects of… oh… I don’t know… an elevator, and a long flight of stairs, maybe?

And the sound of my daughters shouting and laughing in the background sounded an awful lot like the din you might hear at the zoo on a summer day, when you desperately want your own voice to RISE ABOVE the noise so that your baby will hear you and know that you are on your way.

And the cat? Why, that was the predator, of course. And IT ONLY TAKES A SECOND. (Well, actually, the cat never really woke up completely. She is, after all, old. And the laziest damn thing I’ve ever met. But just pretend that she was drooling and ready to pounce. My analogy will work much nicer that way.)

I looked that Mama Groundhog in the eye. Honey, I said to her. I’ve been there. I’ve done that. Let me help you. I retreated, gathered up the (still half-asleep) cat and the kids, and herded everyone back into the house. The lone little groundhog had by now tried to cross the porch and get back under the shed, but got stuck halfway there and was now a frozen tableau of terror that looked like this:

I gave him a wide berth and went inside and waited. And after a while, the Mama Groundhog managed to come back around and pick up the three that were huddled under the picnic table, plus this Wild Child, and take them all back to the safety of the Den Under Our Shed.

With the excitement over, the girls were dispatched back to their previous task, which was finding all the library books and piling them up on the table for a final count before we returned them. After that, it was time for everyone to use the bathroom. I looked out the window one more time before we left and saw this:

She’d taken them all back home, and then started bringing them up one by one to eat. She stayed right next to each baby and never let her guard down again. I would have tried to talk to her, but I knew better. She was way too frazzled to make any attempt at conversation. I’ve had my own close-call, after all. I know what it’s like. I gave her one last nod, and took my kids off to the library for the day.

They’re all still under my shed, as far as I know. Sometimes, late in the evening when I’m doing the day’s dishes, I see the Mama Groundhog from the kitchen window. I wish I could tell her how I admire her for her good mothering. How there was never a chance that the cat could have ever caught them. How proud of her I am that she’s managed to return to the zoo so quickly.


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