Sunday, September 30, 2007

What Can't You Do In Regular School?

Here are three things we've done recently in Calvert school, which simply can't be done in a regular school.

This first picture was a science experiment designed to teach the kids about the difference between chemical changes and physical changes. The result: Dessert!

Last Monday was "National Punctuation Day". I don't know which genius where thought this up, but
for a secret grammarian like me, it's rather funny. So, using a recipe originally found in the Calvert School Kindergarten manual, we made "punctuation pretzels". For anyone who's been to a pretzel cart in a big city, like New York, these should make your mouth water.


1-1/2 cups water
4 cups flour
2 tsp yeast
1 tsp salt

Mix all ingredients and knead well. Let rise, punch down, and pinch off pieces of dough to form pretzels. Brush the tops with egg beaten with a few drops of water, then sprinkle a bit of coarse salt on top. Let rise, bake at 425 for 12 to 15 minutes, and enjoy!

Last, in what other school could you have such a cool class pet? Fish, maybe; guinea pigs, maybe; hamsters, maybe. English Mastiff? Never.

Humorously enough, this picture was taken when poor Thor had just gotten out from under the table; he had been hiding there from the noise of the thunderstorm occurring outside.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Beef with Broccoli & Oranges

Steak gets boring.

There. I've written the three words my sons would possibly (likely) construe as blaspheme.

I decided to see what I could do with plain steak to make it more interesting, in about 30 minutes. This is what I came up with. I was inspired by stir fry, but I don't eat peppers (they make me sick), I don't like heavy spices, and I don't want to operate several skillets at once. I also love color, vivid color, and looked for complementary, bright foods. I served this with plain white rice and Pizza Tomatoes (a Pierre Franey recipe, the correct name for which escapes me, because the kids renamed them for their flavor).


2-1/2 pounds steak
1 pound broccoli
1 small can mandarin oranges
1/2 pound sliced mushrooms
1 stick butter
2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 onion, minced
salt & pepper to taste
2 cups orange juice
1 beef bouillon cube
2 tbsp cornstarch

Before starting the meat, parboil the broccoli, so it won't wilt under the broiler. The rice should be nearly finished before the beef is cooked.

In the bottom only of the broiler pan, melt the butter. Add minced onion and put under the broiler for about 1 minute. Cut the steak into strips and place in broiler pan, flipping to coat both sides with butter & onion. Sprinkle with half each of the garlic powder and ginger. Place under broiler for 3 minutes. Remove from oven, and pour some of the pan drippings off into a saucepan. Turn the meat, sprinkle with the remaining garlic powder and ginger, add salt & pepper to taste, add the broccoli, oranges and mushrooms and stir together. Return to broiler for 3 minutes. While it cooks, whisk the cornstarch into the pan drippings in the sauce pan. Pour in the orange juice, which can be preheated in the microwave to shortcut the process, and whisk until smooth. Add the beef bouillon cube, and whisk until heated and thickened. Pour over the meat and veggies in the broiler pan and return to the broiler for one minute. Serve with white rice. My husband's comment? "Try to remember how you did this!"

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Orange Cake

This is a somewhat heavy, not too sweet cake. I adapted a recipe from an old cookbook to come up with something a little different. My youngest son, almost 8, is no real fan of sweet foods; he'd rather have a carrot than a cookie (strange kid). My husband also doesn't have that big a sweet tooth, but loves all things citrus; he inspired me to create this.


1-1/2 cups flour
3/4 cup sugar
2-1/2 tsp. baking powder
3/4 cup orange juice
1/4 cup powdered milk
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 egg
1/2 tsp. salt

Combine dry ingredients; add wet ingredients and beat for 2 minutes. Turn into greased & floured 8x8 or 10x7 pan; bake at 375 for 23-26 minutes.


1/4 cup heavy cream, whipped
1/4 tsp lemon extract
3 cups powdered sugar

beat all ingredients together. Add 1 to 2 tbsp orange juice to make the frosting smooth.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Sewing Projects

The weekend after we dropped our daughter off at college, I came home to sew. It's quite therapeutic, actually, as well as being constructive. I've had this fabric forever. I called it my watercolor fabric; it makes me think of Monet's Waterlillies. Anyway, I finally found a pattern that suited the fabric. Before I made this one, back in May, I used the same pattern to make a dress that I wore to our son's college graduation in South Carolina. My dearly beloved loved it, so I knew it was just the thing for my watercolor dress. Since I didn't make this until late August, I've only been able to wear it about twice; the weather's against me. It does give me something to look forward to in spring (besides flowers, birds, warm weather.....)

I was searching for something on the internet for my darling computer illiterate husband, when he

decided that I needed to see if I could find fabric for a new summer dressing gown. When we saw the movie Mulholland Drive a few years back (heck, it's at least a decade now), I loved the dressing gown Kim Basinger was wearing. Why do robes and jammies have to be ugly to be comfy, I wondered? So I started sketching, and came up with a pretty, functional, and comfortable design. Too long in the back, to stop drafts from attacking my ankles while I sit: a "train", if you will. Leg o' mutton sleeves, to give plenty of room to bend my arms and move around, while having a somewhat tight cuff to keep the sleeves out of the way when I'm cooking, cleaning, making coffee, or whatever. And not too baggy. I surely don't need any more weight added to me visually. This is the third one I've made from lightweight fabric. Shockingly enough, we found this on ebay. This is a semi sheer fabric which has sections of ribbon woven in. I used lace for the sleeves, because I only had 6 yards of the fabric, but I had an exact match in color. I also put a fake fur collar on this one, because my husband wanted his wife to look like a movie star.

Finally, the fabric to match the "No Shoe Left Behind" shoes. It's really lightweight and "floaty", so it was hard to decide what to do. I started working on this project the weekend we had to take one of our daughters to the airport at 4:30 AM to catch a 6AM flight to Denver (so what was the point of
going to bed), and left the fabric and partially finished projects on the table when I finally went to bed at 6AM. Two of my sons, who got up before I did, reported that they saw the pile from across the room, and came to investigate because they thought it was a big pile of ham. Thus, this is my ham skirt. I put godets in the skirt to give it a little pouf below the hip, taking advantage of the fabric's natural tendencies. I made this pink cami to match, and, taking Lori's suggestion, made a scarf to tie my hair back. I also made a halter type dress from this fabric, which I've not had the warm weather to wear, and which didn't photograph well. I guess 5 yards of the fabric was overkill, but it is pretty.

This weekend I'm beginning work on a red velvet winter dressing gown. We'll see if I'm inspired enough to finish it, or if it will have to turn a little colder.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

"Family Day"

I must be really out of touch with the "real world". In several of the grocery ads in my newspaper this week, they are saying that next Monday is "Family Day" and urging everyone to eat dinner with their children. I've always insisted that everyone who is in residence in my household must show up for dinner every night, unless they have a dinner date. As a result, all of our kids talk to us, and to each other. The ones in college phone each other several times per week (Thank you, cell phone company, for the "In Network"). They've fully realized the wisdom of my statement that friends can drift apart, but family is forever. Am I the only person left in the world stuck in the family dinner mentality of the 1960s and before?

Sunday, September 16, 2007

English Muffin Bread and Condiments

I like to put a loaf of English Muffin Bread in the bread machine before bed; the smell of fresh bread just finishing up does actually help me to drag my lazy bones out of bed. This is the only bread I actually make from start to finish in the bread machine; it has a nice thick crust and a chewy consistency, and a flavor which puts Thomas' to shame. I found it years ago in Donna Rathmell German's bread machine cookbook (I hope I have her name right; it was a paperback cookbook and fell apart, leaving me to keep just the few recipes I really liked). As she noted in that cookbook, the top of this loaf will be slightly sunken. This is adapted from her cookbook to suit my 2 pound bread machine (it's often not enough for my crowd, not surprisingly). I serve it with Lemon Curd and homemade Peach Jam.


1-1/2 cups water
3 tsp yeast
4 cups flour
2-1/2 tsp sugar
1-1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp baking soda
4 tbsp powdered milk.

Keep the yeast separate from the water if setting on the delayed timer; otherwise, add all ingredients and let it go. For the super rapid cycle, double the yeast.

I'm sure this could be done in 2 conventional loaf pans, but, like I said, I've never tried it, since I want it ready when I stumble downstairs for my hot tea.

With my English Muffin Bread, I love Lemon Curd. This is (reputedly) an English staple used with scones (although, having never been there, I'm not certain). I found this recipe at least 20 years ago in a newspaper. It is very easy, and fabulous. Note that I use unsalted butter (as I do with everything), but salted would also work.


3 eggs
1 cup sugar
1 tbsp grated lemon rind
6 tbsp lemon juice (about 2 lemons' worth)
6 tbsp butter

In the top section of a double boiler, combine everything except the butter. Put over the boiling water, and stir nearly constantly for about 10 minutes, until the mixture is nearly boiling and thickens somewhat. There will be a light foam on top of the mixture. Don't let it boil or the eggs will scramble. When it's thickened, remove from the heat, whisk in the butter, cut into chunks, pour into jars or plastic containers, let cool and refrigerate. Makes about 2 cups; will keep for at least 2 months (mine has rarely stayed around for that long). It is a beautiful yellow color, as seen above with my Peach Jam and English Muffin Bread.


1 pound frozen peaches, thawed and drained, or 3 to 4 fresh peaches, peeled & pitted
3/4 cup sugar
1 tsp lemon juice
1 box pectin

Yes, this seems much more impressive than it actually is. Chop the peaches pretty well, using the food processor. Small chunks are fine. Put the peach mush in the bread maker, pour the sugar & lemon juice on top, and let sit for 1/2 hour so the sugar will start to dissolve. Add the pectin, set the bread machine on the jam setting, turn it on and let it run. In 1 hour and 10 minutes you'll have jam. Even with crummy frozen peaches, the flavor is unbelievable (my 75 year old peach tree was killed last winter by the fool deer, and I can't bear the loss of it, because the fruit you can find nowadays has nowhere near the flavor of the old trees' fruit). I'm sure you can do this on the stove, stirring every few mintues, over medium low heat. I'm just too lazy to try.

My husband and daughter disagreed with my characterization of Lemon Curd and jam as "condiments" earlier. Webster's unabridged defines a condiment as something which adds relish to foods, so I think it qualifies...

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Our Youngest, Hairiest Child

In June of 2001, we adopted Thor. He is our third English Mastiff. When they're born, they usually arrive in litters of a dozen or more, and weigh 2 to 3 pounds. We brought him home at 7 weeks, and weighing 21 pounds. This is Thor in our side yard with the two little boys, then 20 months and just about 5 years old (I hear the chorus of "awwww"s):

This is earlier this spring. Thor is 6, Mark is 7-1/2 and Ryan is 11:

I assure you that in this picture Thor is doing his very best "small dog" act. I believe they were waiting for someone to serve some delectable snack, and, of course, small people (and small dogs) are much more likely to get handouts.

If you have kids, and if your kids have read the Henry & Mudge stories (such as in the Calvert School 2nd grade book, or the many books which have been written - and of which we have all), you will recognize Thor as a real-life Mudge. Yes, he went from 2 pounds to 272 pounds (vet's measure, not mine). He's afraid of thunder and rain, loves to play in snow, loves saltines, and smells flowers, then eats them, just like the dog in the book. Someone, likely the tow truck operator who hauled out my brakeless car, left our front gate open Thursday afternoon, and Thor wandered aimlessly out into the big world - and got lost! When I realized it, two hours later, I set off by car and foot, and finally found him around 11PM. (This, of course, left everyone else eating PB&Js or cereal for dinner). The poor baby hasn't stayed outside without his boys for more than 3 minutes since.....our dogs really are like small children, even when they outweigh us by more than double!

Thursday, September 13, 2007

The Grapes Are Coming!

The little guys came in today for the colander and scissors. The first of the grapes have ripened, and they collected a couple of pounds of them. Their older brother planted 4 grapevines with them about 3 years back, and this is the second year we've gotten grapes. Believe me, after eating concord grapes for the first time in my life, I'm not such a fan of store-bought any more.

Anyway, looks like tomorrow is "homemade condiment" day - peach jam, peanut butter, lemon curd and grape preserves.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Somebody's Lonely!

Here we were on the third day of school, working diligently on math, when poor Thor decided he was lonely. This dog honestly believes he is our youngest, largest, hairiest child. So when his friends took up working, after a time he became bored and lonely, and brought his rope toy to play. Of course, this created a good photo and need for recess.

Chicken Veronique

Pierre Franey's 60 Minute Gourmet cookbook gave me this delightful meal, although I did alter his cooking technique somewhat. This is supposed to be prepared in a skillet, which isn't really possible in my world. This was ready in 30 minutes, and my husband's first reaction was, "Wow! Hot grapes are good!" Mr. Franey also suggests that this be served with curried rice, but I need to order from my restaurant supply house, so ingredients are limited until Friday. Instead, I used tri-colored rotini (dubbed by my 11 year old "multi cultural noodles: American, Native American and Martian").


2 pounds boneless chicken breast, pounded thin (I slice mine on the grain to about 1/4" thick)
3 tablespoons butter
shallots, chopped fine
1/2 cup seedless white grapes
1/4 cup white wine
1-1/2 cups heavy cream
salt & pepper to taste

Pierre's directions: Melt the butter in the skillet. Cook chicken breast a few minutes on each side until done. Remove chicken to serving platter and keep warm. Add wine to skillet and reduce by half. Add shallots & grapes and simmer for about 4 minutes. Add cream & heat through. Add chicken juices to skillet as they seep from the chicken onto the platter. Pour sauce over chicken and serve.

What I did: Melt butter in the bottom section of the broiler pan. Line up the chicken pieces in the butter, flip to coat both sides. Broil for 4 minutes. Turn over, add grapes and return to the broiler for 3 to 4 minutes. Meanwhile, in a skillet on stove top, melt another 2 tbsp butter, whisk in 1 tbsp cornstarch, shallots and wine. Heat a minute until it thickens, add cream and heat through. Pour the pan juices from the chicken pan into the sauce, whisk until blended, then pour the sauce over the chicken and serve.

Poor Thor, the 272 pound "baby" dog, didn't get any leftovers, and was very disappointed. Everyone else was quite happy.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

September 11, 2001: I Will Never Forget

I have seen people quoted in the paper recently as saying that we need to "get closure" and "move on" from the terrorist attacks of 9/11. I will never forget.

We were attacked on our own soil, without provocation. Thousands of innocents died that day. We lost one of this country's best known landmarks. Do the people who think we need to move on also believe that Western Europe has forgotten that Germany attacked and invaded their countries in the late 1930s? Has anyone ever said, "Move on, France, that was 70 years ago!"

We were invaded. It was wrong. On that date, on one of the news stations, I heard a phone interview with Henry Kissinger. Now, whether one liked or disliked Kissinger's boss, no one has ever disputed that the man is brilliant. When the commentator asked Dr. Kissinger what we should do, his response was to nuke Tora Bora and wipe out Al Quaida entirely. Had we done so, does anyone think we'd be stuck in Afghanistan and Iraq today? Would we still hear of thwarted threats today? Not likely.

This is not a "New York City thing" or an "East Coast thing", any more than Pearl Harbor was a "West Coast thing". It was an unprovoked attack on American soil. We provoked Islamic fundamentalists by singing, dancing, being free, and not being Muslims? Please. This is America, the land of the free. We are not required to all be the same. If you don't like us, stay in your cave. Stop sending your youth here for the excellent education and employment opportunities we provide. Leave us alone.

I will never forgive, and I will never forget. Neither should anyone else.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Mint Cake!

Last Halloween, I realized that everyone in the house was fighting over the York Peppermint Patties I'd bought; it simply hadn't occurred to me that the combination of chocolate and mint was so popular in my house. So, I came up with this combination: yellow cake and mint-chocolate frosting.

I use a yellow cake mix, or any yellow cake recipe that's handy, and then make this simple frosting:

Whip about 1/3 cup heavy cream until stiff. Add 3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder and 1/4 tsp peppermint extract; beat these in. Gradually beat in 1 lb. powdered sugar. If the frosting's too thick, add a few drops of cream at a time until the proper consistency is achieved. The kids prefer this cake chilled, but my beloved will eat it any way it arrives in front of him.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

1977 Lincoln Mark V

This has nothing to do with sewing, cooking, or school. I had to go out today, for the first time in about 3 weeks, and because it was sunny, I drove my beloved's car. When I bought it for him as a 25th wedding anniversary gift, he was, of course, thrilled. I have probably driven it more than he has, because when we go out together, he always wants me to drive (less probability of actually getting that moving violation, even when deserved). When we'd had it about a week, I was out one afternoon, and the chief of police in our town pulled me over. "No problem, Marjie, I just wanted to check out the new wheels.....Can I drive it back to the deli? I was going to get some coffee." "Sure, Dan, I'll just wait here." "No, follow me in the squad car. Just don't push any buttons." Small town life is cool.

Friday, September 7, 2007

"Pan Meat"

We used to go to Myrtle Beach every summer, for Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, and a random long weekend in August. We had a favorite hotel, and for some unknown reason, the staff always remembered the red-haired couple with all the little redheads. Quite a number of years ago, when I still had only 6 or 7 children, I happened to be seated on the beach beside a lady from Canada who had 4 little girls of her own. We saw each other for 3 or 4 years at Labor Day. Once, out of the blue, when we were comparing notes on the business of running large households, she asked me, "So, do you cook pan meat?" Now, I'd never thought of pan meat. But I knew instantly what she meant. The last time I cooked anything other than fish on the stove top was about 1982. So, I frequently peruse Pierre Franey's & Craig Claiborne's cookbooks, and am often dismayed at the number of things I can't cook because they're cooked in skillets. Seriously, how do you cook 5 pounds of anything in less than 5 or more skillets? This weekend, I'm going to try varying a couple of those recipes. Our difficult closing is over. No more stinkin' lawyers tying us up until 10PM every night. Next week we can finally start school; this weekend, I'm eating great food, sewing, and basking in the shade (who needs a sunburn?). My youngest and Thor, shown in this picture, are enjoying the last weekend of summer, too.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

The Start of School

We haven't started school this week, as planned, because a business closing scheduled for last week slopped over into this week (GRRRR). However, in honor of the traditional first day of school, this is a picture of a splendid project expanded from an enrichment project in Calvert School 2nd grade.

In the very first week of second grade, the history lesson was the Star Spangled Banner. They suggested that, in order that the child could better visualize the flag Francis Scott Key saw, we lay out with yarn or rope the size of the original flag. Well, since I have a flagstone courtyard, I'm the wiseguy who said to the high school girls, "Just help the little guys draw it with sidewalk chalk!" Little did I know that they'd chase chalk through every store in four towns around here. Anyway, I think the dimensions were something like 40 ft by 60 ft, and they really enjoyed drawing and coloring it. I couldn't get all the stripes in the picture, taken out an attic dormer, because it was too close to the house (and I'm no dummy - I'm not hanging too far out a window 30 feet in the air). They all did enjoy the excuse to not work that day!

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

French Bread

This has to be one of the easiest breads to make. I use my bread machine for the mixer (as always, because the lid on top keeps the flour from fluffing out and coating everything in the kitchen), then form the loaves, let rise and bake. It's an easy ingredient list, the bread is soft and goes well with most anything, and, best of all, it makes great grinders. My son and daughter took a total of 3 loaves, turned into turkey & ham grinders, back to college with them (he took two whole sandwiches, she took two halves). They were happy, because at least they have decent food to help them through today (and they brought last night's dinner back with them).


1-1/2 cups warm water
3 tbsp yeast
4-1/4 cups flour
1-1/2 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp honey
1 tsp salt

Use 6 tbsp yeast if you want the bread to rise in about 20 minutes. Mix all ingredients, split into 3 loaves. Let rise, bake at 375 for 16 to 18 minutes, depending upon how dark you want it. Mine, shown above, was baked for 16 minutes.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Calvert School

For the past 3 years, we've used Calvert School with our 2 youngest sons. They sell a first rate curriculum, along with a splendid set of Lesson Manuals. Thus, I, the "teacher mom" don't have to worry that I'm not teaching my boys enough, or not teaching them the right things for beyond eighth grade. I started my youngest with Calvert Kindergarten, because he was too young by 2 months to be allowed into "real" school. Yet, I had already taught this child basic phonics, and he had figured out for himself how to add sums up to 20. He had also figured out that if 2+2 is 4, then 20+20 is 40. Hell, that's a first or second grade concept. How could this child possibly not be ready for Kindergarten? Fortunately, I remembered that way back in 1987, give or take a bit, a private school I had my 2 oldest boys in had given me a couple of issues of a skinny little magazine called "Gifted Children Monthly". I hunted up those issues in a file cabinet, found the Calvert School ad which I remembered seeing, called them up and ordered their Kindergarten curriculum. It was splendid! My little guy was finished with the course in February, then I got the local elementary school to agree to let him go to school with his then 3rd grade brother for the rest of the year by telling them that I wanted him to "transfer" from Calvert School in Baltimore. I never walked into that school again without secretaries, parents and teachers asking me how I taught him so much; by their standards, he was a year or more ahead of everyone.

During that year, his 3rd grad
e brother was in the local school, but I bought the 3rd grade curriculum and taught him after school for a couple of hours a day. This was a desparation move, because the kid refused to learn to add well, and his handwriting was hideous. He was a fabulous reader, because I had taught him before he went to Kindergarten. They were done with school, however, at the end of that year.

So, yesterday I spent a few hours rearranging encyclopedias and other books in our "homework" room to accomodate the Calvert books. These are the sixth grade books:

These are the 3rd grade books:

These are the lesson manuals for both courses (lots of documentation for teacher mom: I love it!):

And, of course, they live on a shelf between sets of encyclopedias. I know lots of people like the online encyclopedias, but I feel that there's nothing like books to enable you to read and get a feel for something. If you need current statistics, look it up online. Otherwise, read.

Welcome back to school next week!

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Simple Dinners

Last night one son and daughter came home from college for the long weekend. About halfway through the 6 hour drive, the younger daughter called them and asked where they were; they in turn asked her what's for dinner. "Pasta," she replied. To which her sister hollered, "Tell Mom I want a five course meal or we're turning around right now!" while her brother hollered, "No, we aren't!" Those two stood beside me picking at the penne after it was drained, while I put the olive oil on it, and you've rarely seen such a fuss made over a simple dinner of penne with meat sauce, homemade Italian bread and a salad. It's great to have them home.