Posted by: angiefm | August 29, 2013

SURPRISE! A New Blog!

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This is what our kids look like now.  Don’t they grow fast?

So yes, things have been quiet around here.  So much so that my dear husband remarked the other day that it has been a LONG time since I blogged.  And he went on urging and urging me to keep blogging, saying what a pity it was that I stopped, since he keeps sending people to the blog.  :)

Well … yes it HAS been a long time since I posted anything to this blog, but unbeknownst to him, the kids and I have been busy and have posted 240 blog posts in the last five and a half months!  That’s at the rate of 1.4 posts per day.  Where? you ask?  Here!

http://thehomelibraryonline.wordpress.com/

Before you click over to that site, tarry awhile and let me explain what this is all about.

THE REASON

You see … we had some discussions at the end of Alethea’s Grade 6 year about possibly sending her to school.  But in the end it was decided that she would stay home for another year.  I wanted to make the year count.  I wanted her to do something that would be significant, something she could look back on with pride, but also something that would be a blessing to our community.  And oh, by the way, also something that would be in line with her passion and her gifting.  Easy-peasy right?  :)

THE PLAN

I prayed, I thought, I prayed some more, and the idea came to me that she should start a blog for book and curriculum reviews.  I sold it to her.  :)  Back when we owned and operated our home-based online independent bookshop, The Home Library, people used to come to us for advice on what books to read, what resources to buy.  Since closing the store and moving to Montreal, we have lost many opportunities to be a sounding board for fellow homeschoolers and parents.  But thanks to the internet, we now have the privilege to provide “online support”!

THE BLOG

Our aim is to eventually catalogue and review EVERY SINGLE BOOK we own.  Right now I estimate that we have close to 3000 books.  And guess what?  In under half a year, we have reviewed 500 of them already!  That’s right … FIVE HUNDRED BOOKS and HOMESCHOOL RESOURCES!  We set ourselves that target before we would launch the site, because we wanted it to be a searchable resource with (hopefully) something for everyone.  In the scramble to write up that many book reviews, ALL the children have chipped in with their reviews.

So now, if you go over to http://thehomelibraryonline.wordpress.com/, you will be able to search by author, title, ISBN, category and key word, for recommendations of books to read or for reviews of books and homeschool resources you might be looking to acquire for your own home library.

We are going to take a short break as we start the new school year next week (and yes, we are still homeschooling all our kids), but then we are committing to post at least two reviews per week after that.

OH!  So why didn’t Tee Chiou think I was blogging?  Well, we kept this entire project a secret from him.  So now …

SURPRISE, DADDY TEE CHIOU!  :)

Now we can stop scrambling to put books away and close web pages when we hear you coming home! *grin*

And we hope to see you all over at http://thehomelibraryonline.wordpress.com/.  Don’t forget to sign up to receive our new posts!

Posted by: angiefm | November 21, 2012

Let’s Talk Curriculum: Alethea, Grade 7

[Warning: LONG Post]

So … we are about two months into the school year here in Montreal and are ready to talk curriculum! This year (school year 2012/2013 our children are in Grades 7, 5 and 3.  Here is what Alethea is doing this year.

Overall, we have relied largely on the curriculum/book recommendations from Ambleside Online for Year 7.

BIBLE STUDIES

Life in the Word – We wanted Alethea to learn how to study the Bible on her own this year and was pleased to find this guide published by www.simplycharlottemason.com. You will find more information and a free sample on their website. We believe it is important for our children to learn to search the Scriptures on their own and to develop discernment. She does this twice a week.

Book study – On the days that she is not doing Life in the Word, she reads a chapter of a pre-assigned book of the Bible. She has finished 1 & 2 Timothy and is now covering Proverbs.

Devotional reading – She is also reading the following on her own: Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis, The Pursuit of God by A.W. Tozer and The Pursuit of Holiness by Jerry Bridges.

Scripture Memory – We are using www.fighterverses.com by Bethlehem Baptist Church. This is a five year programme and I love that they have a Fighter Verses App for both iPhone and Android so we are all doing it as a family.  Each verse is set to song, which is great for the younger ones.

Hymns – We learn/review two to three hymns each week. I bought The Christian Life Hymnal from www.cbd.com and love it. It is inexpensive and includes some modern praise songs as well.  Also nice that it comes in four colours, one for each child.  :)

Christian Worldview – I had great ambitions to do the curriculum from Apologia titled Who is God?: And Can I Really Know Him but we haven’t yet found a fixed time during the week for this.  Putting it on the backburner for now but itching to get it done.

MATH

This deserves a separate post of its own (which knowing me will not happen anytime soon).  But here’s a summary of where we are:  After having relied mainly on local (Singapore) math, with Math-U-See, Right Start Math, etc thrown in for good measure, we switched to Saxon Math last year because we wanted our kids to be adequately prepared for the Canadian Achievement Test at the end of the school year.

Suffice it to say it wore us all out and now we are using Life of Fred.  :)  Alethea is doing Pre-Algebra I with Biology and is really enjoying it.  We’ll be sticking with this for a while.  More on this another time.  :)

SCIENCE

Exploring Creation with General Science – I have a confession to make.  We have NEVER, in our 8 years of homeschooling, completed a science curriculum.  :)  So as not to “mess around” this year, we signed Alethea up for the online class offered by The Potter School.  This is a Christian school and the weekly live online classes/assignments/tests are keeping us on track … for once.  :)

Madam How and Lady Why – This is actually on Tim’s reading list, but since it is so good, and Alethea missed doing it earlier, I have decided to read aloud to them both.

Nature Journaling - In Charlotte Mason style :) we try to go out for nature walks regularly, but recently it’s been COLD and sometimes rainy, so we have confined our nature journaling to the backyard, and bits of nature in the house – a venus flytrap, some ornamental corn and squash we bought for Thanksgiving.  We bought and were thoroughly inspired by the books by Clare Walker Leslie on keeping a nature journal and sprang for a copy of the blank journal titled Nature Journal: A Guided Journal for Illustrating and Recording Your Observations of the Natural World by the same author.  In it Alethea has produced some of her best illustrations.  There is something to be said about drawing in a beautiful book.  :)

HISTORY

The Mystery of History Volume 2: The Early Church and the Middle Ages – Our family started using The Mystery of History Volume 1 last year and though we are not done with it yet, I wanted Alethea to start on Volume 2 on her own this year. She does three chapters a week, making note cards for each lesson.  In the meantime, we are reading from Volume 1 as a family.

Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc by Mark Twain – recommended by Ambleside Online.

GEOGRAPHY

Trail Guide to World Geography – this is a pretty painless but very effective geography programme. Four days a week, the kids answer two questions which takes them 10 to 15 mins depending on how easy it is to find the information. Once a week, with two other families, we do the map work for the week. I am learning so much with them. *shame*

Living Books – Alethea is also reading The Brendan Voyage by Tim Severin and How the Heather Looks by Joan Bodger, both recommended by Ambleside Online.

LANGUAGE ARTS

Dictation – We are continuing to use Spelling Wisdom from www.simplycharlottemason.com. Alethea is in Book 2 and does two passages a week. She is currently on passage 103 of 140, but I am not sure yet if we will continue on to Book 3 after.

GrammarOur Mother Tongue: An Introductory Guide to English Grammar by Nancy Wilson. I didn’t know it when I bought it, but this has a Christian angle. Good for us, but thought I’d include that for other families looking into it. Also it is not by any means a “starter” book. Each lesson has A LOT to it and fits into the “better later” approach to learning grammar that Charlotte Mason had. This is our first year doing grammar. There is a separate answer key which we don’t have and haven’t needed. Yet. :)

PoetryThe Grammar of Poetry by Matt Whitling. Another Ambleside Online recommendation which Alethea is enjoying.  In addition, we have a “Poet-tea” session every Friday (something which I blogged about earlier) and each of us reads a selection to the others.  This year Alethea is reading from the anthology Favorite Poems Old and New, and later in the year will be studying the poems of Alfred Lord Tennyson and John Keats, both recommendations from Ambleside Online.

Journaling – Once a week Alethea writes a journal entry about something significant which happened during the week.

Written Narrations – Once a week Alethea is required to type up a narration from one of her readings. This is separate from the notes she makes from her Mystery of History readings and from the writing she does for her literature projects. So far her two favourite sources to narrate from have been “Whatever Happened to Penny Candy?” and “The Brendan Voyage”.

LITERATURE

Boomerang Book Club by Brave Writer. You can read more about it here, but it basically is an online (but not real-time) book club. They study a book each month. The first week the students introduce themselves to the group and read the book. The subsequent weeks they post questions which the students respond to. They can respond to other students’ responses as well, and sometimes they get pretty carried away and it turns into like a chat room, but I love that the teacher is there as watchdog and moderator so things never get out of hand. There are some pretty smart kids in this group and Alethea has really benefitted from the exchange of ideas, which was one of the main areas that Tee Chiou felt was missing from the homeschool experience. So despite the price-tag (US$450 for 10 months’ worth of particpation), this has been a great addition to our homeschool curriculum. The other benefit has been Alethea’s exposure to literature outside our usual reading lists. They are reading and discussing titles I would never have thought to check out.

Ambleside Online Selections – As usual Ambleside Online has an incredible reading list for literature and even though the Boomerang Book Club would have been more than sufficient for literature, I was greedy and did not want Alethea to miss out on the Ambleside Online list! So this year she is also reading The Once and Future King by T. H. White, A Taste of Chaucer: Selections from the Cantebury Tales, Bulfinches’ Medieval Mythology, and English Literature for Boys and Girls.  She does this on her own time on the weekends.  Slave Driver Mom.  :)

LANGUAGES

Chinese – Tee Chiou is still HOD (Head of Department) for Chinese here. :) *whew* The kids start each day at 7.30 am with lessons with Daddy before he heads for work. After he leaves, they continue on their own, either completing work he has set for them and/or reading.

French – The kids have lessons with a local French teacher once a week and she supplies them with enough homework/reading assignments to last the week. :) In addition, they now have their music lessons (almost) completely in French.

[Aside: It was funny the other day when we were trying to figure out the tune for a new hymn and I said the word “crotchet”, refering to a quarter note, and they all stared blankly at me. LOL! I told them it was a note value and they thought I meant “croche” which sounds almost the same but really is French for a “quaver” which is an eighth note. *faint*]

Latin – Together with two other homeschool families, we are learning Latin the fun way using Minimus: Starting Out in Latin.

ECONOMICS

Whatever Happened to Penny Candy? by Richard Maybury is the Ambleside Online recommendation for this.

CURRENT AFFAIRS

Twice a week, Alethea and I scan the online news sites in search of something significant. Like the US Elections. :) Tee Chiou is always feeding us with news articles and happenings as well, which is great because I’m honestly pretty clueless about what’s happening around the world. There! I said it! :) Alethea reads the article(s) and types up a summary for record.

LOGIC

Fallacy Detective – Alethea and I are working through this together and I’m particularly fond of this because I majored in philosophy in university and love being able to “talk shop” with her.  :)  Tim is always trying to butt into our discussions.

Thinking Toolbox – the high schoolers are doing this together during our weekly homeschool group sessions.

Both these books are by the Bluedorns.

ART

We are doing Charlotte Mason style picture studies with two other families during the week.  Starting a new artist this week.  I think we’ll be doing Michaelangelo.  :)  I’m so tempted to buy the picture study packages from Simply Charlotte Mason but know that with all that I already own, I really have no excuse to buy more.  *wink*

MUSIC

Music and Moments with the Masters – We were using this music appreciation programme by Cornerstone Curriculum, www.cornerstonecurriculum.com last year but have not been able to fit it into our schedules this year.  :(  Hope to revive it again in due course.

Piano – Alethea is learning to play the piano in a local music school and has been a most diligent student!  Tee Chiou is waiting for the day she will play Chopin and we think that day may be soon.  :)

LIFE SKILLS

Sewing – We are very ad hoc with this, but Alethea has picked up sewing on the sewing machine. I have been trying to get her started, but she kept saying she preferred sewing by hand till recently. I hope she’s hooked. :) She also does cross-stitching.

Cooking – Alethea was cooking a lot with me during the summer break, and we canned various things with great success. But since starting school, I haven’t been able to find time to include her. The weekdays are full, and on the weekends, I honestly like my “space” to work alone in the kitchen. I need to involve her more. Sigh …

Cleaning – Apart from her own room and helping out in various general areas, Alethea is responsible for washing one load of laundry a week and for folding her own clothes. She also washes her own toilet, which I try not to step into. LOL!

WHEW!  That certainly got long!  If you have other suggestions for us to consider (not for this year, I think we are pretty full :)) but for the future, please leave a comment!  I’m a bit of a curriculum junkie and would love to hear of new and interesting finds.

Here’s to Teaching Our Own!

Posted by: angiefm | October 17, 2012

Various Obsessions – A Catch Up Post

It is only appropriate for me to start this post with a sincere apology for my long and unexplained absence from blogosphere.  And then to launch into a long explanation about my long and as yet unexplained silence.  And the best way to explain it is to tell you about the various obsessions which have consumed the months between the last post and this.

Singapore

Our family had the wonderful opportunity to go home for our mid-term home leave trip in April this year.  We spent about four glorious weeks hanging out with family, friends and eating the foods we had been deprived of for 15 months.  It was so good to be reunited with the people we love dearly and heartbreaking to have to leave them again at the end of the four weeks.  The kids were elated to be back with their “old” friends and we scheduled as many playdates as we could.  Everyone was very obliging with clearing their schedules to be with us.  But we were wiped out after the trip and spent weeks recovering from over-activity and over-eating!

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Waiting at the coffee shop for our first meal in Singapore.  With friends who drove all the way from Choa Chu Kang to Changi to try to surprise us at the airport but were instead surprised to learn we had already left for home! 

Food

When I left off blogging, I was completely into buying food unprocessed and processing/cooking it myself.  The culinary search has led me and my obliging family down many interesting paths, reading about various diets and trying a bit of this and that.  I have discovered so many things about food, and cooking, and eating, and farming, and processing that I am quite embarrassed to admit I had never known before.  In a nutshell I have reached a comfortable middle ground which looks something like this when I go grocery shopping: I shop the perimeter of the store.  Fruits, vegetables, fish, meats, dairy, eggs.  I go into the aisles only to buy canned tomatoes, canned beans, canned milk, canned fish, spices, sauces, oils, pasta, rice.  I try to buy organic and antibiotic-free meats where possible.  Fortunately for us, the price difference is not as great as it is in Singapore.  For sweeteners I use honey and maple syrup, and something called Sucanat.  We still eat white rice and pasta but sneak in some whole grains.  We buy whole wheat bread and use whole wheat flour where possible but succumb often to white.  I can make my own mayonnaise, ketchup and salad dressing but will reach for the store-bought bottle in the fridge when I am in a time crunch.  I can make my own bread but have no qualms about buying them from the bakery.  I read labels but try not to be obsessive about everything.  I said “try”.  :)

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Last night’s dinner.  Russian Borscht.  An attempt to use some of the vegetables (like beets, leeks and red cabbage) I have been getting in our weekly organic vegetable basket.

Homeschooling

After we came back from Singapore, Tee Chiou suggested that we explore the possibility of sending Alethea to school in Year 7.  (The school year here starts end August.)  We had always said that we would evaluate options every year, but I was honestly unprepared for the emotions that welled up when he brought this up.  But we did go and visit two schools, met the principals, did the tours, etc.  There was a lot of praying (all of us) and begging (yes, me) and reading.  It was finally decided that Alethea should stay home for at least another year.  The process did a lot for us.  A lot of good!  I had always taken it as a given that we would keep homeschooling.  Each year morphed into the next and we are now nearing the end of our eighth year!  But this evaluation process made me really sit up and think about what I wanted Alethea to do this year if I only had her home for one more year.  My curriculum planning took on a different dimension.  A sort of desperate dimension, you could say.  :)  But the result is the best curriculum/schedule plan we have ever had in our 8 years of homeschooling, not just for Alethea but also for Tim and Nat.  I am so thankful to my dear husband for his leadership and for prodding us in this direction.  I hope to share more about our school plans in a later post.

Canning

Ever since I received a jar of homemade salsa from a fellow homeschool mom last year, I had been dreaming of doing my own canning.  So I did.  And in true Angie style, it was total obsession!  And I dragged Alethea and Tee Chiou into it as well.  I am so proud of how Alethea picked it up and ran with it.  She practically did a whole batch of strawberry jam herself, canning, labeling and all.  This is the result of all our canning.  I am still toying with whether or not to can apples.  I feel less compelled because good apples are available all year round unlike the other produce.

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HOMEMADE!  Strawberry jam, blueberry jam, sliced peaches, pasta sauce, green tomato relish, quartered tomatoes, whole tomatoes.

Summer

We had our busiest summer ever!  The kids went to circus camp, outdoor adventure camp, and two vacation Bible school sessions.  We attempted to grow vegetables.  And grass.  :)  We went strawberry, blueberry and apple picking.  We had loads of picnics.  Went out cycling.  And spent most evenings at some soccer field or other watching Alethea and Tim play.  And summer ended with relatives (an aunt, uncle and two cousins) coming over to visit!  Which was fabulous.  I played tour guide for ten glorious days when we went up north to the Laurentians to stay in a cottage, up to Mont Tremblant for a hike, out to the Eastern Townships for a Duck Festival, spent time in Montreal going ice skating, walking, cycling, visiting the Biodome, Old Montreal, Chinatown, and of course buying, cooking and eating all the fabulous food we are privileged to have access to here.  Their visit coincided with Alethea and Tim’s birthdays, so more joy!

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Tee Chiou taking the littlest out for a ride.  He did A LOT of cycling in summer.

Studying the Book of Romans

I have been struggling for months with having regular Bible study time.  Given that I’m home 24/7, you would think I would have figured it out by now, but alas, not so.  But recently, a series of things happened that drew me to study the book of Romans with the help of John Piper’s series of sermons on the book.  It all started with Romans 12.2.  It reads: “Do not conform to the pattern of this world,but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”  Would you believe I encountered the same verse FOUR times in a single week?  It was in the family devotional we are working through (Our 24 Family Ways by Clay Clarkson).  It was in the book on my bedside table (Five Conversations You Must Have with Your Daughter by Vicki Courtney), and it was the book I was reading on the mornings I managed to get up before the rest of the family (Seasons of a Mother’s Heart by Sally Clarkson), and then it was preached from the pulpit that Sunday by our church’s Pastor Bryan (www.peoplesmontreal.org).  No longer a coincidence, huh?  So I decided to take God’s prompting seriously and started listening to Pastor John Piper’s series of sermons on the book because every time I did a search about some aspect of Romans, Google kept throwing his name up.  He took EIGHT YEARS to preach through it and we have the privilege of having it all online to do at our own pace.  If you are keen to join me in this, the series can be accessed here: http://www.desiringgod.org/resource-library/series-index/romans-the-greatest-letter-ever-written

From Here On …

So I hope that brings you up to speed on the various things which have been happening in the Ng household in Montreal!  I hope to be more diligent with updating this blog.  I have so much to say (have you noticed?)!

In the meantime, here’s to teaching our own!

Posted by: angiefm | April 1, 2012

Recipes Anyone?

This is a follow-up post to the report on our unprocessed food week, because OH BOY did I get some responses on that one!  Many people emailed me privately with their own stories, with their difficulties with getting their families on board, and with general interest in the things we actually made.

But first a clarification

Tee Chiou pointed out, and rightly so, that when we said we had an unprocessed food week, it sounds like we ate raw food!  While we certainly do eat more raw vegetables and fruits now than we used to, our intention was not do go raw.  I should have been clearer by saying we were BUYING unprocessed foods, not eating them, because we were certainly doing lots of processing on our own!

So now that that’s clear … let’s get on with the food!  I’m going to list foods for breakfast and snacks because most people seem to find those a challenge to put on the table without resorting to some form of packaged food.

Breakfast

Typically we have one of the following for breakfast:

  • homemade whole wheat bread – with butter, maple syrup, our own hazelnut chocolate spread (ala Nutella).  You can get a great bread machine recipe here or knead this one by hand.  I used a combination of both and whack up the dough in my Thermomix.  When I don’t think the kids will tolerate a second day of whole wheat bread, I dress slices of these up with pesto sauce and cheese and grill it and they go real fast!  If you’re keen on learning about the two-stage baking process, ie about soaking grains for 12 to 24 hours before baking, you will want to check out Sue Gregg’s website here: www.suegregg.com and specifically her whole wheat bread recipe here: http://www.suegregg.com/about/Two%20Stage%20Process.pdf.  Suffice it to say that we are recent converts to this process.  :)  Thanks Missy for the introduction!
  • yoghurt – we now buy this plain and organic and I cook up some berries (I resorted to just using strawberries the second time round just because the other berries were so much more expensive by weight) till they are half syrupy and half chunky and throw that in with some honey.  The kids love that they can have as much of the berries as they want, unlike in the store bought varieties where you run out of fruit real fast.
  • whole wheat tortillas – we have had this one for breakfast, lunch and dinner!  Recipe here.  They are so easy to make and the results, straight off the pan, are so satisfying!  I bag up the leftovers in a ziplock and keep them in the fridge where the kids can get at them when they feel peckish during the afternoon.  We eat them with chicken/mayo, tuna/mayo or egg/mayo, or hummus with carrots, avocado, cucumbers.  I have to say I surprised myself because I am NOT, I repeat NOT a raw food fan, but I loved these wraps with hummus (homemade *ahem*) and raw veges … with chicken/mayo of course.  :)
  • whole wheat pancakes – these were DELICIOUS right out of the pan, but didn’t taste as good after they were frozen and re-heated.  Good, but not great.  Recpipe here.  I tried another recipe from here, but using the Sue Gregg two-stage process, soaking the whole wheat flour the buttermilk for more than half a day and the results were fabulous!  Even though I did run out of eggs that day and ended up using bananas as a substitute, but still great!
  • cereal and milk – this is our “go-to” breakfast, when I get out of bed too late to prepare anything for the kids.  We still have our stock of cereals and are getting through those.  I am a Post Honey Bunches of Oats fan and will need to find a way to make my own fast!  We have some single-grain cereals as well – puffed wheat, air-popped corn, etc.  Those would fit into an unprocessed shopping list.
  • quick breads – these are yeast-free breads, which get their rise from baking powder and baking soda.  Think banana nut bread and you have the general idea.  Because no rising time is needed, these are doable for breakfast.  You’ll just have to be up and at it about an hour before everyone’s hungry because it takes about 40 mins to bake.  If you use sugar, you can speed things up by baking at a higher temperature, but if you’re using honey, these are usually done at 325 degrees F (160 degrees C) and for 40 mins.  Worth the effort because they are such a treat right out of the oven.  Whole wheat of course.
  • bacon and eggs – now this one is always a hit here!  :)  But I recently found out from a fellow real food seeker (hi Missy again!) that I consider buying “nitrate-free” bacon.  We are down to our last 10 slices from a previous stash and will be looking for those in the supermarket next!
  • Chinese rice porridge – what I do with leftover rice and meat.  :)  For extra “kick” I fry eggs with “chai poh” (preserved radish) and no one has refused this, not even Tim who doesn’t fancy rice porridge.

Snacks

Here’s another area many people said they struggled with.  It’s so easy to reach for that bag of chips or box of cookies or that granola bar or the goldfish cheese crackers or … You know what I mean right?  :)

Here’s how we have been surviving the afternoons:

  • Fruit leather – this is a really fun thing to make and quite easy.  The recipe I have is from the Thermomix cookbook, but you can easily find one online.  Basically you cook up a batch of fruit, puree it, add some lemon juice, spread it out over a baking tray, put it into your oven at the lowest temperature and leave it overnight or 8 to 12 hours till it is no longer sticky.  Cut it up with a pair of scissors and VOILA!  Fruit leather!  We have done this twice, once with mixed berries & banana and the second time with mango & pears.  Both were a hit!  Adding bananas, apples or pears is a great way to make your fruit go further for less.
  • Granola bars – I have never liked granola bars.  Like eating cardboard.  LOL!  But it seemed like everyone who was making snacks was making this so I gave it a shot and boy was I surprised!  It is SO GOOD!  And so easy to make and like the lady who wrote this recipe rightly said, it is next to impossible to mess up.
  • Crackers and dip – we have been making whole wheat crackers from various recipes we’ve found online (still searching for that ULTIMATE cracker recipe)and eating them with hummus, chicken (leftovers) and mayo, egg & mayo, tuna & mayo, etc.  Notice the mayo?  We make our own mayonnaise now and it only lasts a week because there’s raw egg in it.  So some of it goes toward making Caesar salad dressing and the rest we use up in wraps and dips.
  • Muffins – bake the breakfast quick breads in muffiin pans and you get tea time snacks!  Banana nut muffins, apple & oat bran, pumpkin & cranberries … next up … zuchinni!  Going to make this one in the next couple of days, but need to figure out how to use honey instead of ALL THAT SUGAR the recipe calls for!
  • Fruit and Nuts – we have a good selection of this usually – apples, clementines, pears, bananas, grapes are staples.  Then if berries are on sale, we add that.  Just wishing melons weren’t so expensive here!  And a variety of nuts – cashews, hazelnuts, walnuts, peanuts, almonds, pine nuts.  I buy them raw or dry roasted, unsalted, and the kids have no clue there’s a difference.  LOL!  I made a yummy nut mix the other day.  It was supposed to be a topping for salads but the kids eat it as a snack.

1 tablespoon sesame oil
120 grams pine nuts
120 grams sunflower seeds
60 grams sesame seeds
30 grams (1 tablespooons) Tamari or soy sauce

Heat sesame oil in frying pan over moderate heat, add nuts and seeds, stir until lightly browned and fragrant.  Remove from heat, cool, add tamari or soy sauce.

The list will keep growing I’m sure.  We’ve only been at this for a month.  But I hope this helps those of you who asked about what we eat.

And if you have any suggestions for us, please leave them in the comments!

Happy Eating!

Posted by: angiefm | March 16, 2012

WE MADE IT!

Yes, we made it!  And in the current context, this means two things … we made it through our week-long experiement with unprocessed food, and we did it by making it all ourselves!

Groceries Round One.  I took forever with this grocery run because I was reading every label and trying to find things I have never bought before.

Definitions Revisited

In so doing, we refined our idea of what eating unprocessed foods means to us (I realised from all my reading on the web that it really means different things to different people).

  • If we could make it, we didn’t buy it.  We minced our own meats (have you read all that bad press recently about pink slime in minces?), made our own pasta, milled our own wheat, made our own butter, baked our own bread and cookies and crackers, made hazelnut chocolate spread (think Nutella), blended protein shakes, whipped up mayonnaise, salad dressings, kneaded pastry dough, ground coffee beans and roasted and milled spices, and so on.

Our homemade hazelnut spread turned out to be too thick because I had difficulty trying to substitute the chocolate the recipe called for with cocoa + honey + maple syrup + milk.

  • We avoided packages and cans.  Fresh tomatoes for our pasta sauce, fresh berries cooked and added to plain yoghurt, homemade chicken stock for various recipes which called for it and a vegetable stock concentrate to replace stock cubes.
  • If we could use whole grain, we did.  We ground wheat kernels and rice for flour which we used to bake bread, rice crackers, make pasta, mac & cheese, etc.  We drew the line at cutting out white rice.  I mean we have to stay sane some how right?  :)  But we did add brown rice to white.  And the pasta that we didn’t make ourselves, we bought whole grain.

Tim made this pasta sauce on his own with fresh tomatoes.  They were very tart though, so I followed a tip I found online and threw in a carrot to cook with the sauce.  It did sweeten it a little, but in the end I had to “help” it with a bit of honey.

  • We used honey and maple syrup and DATES to sweeten our food and drinks.  No white sugar.  We used raw sugar to make a berry cordial but it was … er … strange.  The kids said it was like that water chestnut drink we used to have in Singapore.  So much for using expensive berries.  We used up a 1 kg bottle of honey in a week!  And I learnt that maple syrup is a better sweetener for coffee than honey.

Lessons Learnt

Here are some more lessons we learnt in eating unprocessed foods:

  • THE THERMOMIX IS MY FRIEND!  Yes, I have waxed lyrical about this wonder machine time after time, but during the last few weeks, it has been my best buddy.  It ground, milled, minced, pureed, mixed, cooked, steamed, blended, etc numerous times each day.  I felt like I was constantly washing it out, drying it up and getting it ready for the next thing.  I read my Thermomix cookbooks like I was sitting for an exam!
  • There is so much to learn.  Embarking on this challenge has taught us so much about food in general, about reading labels, about finding alternatives.  All in all it has taught us that we can do much if we set our minds to it.
  • As with much in life, you need a strong enough why.  [An aside: There is an ebook from the founders of the now-sadly-closed Elijah Company homeschool supplies store titled “A Strong Enough Why”.  If homeschooling is your thing, you might want to click here and read it.]  We learnt that if you are passionate about something, you will find ways to make it work.
  • If you try new things, you will fail … once in a while.  Many nights in the last two weeks, dinner has been late because the gnocchi didn’t turn out properly and we had to move to Plan B for dinner, or the beef wouldn’t mince in the Thermomix because I bought the wrong cut and the tendon kept getting tangled in the blade (yikes!), or you make a berry cordial that ends up tasting like water chestnut (or have I mentioned that already?), etc.

Yoghurt!  Yums!  With cooked mixed berries and honey.  The kids, especially Daniel, was thrilled that the berries never ended, unlike the store bought berry yoghurt tubs.  He keeps asking for more berries.

  • This processing business is time consuming!  I am in the kitchen for most of the day these days.  Coffee isn’t instant, soy bean milk for breakfast has to be cooked, fruit yoghurt has to be mixed from three different things, Caesar salad dressing from ten.  Bread has to be baked, and pancake mix no longer comes out of a box.  And because nothing lasts long when it is made fresh, you can’t make them in large quantities, so before you know it, you’re making it all over again!  Once breakfast is done, I take a break for school, then lunch needs to be whipped up, followed by snacks for tea, then dinner, then any prep for things which are on the meal plan for the next day!  It just never stops!
  • And finally … the more whole grains, fruits and vegetables you eat, the more you poop!  There I said it!  :)

Actually, there are so many more lessons, but I will have to mull over them and maybe blog about them at a later date.

So What?

We have already had some tangible benefits from eating unprocessed food:

  • We are spending less on groceries.  I thought this would be a no brainer when we first started out.  I mean if we aren’t buying all that packaged snacks and are making our own food practically from scratch, surely we would be spending less right? Well, it didn’t look like it would work out that way at first.  Fresh tomatoes are more expensive than canned ones.  A 4 kg bag of pasta from Costco is so ridiculously cheap that you’ll spend way more trying to make it yourself.  Lemons at 80 cents each, and which only yield about 40 ml of juice are way more costly than a juice from a bottle of “ReaLemon”.  And you will not believe how much each batch of mayonnaise costs to make from scratch with good quality ingredients.  I cringed when my last batch failed to emulsify and had to be tossed.  *ouch*  Also when you start reading all that stuff about what goes into your meats, you’re going to want to try to buy grain fed, or organic, and don’t forget the eggs from free range chickens.  But yes, at the end of the day, it seems to be working out to cost less to eat unprocessed food, though how much less we haven’t quite figured out, since we were using up a lot of things we already had in our pantry.  The tracking continues.

Homemade Chinese Egg Noodles.  We rolled and cut these out by hand!

  • Grocery Shopping is SO MUCH EASIER!  And faster too! I was reading a healthy food cookbook (yes, my current preoccupation) the other day and the author used the phrase “shopping the perimeter”.  THAT’S IT I thought.  That’s exactly what shopping for an unprocessed food diet looks like.  The grocery stores here (and back home in Singapore too) have fruits and vegetables when you first enter, then you walk past nuts and dried fruits and on to breads and other baked goods to fish and meats, right over to dairy products and eggs, and then you’re done!  Just avoid the aisles in the main.  That’s how I draw up my shopping list now.  I have a section for “others” which requires me to go down the aisles to look for canned foods and rice, etc, but in the main, I am no longer tempted by all that wonderful looking packaging.

Alethea with her masterpieces and our first lunch.  They were a roaring success, which gave her an incredible boost!

  • Our kids are cooking!  Alethea especially, has really stepped up to this.  Tonight she rolled out and cooked 20 chapattis to eat with our chicken curry, and two days ago, she made applesauce muffins on her own.  Timothy is ever eager to help, and even little Nathalie has supplied our family with cereal bars made with air-popped corn and cranberries.  :)  But more importantly, they are taking an interest in all the stuff we put into our mouths.  And that’s a great benefit!

The little one cooks!  This was such a fabulous snack that it didn’t last more than 24 hours in the fridge.

  • We have less garbage!  I still can’t figure out why, except maybe that we throw away less packaging?  But then again, that usually goes into the recyling bin, not garbage.  So why less garbage?  More than 2 weeks later, I still can’t figure it out!
  • And … er … did I mention all that poop?  :)

And now, right at the end of this post … for those curious about the food we made and ate … Let’s see now … here’s a list (incomplete) of what we made in the last couple of weeks:

The observant will spot crab sticks in there.  Yes, not exactly unprocessed, but they were expiring!

Breakfast – bread, breadsticks, protein shakes, hazelnut chocolate spread (like Nutella), whole wheat pancakes, Chinese rice porridge with egg omelette, homemade butter.

Daniel looks on impatiently as I snap photos of our first breakfast – whole wheat breadstick with cheese and butter.

Lunch – herb chicken balls, pasta (yes, we made our own!), tomato pasta sauce, chicken noodle soup, chicken stock, Chinese noodles (yes, we made those too), sushi, whole wheat maccaroni and cheese (this pasta we didn’t make), chicken nuggets, Japanese chicken kara-age.

Snacks – whole wheat crackers chicken & homemade mayo dip, baked rice crackers, baked doughnuts (YUMS!), fruit leather (two batches because they sure went fast!), oat cookies, applesauce muffins.

Dinner – slow cooker baked chicken, vegetarian sausage rolls, gnocchi, steamed meatloaf (small disaster), butter chicken, nasi lemak with lemongrass chicken and sambal, tortillas, chapati.

Drinks – lemonade, hot chocolate (using our hazelnut chocolate spread!), almond milk (didn’t happen because I didn’t have a fine enough filter), coffee from freshly ground beans, berry cordial, soy bean milk.

Of all the foods I made, I am proudest of this – baked doughnuts with maple sugar.  They tasted marvellous straight out of the oven at tea time!

And the adventure continues!

We have relaxed some of our rules now.  We use white sugar sparingly (so far only for lemonade and a rerun of that berry cordial that went wrong), we eat canned tuna and salmon and tomatoes, and once a week we are systematically using up our HUGE stash of premixes which we brought from Singapore.

I inventorised our pantry at the end of our unprocessed food week and found to my horror that I had enough to cook 28 chickens in curry, and make 115 bowls of laksa/soto ayam/hokkien mee/mee rebus/mee siam, and cook 50 bowls of chicken rice, and make 200 sticks of satay.  Then there’s paste for red curry, green curry, otak, sayur lodeh, chili crab (enough for 8 kg of crabs), rojak, assam fish, cereal prawns, sambal prawns, spare ribs, bak kut teh … There’s just no way we can eat all that at the rate of one meal a week!

Nasi lemak in banana leaves (and Lands’ End catalogue pages because we didn’t have newspapers) and rojak made with a Prima premix.  We are diligently using our stash up now!

So now that you’ve read about our new found passion, anyone game to join us on this continuing adventure of eating unprocessed food?  :)

Posted by: angiefm | February 26, 2012

It all started with Lemonade …

So, early this month, Daniel had to go for dental surgery which made him kinda miserable for days after and we were giving in to his requests for things just to make the days pass easier.  One evening, he goes to the supermarket and bugs Daddy for lemonade.  Daddy buys it, we all drink it quite happily (we love lemonade), then Mummy here decides to check out the ingredients.

I did a double (triple??) take.  Canola OIL?  Brominated soya OIL?  What’s BROMINATED anyway?  Needless to say, after I read the list to the kids, I had to finish the rest of the lemonade myself.  No one would join me!

We all had to wonder … what’s in all that packaged food we eat!  We got talking, and talking, and talking and we’ve all talked ourselves into going one whole week without eating ANY processed food.  That week starts tomorrow!

DEFINITIONS, DEFINITIONS …

So what constitutes processed anyway?  We don’t have a good definition of it yet since we are at the start of this new food journey (those who have been around a while may remember our earlier food journey with going vegetarian for a week).

Obviously “processed food” is a concept on a continuum.  We aren’t farmers, so even the raw food we buy has been “processed” in some way.  But as we talk about it, here’s how we are starting to categorise things.  I’m sure it will become clearer as the week plays out:

Unprocessed – fresh fruits, vegetables, raw meats, milk, eggs, raw nuts,

Processed – store-bought cookies, biscuits, jams, boxed mac & cheese, bottled sauces, 3-in-one coffee *wail*

In-between (stuff we can possibly make but will probably buy) – pasta, noodles, flours, butter

And this last list is of processed things we still want to eat and can’t make ourselves – soya sauce, white rice, sugar …

NOTHING NEW UNDER THE SUN

So I’ve been spending HOURS studying cookbooks and surfing the web to get geared up for this next food adventure and guess what I found?  Yup, there is nothing new under the sun!  And also that we are really slow learners in this area.  Ha ha.  :)

Best blog I’ve found on cutting out processed food is www.100daysofrealfood.com.  Parents, two girls, who have been doing this and blogging about it since 2010.  If you have an hour (or ten), and are interested, you may want to head over to that blog and I’ll guarantee you an educational and convicting time indeed!  And if you want to join her and thousands of others, there is a 10 day pledge you can sign up for on her site.

WISH US LUCK!

So we start Monday!  Wish us luck!

Posted by: angiefm | February 16, 2012

World Map

World Map Room

No, my house doesn’t look like that.  I wish!

A super quick post to share something I am totally excited about!  FINALLY!  We have a map on the wall!  (I know … I have no life …)

We bought a laminated one a LONG time ago from Popular Bookshop in Singapore.  Loved it because it is an Asia-centric map so Singapore is right in the middle!  LOL!  But it was impossible to put on the wall because it kept curling and falling off.  We finally stuck it on with too much Velcro, but when we moved to a rented apartment, we couldn’t risk ruining the paint on the wall so didn’t put it up.

Anyway, when we got here, same problem.  Rented house.  Also the map was a bit too big to go up on any of the available walls.  Last week, we went to an craft supplies store here, Omer DeSerres, and found a map by Wall Pops which sticks on the wall without the use of adhesive!  It is made of vinyl and comes with a dry erase pen, and you can remove and reposition it quite effortlessly.  Trust me.  :)  Been there, done that.

So if you’re looking for a wall map, look no further!  Check out www.wallpops.com NOW!  (Sound like an advertiser to you?)  The store has some other really fabulous wall decor products.  But I digress …

Posted by: angiefm | January 14, 2012

Our Homeschool Schedule in 2012

In case you read the previous post and was absolutely floored at how much it SEEMED we were doing, here is a follow-up post to show how it really isn’t all that “balk-worthy”.  *grin*

A few years ago, while trying to get a handle on our daily schedules which were all over the place, I found a great scheduling tool from the homeschool family behind www.titus2.com.  Titled Managers of Their Homes, the book was filled with tips and forms to help you get organised.  I didn’t end up using most of the stuff, but there were a few principles I picked up which proved invaluable.  One of them is about making your days as uniform as possible.

Like DUH! right?  LOL!  But I didn’t even know how to do that much!  I used to shun schedules because they “cramped my style”.  So we were going out and meeting people, and having people over, and going on random fieldtrips and it was all wearing me out.  Now this one thing has brought much order to our days.

DAILY SCHEDULE

So by and large our days look something like this in 2012 …

7.30 am – Kids wake up and have breakfast
8.00 am – Chinese
9.30 am – History readings (Mystery of History, Trial & Triumph)
10.00 am – Copywork
10.30 am – Math
11.30 am – Some slack for getting lunch ready, checking math answers, allowing time for schedule overruns, etc
12.00 noon – French homework or Writing Strands or Journaling (on Fridays)
12.30 pm – Lunch

AFTERNOONS VARY (see below)

5.00 pm – Dinner prep (one child helps each day)
6.00 pm – Dinner followed by packing up, folding laundry, etc
7.00 pm – Baths
8.00 pm – Bible reading with the family
8.30 pm – In bed (kids get various lengths of time to read in bed before lights out)

AFTERNOONS

In the afternoons we have a variety of activities including:

  • French tuition
  • Tennis lessons
  • Music lessons (Alethea on piano, Timothy violin, Nathalie recorder) in the same music school
  • Meeting with one other homeschool family for lunch, presentation skills, picture studies, composer studies

HOMESCHOOL GROUP

Once a week we meet with a homeschool co-op and during the 3 hours there we cover Art, Science and Theatre and the kids attend another French class.

A NOTE ABOUT SCHEDULING MULTIPLE CHILDREN

I used to schedule MYSELF when the children were younger.  That simply meant that if I was working with one child on Math, the others had to be doing something which they could do on their own, or which needed less involvement from me.  But now that the children are older, I can do the same subject concurrently.

For example, during copywork/dictation time, I read Nathalie’s copywork passage with her and get her started while the two older ones are studying their passages.  Then when they are ready, I read their passages out to them (yes, different passages at the same time, and no, they don’t get confused, but sometimes I do).  And now that we are doing Saxon Math, the two older ones are completely independent during that period so I work only with Nathalie (while entertaining Daniel).  Doing Singapore Math was different.

So that’s how we do it all!  :)

Posted by: angiefm | January 10, 2012

And Now Back to Our Regular Programming

Come 12 Jan 2012, it will be a WHOLE YEAR since we moved to Montreal because of Tee Chiou’s work!  That’s in just 2 days!  I looked back (don’t we all at the beginning of a new year?) and realised how pathetic this blog has been this past year.  Not only were there too few posts (I used the “too busy” excuse too often), there was next to nothing about homeschooling, which was the original intent of this blog.  Sigh …

I know that the solution to writing more lies in canning that need for perfection (and for photos!) and learning to write shorter blog posts.  So in order to start the year right on the blogging front, I have decided to write a SHORT post about CURRICULUM.  I hope this satisfies those of you who have been patiently waiting for something … anything … about homeschooling.

Here goes:

MATH

We live in limbo where the school year is concerned because we still cannot get away from thinking calendar year (Singapore style), but want our children to be able to say what school year they are in when they talk to people here, or go to the right class in Sunday School, etc.  Fortunately for us, we do very little at “grade level” apart from math.  So to reduce the confusion, we started our children on their new math curriculum in September last year.

We made the switch to Saxon Math and they are now doing Saxon 6/7, Saxon 4/5, Saxon Grade 2.  We switched from Singapore Math (which we brought from home) to Saxon Math in order to prepare them for any Canadian standardised testing we may want them to sit for in the next year or so.

BIBLE

We read a chapter a day of the Bible as a family every evening and share our “favourite verses”.  I would like to re-start singing hymns and have ordered The Christian Life Hymnal from www.cbd.com.  We are also reading Trial & Triumph for Church history and will revive the Hide ‘Em In Your Heart CDs by Steve Green for the benefit of the younger ones.

HISTORY

We started using Mystery of History and the kids are really enjoying it.  We are not doing the activities at the end of each chapter (no time lah!), but we put our timeline figures into our timeline book (both from www.homeschoolinthewoods.com) after every three readings.  We have just completed week 12 of the first book and hope to finish books 1 and 2 of the series by the end of the year.

GEOGRAPHY

I will be using Galloping the Globe with the preschoolers in our weekly homeschool group meeting and will do the same lessons at home with our kids.  The programme is targetted at grades K to 4, but you can easily take it up a notch for older kids.  I would like to get some mapwork in as well, but I think that would be ambitious to say the least.

SCIENCE

The homeschool Co-Op we attend is using R.E.A.L. Science Odyssey (I cannot spell Odyssey without checking!) Chemistry from www.pandiapress.com.  I kinda influened the decision for selish reasons.  :)  Confession is good for the soul.  We started on the Life Science one on our own and got about halfway through before we got distracted.  We also bought Exploration Education from www.explorationeducation.com which I LOVE LOVE LOVE, but we have not been able to find the time to be diligent with this.

CHINESE

We have just started using a programme you can find online here: http://www.hwjyw.com/textbooks/.  Called the Overseas Language and Culture Education Online, it is a series of textbooks and workbooks which our resident Chinese teacher has taken a great liking to.  :)  We are using the “zhong wen” series if you’re interested.

FRENCH

When in Rome … or Montreal … learn FRENCH!  :)  We have a tutor who comes over for 5 hours of French every week.  On one day, she does individual hour-long sessions with each child, then on another day, she spends two hours with all three together, reading, singing, playing Monopoly, etc.  She is using locally bought workbooks for the kids.  We are also doing the L’Art de Lire programme from www.nallenart.com.  This programme is great for us because it is written in ENGLISH!  Ha ha.

ENGLISH

We are continuing to use the Charlotte Mason method for teaching English (for teaching everything, really), and are using Spelling Wisdom from www.simplycharlottemason.com for copywork/dictation.  The children also narrate from various books we read but I have become less diligent about requiring it of the two older ones over the years.  I am working more with Nathalie (just turned 7) who seems to have more difficulty with this.  Alethea is working independently from Writing Strands and I hope will be a regular contributor to the Singapore Homeschool Gazette e-zine at www.homeschoolgazette.blogspot.com.

MUSIC, ART, PRESENTATIONS SKILLS

Together with another homeschool family, we are doing Year 1 of Music and Moments with the Masters from www.cornerstonecurriculum.com, doing picture studies (I know I don’t need it but I am seriously eyeing the Picture Studies Portfolios from www.simplycharlottemason.com, and working through Beginning Public Speaking from the Institute of Cultural Communicators www.iccinc.org.

ART, THEATRE

Our homeschool co-op is using Artistic Pursuits from www.artisticpursuits.com, and we have a WONDERFUL theatre trained Mom in the group who is doing such fun stuff with the kids and preparing them to put up a play!  WOO HOO!  :)

THERE!  Blogging that wasn’t so difficult!  :)  Here’s to a brand new year of teaching our own!  It will be our 8th year!

Posted by: angiefm | December 20, 2011

Adventures in the Kitchen

Preamble …

It has been 2.5 months since my last post.  (There seems to be a pattern forming.)  I have thought constantly of writing, but haven’t had the time.  Between managing kids and home in Tee Chiou’s absences (he has taken 15 plane trips in that time and gone to five countries), entertaining Tee Chiou’s colleagues over dinner (three times), as well as hosting family and friends who came to stay (three families, 11 people), two ski holidays (with abovementioned families) to Mont Tremblant, and all the various preparations we have made for winter and Christmas, and the children’s church and music school year-end performances, I have not been able to find time to write.  *whew*

A rare family photo.  On Mont Tremblant.

Then there has been the cooking.  Which is the subject of this blog post.  :)

My History in the Kitchen

Up till just past my 40th birthday, I hardly did anything in the kitchen.  My Mom is a drop-dead-fabulous cook, and cooked (still cooks) amazing multi-dish meals for the family.  I cooked the occasional Western-style meal, but that was about it.  When I got married at 30, I decided I needed to start cooking even though we lived only 100 metres from my parents.  I didn’t even know how to cook rice at that point. *faint*

But that was short-lived because I was “with child” shortly after we got married and couldn’t stand handling raw food.  So back to Mom’s we went till we had Alethea.  And a live-in maid.  For almost ten years we enjoyed the faithful and competent service of three different domestic helpers, all who enjoyed cooking, and cooked well.

Then at the end of March 2010, we went maid-free and I found myself in the kitchen.  A lot.  But even then my Mom was doing much of the buying of meats and fish for me, and slicing, marinating etc, so all I needed to do was throw things in the pan and swish around and VOILA!  Great food!  So spoiled right?

And when we moved to Montreal, Mom came along and stayed for 5 months, and continued cooking her fabulous food.  So I really have had only about half a year of real “end-t0-end” experience in the kitchen.  Planning, buying, food prep, cooking, and all that cleaning after!

And what fun it has been!  Can’t believe I waited till now!  :)  I wanted to share here about three mini kitchen adventures.

Sandi Richard

A few months ago, plagued with worsening pain in his knee caused by torn meniscus, Tee Chiou was determined to lose weight in order to reduce the pressure on his knee.  I have never been a calorie counter.  (I thank God I have never had to!)  But now I had to learn how to cook healthy meals for dinner to support Tee Chiou’s efforts.

Interestingly enough, I had two books by Sandi Richard (www.cookingfortherushed.com) which were recommended by a Singaporean friend now living in Vancouver (hi Julia *wave*).  And though I had used a couple of recipes before, and I agreed with her philosophy, I hadn’t really used her books much because I still believed that dinner had to be a multi-dish affair.  But when I started searching for healthy recipes, I realised that all hers had calorie counts, and that each recipe was for the full meal, not just the main course.  So just for the sake of easy execution, I started using her cookbooks.

The first Sandi Richard cookbook I bought myself.  I now have FOUR!

Sandi Richard is a Canadian celebrity chef of sorts, with a passion for getting families back to the dining table through quick and easy food preparation.  She doesn’t rely on any kind of food advanced food prep, which I like, since I’m SO not organised enough.  AND … all her recipes are for full meals, carbo, protein and vegetables, so you don’t have to think about how to mix and match.  AND … with seven children of her own, her recipes are family tested and approved!

Her recipes were given one great review after another from the various members of my family, especially from the very grateful husband, who started to think that this diet thing was more that just bearable with actually tasty food!  And I became a very happy cook, because it wasn’t just easy AND quick prep.  It was easy planning, cooking, and easy cleaning up as well!  Some of her main courses are baked, which means I can pop the stuff in the oven, and go off to pick the kids from tennis class, then come home to a calm and yummy dinner!  And some of her slow cooker recipes (she has just a few), I put together for Sunday dinners so I can take a guilt-free nap on Sunday afternoons!  Doing away with all that scrambling at dinner time has just been the best thing.

Btw, she doesn’t just do “ang moh” (Western) food.  Just last night I used the udon with miso chicken recipe from her book and we exclaimed how interesting it was that such decidedly yummy Asian food could come from a non-Asian cookbook.

As an added bonus, she has pre-prepared shopping lists if you follow her week-by-week plans.  But since I was picking and choosing just the lowest calorie meals, I subscribed to her online Grocery List Generator and love how it has simplified my shopping.  I generate the list, cancel out whatever I already have or don’t want to use, print it off and head to the supermarket!

Our family has also benefitted from learning to eat outside our food comfort zones, and have found a host of yummy things we would not ordinarily have looked for in the supermarket.  It helps that being Canadian she uses ingredients which are easily found in any supermarket here.

Just Bento-ing

Once a week, our family goes to a homeschool group meeting which runs from 10 am to 1 pm.  Too late to head home for lunch, almost every family brings their own.  Now … even after being here for almost a year, I still cannot bring myself to have sandwiches for lunch.  And that’s what most people bring.  And they eat it with raw vegetables.  So not my thing.  So after a couple of uneventful lunches, which my kids were unable to finish (playing in the church yard rated higher than eating a sandwich), I decided there had to be a better way.

Bento-ing came to mind.  Packed lunches, Japanese style, and yes still cold, but potentially yummy.  I started searching the web for recipes.  And discovered www.justbento.com.  OH MAN!  Talk about inspiring!  I ran out (figuratively, since I simply ordered from www.bookdepository.co.uk) and bought the Just Bento Cookbook, because I don’t like reading recipes off the web.

And our bento-ing adventures began.  It helped, of course, that my very indulgent best friend sent us LOADS of fun bent0 tools and boxes and other paraphernalia from Singapore to get us off to an inspired start.

A bento lunch I made Tee Chiou – Onigiri (plain rice), home made chicken nuggets, and some quick decorative “flowers” and quails eggs

Now, I really don’t have time for the kyaraben or character bento (think cute) food preparation because I have to make six substantial lunch bentos and get the kids ready and out of the house by nine in the morning.  But I do indulge in the cutesy stuff once in a while if time permits and if my kids want to play with their lunch.  It certainly helps to get them eat more!  Which may or may not be what you’re after.  :)

A dry run of the mini burgers we are planning to make for our homeschool group Christmas party later this week.  Mini Japanese burgers, rice snouts, tomato/M&M noses, pretzel antlers, cheese and nori (seaweed) eyes.

Baking Bread

A few months ago, I was inspired (lots of thing are inspiring me these days, huh?) to start baking my own bread.  I really cannot say why I started, but having a Thermomix and seeing how easily one can make bread dough in it certainly helped me to make the decision.  Apart from a few lapses from lack of time, I have since baked all the bread my family eats.

I have two “go to” recipes for bread.  One is a sweet bun recipe like the ones you find in Asian bakeries.  Think Bread Talk.  You can fill it with just about anything from chocolate chips to tuna & mayo and it tastes great!  The other is a wholemeal bread recipe which is fabulously soft.  So unlike my experience with wholemeal bread.  The thing about these recipes is I always have the ingredients on hand to make them.  There was another recipe I liked a lot, but it required buttermilk, which is not something I always remember to buy.

Alethea getting in on the baking action!  This is a tray of tuna buns she did ALL BY HERSELF for a Sunday breakfast.  The dough was made the night before and put in the fridge.  Shaped, filled and baked in the morning.

If you are game to try it, the recipes can be found on www.allrecipes.com (links below).  For my fellow Thermomix users, here are my Thermomix versions so you don’t have to figure it out yourselves.  :)

Best Basic Sweet Bread

230g milk
65g white sugar
75g butter
10g yeast
500g all-purpose flour (I buy unbleached)
1/2 tsp salt
2 eggs
30g oil

Method:

1. Put milk, white sugar and butter into Thermomix for 3 to 4 mins at 37˚C on speed 1.  (You can stop when temperature reaches 37˚C.)
2. Mix in yeast for 10 to 15 secs on speed 2.  Leave for 10 mins for yeast to proof.  (Or is it “prove”?)
3. Put in flour, salt, eggs, oil, mix for 20 seconds, going from speed 0 to 6 to combine ingredients.
4. Set to close lid position, 3 mins, and hit that wheat button, whatever they call it.
5. Take out, put into lightly oiled bowl, cover with damp tea towel, let rise till doubled.  I can’t tell you how long.  It varies according to the temperature in my kitchen!  But I usually set the timer for 40 mins so I don’t forget to check on it.
6. Cut dough with scissors (apparently you should never tear pieces off, it damages the gluten and you lose some fluffy-ness) to the size you want.  I make my bread buns 45g each because that’s how much the littler kids eat.  If I make them any larger they won’t finish it.  I use the Thermomix to weigh the dough.  Of course.  :)  Shape it the way you want.  You can fill it, or leave it plain.  Put on lightly oiled baking tray.  Cover with oiled plastic wrap.
7. Let rise till almost doubled (if you can figure out what that looks like), and bake in 190˚C oven for about 15 mins.
8. Brush with melted butter so bread stays soft.  If you are baking rolls with sweet fillings, remember not to use salted butter!  I’ve done that absent mindedly once too many times.  :(

Heart-shaped buns with bacon and cheese

Simple Whole Wheat Bread

470g water
55g honey
10g yeast
450g bread flour
30g butter
55g honey
10g salt
280g whole wheat flour

The recipe on the web makes 3 loaves, which is too much for the Thermomix to handle. So I scaled the recipe down to make two loaves, which fits just right.  I normally make half the dough into plain buns, and the other half I bake a regular loaf.

Method is similar to the one above.  All Thermomix recipes for bread follow more or less the same method, I guess.

1. Put water, honey into Thermomix.  3 to 4 mins, 37˚C, speed 1.
2. Add yeast, 15 seconds, speed 2.
3. Add bread flour, mix 10 to 15 seconds, going from speed 0 to 4.
4. Leave for 30 mins in Thermomix.  Your dough will become really HUGE and may pop out of the top of the Thermomix.  If it reaches this stage before the 30 mins are up, you don’t have to wait out the rest of the time.  Just continue with …
5. Whack dough down with whatever you can get your hands on.  I usually just spin the Thermomix at speed 1 till the dough deflates.
6. Add the rest of the ingredients (butter, honey, salt, whole wheat flour), mix 20 secs, going from speed 0 to 6.  Take out, put in lightly oiled bowl, cover with damp tea towel.
7. Let rise till doubled, shape, let rise till almost doubled, bake in 175˚C for about 15 to 18 mins for buns and 25 to 30 mins for whole loaves.

The End … Or Just The Beginning?

I hope you have enjoyed reading about my kitchen adventures as much as I have enjoyed sharing them with you!

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