Sunday, January 31, 2010

Cookie Chemistry

It took me a long time to figure out why my chocolate chip cookies were never quite as good as my mother's. She used the recipe off the back of the chocolate chip bag, and I so did I. But, her cookies were chewy, and good, and mine were cakey, and mediocre. Eventually, I found out, that Mother was substituting shortening for butter in the recipe. To her it was just a cost cutting measure, or an old habit, not even worth mentioning. But it made all the difference in the cookies.

I've never thought of Mother's secret ingredient cookies, as a lesson in chemistry, or at least I hadn't until I came across the cookie science experiment at

The experiment involves mixing up four identical batches of cookies, but changing out the fat in each batch, and then measuring and recording the results.

I had quite a few takers for this experiment today, as we mixed up 4, half batches, of chocolate chip cookie dough. We used butter in one batch, oil in another, light margarine in the third, and shortening in the last. The children observed some differences right away, as they were mixing. Butter, and shortening cream better with the sugar and egg, than oil and margarine.

We baked them, making sure to note which row of cookies was from which batch, and observed how long it took for each batch to begin to spread.

When they came out of the oven, we measured how far each had spread.

Once they've cooled (and nap time is over), we'll do a taste and texture test, as well.

That is, if the cookies survive until after nap. I do have a fresh pot of coffee, and a cozy mystery novel to curl up with...maybe just one, or two samples wouldn't hurt.

If you're curious about how, and why, different fats effect cookie recipes differently, check out the explanation from the Home Baking Association.

Or, for more fun with children's science, click over to Adventures In Mommydom, for this week's Science Sunday link up.

It's great to be a homeschooler.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Rilla of Ingleside - Review

L. M. Montgomery Reading Challenge

I stayed up late last night, and finished one last L.M. Montgomery novel for Reading to Know's L.M. Montgomery Reading Challenge, and I'm so glad I did. From a homeschool perspective, Rilla of Ingleside, is a very exciting book.

It's one of those, often referred to as a living book, or historical fiction. And, while it continues follows the life of Anne of Green Gables, focusing in on her youngest daughter, Rilla (named after Marilla from the first book), it is really about life on the home front in Canada during WWI.

I'm adding it to my list of books to pick up during the children's high school years (assuming we are still homeschooling then). It will sit quite nicely next to All Quiet on the Western Front, as a supplement to our World War I studies.

And, for those of you who have been in on the Montgomery challenge, and wavering in your regard for Anne, let me encourage you - I liked her again in this story. And, it was good to find her as a sympathetic character in the end.

It's great to be a homeschooler.

What My Child is Reading - January 30, 2010

As I mentioned in an earlier post, we've buried ourselves in Loreen Leedy books this week. But, we didn't get to read as many of them as I would have liked. We've had some really good snowball snow this week, so we've spent a lot of time outside, away from our books.

We did manage to read a few though, adding some to our list of favorites, and tossing others into our return-to-the-library pile.

Missing Math, is a story about what happens to a town when the numbers go missing. It has a fun rhyming format good for younger children (my three year old really liked this one), but older children might enjoy the concept of how numbers impact daily life, as well.

Look At My Book, How Kids Can Write & Illustrate Terrific Books, takes children through the entire process of creating their own books, from brainstorming ideas, to picking a genre, building characters and settings, researching, planning, editing, illustrating, and much more. Leedy packs in a lot of facts, and details, making it a good reference book for slightly older children (I'd say ages 8-12).

Blast Off To Earth, A Look At Geography, was our favorite pick of the week. It's an introduction to world geography, as seen from an alien prospective. I thought maybe the younger children would be put off by the dialogue bubble format of the narrative, but the combination of alien robots, and enjoyably illustrated animals, from around the world, kept them engaged. And, there were plenty of fun facts, and trivia for the older children. It's one of those books, that warms a homeschool mother's heart.

Postcards From Pluto, A Tour of the Solar System, the story of a field trip into outer space, told in a series of dialogue bubbles, and postcards home, was not quite as big a hit with the younger children, ages three and five. They missed the robot dog, and the animals, from the geography book, and the postcards were a little wordy for them. This was still a favorite for my seven year old son, who has an interest in outer space, and it's a nice introduction to the solar system. (For you Magic School Bus fans - it does include a few facts that Miss Frizzle's tour of the solar system doesn't cover, and would be a nice companion to that book in the series.)

Measuring Penny, was our only Leedy flop for the the week. It was way too wordy for the younger children, and too simple a topic, covering an introduction to measurement, for the older children. The younger children did enjoy the variety of dogs illustrated throughout the book, but that proved to be more of a distraction to the story, than an aid in keeping them interested. This one goes back to the library.

For more reviews, and recommendations of children's books, check out this weeks What My Child is Reading, link up at Mouse Grows, Mouse Learns.

It's great to be a homeschooler.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Super Easy Honey Marshmallows

This is hot chocolate season, and we've been going through the marshmallows, almost as fast as the cocoa. Every time we've emptied another bag, I've thought about trying to make a batch from scratch. I keep seeing them pop up in the blogosphere, and they look so yummy.

But, the last time I tried to make marshmallows, it was quite a disaster. Of course, then I didn't have any gelatin at home, and tried a no gelatin, egg white, recipe. I've never been very good with egg whites.

I've also read about how messy marshmallow making can be. I don't own one of those big mixers, and I don't have any kind of splatter guard for my hand mixer, so I wasn't sure. But, after some research, I discovered marshmallows can be mixed in a blender. I have a blender, and with the lid on, there couldn't be much mess.

So, I proceeded. I picked a recipe (there are dozens available online), pulled out the blender, and started gathering the ingredients. Then, I remembered I had used the last of the sugar for the children's morning muffins - bummer.

Not to be mocked by a blender, sitting idly on my kitchen counter, I went to the Internet for advice. Surely, there was a substitute for granulated sugar in a marshmallow recipe. I was just about to throw caution to the wind, and toss some brown sugar in, when I came across a couple honey marshmallow recipes.

I was intrigued. Honey marshmallows sound almost healthy. After reading a little further, I was completely convinced to give it a try. There was no boiling, no candy thermometers, no endless beating with a mixer. It looked easy enough for the kids to make...and it was. Leaning heavily on this recipe from, this is what I came up with:

Easy Honey Marshmallows

1 packet of unflavored gelatin

1/4 cup of cold water

1 cup of honey

Enough powdered sugar for tossing the marshmallows in.

Grease a 9''X9'' cake pan.

Pour the water and gelatin into the blender, and leave it for five minutes, while the gelatin softens.

Warm the honey in the microwave for 45 seconds, and add to the blender.

Quickly, place the lid on the blender, and blend the ingredients for 10 minutes.

Pour the contents of the blender into the greased pan, and leave it to firm up overnight. Ideally, you should leave it for 24-48 hours, but who can wait that long?

Using a butter knife dipped in cold water, turn the marshmallow out onto a piece of powdered sugar, covered wax paper. (It's really cool, because if you touch the marshmallow, it's completely sticky, but it comes right out of the pan, leaving it clean.)

Cut the marshmallow into squares (you might want to dip the knife into water a few times, as you go), and toss in the powdered sugar.

Or, use a small cookie cutter, also dipped in cold water, to make fun shapes.

Store the marshmallows in an air tight container for up to a week (or so I'm told).

You might not care for these, if you don't like honey, or if you like a really dry marshmallow texture. But, plopped into a cup of hot chocolate, they take on the same smooth, melty texture of their store bought cousins.

It's great to be a homeschooler.

Hearts for Math

I decided to take advantage of the little ones' enthusiasm for Valentine's Day, by cutting foam hearts for their math exercises.

I envisioned nonstandard measurement...

...patterns, and sorting, addition, and subtraction, and all that sort of thing. Then later, maybe I'd punch some holes in them, and turn them into lacing cards.

But, the children decided as math manipulatives, foam hearts make pretty good bath toys.

We now have the most romantic tub in town.

I wonder if I could work it into a science lesson?

It's great to be a homeschooler.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Learning About Illustrations

Thanks to a recommendation by Mouse Grows, Mouse Learns, we've buried ourselves in books by Loreen Leedy this week. Her books our wonderful, because they cover wide variety of educational topics, for different age ranges of children.
We settled on Look at My Book, How Kids Can Write & Illustrate Terrific Books, for our stART project today (stART is a weekly, story + ART link up, hosted by A Mommy's Adventures).

Look at My Book, which walks children through writing, and illustrating their own stories, was too advanced for my youngest two, ages three and five, but they were content enough, to sit through an abbreviated reading. The older girls read it themselves, yesterday.

For stART, we focused in on the illustrating portion of the book, which describes how different styles of drawing, and different art supplies, can change an illustration. This was something we had observed while reading through different adaptations of Hans Christian Andersen's stories. The illustrations can make, or break even the best of stories.

I printed out four copies of a coloring sheet, for each of the girls. They colored in one picture with crayons, one with colored pencils, one with markers, and painted the last with wacky watercolors.

I wanted them to fill one in with torn paper, for a collage effect, but the girls weren't interested in that at all, and seemed to get the idea of the project, anyway. Of course, once the paints were out, all bets were off, and they abandoned the project for free form painting, instead.

For more story stretching arts and crafts projects, check out this week's stART link up at A Mommy's Adventures.

It's great to be a homeschooler.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Rainbow Valley - Review

L. M. Montgomery Reading Challenge

Today, I finished reading Rainbow Valley, for the L.M. Montgomery Reading Challenge, at Reading to Know, and I think I've finally found a children's book in the series. I know, the entire set is supposed to be directed at younger readers, but this is one I could actually imagine my children reading, and enjoying on their own, at least the 8-12 year olds.

The story begins pretty much where Anne of Ingleside leaves off, but focuses on a new set of characters, as the Blythe children meet up with the new minister's four, motherless children, and a runaway orphan girl (who reminded me strangely of Peppermint Patty).

The characters are well developed, and real, especially when set beside some of the more stereotypical characters from the previous book in the series. I was a minister's child myself, and lost a parent along the way, and I think Montgomery has captured both situations well.

The story, itself, moves with an enjoyable energy (think Lewis's Narnia mixed with Edgar Eager's Half Magic), until the last quarter of the book, when it begins to bog down a bit, as Montgomery leads us into another one of her predictable, happy ending, romances, and adds a few too many references to the sad end in store for some of the characters, with the Great War casting a shadow on their future.

All in all, it is very enjoyable, though. I will be adding it to our family read aloud list. In fact, I almost wish we had skipped over Anne of Green Gables, in favor of this story first, since I think it would appeal to my sons, as well as my daughters, and then Anne could have been discovered in reverse.

My only real complaint against the book is Anne's character. She seems aloof, and self-involved (though all of the children, in the book, love her immensely). I thought it was strange she would ignore the shabby state of her children's friends, without offering more than a sympathetic ear. And, it seemed almost unforgivable, that she would not jump at the chance to offer assistance to a young, unloved, orphan child, hailing from the same asylum where she had spent unhappy days, herself. She seems more interested in the state of her garden, than in the state of her children, or her community, and I found that somewhat disconcerting. But then it's not Anne's story, it's the children's, and she is no longer a child.

It's great to be a homeschooler.

Peanut Butter and Jelly Muffins

There's a recipe at the bottom of this page.

I'm continually picking up cupcake books, and leafing through them in bookstores, and bringing them in at the library. I'm not sure what I'm looking for, something new, and so intriguing, that I just have to make it, I guess. I'm generally disappointed. Usually cupcake books, are full of plain old cupcakes, with a lot of fancy frosting ideas, that would be either too difficult for anyone outside of Martha Stewart's test kitchen to try, or too messy to eat if they actually did.

Even so, I always have high hopes, for the next cupcake book I see, as I did when I put a hold on Cupcakes, Cupcakes, & more Cupcakes! by Lilach German, at the library. The pictures on the cover, certainly looked promising. And to my joy, I found a few cupcakes, that even looked like something I might like to eat, and could make myself...Oreo cupcakes, banana chocolate cupcakes, pumpkin cupcakes...and peanut butter and jelly cupcakes.
I kept returning the peanut butter and jelly recipe page. I couldn't quite decide if I was intrigued, or revolted. I showed it to the children, and received one raised eyebrow, one "disgusting", and one thoughtful glance. The little ones, wanted to know when I would be making lunch, and didn't care about cupcakes.
Finally, I decided I would just have to make them. You can sort of see the result in the pictures to the side and below (we're socked in with snow this week, so it's like photographing in a cave). They don't really do justice to the book, not just because of my meager photography skills, but because I left the milk out of the recipe. I even thought about how strange it was that the recipe didn't call for milk, as I was making the dough. It wasn't until later, when I was contemplating the frosting, that I realized the recipe did indeed, call for 1/2 cup of milk.
The omission doesn't seem to have hurt them too much though, they were still quite edible. In fact, I'm eating one as I'm typing this. I won't go so far as to say I love them, but they're interesting. They taste like a cross between a peanut butter cookie, and a blueberry muffin. But, the aftertaste they leave, is exactly like a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
I didn't frost them, because peanut butter frosting with blop of jelly in the middle, struck me as over the top. And, to my eyes, they are muffins, and you don't frost muffins (do you?). The recipe is actually very similar to the "Best Ever " recipe I've been using for years, to make breakfast muffins for the children. I'll share it with you at the bottom of this post, because if you add 5 tablespoons of peanut butter, and two tablespoons of your favorite jam or jelly to it, you'd be pretty close to the muffin I'm eating right now.
I'm not sure where my recipe originally came from, I thought it was from my Betty Crocker Cookbook, but after searching through it, and checking the Betty Crocker website, I don't see it. I did however see a number of other intriguing, and must-try muffin recipes. Apparently, that's been my problem with all the cupcake books all along - I've been looking for muffins.

Best Ever Muffins

  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 3 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/4 cup oil
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1 cup of just about anything you like...berries, chocolate chips, pumpkin (then you might want to add a teaspoon of pumpkin pie spice too), etc. OR 5 tablespoons of peanut butter, and 2 tablespoons of your favorite jam, for peanut butter and jelly muffins.

Mix together the dry ingredients in a medium sized mixing bowl. Stir in the wet ingredients, just until everything is moist. Add the final cup of whatever.

Fill greased muffin cups 1/2 full to 3/4 full, and bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit, for 25 minutes.

It's great to be a homeschooler.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Thriller and Suspense Reading Challenge 2010

The L.M. Montgomery Reading Challenge for 2010, is drawing to a close. I still have one more Montgomery title, I hope to have read before the end of the week, but after that it will be time to move on. I guess, I could keep reading Montgomery's works on my own, just for fun, and I may, but there are so many other great reading challenges going on, that I'd hate to miss out on too.

L. M. Montgomery Reading Challenge

Like, for instance, the Thriller & Suspense Reading Challenge, being hosted by Book Chick City. The timeline for the challenge is January 1, 2010 to December 31, 2010, and the challenge is to read 12 thrillers in 2010.

Just in case you thought it was too late to join in a reading challenge this year, it's not, many reading challenges are open for the entire year (Abi, at 4 the Love of Books, has a listing of 30 reading challenges, going on right now). And, don't worry if you don't have a blog, many of the challenges make allowance for that. Reading challenges are a fun way to meet up with new-to-you authors, and characters, and the bloggers who love them. Not to mention the fact, that many of the challenges offer prizes along the way!

So, it's one more week of Anne Shirley, and her small fry for me, and then look out Laura Childs, Agatha Christie, and you other mystery writers, here I come!

It's great to be a homeschooler.

Kid's Boredom Buster Science - Holes That Don't Leak

The boys were bored, and restless this morning, so I set them up with a boredom buster activity from our latest library find, FamilyFun Boredom Busters, 365 Games, Crafts & Activities for Every Day of the Year. It's an excellent book, the kids have been pouring over it, picking the projects they'd like to do.

Our project today come from the chapter entitled, "Brain Boosters".

Big brother filled a Ziploc bag with water, while little brother stood ready, with a package of wooden skewers (you're supposed to use sharpened pencils, but we had the skewers on hand).

He poked the skewers, one by one through the bag.

Thanks to the polymer nature of the bag, the water didn't leak out of the holes.

Or, at least, not too much water leaked out.

If you don't have access to the FamilyFun book, you can find this experiment, as well as a recipe for Gak, for more polymer fun, here.

It's great to be a homeschooler.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Pie Plate and Plastic Gelatin Valentine's Wind Chime

This Valentine's wind chime was really a craft fail of mine, recouped into a project for the girls.

Last night, I made a couple of batches of plastic gelatin (5 tablespoons of boiling water mixed with 3 packets of unflavored gelatin, and food coloring).

It starts out rubbery, and can be cut into shapes, but dries hard like plastic.

I cut out a few heart shapes with different sized cookie cutters, using a straw to make a hole in each heart, and in the extra bits left over after I cut the hearts.

My intention was to let the girls make necklaces, or some sun catcher window thingamajigs, or maybe a Valentine's mobile with them.

However, I wasn't careful enough when I mixed up the gelatin, and I didn't get it totally dissolved, leaving my hearts with a lumpy texture, and totally ruining them for sun catchers, since you could see the undissolved bits when they were held up to the light. Not to mention the fact, that the glue drizzle I added to the clear hearts, didn't dry white, the way I had hoped. And, the hearts themselves, curled more than I cared for, as they dried, making them undesirable for jewelry.

But, with the addition of a disposable aluminum pie plate, a hole punch, and a few pieces of balloon ribbon (and a little bit of care, because cut aluminum is quite sharp)...

...the girls were able to turn my disaster, into a pretty, and functional Valentine's Day craft, after all.

It's great to be a homeschooler.