Thursday, June 30, 2011

"Magic Shell" Ice Cream Topping

    A friend of mine recently mentioned that her husband has been making a homemade, healthier version of Magic Shell ice cream topping. As they say on the Smucker's website, "This topping magically freezes in seconds on your ice cream to create a candy-coated topping that can be broken and mixed right in with the ice cream." The other day I found a recipe online and made a batch to share with some friends. It was a hit all around, and has no mystery ingredients. It's also super easy to make, can be made low sugar (depending on what kind of chocolate you use, and is vegan. I changed the recipe slightly, and share it here for your eating pleasure (and at the insistence of my facebook friends!)

Magic Chocolate Ice Cream Topping

1/2 C Coconut Oil*
12 oz. Chocolate Chips (about 1 1/2 C)**
1/2 t Vanilla

Melt Coconut Oil and Chocolate in a pan over low heat. Add Vanilla, and stir to combine. Cool to room temperature before drizzling over your ice cream and enjoying the magic!

Store in a jar at room temperature. If it gets too hard, microwave or warm the jar in some hot water to bring it back to a liquid state.

*If you don't like the taste of coconut, it's okay to use refined coconut oil.
**You can use whatever chocolate you like best, dark or milk. I used about 70% cocao, as I prefer a bittersweet chocolate to balance the sweetness of the ice cream. 

    I think this would also make a great alternate coating for one of our favorite frozen banana treats, PopperBanas

Monday, June 27, 2011

Lessons Learned

    A while back my friend Cindy, who lives in Costa Rica, wrote me, asking if I’d share with her what we were doing for school.That was, oh, about nine months ago, and I thought it would be good to recap what we've done this year. (Sorry this took me forever, Cindy!) 

    To start with, I should say I’m a very relaxed homeschooler, and getting to be more so all the time. I don’t think much of grade levels or boxed curriculums or making sure they’re learning certain things at specific times. The more I’ve hung out with my kids and watched where the best learning happens, the more I’m trusting that it happens, and often without much instruction from me. I try to let them explore their interests, giving them the resources and tools to discover the world around them. I’ve learned that often, just by waiting until they’re ready, they will learn it on their own, instead of pushing them into it because that’s what “your kindergartener needs to know”. I try to keep myself open to the real life learning opportunities that are happening all the time, and gently share knowledge, ask questions and allow learning to happen gently and naturally. 

Sometimes Grandma stops by and reads a story.

    A typical day in our home is not highly structured, although we do have a rhythm. We usually only spend 1 1/2 to 2 hours "doing school". This usually consists of praying together and reading some small portions of Scripture, followed by poetry, a story of a saint, or something from our history book. After that I often do something individually with either Peregrine or Poppy, or we’ll do an art project together, like making a page in our poetry or saint books. The rest of their time is spent playing, helping around the house, etc. We do lots of reading outside of school time, and I'd say that most of their learning happens in a fairly natural, relaxed way. 

    My school aged kids, Peregrine and Poppy, are 8 and 6, and would be in 2nd grade and kindergarten this year. A lot of what we've done this year I've been able to do with both of them together, although I usually expect a little more of Peregrine. Here are a few of the specific resources we've used this year:

    History We've enjoyed going through ancient history with The Story of the World Volume 1. I've appreciated the lively narrative and it's engaged the kids' imaginations nicely. We've used the companion Activity Book as well, which provides maps, activity suggestions, and book lists for further reading. We usually have a basket of these extra books from the library. In addition, the kids have each done a History Portfolio, which offers an outline in a notebooking, Charlotte Mason style. Peregrine really enjoyed this.

Volcano time!

Exploring the ruins of a church in Mascota, Mexico.

    Language Arts I take a very gentle approach to teaching language. My thought is that if we read lots and lots of good books, our kids will develop both an ear and an appreciation for language, as well as the desire to read. I introduce them to basic phonics, show them how to sound out words, and then wait until they "catch" it. I don't remember exactly when this happened for Peregrine, but at 8 1/2 he's an excellent reader. Poppy is at the stage where she can sound out 3 or 4 letter words, and I anticipate that she'll take off with it soon; I trust it will happen when she's ready. I've used the Language Lessons for the Very Young with Peregrine and Language Lessons for Little Ones Volume 2 for Poppy. These are available from Queen Homeschool Supplies. I love these gentle, Charlotte Mason style books; they offer a sweet introduction to poetry, picture study, phonics, and in the older levels, parts of speech, etc. The kids have both enjoyed them. I've posted a couple things Peregrine has written as part of this curriculum here and here.
    We also enjoy reading poetry aloud, and they've both memorized a few poems this year. They have a blank Waldorf style book for the poems they've learned, and enjoy making a nice illustration to go along with them. My hope is that after several years they'll have a nice volume of poetry they can recite. Robert Louis Stevenson was a favorite this year.

The Cathedral of Notre Dame meets Godzilla.

    Math I've had Peregrine do a few Kumon workbooks this year, mostly just working on basic addition and subtraction, as well as counting money, measurement, telling time, etc. I feel strongly that it's important for them to grasp math concepts well before trying to do too much "bookwork". I don't want to drill them with facts before they can understand the beauty and logic behind it. In the younger years, this may put them "behind" their peers a little, but I believe they will catch up with no problem. I've seen this already in so many areas, that just waiting until they're ready gives them the advantage of greater understanding as well as motivation. I try to talk about math concepts in our every day life, read living math books, play number games, etc.

No child is left behind around here! It's never to early to start learning.

    Science We've kind of slacked on this one, unless you count reading lots of books about animals, plants, the solar system, the human body, rocks and minerals, and volcanoes. Or things like raising caterpillars to butterflies, observing weather and seasons, growing things, gathering eggs from backyard chickens, cooking, hiking, etc. Again, we haven't really used a curriculum here, but I believe they're doing just fine. I plan to do some fun science type projects with them over the summer, as well as going through Exploring Creation With Astronomy and stargazing. They've both expressed a lot of interest in this, so it will be a good time to let them explore it further. Hopefully we can include a visit to the planetarium as well.

An eyed click beetle that Raphael found and kept for quite a while.

All the kids love to help in the kitchen and the older
two  are  able to make some things by themselves.

An eel we watched for quite a while at the beach in Bucerias, Nayarit, Mexico.

    Faith I try to read aloud to them a Gospel and an Epistle reading, as well as pray with them throughout the day. Here again, our faith is woven into our lives, not limited to a certain time or topic. We  live the liturgical year of the Orthodox Church, and through it revisit many of the events in the life of Christ, his apostles, the prophets, and saints down through the ages. Sometimes this involves corporate worship and other times we might read a book together, learn about a culture, or even make special food from a certain place or time to help make it real to the kids. One of my favorite things we've done this year is that each of the kids has begun a saint book, where they make a page for different saints we've learned about. Sometimes they color a picture, draw or paint one of their own, or even make a collage. 

Peregrine's collage of St. Mary of Egypt. 

    Extras Peregrine enjoyed taking a horseback riding class at a nearby ranch, which was an excellent experience. Poppy danced at a local studio for the second year in a row, and was a lovely little ballerina! We also get together regularly with other homeschool friends for open gymnastics play times, park days, and special field trips. Throw in a couple weeks in Mexico, and I think the kids have had a pretty well rounded, fun, and educational year! 

Poppy dancer!

Peregrine was thrilled to get to sit on a police
motorcycle on our outing to Public Works Day.

Friday, June 24, 2011

An Unexpected Guest

You never know who might wander in when you leave the door open!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Banana Fudge Popsicles

    After a long, cool spring here in the Pacific Northwest, we welcomed the first day of summer, and with it, some real live sunshine. (Did you hear us cheering?) Summer of course, means lots of yummy frozen treats. I was inspired by this Chocolate Banana Freezer Pie from The Nourishing Gourmet. I couldn't be bothered to make a crust, so adapted the filling to make enough to fit my popsicle mold. I've made these three or four times recently and everyone loves them. They're super easy, vegan, sugar free, fruit sweetened, chocolatey, creamy, and delicious.

Banana Fudge Popsicles

6 Ripe Bananas
1 C Coconut Milk (substitute Cream Cheese or Yogurt)
1/2 C Cocoa Powder
1 t Vanilla

Mix all ingredients in a blender or food processor. Pour into popsicle molds. Freeze.

Here are a couple other frozen treats we enjoy:
Orange "Creamsicles"

Pearl says "Mmmmmmm! I like these!"
What are your favorite summertime treats?
Happy Summer!