Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Freedom Isn't Free

It's another cool and rainy summer morning.  Last week we declared a two week break from the end of our school year so we could enjoy summer a bit and, go figure, it's been cool and rainy almost ever since.  Not that we aren't enjoying the break from school; we are, and boy did we need it!
Dreaming of Summer
As a homeschooling family, we have really enjoyed the freedom that making our own schedule affords us.  The biggest example of this is that every year, beginning the week after Labor Day (You know, the week that all the schools start for the new school year, at least here in Minnesota where they haven't changed to a May-August plan...) we load the car and take a long drive to the Gulf Coast to spend 2 or 3 or 4 weeks with family in a beach house.  The rental prices are cheaper, the beach is uncrowded, the weather is still wonderful, and it's an altogether beautiful time for us.  As a result of this lovely family time, we usually do not begin our school year in earnest until sometime in October.

Fast forward to May or June.  Schools are winding down, and even our homeschooling friends are finishing up right on schedule.  And here we are, still chugging along like it is March or April.  This would be fine, except as everyone else has free time there begins to be fun things to do, like going swimming, summer camp, graduation parties; you know, things you do in the summer when there is no school.

We have managed to finish up quite a few subjects, but I can't really call it done yet.  We still have testing for the younger kids, too.  After the break we will put our heads down and finish up, hopefully in time to switch to our summer schedule by August.  We'll take some trips here and there and they will get off days then, so don't feel too sorry for the poor kids.  Then we will return to our happy beach place in September and be mostly free of school, except for the five (!) online classes that begin on the "normal" schedule...

Freedom isn't free; they may as well learn now.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

What's Cooking Thursday? Homemade Popsicles

Well, the blog seems to be going all recipes, all the time (or at least once a week).  That is still not my intention, but I have just been too busy to write much.  My commitment to What's Cooking Wednesday seems to be the only thing that brings me back here each week.  And I even missed that yesterday.  Sorry!  I am sure that when winter comes again I will settle back down.

Great news!  Summer has arrived, like it usually does.  It is hard to believe how quickly things change around here.  We had snow the first two days of May, just a month ago, and yet Monday it was 97 degrees.  Tuesday was a scorcher at 103.  Yes, you read that right!  It was hot!  But yesterday we settled back into the 70's and today started out at 50 and won't reach 70.  Easy come, easy go...

Despite my negligence, I did have a recipe for What's Cooking Wednesday this week, so I will call it What's Cooking Thursday this time.  I was inspired by the warm weather to make homemade popsicles for the kiddos, and they turned out well.  This is more of an idea than a recipe, since you could do whatever you want here.  I had absolutely no popsicle-making equipment (molds, sticks, etc.), but they still turned out yummy.  I think I will look into some popsicle molds soon, though, because it would make the whole thing even easier.

Yogurt Pops

Vanilla yogurt, 16 oz (or any flavor)
Frozen orange juice concentrate, about 1/2 can
2 bananas

Blend ingredients together in a blender.  Pour into small paper cups or popsicle molds.  I threw in some whole blueberries just for fun.  If using paper cups, set them on a cookie sheet before filling for easier carrying to the freezer.  Cover with plastic wrap.  Insert popsicle sticks through plastic into the middle of each cup, or cut plastic straws in half and use those, which is what I did.  Freeze for 4-8 hours, or overnight.  Tear off paper cups to serve.

Basically, you can make your favorite smoothie of any variety and freeze it to make popsicles.  Yum! You could also freeze your favorite juice.  These will be healthier and cheaper than most popsicles you could buy.  If you resort to freezing Kool-aid, though, you may as well buy the little freezer pops in the long plastic tubes, which will be much easier and probably just as cheap.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

What's Cooking Wednesday - Appetizers with Bacon

After a nice long weekend full of fun with family and friends and the arrival of some warm weather (finally!), I am finding myself shocked today that it is already Wednesday!  But I have been mulling over a recipe, though I am hard-pressed to call it a recipe since it is so very easy.  But this time of year I find that the easier the better around here, just in case I am distracted by the need to be outside in the sunshine.

A few weeks ago I needed a quick but fancy-looking appetizer, so I remembered that one year for New Year's Eve we had a bit of a puff-pastry theme for finger foods to eat all evening long.  The favorite of my family was a bacon and onion tart-like thing, which I will now very creatively call Onion-Bacon Pastry Tart.  Here's the recipe:

Onion-Bacon Pastry Tart
(Makes 48 appetizers)

1 box frozen puff pastry, thawed
1 tub garlic-flavored spreadable cheese, softened (I like Alouette garlic and herb flavor.)
12-16 ounces bacon, cut into 1-inch pieces
1-2 onions, thinly sliced

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Cook the bacon pieces until just short of crispy; remove bacon to drain on paper towels.  Remove all but 1-2 tablespoons of the bacon grease and discard.  Cook the onions in the remaining grease until onions are very soft and golden.  Drain the onion on paper towels.

Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Roll out one piece of puff pastry on each pan.  You can opt to just unfold it and leave it as is, which will make a puffier pastry, or you can roll it to make it a bit thinner.  (I have tried both and like it both ways.) Spread half of the cream cheese on each piece of pastry.  This is much easier if the cream cheese is nice and soft before you try it!  Then place half of the bacon and half of the onion on each piece of pastry; it will be easier if you just spread it out with your fingers.

Bake in the oven for 15-20 minutes, or until the pastry is brown and puffy.  Remove from the oven and cool a bit before cutting into any shape you like (squares, rectangles, or diamonds are the easiest). 

These are good hot or at room temperature.  They can also be made earlier in the day and reheated before serving.

Once you try a single recipe with puff pastry you can imagine a million other things to do with it, so don't be afraid to branch out!