Sunday, May 4, 2014

Updates Galore

So what have we been up to??

The better question is what haven't we been up to?!  Life is getting crazy around here but all in a good way.    Spring is in high gear and we are taking advantage before the heat of a Texan summer kicks in.

I am so excited to be a volunteer for our local Farmer's Market again this year.  I am trained by the City to distribute our nutritional assistance vouchers - this program is amazing because it keeps our local dollars right here by spending WIC money on produce from local farmers.  The Farmer's Market situation in our city is a little rough.  I try to do my part to promote and support our local farmers.  The local food movement is strong here but unfortunately, the competition is fierce.  Last year, a member of our market quit and started her own market to compete with ours.  It breaks my heart because the farmers split between the markets and now there is a weird and unnatural division in town.  And the farmers are too busy growing, cultivating and harvesting to worry about social media and promotion of their market!  So let me brag on our market real quick.

Each farmer who sells at our market sells only what they grow on their land.  

  No one is allowed to re-sell produce that they purchase and it is strictly monitored by the farmers themselves.  So if mother nature doesn't cooperate and they are left with no harvest the morning of the market - this is what their table looks like.  This is the real risk of farming though!!!


Our market is farmer-run and operated.  The farmers run the show and aim to serve the community.  This is what local really is!!


It doesn't get more fresh than this.  Have you ever had a strawberry that was all red throughout - absolutely NO white?  These true red strawberries are the real deal.  


And this year, I was able to participate as a "vendor" at the Market Bakery table because of the Texas Cottage Law! I spent all day Friday preparing and baking 8 loaves of sourdough bread to sell at the market.  It is a bit of a process and I need all the help I can get.  First step is grinding the wheat:



The finished product was pretty amazing.  I use this recipe without the added yeast.

It took over 24 hours to finish but I sold out completely!!  

I'm not cut out for farming (my idea of enjoying the outdoors is usually reading a book in the shade...) but I can bake the hell out of some bread!  The market season will end early for me since the baby is due June 28th, but I'll be there every week until then!  

Oh yeah - I'm still very pregnant with #4

And even though this is the most unflattering photo in the history of pregnant photos, it is the only one I have.  The kids are giving me a "spa day" at home.  Foot soak with epsom salts and herbs, hand massage, cardboard fan, and Roman promised not to jump on my belly one time while I was laying down (for the record, he lied).  I'm 2 months away from having the baby and too busy to stay uncomfortable.  Although I am pregnant in Texas and it is starting to get really hot so talk to me in a couple weeks!

So let's talk about the important updates:


These kids are amazing.  I really am too lucky with them.  We finished our homeschool year with Leo and now they spend hours each day playing together coming up with all sorts of games.  


Do you see her up on her tip-toes?  I'm not sure that her heels have ever touched the ground.



This third trimester has been SO different than the last two in the best way.  The kids are older and require a lot less time and attention from me (unless you count the 3,938,462 fights I break up throughout the day).  They play hard all day, they have chores, they clean up after themselves, they help me out when I get stuck on the couch and can't get up (Roman's only chore) and they are all so sweet that I am not stressed out at all about bringing another baby into the mix.  She is lucky to have these three as older siblings :)


We were able to get some seeds and plants in the ground to try our luck at another Texan garden!  Last year was a fail because of bad soil and lack of water.  This year, we are getting serious!







Some of their favorite jobs are watering the garden and sprinkling diatomaceous earth all over.  This stuff kills fire ants within a couple hours - I love it!!  And it is edible so it can't hurt the kids or our property one bit.

We had an awesome Easter Sunday celebration.  The kids were spoiled rotten but what better day to really have a celebration?!


We were supposed to participate in the post-Mass Easter Egg hunt at church, but as it turned out, if you stayed until the actual end of Mass, you missed the party.  The Creaster Catholics scooped up all the eggs before my kids even exited the Church!  So we redid an egg hunt at a party later in the day.





Lastly - wish me luck as I prepare for the first annual Foodclub picnic this evening!!  I have been running the foodclub out of my house for over a year and we have yet to have a group party.  So this is our first one and I'm a wee bit nervous we will forget something important...like the 3 huge chickens I have slow-roasting in the oven all day today??  Surely a pregnant woman won't forget the food right? 

Monday, March 3, 2014

Lent with the littles

I feel like every Lent for the last 31 years has been a bust.  I always give something up.  And I try to add some extra prayers in.  But most of that is internal preparation.  And I always feel like I could have done more.

Christmas, on the other hand, is over the top preparation on the exterior AND the interior.  I think that having decorations and outward signs are a fantastic aid to keep us on the journey toward Easter.  And now that I am a homeschooling mom, and Leo is getting so much older, it is up to me to observe the large plank lodged square in the center of my eye before I start throwing out advice to my children for Lenten practices.  And I have lots of crafty things that I can do with the kids to help us all remember exactly what we are getting ready to celebrate!!



I am so excited to be waaaaay on top of the ball this lent.  It took a little bit of planning, but no more than I do in a day for homeschool anyway.  It was as easy as a quick google search "lent with kids".  We are shooting big by trying lots of different things this Lent and anything that ends up a winner will be reinstated next year, and the losers will just phase out.

I'm a realist.  I don't know if we'll get around to completing all of them this Lent.  
They are small and messy.  And exhausting.  

But, I found so many good ideas on the Catholic Icing Lent Pinterest board that we are going to go ahead and add these to the Gale Family roundup for Lent 2014:

Our Lenten Calendars up on the wall:

Up top is my 40 Bags in 40 Days calendar.  I know if I didn't print the checklist out, I wouldn't do it.  This way, it stares me in the face while we do school every morning.  Below is the Catholic Icing Printable Lenten Calendar.  I just drew it onto a huge posterboard so the kids could color in each day as we travel through Lent!

I am really excited about this one.  I have never taken the kids through the Stations of the Cross.  But now that they are older, I think this is a great year to start.  I found this fantastic idea for a Montessori Stations of the Cross box on Three Sided Wheel.  She offers a free printable, so I had Jason print them on cardstock and I wrapped them with contact paper.  Now I just have to find a box and the items to put inside!



Look at what a creative idea she came up with!!  One item to represent each station.  Hopefully this will be hands-on enough that the kids won't lose interest and get all wild and crazy in the middle of the church...????
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And I thought this was a cute idea to help us out if they need ideas for sacrifices they can make during Lent.  Our religion book through Kolbe Academy has a list of 20 sacrifices you can make during Lent.  I copied each one onto a popsicle stick, and if the kids want to, they can pick one out of the bag.


Lastly, I purchased a couple cheap supplies:

so that on Ash Wednesday, instead of our regular morning of school we will be making these:  A bunch of purple salt dough crosses to hang up in the classroom.  I think the kids will have blast making them and they will make the room a bit more Lent focused.

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and this:

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A playdough crown of thorns with toothpicks: each time a child does something great (a sacrifice, being obedient, sharing, etc.), they get to pull a toothpick out of the crown.  So simple and sweet!

The only other thing I did was make this webpage my homepage for Lent: http://catholiccuisine.blogspot.com/2012/02/recipes-for-lent-from-archives.html.  That way, I can prepare in advance our meat-free dishes rather than scrambling on Friday afternoon after I have already thawed a pound of ground meat!

Now I have to quickly finish the bag of chocolate bars I picked up yesterday so I don't have to stare at them for 40 days...

And now I leave you with photos of our iced over East Texas backyard today!!






Friday, February 21, 2014

7 Quick Takes (#54)


It's either this or laundry...

1) Lots of you already saw this on my facebook page, but I'm so proud of him I have to post it here too!!  Leo finished the phonics program at Christmas with only a few difficulties.  We immediately jumped into the next part of the school year: McGuffey's Eclectic Primer.  I was excited for this part, but a little nervous since I already knew that he might have a hard time with reading.  

McGuffey's gave us a run for our money.  For a little less than 2 weeks, we plugged away trying to read words and sound them out.  Trying to put sentences together.  Trying to cheer and encourage as the concept clicked.  But Leo was soooo frustrated.  He spent the last 3 days in tears and so I put the book away and polled Facebook for a solution.  90% of the responses were in favor of Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons, so I jumped on the bandwagon and bought it.  After about 14 lessons, we picked up McGuffey's one more time to see if it was something we could add back in and Leo read the first couple pages with NO PROBLEMS!!  No crying or frustration. And he was sooo proud of himself.  

When we actually do arts and crafts, I take a million pictures.  All 2 times.  Of course, I have none of him reading!
I'm not proud of Leo THAT he can now start to read.  I don't buy into the hype that children in Kindergarten have to learn how to read.  (Jason and I are pretty darn articulate and we spent our half-days of Kindergarten painting pictures, singing songs, and trying not to have accidents in public.)  I'm proud of the way he handled the stress of learning how to read.  He was beating himself up pretty bad when the concept wasn't clicking.  But he kept trying each day without giving up and I'm really happy that in the end, he emerged victorious.  Seeing the look on his face when we revisited McGuffey's Primer and he crushed it, the source of his angst and frustration, was soooo worth the effort!!


This first year of homeschooling has been such a fun ride so far and I never imagined I would actual like it.  I'm glad we started now so we can continue if we want!  I think we will still take the decision year by year, but I am feeling more inclined to say homeschool forever after this last year!!  

Although it does have its downsides...



2) I had a MUCH needed Mom's night out with our local Catholic Moms Group and we made these Lenten centerpieces.  




It was only $6 and almost everything came from The Dollar Store!  Except the tree branches and glue guns.  Seriously - if you have a couple girlfriends, a few bottles of wine and some brownies, this is the perfect hangout activity to prep for Lent!

You need:
Pottery
Glue Guns
Rocks
Ribbon (for burial cloth)
Fake grass
Twine
Twigs for crosses


Or you could go all over-achiever on this project and use real grass: tutorial

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3) February is birthday month for us.  Roman's 2nd birthday was the 15th and Elena's is tomorrow!

2 years old!!

He helped make the cake :)

He is a pirate.  And he means business

No seriously - do NOT mess with him.

Cousins came to play for the entire weekend.  I LOVE having family close enough to drive over for a party!!  


4) My 4 year old!!!!


This picture cracks me up.  It looks completely normal until I noticed WHO she is staring at like this:

*heehee!!!*


5) Miracle of miracles!!!  It snowed for 30 minutes in Texas!!!!!!


I think I heard 99% of you scoff from your northern homes.  I recognize the silliness of this "news".  But I refuse to post things about weather on Facebook so this is my only outlet.  When you are all snowed in for weeks at a time, we are outside enjoying the weather.  It all comes full-circle when the heat and humidity kills us in the summer, but I don't want to torture you all regularly by showing our shirt/shorts combos in February.


6) Hi.  My name is Lisa.  And I am a Legomaniac.


Leo got this huge Lego set and he isn't old enough yet to put all the pieces together by himself.  I spent no less than SEVEN HOURS putting together the firehouse, a helicopter, airplane, ladder truck, rescue boat, rescue car and motorcycle.


And I loved every.minute.  I can't believe I'm 32 and I have never played with legos before.  But it was oddly cathartic to work on building each individual piece and see it through to the end.  I feel like I should put a set on my wishlist for my birthday.  I liked it THAT MUCH!

7) But something I like more than legos is dessert.  I decided to make a Chocolate Eclair Cake completely from scratch.  I thought finding a recipe to put this cake together would be relatively easy but I was SO WRONG!  I searched the internet for over an hour to try to find the recipes I needed.  This meant: no graham crackers, no "no-bake" cake, no instant packages of vanilla pudding, and no cool whip!  I wanted the real thing.

I had to combine three recipes in order to make this bad boy.  This eclair cake, these classic eclairs, and this whipped cream.  For ease of making this in the future, I am going to list the directions and ingredients.  If you get a wild hair and love boston creme donuts as much as I do - definitely make this!!!

Chocolate Eclair Cake completely from scratch
Chocolate Eclair Cake

Ingredients:

Pastry Puff:
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter 
1 cup water 
1 cup unbleached all purpose flour 
4 large eggs 

Chocolate Filling: 
2 ounces semisweet chocolate (or chocolate chips)
2 tablespoons butter 
1 teaspoon vanilla extract 
1 cup confectioners' sugar 
3 tablespoons hot water

Vanilla Custard Cream Filling:
12 egg yolks 
4 cups whole milk 
1 1/2 cups sugar 
2 tbsp vanilla extract 
1/2 cup flour 
1 stick butter

Whipped Cream Topping:
2 cups heavy cream
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 tbsp confectioners' sugar

Instructions

Preheat oven to 400 F.

For the Pastry:
1) In a large heavy saucepan, heat butter and water to boiling over medium-high heat. Add flour and reduce heat to low. Cook and stir until it forms a ball and pulls away from the pan.
2) Remove from heat and transfer to a large bowl. Beat in eggs, one at a time, beating well after each egg.
3) Spread in bottom and up the sides of an ungreased 9x13 inch pan.
4) Bake at 400 degrees F for 35 minutes. Cool completely.

For the Chocolate Filling: 
1) Melt chocolate and butter in a pan on low heat stirring constantly until smooth.
2) Stir in vanilla.
3) Sift in the powdered sugar, a little at a time, stirring as you go. Dribble water in to the mixture until smooth and spreadable (you may or may not use all the water).
4) Spread over the cooled pastry.

For the Custard:
1) Whisk the egg yolks, sugar and flour together in a large bowl. 
2) Bring milk to a boil. Slowly pour the milk into the egg yolk mixture, continuously whisking. This is called ‘tampering the yolks’. 
3) Pour the mixture back into the pot and bring to a boil, continuously stirring and going along the bottom of the pot in zigzag motion with a rubber spatula, to prevent scorching. It WILL stick if you stop. Cook for 1-2 minutes. Remove from heat. 
4) Add the vanilla extract & butter. Allow the butter to melt and stir for it to incorporate. 
5) Cover the custard with plastic wrap it touches the custard. To speed up the process you can transfer the custard into a jelly-roll pan, spread it thin, covering with plastic wrap will avoid skin formation. Refrigerate until ready to use.

For the whipped cream topping:
In a large bowl, whip cream until stiff peaks are just about to form. Beat in vanilla and sugar until peaks form. Make sure not to over-beat, cream will then become lumpy and butter-like.

Putting it all together:
When the puff pastry has cooled, spread the chocolate on the puff pastry.  Spread the custard on top of that and top it with the whipped cream.  Enjoy!!!