April 17, 2015

A Recipe for Delicious Meatballs

My daughter is pretty adverse to meat, but when I offer spaghetti for dinner, she'll usually request meatballs. Rather than serve frozen, pre-cooked meatballs, I prefer to make them from scratch. It's pretty easy and you can make a big batch to freeze for later. This way, you pick the meats you like and can adjust the meat-to-bread ratio to taste.

First, gather your ingredients. I try to keep a few containers of chopped veggies in the fridge for moments like this, as a time-saver. If you are starting from whole vegetables, it may take about 10 minutes to prep. If you have pre-chopped vegetables available, you could probably have everything mixed in about 5 minutes if you work quickly.

  • 1 pound ground chuck (or 1/2 lb ground beef and 1/2 lb ground pork)
  • 1 shallot or 1/2 small yellow onion, diced
  • 1-2 carrots, diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons cilantro, chopped
  • 1/4 cup spinach, chopped (optional)
  • 1 slice of stale bread
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1-2 eggs, lightly whisked

The Process
  1. In a bowl, mix the shallots, carrots, garlic, cilantro, and spinach.
  2. Cut the bread into small pieces. In the photo above, I used pieces that were too big. You'll want at least half that size or some meatballs may fall apart while simmering.
  3. Add the bread, meat, and egg, and mix everything together. You may need two eggs if you're using lean meat.
  4. Season with salt and pepper.
  5. Form golf ball sized meatballs and set aside.
  6. Heat a dutch oven or saucepan with a small amount of oil and brown the meatballs.
  7. Drain excess fat, if you'd like, and add your favorite spaghetti sauce.
  8. Simmer for 20 minutes or until the meatballs are cooked to at least 160 degrees.
This recipe makes approximately 4 servings. 

April 15, 2015

I Let Myself Try a Peep

I don't like Peeps, but it had been years since I tried one, so I thought maybe I should try them again. My daughter won't be eating her Easter Peeps, so I picked one up and tried it.

I took a small bite.

It wasn't so good, but I gave it another chance.

Still gross. That last part never made it in my mouth.

April 13, 2015

Kindergarten Art: Drawing & Painting Happy Monsters

In one of our first explorations of paint, after reading The Love Monster to my kindergarten class, I asked them to create happy monsters on a large sheet of paper using crayon. They used paint to complete their piece for a quick introduction to wax resist.

April 11, 2015

Kindergarten Art: Modified Pochoir Printmaking

In March, I attended a workshop for educators, learning about pochoir printmaking. The class learned about traditional pochoir and practiced the technique using styrofoam sheets, stencils, paint, ink, and printmaking tools. It's pretty cool what you can do with basic materials, but the method would need some modification to work with a class of 20+ kindergarteners.

Below, is an example of what I made during the workshop. Using sharp tools, I quickly carved out the design and created a stencil for where I'd like color to appear under the print. Water-based ink and a brayer both led to a pretty smooth and even result, but not likely practical for the classroom on a budget.

It's a process-in-progress, but here is Modified Pochoir for Kindergarten:

Step #1: Lesson & Demo
After a quick project overview, pass out examples of etched designs for the students to both look at and feel. Point out the texture and the depth of the etching. Demonstrate how to etch a design using a dull pencil. Colored pencil allows the students to see what they're drawing a little better than graphite.

Emphasize that it's okay to use a lot of pressure, to push hard to create strong, deep lines in the styrofoam.

Step #2: Drawing & Etching
Ask the students to draw a picture or design using lots of lines and shapes. I asked the students to practice drawing ideas in their sketchbooks first, then passed out styrofoam sheets. Some students may need inspiration, so reading an interesting story or talking about space, robots, or flowers may help ideas come to mind.

Step #3: Background Painting
Depending on class size, there's two approaches that may work for the painting step. With a small class, bring 2-3 students over at a time and have them use watercolor paints to create a background design on white paper. I used rectangular sheets just large enough for two prints (one for the student to take home and one for hanging in the hallway).

If your class is large, bringing small groups together for painting will take too long, so plan this as a whole class activity either before or after making the styrofoam etchings.

Painting and etching will probably take up an entire class period, so save the printmaking step for another day.

Step #4: Printmaking
The printmaking step is best done one-on-one, more like a demonstration, when working with kindergarteners. Older students will be able to do this step more autonomously. Plan an activity that allows students to work independently for most of class while you work with students individually on printmaking.

If you're like me and you don't have ink and a brayer, just grab some craft acrylics and a paintbrush. It's trickier to get a good print, but at this level, I look at this as a basic introduction, something to get the children interested in a different way to express their ideas. Working with older students, you may want to bring in the traditional materials so they can learn the right way to do pochoir.

Apply a think coat of paint, I prefer black, but any contrasting color will do. Make sure the styrofoam is coated enough that all the paint is wet but not so thick that it will smear when applied the the paper. The nice thing about making two prints per student is you get two chances to get a clear print.

Use your hand to gently rub the back of the styrofoam, then slowly pull it off the paper. Apply more paint and repeat for the second print.

Once dry, cut the prints and have students may mount them on black paper.

April 10, 2015

Still Planning My Garden Layout

With the weather slow to warm, I have time to think (probably overthink) more on my garden layout. In an ideal world, I'd have a lot of space to work with and marked off areas for certain plants that play nice together. Working with what I have means I need to be creative in my organization to maximize sun exposure, provide even watering, and reduce the complexity of different soil needs for certain plants.

The latest plan is a slight modification in bale layout, mainly to ensure certain plants get more sun and to provide more space for big tomato and cucumber plants. I'll stuff in some greens and flowers, and experiment with growing root veggies in the bales, starting with radishes. If the radishes aren't successful, I'll know early enough to start that area over by planting more peppers or cucumbers.

I really dislike waiting for planting season. Everything is delayed at the moment, even my potatoes, originally anticipated around April 2, now may arrive around the April 18. Some of my warm-weather plants aren't scheduled to arrive until mid-June now. I'm thankful for lettuce, radish, and beets, which allow me to feel productive sooner than later.

Meanwhile, I topped the bales with composted straw from last year. It's pretty much dirt now, which means I don't need to pick up a bag of garden soil. Shortly after, my husband built a box around the second row (see photo), which will help contain the bales as they decompose. Not required, but looks nicer.

April 8, 2015

Kindergarten Art: Rainbow Project

Recently, I covered the color wheel and related topics with my kindergarten art class. After weeks of painting and coloring projects, I decided to give them a break and offer up a cutting and gluing activity. They love using scissors and all are now proficient at cutting small shapes.

After a quick review of the colors in the rainbow and a project demo, I asked students to take one strip of each color and a pair of scissors. To save time, I pre-cut wide strips, four each from a sheet of construction paper. The students cut those strips in half lengthwise and then cut small squares from each strip.

Most students were very self-directed during this project. For those with questions or who got off track, problems were easy to resolve with either quick guidance from me, or a prompt to ask a friend for help.

When finished cutting, students were asked to put away their scissors, grab a bottle of glue and begin constructing the rainbow. I left a couple of examples around the room as a reminder. Some students used too much glue. I think until first grade, that's just how it is. They receive a gentle reminder on how much glue to use, but when they come across a bottle that squeezes easily, they're so excited that they squeeze it everywhere. It's okay though, as the children are always happy to clean up their mess.

The finished rainbow should look something like this:

Here are a few from my class:

April 6, 2015

2015 Garden Plans

My garden expands slightly this year. We'll clean up our old raised bed (8x8'), add additional bales from the number used last year, and use our dirt beds on the side of the house for garlic and corn.

Last year, I had a bale garden that was approximately 4' x 12'. There's so much room on that side of the house and loads of sun to work with, so I've plotted out room for two rows of bales, each 2' x 16'.

Next year, I'm going to begin a two-year transition to traditional raised beds. The idea will be to pull out the old square bed, which is in a terrible location, and put in three beds where I now use bales, each about 5' x 15'. With that, I should be able to grow enough produce for our own summer and fall needs, plus offer plenty of leftovers to others. I'll likely have a better shot at good pollination for corn that way.