Friday, July 6, 2012

Delicious Breakfast Polenta

I found this recipe for Breakfast Polenta on a new favorite foodie blog the other day - The Curvy Carrot.  I think she derived it from a recipe at Williams-Sonoma.  It is absolutely delicious...creamy, warm, and satisfying!  If you love cream of wheat, I think this is actually better.  I tweaked the recipe for my own use, so here's my version ~ now twice-removed from the Williams-Sonoma original.  It's easy to scale up or down ~ the recipe here is scaled up to feed 8, but I made just 2 servings this morning because I had to convince my kids of its deliciousness through a taste-trial.  Results of said taste-trial?  It's our new favorite hot breakfast!

I used fresh ground polenta for this recipe ~ easy, since I had ground the cornmeal for cornbread last night!  I ground 3 cups of organic popcorn in my Nutrimill on a fairly fine setting, which was more than enough for the cornbread and this recipe.  You could also use quick-cooking polenta or traditional polenta from the store, if you don't have a grain mill or don't want to bother with grinding your own.  Be aware that "instant" polenta ~ or finely ground polenta ~ will take less time to cook than a traditional, coarser polenta.  Tweak the cooking time to fit the product you choose.

One other note ~ the original recipe calls for mascarpone cheese, which is a delicious, less tangy Italian cream cheese.  It's also a total splurge item in our house (I usually only buy it to make cheesecake).  For a more economical, daily version, I subbed in regular cream cheese.  For my bowl above, I used about 1 oz, but you can add more or less (or leave it out).

I can also see lots of flexibility in the toppings ~ you could do berries, or sliced bananas, or perhaps some peaches or apples with a dash of cinnamon.  Use whatever you have on hand!

Ingredients (Serves 8)
Maple syrup to taste
6 cups water (more if needed)
Salt to taste
2 cups ground polenta
2 cups milk
1/2 - 1 package cream cheese, softened
Berries or fruit of your choice (strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, etc.)
Toasted nuts (optional)


  1. In a large saucepan, bring water and salt to a boil.
  2. Whisk together polenta and milk in a small bowl.  Slowly add mixture to boiling water.
  3. Return mixture to a boil, stirring frequently, for about 2 minutes (watch for bubbling over!).
  4. Reduce heat and cook, stirring frequently, until thickened, adding more water if mixture becomes too sticky.  (This step could take up to 25 minutes, depending on the coarseness of your polenta ~ mine only took 5-10 minutes).
  5. Soften cream cheese in the microwave.  In a separate bowl or saucepan, warm maple syrup.
  6. Serve with toppings of your choice and enjoy!
 While this looks totally gourmet (and tastes like it too), it is so easy to prepare!  And this is (almost) as delicious to look at as it is to eat! 

Almost.  :)  Bon appetit!


Monday, July 2, 2012

Kitchen Successes and Failures: Fresh Figs

I have come to realize that baking is my favorite way to pass the time before going into labor.  Part of this is purely practical: making lots of baked goods like muffins and breakfast breads to freeze makes for easy and nutritious mornings after baby is born.  I also love freezing balls of cookie dough for fresh-baked cookies anytime!  But there is something therapeutic and relaxing about the rhythm of measuring and mixing and the aroma of good things baking...and that's good for the soul!

This past week, I had a new challenge to keep me occupied in the kitchen.  My mother's neighbor has a huge fig tree, and we were invited to pick all we wanted.  So, with a huge bowl full of fresh figs, I had a dilemma: what to do with them?  I had never even tasted a fresh fig before this ~ they are delicious just to eat! ~ much less cooked with them.  My mom gave me a fig bar recipe that she had used with great success ~ like homemade fig newtons, basically.  But, of course, I had to go off the beaten path and find a different recipe.  It didn't turn out properly at all.  The dough didn't hold together when I tried to enclose the fig filling, and we ended up with shapeless and ugly ~ though totally tasty ~ fig cookies.  And it figures that I had doubled the recipe...I really should have tested it first.  Bummer.

Undaunted, I decided to go the savory route with the rest of my bowl of figs.  I found a recipe for a carmelized onion, fig, and goat cheese dip for crusty french bread on Food Network's website.  Not having any crusty french bread on hand, I decided it would work just as well for a gourmet pizza topping.  I tweaked the recipe to reflect what I had on hand: fresh figs instead of dried (no reconstituting needed), and fresh, raw sheep's milk gouda cheese (from the Benedictine monastery at Clear Creek) instead of goat cheese.  Oh, Heaven.  It was so delicious!  I should have doubled the amount of carmelized onions, but it was so tasty.  The gouda was just a bit smoky, the onions and figs sweet, the garlic savory and spicy...yum!  I look forward to making this again and perfecting it ~ once I have it down, I'll post it here for you to try.

The motto from this week's experiments in the kitchen?  Don't be afraid to try new things!  Every experiment ~ even the ones that don't turn out (and sometimes especially those!) ~ is a learning experience.  And me? I'm ready to go pick some more figs!


Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Planning a New Homeschooling Year

Yes, I's only the end of June.  But with little Cricket about to make her appearance any day now, I've been getting all my planning done early!  And, I learned the hard way last year that saving my homeschool planning for the very. last. minute does not turn out well for me or for the crew.  So...hard lessons learned and with all the enthusiasm of summer, I am happily planning!

~ New this year ~

Prepared Curriculum 
We're going back to a set curriculum for this year.  I tried the "design your own" approach last year, and found that {because I hadn't done enough legwork over the summer} I just could not keep up with lesson planning.  Everything felt very...jumbled.  "Non-essential" subjects kept getting pushed off because I just didn't know what I wanted us to do.

After some research, and taking into account that I really wanted a Classical curriculum, we settled on Angelicum Academy for this year.  I love the rigor of this curriculum and the way that it works to prepare children for a Great Books experience in the high school years.  It's what I wanted to design for my children, but with all the benefits of ready-to-go lesson plans, accountability {for myself and the kids}, and transcripts.  This will be the backbone of our schooling, but I am adorning it with a little Charlotte Mason-based training. 

Considered Booklists
I have to thank Jen at Wildflowers & Marbles for inspiring me with this idea {and the next one as well}.  I have long wanted to build booklists for my children ~ they are all avid readers, but it is so easy to get bogged down in the swamps of "pop fiction" on trips to the library!  So, taking their history studies into account, I'm working on creating booklists that will really make it a "living history" experience.  It will also include fun ~ but classic ~ choices that have nothing to do with their schoolwork, just to keep their imaginations busy!

Jen's post on building a considered booklist is so thorough and has such a fantastic and comprehensive list of resources that I'll just link to it here.  It's where I started, and I recommend you try it too!

Morning Basket
This is another delicious idea I picked up over at Wildflowers & Marbles.  I have been longing for a way to bring our whole family together for consistent, quality learning and prayer time in the mornings, and this seems like a lovely solution!  It's one of the things I am looking forward to the most, in fact!  I'll do another more detailed post on what resources I'm planning to incorporate in this time; for now, I'll just explain how I plan to use the basic idea in our school routine.

This will be our first schooling block of the day, and it is designed to include everyone ~ yes, even the littles!  Our routine will incorporate morning prayer, music appreciation, poetry memorization, scripture memorization, art appreciation, and "nature appreciation".  Everyone will have age-appropriate activities based on the day's focus, and I think it will provide a beautiful, integrated start to the day!

Tea Time
I have four boys.  I have four boys who need serious help with table manners.

Enter the concept of "afternoon tea".  We do an afternoon snack time anyway.  But this will be a chance for Mother to focus on manners training.  I hate nagging them {nevermind for a moment that Charlotte Mason admonishes mothers never to nag} at mealtimes about their manners, and it's my hope that having a set time when they can focus on this skill will translate into better manners at meals and thus family harmony at the table!  Tea Time will be a fun time as well, with a read-aloud selection that we can all enjoy along with our snack.  I am planning to serve a more formal tea on Fridays, with more elaborate offerings and a chance for the boys to show off the skills they've learned that week.  More on this later too as my planning evolves!

Habits Training
Charlotte Mason says ~ and she's absolutely right ~ that habits are inevitable.  But we do our children {not to mention ourselves} a great disservice if we allow habits to grow up like weeds.  I've noticed some unpleasant habits cropping up in my children's behavior, and so one of my goals this year is to work consistently on building good habits.

Charlotte's method suggests focusing on one habit at a time, for four to six weeks at a time.  Every infraction must be caught and corrected with {and this is key} mother's attitude of expectant encouragement {not nagging}.  I plan to use this method for myself as well!  In pursuing this goal, I'm using the Laying Down the Rails handbook available at Simply Charlotte Mason.

Those are my major projects for this year, and I'm very excited to work at living them out!  I think sometimes that it is too easy not to be intentional about homeschooling.  And it's so easy to slip out of being intentional into being...well, sloppy, for lack of a better word.  We let things slide.  We excuse ourselves because it's difficult to live intentionally and consistently!  I try to remind myself {and don't succeed as often as I'd like} that our children are only ours to hold for a very short time, and that we hold them in trust for their Heavenly Father.  Our whole mission on this earth is to set their little feet firmly on the path to Heaven, to inspire in their little hearts a fervent love of God.  Everything needs to work toward this end, whether it's a math worksheet or a Latin drill or the family Rosary. 

God give us the grace to see it done!


Monday, February 27, 2012

Large Family Logistics: The Weekly Schedule

In the spirit of the fantastic book, Large Family Logistics, I'm trying to get our family on a weekly routine.  Or maybe I should say that I'm trying to get myself on a weekly routine.  Lent is always a good time to build new habits, so it seems fitting to embark on this journey now.

Kim Brenneman offers the sage advice that mothers should adopt a rhythm of life not unlike that presented in the Little House on the Prairie books.  Sunday is the Lord's Day, and should be set aside for worship and family.  Her other divisions are Baking Day, Laundry Day, Town/Errands Day, Lawn Day, Office Day, and Cleaning Day.  So, while our normal day-to-day activities like cooking meals, changing diapers, and schooling the kids are maintained, each day has a particular focus.  It gives us a chance to take on one big thing at a time, and I see that as making so much sense as my own family becomes a "large family"!

So, here's my own weekly schedule:

Monday: Baking day
Tuesday: Laundry day
Wednesday: Office Day
Thursday: Errands Day
Friday: Cleaning Day
Saturday: Lawn Day
Sunday: The Lord's Day

Monday: Baking Day
I'm trying to get back into the habit of baking my own bread...from scratch...from flour I grind myself.  Yes.  It is a big job...but it is SO worth the effort!  The health benefits alone would convince me to do my best to make this work, but the taste difference is so amazing!  I always appreciate when effort = results pretty's a great motivator!

So, since today is Monday, I got the following things done:
  • made a 1/2 gallon of homemade yogurt, which is still setting up as I type
  • made a loaf of whole wheat bread and a loaf of cinnamon raisin bread.  We enjoyed half the cinnamon-raisin version as an afternoon snack, and my boys all said that it was the "best bread they'd ever had".  We've come a long way from the long, disgusted faces as they down a slice of fresh-ground wheat bread!  I can't wait to get my huge mixer so that I can make 6 loaves at a time...we go through a loaf in no time flat, and this is a task that ideally I'd do just once a week.
  • cooked pinto beans for homemade refried beans.  Boy B will not eat canned refried beans.  I love making bean burritos for Friday nights, and I was so thankful to discover that making my own beans results in a dinner that everyone can (and does) enjoy!  Once again, super nutritious and super easy!  I'm making a huge batch so that I can freeze a bunch.
Doing a happy, happy dance right now.  This is the first week in a really long time that I've been able to do these things!  Several things made it a success, so I'll share those with you here.

First of all, I got up early.  It helped that Baby Girl slept all night (finally, thank God!!!).  Hubby took the older three boys to Mass at 6:10 am and I got up at 6:20.  If I can get up when I have the house to myself (save sleeping Baby Girl and Mr. Energy), then my morning and my whole day just run more smoothly.  I was done with showering and prayers by 7 and then had coffee ready by the time Hubby and the boys got home.

Second, I had a plan.  I knew what I wanted to accomplish today and from experience I know how long each takes.  So I was able to plan my day around the tasks involved in yogurt and bread making.  We got school done as I rotated between the school room and the kitchen.

It really can be done!  You can do the things you really want to do for your just have to DO them!  So...strap into your seats, because tomorrow is Laundry Day!