Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Margarita Pear Tart

My friend Maria (who makes lovely earrings!) boasted of a pear tart in her oven today, and I wished I were  at her house!  Suddenly, I remembered the bag of too-long-forgotten pears in the fridge.  Well, they were pretty soggy pears, I realized as I examined them.  What to do?  I cut off the bad parts, and looked at her recipe. I then despaired, having no buttermilk for the crust...

Heh...but started to think...

OK, I cheated on the crust.  I had some prepared pie crust in the fridge, and it was fine, and not at all soggy.  I look around at a few different recipes for tarts, considered the ingredients on hand, and thought about what spices might taste fine with pears.  Then I saw the word "roasted" and moved ahead!

Basically, I cored and sliced up the pears thinly, and placed them on a broiler pan, and added about 1/4 teaspoon of ground cloves, 1/4 teaspoon of cinnamon, and grated fresh ginger over the lot.  I put them under the broiler until the edges of the pears were browning, and threatening to turn black.

Meanwhile, I took 2 tablespoons loosely packed brown sugar, a shot of tequila, and the juice of a lime and heated it to dissolve the sugar.  I grated more ginger into the mixture (the kitchen smelled amazing at this point--I thought someone was burning a seasonal candle!), and added a bit of flour for thickening, so I could use the mixture to coat the roasted pears.  And that's what I did next.  All the pears went into the pot, and I stirred it about gently (the pears were pretty delicate by now).  I sprinkled a bit of flour on the crust, and poured in the whole mixture, which was juicy, but not runny.  I turned the edges of the crust over the pears at the edges, leaving the tart mostly open.  Baked at 375 til the edges turn brown--you know--like crust...35 minutes?  More or less?

Pear tart!


4-5 overripe pears with the bruised and bad bits removed, peeled and cored, sliced thinly
1/4 tsp ground clove
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp grated fresh ginger
1 slightly short shot of tequila
juice of one lime
2 tbs brown sugar
a tsp of flour+a bit for dusting the crust before adding the pear mixture
more ginger, more clove...maybe a pinch of salt
some kind of crust in some kind of pie tin or tart plate


Friday, October 21, 2011

Deeper Nature Study: Stalking Bacteria in the Wild Part 1

Nature study is the core of many a homeschooler's science studies.  Nature study for the younger set is often simple and un-directed; the children find what they can find and bring it to Mother for examination, or home to observe and preserve.  The child and parent try to identify specimens, and often learn how to use a field guide together.  It's fun and informative for the younger children, but what about older kids?  Just as highschoolers can benefit from intensive copywork using great books and technical articles, so a high school student can get laboratory credit for nature study that is specific and directed towards a more quantitative goal.

This year, I chose a few victims (I mean students, of course) to try out an addition to our biology curriculum using more advanced living books.  This is the first in a short series of blogs on "Deeper Nature Study."

A few years ago, I came across a terrific book called A Field Guide to the Bacteria by Betsey Dexter Dyer.   Dyer is a biology professor at Wheaton College in Massachusetts, and has recorded a Modern
Scholars lecture series on this same topic called Unseen Diversity, which is top-notch and available from Audible.  Both are fine alone, but combined they make a formidable mini-course in bacteriology that is easily used by homeschoolers.  You will be relieved to hear that Prof. Dyer suggests that we not grow things in petrie dishes in our kitchens, so we won't; instead, we take our search outside.  In the wild, we have been able to discover evidence of bacteria everywhere.  And we are only 1/3 the way through the outdoor portion of the course.

The best thing about this short series of hikes is that it can be done anywhere, almost any time, with little modification.  Since bacteria are plentiful everywhere, and very few are pathogens, it's a safe and nearly fail-proof study.  You can study bacteria where you are, because they are there, too.

We began with a brief lecture on different kinds of bacteria, and the environments in which each thrives.  A quick version--cold, temperate, and hot are three measurable but wide temperature ranges for bacterial growth (one can get way more specific, and we did, but I don't really want to write out the entire lecture, and Prof. Dyer does it in more depth).   pH is another variable for determining the types of bacteria we are likely to discover.  The third environment we are exploring varies in oxygen content.  We could also add salt, and more, but these are the basics.  After my brief lecture we went outside and found some regular every-day common clover to examine.  We dug up the roots to find nodules of nitrogen-fixing bacteria in the root system.  These are terribly EASY to find!  We found some lichen, that combination of fungus and bacteria that grows so well on rocks and tree trunks.  And we found some cyanobacteria growing in patches large enough to identify by color alone.  Then we hopped into the car and took a quick field trip to the local Quaker cemetery, where the old tombstones yielded more evidence of bacteria at work.  And that was day 1!  NB:  It is very difficult to pry teens out of graveyards...go figure.

Day 2 brought us to a local swamp, where quick running water, deep muck, and hard trails all had perfectly detectable bacteria for our viewing--and sometimes smelling--pleasure:
The light leaf litter smells fresh even though it is full of bacteria.

Miss A. is encouraged to take a deeper sample...it will have a different odor.

Right along the trail are worm castings, full of bacteria fresh from  the gut of  worms.  Slugs approve.

Intrepid Miss B. strives for the best sampling spots, mid swamp!

OK.  Crossing the swamp by log is just fun for Miss B., Miss C.,  and A.

Slow, clear water reveals a nice bacterial mat, with large air bubbles!

Miss C. discovered that the faster running water was cold.

Yet, who could resist? Neither P nor Miss B.

Bubbly beer-like bacteria!!

Ha-ha!  Miss M. captures millions of bacteria.

Tempting...but no, she didn't.  ;)

Next stop?  The salt marsh...

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Yes, it is YOUR Homework, Too

I have a great religion class this year!  There are 6 students in my 4th grade; each is a very interesting person, and each is interested in the class.  Today we discussed posture at Mass (and viewed the very fun That Catholic Show video Sit, Stand, and Kneel).  The students know what posture is appropriate for each part of the Mass, so that was an easy part of the class.  We discussed what happens during each part of the Mass, and even touched on the Real Presence.  A discussion of sin and forgiveness followed, providing the first entry on our Old Testament timeline.

Each week, in addition to the main lesson, we begin the class by writing the psalm verse for the upcoming Sunday.  This gives the students who arrive early something to do while waiting for the latecomers, and gives them all the answer to one question on the homework.

Ah...the homework.  For the past few years I have been using the Mass worksheets from CatholicMom.com.  For the mostly 9-year-olds in the class, I use the worksheets for the 7-10 year old level.

Those of you who know me, STOP laughing...it's true that I hate worksheets, but they work for this classroom format.  And the worksheets are easier to complete if the children go to Mass.  The worksheets are very easy, and the kids enjoy them.

And no parent has ever complained.  Until today.

She caught me in the parking lot, this Disgruntled Mother (she told me on the first day that she pulled her kids out of the last CCD program because the people were "snooty" so I guess I have to be non-snooty if I want to keep her kids in the program).  The conversation went something like this:

Disgruntled mom:  Do they still have to do those worksheets with the stuff from Mass?
Me:  Yes.  That is the format of the homework every week.  The answers are all found at Mass...
DM:  Well, we missed Mass this week (I stopped listening there...the kids had told me the reason).  So I had to look up the answers.
What snooty-me wanted to say:  There are 5 Catholic churches within a mile of ours.  Our own parish offers 8 Masses every weekend.  You could not make any of them?
What I actually said:  The answers are also online on the USCCB website, in case you miss Mass.
DM:  Well this is becoming MY homework, not theirs.
What snooty-me wanted to say:  Yes, and so it should be, if you need a refresher!
What I actually said (laughing in the nicest way):   Yeah, but it's not that hard for the kids once they get in the habit of...
DM:  Is it OK if I take a missal home from Mass?  The priest won't mind?
Me:  I'm sure he'd be happy to know you were taking a second look at the readings!  So, have a good week!


Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Jewel Weed's Jewel

The younger kids visited Thomas More College during the open house this weekend.  They had an opportunity to stay overnight in the dormitories, eat and chat with students, and attend classes.  While they did that, Don and I had a pleasant time in Nashua.  Later, Don went to find cheap gas with supermarket gas points...he paid $1.09.  Woohoo!

Meanwhile, I explored the grounds of the college.  I must admit, I was quite surprised by the small size of the campus, and the wooded area surrounding the buildings.  The flora and fauna are typical NH...it smelled of pine!  

Behind the library, I found some jewel weed.  It has a pretty orange flower that sometimes attracts hummingbirds (though I saw none today).  Most of the plant had gone to seed, but a few blooms were left.

Jewel weed flowers

The real jewel of the weed is not the flower, though.  There are a few tales of how the weed got its name, but I like to think the seed hidden inside a spring-loaded pod is the reason.  Here's the pod on a small branch:
A few leaves with a seed pod

And here is the pod after I touched it (some people call the plant a touch-me-not).  As the sides of the pod peel suddenly away, the seeds shoot away.  If you release it correctly (I hold my hand around it) you will catch a seed or two.  The mature seed is covered with a green or brown coat.:
The seed revealed, with the pod peeled away

The small seed is less than a cm long, but if you carefully peel the coating off...
The jewel!
A tiny blue-green "jewel" of a seed is revealed.  Then, you can eat it!  It tastes a bit like an almond.

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Thursday, October 6, 2011

Steve Jobs and One Christmas Eve

No, this isn't a post about the cool Apple products I own.  In fact, I do not own any Apple products, though my daughter has an old iPod that she loves.  But I have always admired Apple products.  Instead, this is a blatant pro-life post.

By now, most people have read his story, along with his birth mother's story, and the story of his adoption as well as his path to success.  If you haven't, do so here; it's beautiful.  And it reminds me of a Christmas eve back in the 80s...

I was working at a medical laboratory, a BIG one, in the accessioning department.  In case you have not heard of such an occupation, accessioners are the first folks who sort the specimens when they arrive from doctors' offices.  Basically, the doctors leave the specimens in a lock box (you've seen them outside closed offices), and drivers from the various labs collect the specimens and bring them to the lab where accessioners send tubes of blood, bottles of urine, and specimens of other sorts to the appropriate departments for testing.

I worked evenings with some fun people.  There was always music.  We took breaks in the garage and laughed and joked with the drivers.  Most of the drivers were men, and many had interesting pasts.  Some were divorced dads working nights so they could spend days with their kids.  Some were recently paroled prisoners.  Many were immigrants.  They were always quick with a joke, or a story of traffic, life, or family stuff.

Those of us who were young and without children worked with a small skeleton crew on holidays so our coworkers could be with their families.  One Christmas eve, I volunteered to work with a few of the twenty-somethings until midnight.  Work was light, and we played Christmas carols, and shared our plans for the next day.  We were surprised when one of our favorite drivers, "Louie," came in crying.  Louie was an immigrant, right "off the boat" as they say, from Italy.  He did not speak much English, and we were never really sure he knew what was going on, or what we were all gabbing about.  On that Christmas eve though, he figured something out.  He brought in boxes of large bottled "specimens" that night, and through his tears we heard names as he gestured towards them.  "Einstein!" he cried in his thick Italian accent, adding vowels as needed to the end of each phrase. "Edison!  Galileo!  Tesla!  The babies!!  On Christmas!!"  He broke down; we suddenly understood every word.

The "specimens" he had brought in on Christmas Eve, were called "POC" on the forms we filled out--Product of Conception.  Louie had just had an epiphany that night (and so did I, and several friends):  As a driver for that lab, he was collecting aborted fetuses from "clinics" and delivering them for examination, so the lab could assure doctors they had gotten it all.  He was crying for the lost geniuses. He was crying for souls. He was crying for the mothers who would do such a thing. He was crying for the love and mercy of God on Christmas eve.

I imagine that Louie might add "Jobs!" to his cries if he were driving tonight.  But Jobs, Einstein, Galileo, and Tesla all lived to enhance our knowledge, change the world, and make our lives better.  The babies aborted that Christmas Eve were not so lucky.  Maybe a Steve Jobs was aborted that day.  Or, maybe just a Louie.  Either way, our world lost someone wonderful that Christmas Eve; may they all rest in peace.