Christmas 2020: Bake All The Cookies!

We made it through the Fall semester, both with Homeschool and my university’s semester! Celebrate! I still have some things to button-up in both places before I can say “Winter Break!” and even then, the kids will get a break, but I will be planning the next unit for them while also planning for my Spring course and the coming semester at the writing center. There is no such thing as a full break in academia because that’s when you have time to do all the things you didn’t have time to do during the semester. 🙂

But, with the Break comes less day-to-day demands on my time, which does help me focus on creating Holiday Magic for my family, and this year–2020–I feel we need that dose of wonder and belief even more. 2020 being 2020, aside, the past two Christmases for my family have been less than ideal. Two years ago Brian’s father passed away unexpectedly at Christmas and we also lost a few other important things. We dubbed it the Year of Loss and muddled through. Christmas that year was bittersweet.

Last year I was determined to make-up for it, but Brian had just started his business and was working long hours doing odd things and wound-up deathly ill. After two weeks of fighting it, and actually saying aloud to me, “it feels like I’m dying,” on Christmas Eve I tried to take him to the ER but he stubbornly refused, so I have one sad and alarming-looking photo of him trying to watch the kids open presents on Christmas morning before he had to retreat to go back to bed. The following day I did get him into the ER where they immediately took the obviously incapacitated grown man with a gray pallor back to treatment and referred all questions and paperwork to me. They diagnosed him with severe pneumonia and Legionnaires disease, administering fluids, inhalers, and some other things. We wonder now if he didn’t have COVID-19, though, because one of his customers at that time had recently travelled to China and Brian had been in direct, close contact with him. He certainly had all the symptoms.

Which brings us to this year: 2020. Ha! It’s been a strange and upsetting year, to put it mildly, yet it’s also another bittersweet year because we got to spend an awful lot of time together, suddenly, which is something I had desperately wanted. We did some amazing things this year in spite of the pandemic.

And so far this Christmas season, things are full of wonder and belief. It’s been magical! Chloe and I put-up the Dickens Village together as always, we found a great tree at a local tree lot and had fun decorating it, and I fussed over the mantle and added new decorations all within a week of Thanksgiving. For the 12 days before Christmas I always give the kids little presents each morning to build anticipation (socks, stickers, ornaments, crafts, etc…), we started our annual gingerbread house, we went to two COVID-safe outdoor light events in central Indiana (Christmas Nights of Lights at the Indiana State Fair and Winterlights at Newfields at the IMA), and baked cookies (so. many. cookies). It’s a week before Christmas today. Our church is doing a parking lot Christmas Eve service where we all tune-in to the radio and stay encapsulated in our vehicles right up until the end, where we all silently and with masks on get out of our cars for a candelight moment. I have a fun and fussy Christmas Eve planned with a full high tea for breakfast/lunch and a fancy dinner. It’s all been just lovely.

One thing we can’t really fix is the fact that we won’t get to see and spend time with our friends and family, so in the midst of baking this past week, I thought why not send a little bit of our Homestead to them! Baking is part of our holiday tradition and it’s also a proven stress reliever, so, I may have gone a little overboard this year: BAKE ALL THE COOKIES! Cookies make everything better. I mean, while it may sound delicious, who really wants to eat 12 dozen cookies by themselves? 🙂 I wound-up sending cookies to far-flung family across the country and sent some to the students who work at the writing center. Below are all the recipes. I have so many more I wanted to bake, but I mean, really, there’s only so many cookies one can bake/eat/mail at a time. 🙂

Peppermint (or not) Chocolate Crinkles
Yield: 1 dozen

6 T salted butter, softened
2 ounces bittersweet chocolate, cut into pieces
1 C sugar
1 large egg
2 t vanilla extract
1 t peppermint extract (optional)
3/4 C AP flour
1/4 C cocoa powder
1/2 t baking powder
1/4 t salt
6 ounces white chocolate chips (optional)
about 1 C of powdered sugar for coating

In a stand mixer or mixing bowl with an electric mixer, cream the butter with the sugar until very light and fluffy. Add the egg, vanilla, and peppermint extracts and beat another minute.

Meanwhile, melt the bittersweet chocolate in a double-boiler, a glass shatterproof mixing bowl set over a pot of simmering water, or in a glass measuring cup in the microwave, stirring frequently. Be careful not to overheat the chocolate; residual heat will help continue to melt, so it’s best to pull it off the heat just before everything is melted and continue to stir.

Add the melted chocolate to the mixing bowl of butter, sugar, etc. . . and beat together until well incorporated. Measure the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, and salt into the bowl and beat together until a soft dough forms. Stir in the chips, if using.

Place the bowl in the fridge to let the dough rest for 15 minutes. In a separate container, add the powdered sugar. Using a cookie scoop or forming balls of dough with your hands, roll dough into 2 inch balls and coat in the powdered sugar.

Place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and pat them down lightly with the palm of your hand, just enough to depress the ball shape a little. Bake in a preheated 350 degrees Fahrenheit oven for 13-15 minutes. Remove and let cool before servings.

Sugar Cookies
Yield: around 2 dozen (depending on size and shape of cookie butter)

1 C salted butter, softened
1 1/2 C sugar
1/3 C powdered sugar
2 large eggs
1/4 C vegetable/avocado/olive oil
1 T vanilla extract
1/4 t cream of tartar
1/2 t baking soda
1/2 t baking powder
1 t salt
4 – 4 1/2 C flour

In a stand mixer or mixing bowl with an electric mixer, cream the butter with the sugar until very light and fluffy. Add the eggs, vanilla, and oil and mix another minute. Measure the flour, cream of tartar, baking soda, and salt into the bowl and mix to form a soft dough. Rest in dough in the fridge for 15 minutes.

Roll the dough out on a lightly floured surface and cut into desired shapes. Place cut-outs on a parchment-lined baking sheet and bake in a preheated 350 degree Fahrenheit oven for 6-8 minutes (bake time will depend on thickness and size/shape of cut-out, as well as desired done-ness. I prefer mine to have a soft chew rather than a snap).

Eat plain of frost with desired frosting. For mailing I did a simple water/powdered sugar/vanilla glaze to make it shelf-stable. For enjoying at home I always prefer buttercream, though royal icing will allow you a wider range of decorating choices (see example of decorated buttercream cookie above).

These were the first cookies I made this season, and since they were separate from the boxes I planned to send, I used my favorite cutters: snowman, mitten, and snowflake. 🙂

Shortbread Cookies
Yield: 1 dozen (depending on size and shape of cut-out)

1/2 pound (2 sticks) of salted butter
1 t vanilla extract
1/2 t almond extract
2 C flour
1/2 C powdered sugar

In a stand mixer or mixing bowl with an electric mixer, beat the butter until incredibly light and fluffy–this is important to help the shortbread have lightness since there is no raising agent. Add the extracts and blend well. Add the powdered sugar and continue to beat until light and fluffy again. Measure the flour and beat in until a dough forms. Rest dough in the fridge for 15 minutes prior to rolling out. I always make these smaller shapes than the sugar cookies (stars and candy canes instead of snowmen, mittens, and Christmas trees).

Roll the dough out on a lightly floured surface and cut into desired shapes. Place cut-outs on a parchment-lined baking sheet and bake in a preheated 350 degree Fahrenheit oven for 6-8 minutes (bake time will depend on thickness and size/shape of cut-out, as well as desired done-ness. I prefer mine to have a soft chew rather than a snap).

I always glaze these with a mixture of water, powdered sugar, vanilla, and almond extract. I dip the entire cooled cookie in, and then lay on parchment or wax paper to dry. After a few moments, top with festive sprinkles and let continue to dry until the glaze is hard.

Italian Wedding Cookies
Yield: 2 dozen

1 1/2 C salted butter, softened
1 C powdered sugar
3/4 t salt
1 1/2 C almond flour
1 1/2 T vanilla extract
1 1/2 t almond extract
3 C flour
powdered sugar for coating

Cream the butter until very light and fluffy. Again, there is no raising agent, so we want light and fluffy butter for a light (not too dense) cookies. Add the extracts and powdered sugar and continue to beat. Measure the almond flour and beat in to the douguh. Measure in the salt and regular flour and beat until a dough forms. Using a cookie scoop or forming balls of dough with your hands, roll dough into 2 inch balls and place on a parchment-lined baking sheet.

Bake in a preheated 325 degree Fahrenheit oven for 15-20 minutes (being careful not to brown them!). Remove the from oven and let cool only slightly (enough to handle) then roll in powdered sugar, being careful as they are going to be more fragile as they cool. Once completely cool, roll them again in the powdered sugar.

Amaretti Cookies (original recipe found on Pinch Me I’m Eating)
Yield: 1 dozen

2 egg whites
1 t lemon juice
2 1/4 C almond flour
1 3/4 C powdered sugar
1 pinch sea salt
1/4 t baking powder
1 t orange zest
1 T almond extract
1 t vanilla extract
1/2 C additional powdered sugar for coating

In a stand mixer or mixing bowl with an electric mixer, whisk the egg whites and lemon juice until stiff peaks form. Sift together the almond flour, powdered sugar, sea salt, and baking powder. Fold in three batches carefully into the egg whites, being mindful to not deflate them as much as possible. Add in the extracts and orange zest and fold in.

Line a baking sheet with parchment and prep a container with the powdered sugar. The dough will be quite sticky, so I find a cookie scoop the easiest tool. Scoop out the dough and roll carefully in the powdered sugar, then place on the baking sheet. Do this for all the dough. Let rest on the counter for at least 1 hour. Bake in a preheated 300 degree Fahrenheit oven for 20 minutes.

Gingerbread Cookies
Yield: 2 dozen

3/4 C salted butter, softened
1 C sugar
1 egg
1/4 C light molasses
2 C flour
1 t baking powder
3/4 t salt
1 1/2 t ground cinnamon
1 t ground ginger
1/2 t ground nutmeg
1/2 t ground cloves

Cream the butter with the sugar until light and fluffy. Combine the molasses with the egg and whisk to combine, then add to the creamed butter and mix. Add all the spices and mix well. Measure in the flour, baking powder, and salt and combine until a dough forms.

Rest the dough in the fridge for 15 minutes. Roll the dough out on a lightly floured surface and cut into desired shapes. Place cut-outs on a parchment-lined baking sheet and bake in a preheated 350 degree Fahrenheit oven for 7-10 minutes (bake time will depend on thickness and size/shape of cut-out, as well as desired done-ness).

Chocolate Chip Cookies
Yield: 1 1/2 dozen

1 C salted butter, melted
1 1/2 C brown sugar, packed
1/4 C white sugar
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
1 T milk
1 T vanilla extract
2 1/2 C flour
1 t sea salt
1 t baking powder
1 1/2 C chocolate chips

Over the years I’ve tinkered with my base chocolate chip cookie recipe. Sometimes I want a chewy, rich cookie (like the one above) and sometimes I want something lighter (in which case I’ll do half-and-half brown sugar and white sugar), and sometimes I want something with a bit of a snap (do the sugar change mentioned above and split baking powder into half powder and half baking soda). No matter how you do it, creaming the melted butter with the sugars to a caramel-like consistency is key, as is resting the dough. The sea salt is also important because it off-sets the sweetness of the cookie.

Melt the butter in a saucepan or in the microwave. Measure both sugars into a stand mixer or mixing bowl with an electric mixer. Pour the melted butter over the sugars and beat until caramel-like in consistency (the sugars will be dissolved and it will come together, so you shouldn’t be able to see a separation of butter and sugar). Add the eggs, milk, and vanilla and beat. Measure the flour, salt, and baking powder into the bowl and beat until a dough forms. Stir in the chocolate chips.

Rest the dough in the fridge for 30 minutes (our butter was melted, which warmed the dough-up substantially, so we need a longer resting time). Using a cookie scoop or forming balls of dough with your hands, roll dough into 2 inch balls and place on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake in a preheated 350 degrees Fahrenheit oven for 12-14 minutes. Remove and let cool before servings.

Homestead Homeschool: The First 4 Weeks and Work-Homeschool-Life Balance

In (Pandemic) Life Updates: The “Lost” Two Months, I gave a quick synopsis of the struggles both kids were having with remote learning and announced that Chloe had decided to homeschool for the remainder of the school year, but that Liam had improved enough that we were keeping him enrolled in remote learning public school.

We made it one week of homeschooling Chloe before Liam’s anxiety severely spiked again, and I realized I was just done. I was done expending energy and time just trying to help him get through a day when it obviously hurt him to do so. Done emotional laboring and collaborating with overworked, underpaid, completely overwhelmed teachers and administrators at his school that, despite their best intentions and high degree of professionalism, can’t actually make many systemic changes on Liam’s behalf right now. There’s just no right way or one-size-fits-almost-all way right now in public education, and my son was hurting as a result.

Meanwhile, after that first week, Chloe’s energy and spirit was bright and high in ways I hadn’t seen from her in months. We had time for walks together, to talk together, to read and discuss literature together. We could eat breakfast and lunch together. And, most importantly, her screen time went from 13 hours per day to less than 2 (and most of those 2 includes her newly found leisure time to play Roblox or update her Youtube channel again). The answer for Liam seemed obvious. I decided I could simply adapt Chloe’s 6th grade curriculum for Liam’s 4th grade level, and just work with both of them together. They could read aloud together, work on projects together. We could have richer discussions and centralize our family’s focus in a powerful way–a way that I perceived would help simplify a complicated, fraught time.

I don’t know that I’m by any means an expert on homeschooling, seeing as how I’ve only been at this officially for four weeks. But I do know that so far what we’re doing is working. The kids report that they are enjoying their school days, that they feel less stressed than they did in remote learning, and that they feel like they’re learning. On my part, I feel as if I have a chance to help guide my kids towards a deeper understanding of how they learn and why, to help them discover learning strategies that will impact their engagement well beyond this time period, and to also encourage the development of their intrinsic motivation to learn. Below I’m writing out our basic homeschooling day, with notes and thoughts about my balance as a full-time remote profesional.

We start our homeschool day with Health. Sometimes it’s 8:30 on the dot, sometimes not. That’s the beauty of homeschooling: I can adjust and adapt on the fly. Often this is a short yoga routine or walk in the forest, but sometimes it includes reading age-appropriate articles on topics like self-care, how germs spread, personal hygiene, and what yoga does for our bodies and brains. Sometimes it even means picking-out a recipe for them to make at dinner that evening. In the fuzzy gray-area between getting dressed and Health starting, we have a brief (~5 minutes or less) morning meeting where we review the schedule for the day and I apprise them of any changes I need to make (maybe due to my schedule or a hiccup the day before) and have them write it into their schedule binders.

Some cookbooks in our Homeschool area for Health

Work-Homeschool-Life Balance: I wake-up at least an hour before the kids. I’ve had coffee, read the news, perhaps gone on a solo walk or a walk with Brian, so I feel good and ready to start my day. As the kids wake-up, I hop in the shower. They stumble groggily around for 15 or so minutes then start getting dressed, completing a few simple chores, and getting organized, during which time I take a few minutes to log-in to work stuff and make sure all is well. The writing center opens at 9, so I like to make sure before 9 that things appear smooth and organized for the day. I usually have to approve a login to the student-access writing center accounts, but that doesn’t take hardly any effort. It just means I have to be by my phone.

After Health we start our Humanities block with Social Studies. The curriculum I selected is called Build Your Library and so it is a reading-intesive curriculum that centers around history as its focus. The curriculum includes a basic schedule and assignment and project materials that I’ve found useful and also easy to adapt and customize. All of the books are sold separately. We’re doing Civil War through Civil Rights, and I couldn’t be more pleased with the opportunities we have to connect what we’re learning to modern day contexts. Our Election Day discussions were robust and fascinating. The kids rotate through quite a few books in chunks, but there’s definitely a primary text we lean on and they only read one creative nonfiction at a time (I’ve emboldened the primary text below and listed the creative nonfiction texts in order so far). They will read-aloud the primary texts together, practicing popcorn reading, and then either read individually or via audiobook (depending on availability) the creative nonfiction text. We are working on a long project on the Civil War that has smaller scaffolding assignments.

The book bin that contains everything we’re reading currently

Work-Homeschool-Life Balance: Once we’re done with yoga, it’s usually 9am on the dot. If Brian didn’t have time to make the kids’ breakfasts, I make them and they eat while they read. I generally make myself a quick smoothie (something I can eat and do work at the same time) and sit down at my “desk” (ahem dining room table) by 9:15. Work things have been up since 8:30, with sound notifications on, should anyone have needed me (and sometimes they do). I’ve already glanced at email, Discord, the schedule, Canvas, one.iu, and even Facebook groups of professional relevance, so I know what needs my attention first. I do have to circle in to make sure the kids are on task, especially if reading together, and once each week I’ve found I have to do the reading with them so they get caught-up to the schedule (at least they’re having fun reading together), but I generally get a solid hour to plug away on work before I need to shift them from one book to another. Once a week I have Office Hours during this time and so need to be available, but since I host those in Discord, it’s been really manageable to multi-task. At least once a week, I try to do a 15-20 minute Supernatural workout on the Oculus during this time.

After Social Studies, we have English. Usually this means we do their favorite part of the day–narration cards. Every Monday we have a discussion and answer reflection questions about our literature reading. On weeks we’ve finished a reading, I use Monday for true writing instruction. We’re building-up their summary and strong response skills with discussion, activities, and example worksheets. For their literature reading, which may be independent reading, audiobook reading, or me reading aloud to them, we have been completing after school or before bed to make better use of class time.

What we’re reading/have read in the first 4 weeks for Humanities–
Nonfiction: American History Encylopedia, Two Miserable Presidents, We Were There Too, Words That Built a Nation
Creative Nonfiction: The Underground Abductor, Silent Thunder
Fiction: The Giver, The Not So Boring Letters of Private Nobody

Narration Cards: These came with the Build Your Library curriculum, but I modified and added some personalized ones for each kid. These ask them to reflect on our readings, which I rotate between subjects, in a new–and hopefully fun–way. Chloe’s are very art-focused, and say things like: create a cartoon using 2-3 quotes from the text, illustrate a scene from the reading, create a Kinemaster animation asking and answering 2 questions from the text. Liam’s are drama-focused, and say things like: write a scene script for an important idea or scene, conduct a pretend interview betwen you and 1-2 characters, write a scene from the reading as if it takes place in a favorite fan-verse. They both have cards that say things like “retell the reading in your own words” and “annotate the readings with visuals.” Our science narration cards for science readings also get done during this time and say slightly different things.

Our narration card baskets

Work-Homeschool-Life Balance: If they do a narration card for English, which they do 4 out of 5 week days, then I get even more time to work once I’ve helped them select a card and gotten them started. I may have to circle in to do a time management check, and then need a few minutes to review their work. If I need to conduct a discussion or a writing lesson, then I’m actively engaged with them for this full hour. My work windows stay up with notifications on, should the writing center need my immediate attention (and it sometimes does). This is usually my most productive work hour of the day.

After English, they get a full-hour for recess and lunch. Again, once I’ve made them lunch and made myself lunch, I have still-more time to work. If I’m in the middle of a good workflow, I fudge the schedule a little to keep working until I’ve completed whatever it is I was doing. Occasionally, and especially if we did yoga and not a walk during Health, we’ll take a group walk at this time, which eats into my work ability. But, it’s lunch and I don’t really take a full lunch, so a 15 minute walk is fine, I think.

At 12:30 we reconvene for Science. Science is included in the Build Your Library curriculum (again, books sold separately). This year they are doing Astronomy, which is wonderfully appropriate for Brian and I to facilitate as two space-loving nerds. So far we’ve read two chapters in the textbook. On a week where we worked through a single chapter, the kids read aloud or independently (up to them) from the textbook the first two days, then we did a lab on Wednesday, did an activity or watched a video on Thursday, and then worked-on a learning comprehension set of questions on Friday. The second chapter we read took much longer, so they had more days for reading, a lab, an activity, several media days, and two reading comprehension days. I added narration cards for Science to increase engagement and reading comprehension. We just enrolled them in a NASA education course component that lasts a week, but is relevant to their studies, and also developed a list of even more science activities to make this time as active as possible. In addition to the textbook, they also have a companion creative nonfiction science reading. I read this aloud to them and we have very brief discussions about it afterwards. For these first four weeks, it has been George and the Big Bang by Lucy and Stephen Hawking, which has produced some very enjoyable laughs and memorable moments.

Work-Homeschool-Life Balance: I try to read the textbook on the weekends so I know what’s going on. Brian tends to facilitate the labs and activities for me once or twice each week. I facilitate discussions, read the creative nonfiction, and watch media with them.

After Science we have French. On Mondays and Wednesdays they do Muzzy. On Tuesdays and Thursdays they complete pages in their French workbooks and we go over the answers together, having short practice conversations as we do. On Fridays we practice conversations, read short stories in French, and do other activities like plan a Passport Night to France. (Note: I was once fluent in French. Given that I haven’t spoken any French in 15 years, I’m rusty, but it’s all coming back to me relatively quickly and easily).

Work-Homeschool-Life Balance: I tend to have meetings in the afternoon, which is why French rotates between an independent screen-based learning mode and a hands-on active learning mode. Depending on my week, they might do even more Muzzy than the two days, or we might skip a French day altogether.

After French comes Math. We started out using Kahn Academy, but both of my kids are creative-minded and profess to struggle with Math. I don’t think I’m bad at math, but I also don’t use most of the math equations and whatnot in my professional life as an English professor. Brian uses Math every single day of his life, but struggles to communicate the concepts in a way the kids can understand. Therefore, we have just switched to Beast Academy after they reviewed the materials online and felt positively about them. Beast Academy uses graphic story-telling to engage critical math thinking and then asks students to engage in the text for problem-solving. Given Chloe’s love of graphic novels and art, and Liam’s love of story-telling, and the fact that both of them are good creative problem-solvers but tend to freak-out if it’s just a bunch of numbers, I’m hopeful this will work out better for them. This was expensive, but they get beautifully illustrated books and workbooks plus online access for practice and review. It also has clearer schedule guidelines for me to follow than Kahn Academy did, so I know what to assign and when, which is helpful.

a page from a Beast Academy Math Guide

Work-Homescshool-Life Balance: More meetings happen during this time than any other time, which is why I need Math to be fairly self-directed. I’m also usually getting pretty fatigued by this point in the day. I drink decaf coffee to help control my anxiety, but have been adding about a 1/4 caf to my second cup of coffee of the day, the one that I treat myself to during this time. If it isn’t a special latte I make myself, then it’s a cup of green tea. Also dark chocolate. I’m hopeful Beast Academy will help us all feel better about this hour. If I managed a workout earlier, I tend to feel more energetic at this point in my day.

Because Math has not been going well, we’ve paused the Music/Art block at the end of the day. I think they get plenty of art-making time in the regular curriculum, but lack art-history and art instruction, which given that Brian has a BFA in painting and I took a bunch of art history classes, I’d love for them to do. They both are musical (Chloe plays flute and Liam trumpet), but we’re all usually fried by this point and Math has been taking double the time. It’s ok, honestly. I’m realistic to life and don’t want to push us to be and do too much right now. They know it’s a goal to work towards, but they’re also okay with how things are right now.

Work-Homeschool-Life Balance: by this point in the day I am BEAT. I’ve multi-tasked from 8 in the morning onwards. I need a breather by myself to center my thoughts. I keep my work tabs open and notifactions on, but tend to slip my wireless headphones on and either take a walk in the forest by myself to energetic music, or mellow to an audiobook while I do dishes and prep for dinner. I’m still available for work, and will keep those tabs open until 5:30 or 6. The writing center closes at 7. Before bed we read aloud from our literature reader, which has been a good and fun routine, especially on The Not So Boring Letters of Private Nobody, which is a delightful and fun read. I’m more relaxed by then and can put energy into the voices and dialogue delivery, much to the kids’ delight.

On the weekends: I take a few hours to prep the coming week. Build Your Library suggests a schedule, but I can tweak it to suit our family’s needs. I compare everyone’s calendars for the coming week and consider successes/failures from the previous week and the overall emotional/mental/physical health of all of us and make some decisions on what we’re doing. I may need to read ahead or glance ahead to make sure I have materials necessary for labs and activities and that we know what we’re doing. I make any materials: discussion questions, assignment sheets, etc. .. and print them out. I print things from the provided curriculum. I print the schedule for each of our binders and get them reaady for Monday’s morning meeting. Overall, though, I try to be intentional about sellf-care on the weekends. A lot of people depend on me to be at my best during the week, and taking good care of myself helps me be at my best. I clean, I bake, I read for fun, I do some chores while listening to audiobooks, I sleep in, I stay in pajamas all day. I plan the menu and make sure we have all the food we need so I don’t have to worry about it during the week.

My master binder that contains the Build Your Library full curriculum, our Science textbook, and the syllabus I made with each week’s schedule

I’m fatigued in places, but not empty, not “done” in the same way I was when we set-out on this journey. It takes a lot of self-grace and patience. Some days that’s easier said than done. Some days I focus on work more and other days on them more. Next semester, when I have a synchronous class to teach, that will make things a little more difficult. But, we’ll also be far more than four weeks in to homeschooling. In sum, at the end of this fourth week, I can say that the kids are engaged, happy, and healthier with this schedule, and that to me tells me all I need to know. We made the right decision. We are in this, doing this, living it, and learning to love it together.

Roasted Butternut Squash and Sweet Potato Soup

Yes, I’m posting two back-to-back soup recipes. I love soup! I especially love how filling and warm and comforting a big bowl of soup is on a cold winter day, and I also love how inexpensive (both in dollars and in caloric value) most soups are. They’re also quick and easy to eat when I’m in a hurry, which now that I’m homeschooling a middle schooler and an upper elementary schooler while also working from home full-time and trying to maintian some impact with homesteading, you know, time is not a thing I have much of. And lastly, soup is flavorful, when done right. Good soup has layers of flavor, built-up over a few different steps before being simmered all together into a complex mouthful that is just satisfyingly delicious and delightful to eat.

Today’s soup was a quick and easy concoction on a particularly blustery and cold Fall day here in Central Indiana. I find most squash or sweet potato soups too sweet on my palette, but there’s a squash curry recipe from Deliciously Ella that I absolutely adore. So, I used that curry recipe as inspiration in building the flavors of the soup, and voila! A new favorite squash soup recipe was born. I own the cookbook with this recipe in it, but you can find Deliciously Ella’s Sri Lankan curry recipe right here. The curry recipe is vegan, and you can easily make the soup vegan, as well, by subbing coconut oil or a vegan butter for the butter. We served it with more fussy grilled cheese sandwiches, which I listed in my previous blog post.

Roasted Butternut Squash and Sweet Potato Soup
Yield: 8 adult servings

4 T butter
3 leeks, sliced
2 T olive oil
1 butternut squash, peeled and diced
1 very large sweet potato, peeled and diced
1/2 red bell pepper, seeded and diced
5 cloves garlic, minced
1 t cumin
1 t cinnamon
1 t yellow curry powder
1/2 t turmeric
3/4 t chili powder
1 t sea salt
1 1/2 C apple cider
4 C water or vegetable stock
1/2 t more sea salt, to taste
2-3 T pure maple syrup, to taste

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.

In a dutch oven or soup stock pot over medium low heat, melt the butter. Add the sliced leeks, a pinch of sea salt, and then place the lid on the pot. Cook leeks 10-15 minutes, stirring occassionally until they are soft but have no color.

On a sheet pan, combine the squash, sweet potato, red bell pepper, garlic, olive oil, and all the seasonings listed in the recipe up to the apple cider. Toss to combine well, then roasted in the oven for 20-25 minutes.

Add the roasted vegetables to the pot with the leeks with 1 1/2 cups apple cider and about 4 cups of water or stock. Bring the pot up to a low boil for a few minutes. Blend the mixture with an immersion blender until smooth. Add the maple syrup and more sea salt to taste. Serve hot with a garnish of coconut milk (optional).

Potato Soup with Herbed-Roasted Mushrooms, Potatoes, and Corn

Once upon a time, in what feels like a different life, I co-owned a boutique wine shop with a small upscale cafe, where I was the executive chef. I served everything from wine-inspired appetizers, pizzas, and soups/salads/sandiwches to 5 course $150 a head wine dinners. But, during this time, I also had two very small children. The hours were awful, the stress was great, and it was the middle of the Great Recession. As much as people loved it, they could only buy so much wine and fancy food, and so we closed in Fall 2010, and I was honestly relieved. I became a stay-at-home-parent until my return to higher education once both kids were in kindergarten.

It’s been a decade since we closed, but sometimes I still like reaching-back at some of the old recipes I used. While I may be relieved to not have that kind of stress, I’m still proud of what I managed to accomplish. It always filled me with immense satisfaction to feed people food I loved and have them love it in return. Yesterday evening we took a small trip down memory lane by opting to make some old recipes. I served a variety of sandwiches I used to serve (cut into very small portions that encouraged sampling) and serving it with a delicious soup. Here’s some of the sandwiches I used to make:

  • Paris Lunchbox = brie, salami, and sliced apples toasted together on crispy baguette
  • Pesto Grilled Cheese = pesto slathered generously onto a baguette and toasted together with american, smoked provolone, and English cheddar cheese
  • Apple Butter Grilled Cheese = apple butter toasted with English cheddar
  • Baked Brie = brie toasted together with homemade jam
  • London Pub = apple butter, smoked bacon, and English cheddar toasted together on baguette

Whereas I could serve many different sandwiches, I could only reasonably pick one soup, and I had a hard time picking, because soup is something I love dearly and enjoy making. I considered making a sweet potato soup, a corn chowder, a roasted red pepper soup, or a potato soup. The old favorite brie cheese soup was discarded by me early on simply because I no longer have wholesale pricing on brie cheese. 🙂

I asked Brian for his input and he wanted either mushroom or potato soup. While I absolutely love mushroom soup, I had been craving potato soup all week and it was the one constant between both of us. However, mushrooms and corn still sounded good. I used to make a simple potato-leek soup in the French style for the restaurant, so I opted to use that as a base but do a vegetable garnish that included some mushrooms and corn to get that rich seasonal flavor. The end result was delicious. So delicious I’m going to make it again this week.

Potato Soup with Herb-Roasted Mushrooms, Potatoes, and Corn
Yield: about 8 servings

For the roasted vegetables:
1 pound portabello mushrooms, sliced
2 russet potatoes, peeled and diced
1 1/2 C frozen sweet yellow corn
2 T olive oil
2 T butter
1/4 C fresh lemon juice
1/2 C sherry or port
2 T snipped fresh chives
1 T fresh rosemary
2 t fresh thyme
sea salt, pepper, and white pepper to taste

For the soup:
3 Leeks, green stems discarded and sliced
5 scallions, green parts saved for another dish and sliced
6 large Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and quartered
6 T butter
2 C buttermilk
1 quart plus 2 C water or vegetable broth
2 t sea salt
1 t white pepper
1/4 t freshly ground black pepper
snipped chives for garnish


For the vegetables
In the bottom of a ceramic dutch oven, heat the oil with the butter over medium high heat. Add the mushrooms, the lemon juice, the spirits, and a pinch of sea salt and pepper. Cook until alcohol has completely evaporated then brown mushrooms for 5 minutes, stirring and caramelizing. Add the potatoes and the remaining seasonings and cook another 5 minutes, making sure the potatoes get coated in the remaining fat in the pan. Add the corn and place a preheated 400 degree oven for 15-20 minutes, stirring at least once, until the potatoes have cooked-through and crisped slightly. Remove from the dutch oven and set aside. Taste for seasoning.

For the soup
In the bottom of the dutch oven set back on the stovetop over medium-low heat, melt the butter. Add the leeks and scallions and a pinch of sea salt, place the cover on, and cook for 10 minutes, stirring frequently. You want them soft but not with a lot of color (there will be color from the bottom of the dutch oven from the vegetables, and that is good flavor, but we don’t want that flavor in our leeks).

Once leeks have fully softened, add the potatoes, the water, and the seasonings. Bring the heat back up to medium-high and bring the pot to a low boil. Place the lid on and cook for 15 minutes, until potatoes are nicely soft. With an immersion blender, puree the potatoes smooth; the soup will be quite thick at this stage. Add the buttermilk and bring to a bare simmer, just enough to heat it through. Taste for seasonings.

To serve:
Place the soup in a bowl, top with the vegetables and fresh chives. You can finish with a swirl of truffle oil, if desired.

(Pandemic) Life Updates: The “Lost” Two Months of Remote Learning

Oh my goodness it’s mid-October already! We’re still editing vlogs from South Dakota. I haven’t updated the blog in awhile. And we’re putting the garden to rest for the season while also loading in the greenhouse. So much is happening at the Homestead to talk about, but before I can start the post routine again, I need to explain what exactly has been going on these past two months to make life so stressful and hectic that we’re this behind on homesteading.

You might remember that we were dealing with failing plumbing all summer long, putting us behind on some of the garden projects we had on the to-do list. When we last updated, we had gotten back from South Dakota and were getting ready for school to start. You may remember I had a choice between remote learning or hybrid learning for the kids, with the hybrid option oscillating between full in-person depending on numbers within our local county and the recommendations of the health department. We were told we would have the option to choose between remote and hybrid when the change to in-person occurred. The rules shift a little between elementary, where Liam still is, or middle school on up, where Chloe is.

Meanwhile, the university I teach at is recommending remote learning as much as possible, recognizing that different disciplines have different needs, and offering a high-degree of flexibility in course structure and faculty time. As an English professor, remote learning is actually my preference because it allows me flexibility: time to continue my administrative comittments as assistant director of the writing center and time to be the primary parent to my kids. Most of the research I’ve read lacks scientific consensus on things like children and community spread and whether children are at-risk for the virus or even for things like autoimmune diseases being triggered by exposure to COVID-19. Both of my parents are high risk. My elderly uncle just relocated to here from Florida and has no other family. I feel great responsibility for them and could not fathom a world in which we could not safely reach them in-person when necessary. And lastly, Liam wanted to be homeschooled, or at the very least a remote learner.

So, for these reasons we opted for the remote learning offering at both of their public schools. Liam would be assigned a remote learning classroom, and would have his own remote learning teacher for 4th grade. Chloe would be assigned a locker and a class schedule just as she would for in-person, and would Zoom into live classrooms with other remote learners. Liam’s option is automatically more pedagogically feasible than Chloe’s, and I was nervous for her from the start as a result. No matter how much of a super-hero a teacher is (and believe me, they all are right now), there is no possible way for a teacher to instruct a room full of face-to-face learners effectively while also instructing a handful of remote learning students. It’s asking far too much of teachers, and it’s stressful for all involved. Best practices between the two learning environments do not align, and so I really didn’t see how this was going to work for anyone.

Alas, though, for the first several weeks of school, Chloe assured me she was doing fine while Liam was absolutely not. His anxiety skyrocketed and we got him back into therapy with our family therapist. I began spending a large amount of my time each day helping him get through school. His teacher, like so many teachers this year, had never taught online before. Most often, teachers default to the pedagogies they enacted successfully in face-to-face environments, believing they will translate to the digital environment. With several meetings and a lot of hard work adjusting the schedule and listening on her part, within the first month of school, Liam started improving. There were still bad days, but not as many, and with some adjustments on our part, as well, we could get him through a school day and get his work finished, even if, at times, it took him until 4 or 5 in the afternoon instead of 2:30 when the school day is supposed to finish.

All during this time, my semester had started. I was spinning like a top between work, home, and Liam. I continued to check-in on Chloe each night, and each night she would assure me she was fine. I saw little of her during the day, however. Our carefully planned schedule didn’t completely match the reality of the school day, and she barely had time for lunch, let alone a walk with me in the forest. I felt suspicious that she was not fine, but had no concrete reason to doubt her assurances and so didn’t press any further. Until, one day, I received an email from one of her teachers asking why Chloe was missing so many assignments. Even though I should have been checking Canvas Parent (the learning management app used by their school and mine) to help her track her assignments, I simply had not; I was too busy setting up Canvas for my work, among other work tasks, and helping Liam simply get through a day. I talked things through with Chloe and together we made a plan to get her caught-up in what I thought was this one class. I still had not fully checked Canvas Parent, but instead trusted her to exercise agency and track her missing assignments herself.

The next week, however, I received emails from another two of Chloe’s teachers asking why she was missing so much work. I’m going to pause here to say a few things: 1) I sincerely doubt Chloe is alone in missing work as a remote learner 2) the adjustment for students used to face-to-face learning environments to digital learning environments is hefty 3) this is part of the adjustment of best practices: the type and amount of assignments should differ between face-to-face and digital classrooms and 4) life is just super hard right now between pandemic stuff and swirling political, socio-cultural, and environmental crises, and so I also doubt she is alone in general in missing work, remote learner or not. She’s super smart, but I care less about what grade she gets this year than I do about her mental and emotional health. I wanted her to gain enough points to pass her classes, but viewed the missing work as a symptom of a much deeper problem.

She started seeing our family therapist again, which means all four Hull’s meet with him independent of one another via Zoom each week, and thank goodness for it. Family therapy is more important now than ever before, and I highly recommend it. I also sat with her and gave her the option of homeschooling for the remainder of the year. We talked-through the pros and cons, what homeschooling would look and what it might feel like. And then we also met with her teachers. We talked about how detached she feels from the learning space and therefore the content. We talked about how she spends 12-13 hours each day sitting at her laptop, first attending the classes required of her, and then struggling on her own with the content to do her assignments. We thanked them for their energy and time spent with Chloe in break-out roooms and in meetings like this, but emphasized that 10 to 15 minutes summarizing content was not the same as feeling connected enough to engage in the content delivery method of the full-class period. At the end of the meeting, Chloe said she felt better and so we decided to keep her enrolled for now, but I let her know homeschooling was on the table as an option for her.

We got to Fall Break, which started last weekend. She spent three days in a row working until 11pm at night trying to get assignments turned-in. I awoke Saturday morning to a beautifully written note letting me know she wanted to homeschool. I’ve never homeschooled before. I teach college, not middle school, and do not view myself as somehow more adept or capable at teaching than her highly trained professional teachers. But I also know that those teachers aren’t actually super-heroes, even though we like to think they are and seem inclind to set expectations of them that matches. They did their absolute best and we thank them wholeheartedly. I may not be super-mom, either, but I can try my best for my daughter and that, at the very least, I can get her away from the screen and craft curriculum that caters to her learning styles, something almost impossible to do under the remote learning model set-up at her public school (she’s a kinetic and visual learner).

In the middle of all of this, and on top of me continuing to try to do my best for my students at my university, Brian unexpectedly and with next to no time to maneuver or make alternative arrangements, lost the shop space for the makerspace he’d been renting for a year. This set his business into a state of uncertainty that impacted his ability to be present and engaged with home chores and life and also set our finances into another tailspin.

I’ve spent the last week crafting assignments, writing a syllabus, and ordering materials for Chloe. Brian has reorganized our garage into a viable shop space so he can continue working on jobs he already had going (hey, I was barely using my car, anyway). And, most importantly for him, he’s also pursuing some interesting arrangements that could really help catapult the makerspace towards his highest goals while also providing more of an income for us (because despite what you may have heard, most university professors do not make a lot of money).

So, yes, all of this has been stressful. I dubbed these last two months “lost” because I honestly have no idea where the time went. I simultaneously dragged on and on but also felt like a blink. I doubt we’re alone in a story like this. And indeed, I’m positive there are far worse stories out there. We have our health and our homestead. I can, at least, exercise the privilege of having a flexible employment situation to homeschool Chloe. Brian can, at least, make his business work. There’s plenty in our nation right now who can’t say that. So while it has rightly demanded our time, attention and energy, we’re still here: grateful, full of hope and love, and ready to get dirty doing some Homestead chores.

The other day I weeded the perennial beds and planted some bulbs. A week or so ago we built-up the greenhouse structure to ready it for winter. And today I harvest the last of the summer garden. Tomorrow we start homeschool, and now that I’ve prepped, I feel excited for this journey.

Roasted Butternut Squash Lasagna with Sage and Honey Brown Butter Sauce

Labor Day is such an interesting holiday, having a foot in two seasons. On Saturday we grilled out, enjoying freshly harvested local sweet corn, watermelon, lemonade, and bbq. And then on Sunday, the wind had that specific scent and voracity and bite, the trees had that sound of rustling, and we started deep cleaning everything in sight, getting ready for the end-of-season harvesting that would need organization and attention. Hello, Autumn!

I’ve been using my dutch oven again for about a week (and have those recipes to share soon), but I wanted to make something uniquely autumnal to welcome the season–my favorite season, as it happens. For years I have made a variation of this pasta; sometimes it’s stuffed shells, others ravioli, sometimes it’s pumpkin instead of squash, and even sometimes it has Italian sausage mixed into it. Some of the sauces change, depending on my mood and the weather–a heavier bechamel if it’s chilly and I want something hearty, a light cream sauce on other occasions, or, as is the case last night, a barely-there browned-butter sauce. No matter how I dress it up or down or package it, it’s always a dish that centers me into the season and makes me excited for apple cider and pies. 🙂

Roasted Butternut Squash Lasagna with Sage and Honey Brown Butter Sauce
Yield: 6 servings

For the filling:
1 butternut squash, peeled and cubed
1 large sweet potato, peeled and cubed
3 medium to large cloves garlic, smashed and peeled
1/4 C fresh sage, chiffoned
1/4 t crushed red pepper
1/4 t ground cinnamon
sea salt and fresh ground black pepper pepper, to taste
3 T coconut oil

For the sauce:
1/2 C salted butter
3 T red onion, finely diced
3 T fresh safe, chopped
1 1/2 T fresh rosemary, chopped
fresh ground black pepper, to taste
2 T raw honey
3 T fresh squeezed lemon juice

For the lasagna:
15 ounce ricotta cheese
1/2 C parmigiano reggiano cheese, grated
1 egg
dry lasagna noodles of choice
3/4 C water

For the filling– Preheat the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. Prepare the vegetables and toss with the coconut oil and all the seasonings well. Place on a baking sheet and roast for 15-20 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool slightly (recommend preparing the browned butter sauce during this time). Then, mash the roasted vegetables together as you would make a mashed potato.

For the sauce–In a medium skillet, melt the butter over medium high heat. When it has fully melted and beginning to foam slightly, add the onion, the herbs, and the black pepper. Cook 2-3 minutes then add the honey, stir for 30 seconds, and add the lemon juice. Remove from the heat.

For other ingredients–combine the egg with the ricotta cheese and whip thoroughly to combine.

Set oven temperature to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. In an 8×10 baking dish, spread half the butter sauce on the bottom of the pan. Place dry lasagna noodles in a single layer. Gently spread half the mashed squash and sweet potato mixture to make an even layer, top with a little parmigiano reggiano cheese, then add another layer of noodles. Spread the whipped ricotta onto the new layer, then add another layer of noodles. Repeat twice more–mash and then ricotta–until you add the last layer of noodles. Sprinkle the remaining parmigiano reggiano cheese onto the top layer then drizzle the other half of the butter sauce over the top. Carefully, from a measuring cup with a spout, pour the 1/2 C water into all four sides of the lasagna pan. Then gently pour the other 1/4 cup onto the very top layer. Cover the pan tightly with foil. Bake for 40 minutes covered, and then remove the foil and bake another 10 minutes, until the cheese browns on the top.

Recipe Post: Chimichurri Chicken, Spiced Roasted Sweet Potatoes, and Mexican Street Corn Salad

I am so behind on the blog and vlog and basically all things Homstead right now. After South Dakota, the kids had to get ready for remote learning for their respective schools, and I reported back to my full-time job in higher education; and, well, as I’m sure most of you can imagine, there’s quite a lot to do and quite a lot to learn to navigate given everything going on in the world. We are still here on the Homstead: gardening, taking forest and garden walks, filming vlogs, cooking, canning, and preserving and are anxious to share more with you all once we settle in to our new routines for the semester. 🙂

In the meantime, I have a backlog of recipe posts, so we’ll be leaning on those a little more than normal. This is one that takes advantage of some of the herb abundance in the high summer garden and also features those bright, intense, fresh flavors I crave when it’s hot and sunny.

Chimichurri Chicken
Yield: 4 adult servings

4 boneless chicken breasts
1/2 recipe chimichurri pesto
sea salt and pepper

Chimichurri Pesto:
4 ounces fresh cilantro
2 ounces fresh basil
1 ounce fresh flat leaf parsley
6 cloves garlic
2 T lemon juice
1/3 C red wine vinegar
1/4 C walnut oil (optional)
1 fresno or anaheim pepper, seeded, or about 1/2 t dried red chile flakes
1/4 t sea salt
1/2 C olive oil

Assemble the chimichurri pesto by combining all ingredients except olive oil in a blender. Blend until very well combined, then drizzle in olive oil. Reserve half in the freezer for another meal.

Pour chimichurri pesto over chicken and marinade overnight, or at least 3 hours.

Remove chicken from marinade and season with sea salt and pepper. For best results, grill until the chicken is done. You may also bake the chicken on a sheet pan in a 400 degree oven until nearly done then use the broiler to finish.

Roasted Spiced Sweet Potatoes
2 organic sweet potatoes, peeled and sliced into frites
6 T olive oil
1/2 t black pepper
a dash or two of cayenne pepper
1/4 t smoked paprika
1/4 t cumin
1/8 t coriander
1/8 t cinnamon
1/4 t garlic powder
sea salt (at the end)

Peel and cut the potatoes into 1 inch cubes. Toss the potatoes in a bowl with the olive oil and all spices but salt.  Bake at 425 for 10 minutes, rotate the pan and flip the potatoes, then bake another 10 minutes.  Watch them to see that they don’t burn.  Remove them from the oven and immediately season with sea salt.

Avocado Corn Salad (barely adapted from this recipe
2 T salted butter
3 C of frozen corn
2 T organic sugar
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 green onions, chopped
1/2 jalapeno pepper, seeded and diced
3 T homemade mayo
1/2 t chile powder
sea salt and pepper
1/2 C feta cheese
2 avocados, diced
1/4 C lime juice (1 to 2 limes)
a handful of chopped cilantro

Melt the butter in a medium skillet.  Add the corn and sugar and let cook until corn begins to turn golden, about 10 minutes.  Add the garlic, green onions, jalapeno, chile powder, sea salt, and pepper.  Cook 2 more minutes.  Add the lime juice and cilantro and toss into a serving bowl.  Add the mayo, feta, and avocados, stirring to combine.  Serve room temperature or cold.

A Tale of Two Birthday Cakes: Confetti Crumb and Chocolate Cookies n’ Cream

Yikes! I’m woefully behind on updating the blog! Ever since we got back from South Dakota there has been a sea of vlogs to edit (including some for work), work for my actual job is ramping up again, and school stuff–including the in-person vs. remote nail biter decision–all happened; and, perhaps most importantly for this blog, we celebrated both kids’ birthdays. They were each born in July, exactly 2 years and 12 days apart. If Liam had arrived when he should have, they would have shared a birthday.

Each year I usually throw a big over-the-top joint birthday bash complete with themed everything and tons of friends. My excuses for doing so are 1) I’m so lucky my kids’ birthday are in July and almost exactly half a year away from Christmas. This balances the calendar out so nicely and 2) I only do it once per year because I combine their birthdays–Huzzah! This year? Well, 2020 is just not the year for parties and large gatherings, so we kept things really low-key, but, that doesn’t mean I skimped out on the cake! So, while there’s recipes in my folder I’m backlogged on, and a ton of garden and Homestead news to share, I thought it might be fun to get back in the swing of blogging by sharing the birthday cake recipes for Chloe and Liam’s cakes. Because, honestly, what’s better than cake?

I did give them each the option of something bakery-bought because we honestly have a tremendous amount of delicious local bakeries around and I want to support them when and how I can. Both, however, proclaimed that I was “The best baker, “then went on, “like, mom, if you went on a baking show you’d win. Why haven’t you done that? We’d be so rich. . .”

Hah! While I’m sure that’s not true (or probable-lol) it did make me giggle and blush a little. What mother doesn’t want her children to think her food is the best? I do enjoy baking an awful lot. In fact, baking was my first love; it’s how I wound my way into cooking, in fact. Cooking always seemed necessary, and I liked it when it tasted good, but baking always seemed like a leisure activity–something indulgent, simply done for the pleasure of the doing and the eating of it.

So, I asked Chloe and Liam what flavor they’d like. Chloe wanted me to surprise her, but thankfully after watching hours of Kids Baking Championship with them I know that means she wants a confetti cake. After some thought on exactly what amount of chocolate he might want, Liam settled on cookies n’ cream.

Confetti Crumb Cake

Confetti Crumb Cake (inspired by Momofuku)
Yield: 1 8 inch round cake (10-12 servings)

For the cake-
2 3/4 C AP flour
1 T plus 1 t baking powder
3/4 t salt
1 1/2 C sugar
12 T salted butter, softened
1 C milk
5 large egg whites
1 T vanilla extract
1 t almond extract
1/2 C sprinkles of your choosing

For the frosting-
4 sticks (1 pound) of salted butter, softened
3-4 C powdered sugar (to taste)
1 1/2 T vanilla extract
1-3 T water (optional)
1/3 C sprinkles of your choosing

For the confetti cake crumbs (from Momofuku Milk Bar’s Birthday Cake, very slightly altered)-
3/4 C AP flour
1/2 C sugar
2 T light brown sugar
2 T sprinkles of your choosing
1/2 t baking powder
1/2 t salt
1/4 C olive oil (or another oil of your choosing)
1 t vanilla

For the cake-
Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

Into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, sift the flour, baking powder, and salt. Add the sugar. Turn on the mixer and combine for 30 seconds. Cut the butter into pats, turn the mixer onto low (but higher than the “stir” setting), and add the butter one pat at a time until all has been incorporated. You should have sandy-looking flour, with a few larger chunks of butter.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the egg whites, milk, and extracts. Add 1/3 of the milk and egg mixture to the stand mixer, then turn the mixer on to low speed, increasing to medium speed once everything has moistened for 20 seconds. Add the second 1/3 of the milk and repeat for 20 seconds. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl of the stand mixer. Add the last 1/3 of the milk and repeat, this time beating on high for 1 minute. Fold in the sprinkles.

Pour the batter into prepared cake pans (I ALWAYS use parchment-lined cake plans and a baking spray). Bake for 25-30 minutes, until the cake springs back lightly when you touch the center or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool on wire racks.

For the frosting-
In the bowl of a stand mixer, add the softened butter and, using the whisk attachment, beat until light and fluffy. Add the vanilla and powdered sugar, a half-cup at a time, and beat on high until the frosting tastes the way you want it. I prefer a less-sweet frosting, so tend to use less powdered sugar. If the frosting gets too thick, add a little water to thin it back out and make it spreadable. Add the sprinkles once the taste and texture are right and just beat until they are all combined.

Spread frosting into the center of a cooled cake. Place the second cake on top of the first, then ice a thin layer of frosting all over. Place in the fridge for 30 minutes to harden before frosting a thicker layer (this helps keep crumbs out of your final top coat).

For the crumbs-
Preheat oven to 300 degrees Fahrenheit.

Combine all the dry ingredients into a mixing bowl. Add the oil and vanilla and toss with a rubber spatula until everything is well mixed and no dry spots remain. You can also use your hands, if you like. Dump onto a parchment-lined baking sheet. Squeeze together some of the crumbs to form larger sizes and smaller sizes, leaving some crumb-like. You want a mixture of sizes to achieve the look and mouth-feel once done. Bake for 10-12 minutes. Cool. It will firm as it cools, so do not over bake.

Place on the top of the frosted cake. Pipe some frosting balls around the outside to help contain the crumbs.

Chocolate Cookies n’ Cream Cake

Chocolate Cookies n’ Cream Cake
Yield: 1 8 inch cake (10 – 12 servings)

For the cake
2 1/4 C AP flour
1 T baking powder
3/4 t salt
1 1/2 C sugar
12 T salted butter, softened
3/4 C boiling water
1/4 C hot coffee
1/2 C cocoa powder
1/4 C dark cocoa powder
3 large eggs
1 T vanilla

For the frosting
4 sticks salted butter, softened
3-4 C powdered sugar (to taste)
1 14 ounce package of regular Oreos
1 T vanilla

For the cake
Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

Boil the water and combine with hot coffee. Add the cocoa powders and whisk until no lumps remain. Set aside to cool.

Into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, sift flour, baking powder, and salt. Add the sugar and then turn the mixer on to low speed to combine for 30 seconds. Cut the butter into pats. With the mixer on low, add the butter, one pat at a time, until all the dry ingredients have been moistened by the butter. It should look like sand with some larger lumps of butter.

Into the cooled cocoa mixture, beat the eggs and vanilla with a whisk. Add 1/3 of the cocoa mixture and turn the mixer onto low until everything is moistened and then medium speed for 20 seconds. Add the second 1/3 and turn the mixer on to medium speed for 20 seconds. Scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl and then add the final 1/3 of the cocoa mixture, beating on high speed for 1 minute.

Pour the batter into prepared (with parchment and your favorite baking spray or flour & butter) 8 inch cake pans. Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until the center springs back when touched lightly or a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool on wire racks.

For the frosting
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the butter until light and fluffy.

Meanwhile, in a food processor, process the Oreos until finely crumbled. Set aside a small amount for adding to the top of the cake as decoration.

Add the powdered sugar and vanilla into the butter, then add the Oreos, beating on high to combine. Adjust powdered sugar to desired taste. Oreos are quite sweet so I kept my powdered sugar on the low side. You want enough to add enough powdered sugar to provide structure to the frosting so that it will pipe and hold its shape, but not so much that it becomes overly sweet, unless that’s your preference. If you find you get it too sweet, try beating in some cream cheese.

Spread the frosting onto the center of one of the cooled cake layers. Add the second layer and spread over the entire cake. The Oreo chunks make this one harder to crumb coat, but honestly, it’d be hard to spot the crumbs anyway–they’d just blend right in. I don’t recommend using a piping bag to frost, as the Oreo chunks can get stuck in even the widest circle tip I own. But, I did manage to pipe some decorative balls onto the top, alternating with whole Oreos, so I could contain the Oreo crumbs. I used a few small sprinkles to add a little festive birthday color to the frosting balls, added the Oreo crumbs, and called it done.

Colonialism, Cultural Rhetorics, and Camping: A Story

Hello from South Dakota! Today is our 6th day on the road; we left the Homestead on Monday morning and have been making our way west ever since. It’s been equal parts exhilarating and exhausting–exhilarating to be out adventuring as a family and exhausting to be doing this during a pandemic. Even so, this feels like the trip of a lifetime.

Our travel itinerary so far:
Day 1–Homestead to Iowa, near Des Moines at Cherry Glen Recreation Campground
Day 2–Cherry Glen to the KOA White River South Dakota, just outside Badlands National Park and almost within Pine Ridge Reservation
Day 3–Badlands National Park
Day 4–Badlands National Park
Day 5–Badlands National Park to Black Hills National Forest, near Mount Rushmore at Whispering Pines Campground (30 minutes outside of Rapid City)
Day 6–Chloe’s Birthday! Deadwood, Tatanka: Story of the Bison, and Bridal Veil Falls in Black Hills National Forest

There’s so much to share and talk about for this trip, so for this post I’m going to focus on a single event that occurred on our second travel day, on the Iowa to Badlands leg, as we tried to enter Pine Ridge Reservation to make it to our campsite; and then I’m going to briefly touch on our experiences on today–our sixth day–and connect those two experiences by reconciling my present with my past and making, what I hope becomes, a circle.

On Day 2, after two days of driving, we drove into Pine Ridge Reservation, home of the Oglala and Lakota tribes of the Sioux Nation, only to be stopped after the last main road exchange.

Not my photo. I deliberately did not take photos of this exchange.

There was a checkpoint where men, wearing masks against the pandemic, silently stood, watching us. I told Brian to put his mask on and be respectful as I did the same. One man approached and pointed at the scrolling digital sign across the road that read “COVID-19 present.” Brian rolled his window down and explained we were camping nearby and would just be passing through (though I had hoped to visit some of the sites on the reservation during our stay, as well). The man replied, stating we would need to turn around and use the highway, then gave us simple directions to follow in a gentle but firm way that made it very clear this was the way it had to be. We were exhausted, our GPS had routed us oddly and added nearly two hours to our trip today and we were within 25 minutes of our campsite. Pine Ridge Reservation encompasses as much land as the states of Rhode Island and Delaware combined and cutting around a portion of it added almost an hour to our trip. But we did it.

We did it gladly. Brian nodded and asked if he could pull the truck into a shallow shoulder at the side of the road and awkwardly turned the truck with the camper around by doing a three-point turn there in front of the group of men and a line of other passenger vehicles trying to get through. If you’ve never tried to do a three-point turn with a camper, let me assure you that getting the camper to move in the direction you want takes some doing, and so this process was not quick or easy. We did not stay to see how other tourists handled the situation. Once we were turned in the right direction, I nodded and waved, and the man we had spoken with gave me a nod and a wave back, and we drove off.

I’ve touched-on my backstory with Pine Ridge a little on this blog before, and I’ve also intimated more than a few times that I work in higher education and consider my disciplines to be writing studies and cultural rhetorics, both of which require engagement with decolonial work. But what the heck does that mean? This post, I hope, will help clarify that and also, hopefully, help many of you see that this is work you likely engage in already, but we use rhetoric to become more aware–awareness of your engagement can help you do more of it with more meaning and purpose–so cultural rhetorics is a way to add cognition and then action.

As a sophomore in high school I traveled to South Dakota as part of a “mission trip” to Pine Ridge Reservation. I want to pause here to note that I put quotation marks there to denote that I find the term problematic because of its colonial implications. I allude to colonialism a lot on this blog, as I think we all should be talking about it more than we do. We can’t decolonize without understanding that we’re still living within a colonial system. But let’s backtrack away from that statement that can feel surprising, bold, and even wrong to many people, and go back to that sophomore in high school. We’ll return to that statement later.

I lived in a predominantly white, upper-class, rather idyllic place. I had always, however, been fascinated by other cultures, and most especially Indigenous Americans/Native Americans/American Indians (again–none of those terms is value-neutral and I want to acknowledge that). I had read a lot of fiction and nonfiction, had watched Dances with Wolves on repeat for almost two years, and I yearned to know and understand more. I was also wanting to be more involved in my church’s youth group, as I recently had been struggling with depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem, and so when the opportunity arose to go on said “mission trip” the summer between my sophomore and junior year of high school, I leapt at the chance.

I do not remember what my young self expected to experience, but I do remember the first feelings I had upon entering the reservation. I don’t know that it exists in word-form, but the closest I can think of might be an odd mixture of feeling like a trespasser, feeling guilty because the word reservation seemed somehow wrong and also loaded with meaning, and yet also feeling completely dumbstruck at the reservation’s beauty, vastness, and mostly untouched and unspoiled nature–a nod to the romantic notion of the American Indian. I spent the next week encountering a series of firsts: first time I was ever the minority, being one in a handful of white people in a room, first time I was ever a guest in what felt almost like another country, first time I was expected to do real physical manual labor, and the first time I had encountered in the flesh the reality of what my books had shown me–the reality that I, as a white person, was culpable in this story.

On our way into the reservation, I remember vividly seeing a bison standing right near the road, coming even with our little church bus in height, and we gaped in wonder as we slowly passed it.

I remember the feeling of the tall grass and fields of wheat, growing on hills that rose above the road, comforting and enveloping, as if the road existed within the folds of a great blanket.

I helped repair a door on a local church. I tended young children at a daycare we set-up. I played and laughed during the day and then sat humbled in the evening as locals gathered to cook us meals, generously sharing what little they had.

I had read about Wounded Knee. But I can tell you now that as I sat on the tall grass looking down at the fields below, I cried. I imagined the bodies, the terror, and the blood. And I acknowledged in full cognition that my ancestors were the reason this had happened.

I had read about pow wows. But I can tell you that nothing compares to the singing, the drumming, the dancing, and the sheer authenticity of it. This was for them and I felt outside of it all, almost as if I shouldn’t even be there–this wasn’t for me and I could not be a part of it, but somehow, they were allowing me to watch, and so I did with my breath practically held, as if I would disturb the scene with my breathing and make it all disappear.

We stayed in a church, sleeping on the floor in sleeping bags. One morning, I walked out, up at dawn before anyone else, and looked across the road to the beautiful rolling grass hills only to hear first and then see a moment later there, rising over the crest of the largest hill a herd of wild horses. They were a medley of colors and patterns, nothing like the pure-bred horses in the stables at home. The stallion was in charge, a point at the front of a chaotic-looking bunch. But soon, upon spying me, like birds in flight the stallion changed their course and, in unison, the herd followed in almost choreographed precision. I sat there, gaping, my young brain trying to process what had just happened. It felt almost like a message, like I had witnessed something sacred and now I had to do something with it.

Part of the herd. Photo is an iPhone photo of a computer photo of a full photo. So, quality is top-notch.

There are other flashes of memories–but these are the most present in my mind. I was not yet sixteen, boy crazy and insecure, which is not a good combination for a young girl, but my brain was grappling to understand what it was seeing. I wrote in my journal in the church bus on the long hours of driving, paragraphs and paragraphs of my clumsy first attempts at grappling with colonialism. I didn’t know that’s what it was then, of course, and the word “colonialism” never once appears in any of those writings.

Another iPhone photo of a computer screen showing a film photo. I’m encircled in white. This is circa 1996-1997.

Nor does it appear in the writings that came soon after. A few years later, the summer before my senior year of high school, for AP English, we were assigned a year-long inquiry project about any topic we wanted. We had the summer to think over topics and then we had to propose it formally the first week of school. The parameters were that it had to be inquiry and then research–think of an overarching question, develop sub-questions for further research, and then write a series of papers over the course of the academic year to combine into a portfolio-style book. I wrestled with different topics until one day I realized my topic had been staring me in the face. Literally. Hanging on the walls of my bedroom were photos I had taken from that South Dakota trip. Looking at them, I realized I had so many unanswered questions and feelings. I knew this trip had changed me on a deep level, but I didn’t have the words to express how or in what ways. This flash of inspiration for my project seemed big and unfocused, but my teacher did say we could pick any topic we wanted. So, I thought that perhaps I could start big and then narrow as I went along.

So, that’s what I did. I wanted to understand what I’d seen and experienced. Why did we even go on a “mission trip” to Pine Ridge, anyway? Weren’t all the poor people in need of our help in other countries? Why are they so poor? Why is there even a reservation? What is a reservation? What does that word even mean? What are its implications for the Sioux Nation? Why did we kill so many of them? Why did any of this even happen?

So. Many. Questions. I tried to tackle them all, eventually honing in on a paper about land and mining rights as a way to get at the larger issues. As it turns out, Pine Ridge is the poorest county in the entire United States. As it also turns out, the reasons they’re poor are because of colonialism. And when I say colonialism, I do not mean Great Britain in India or even America, I mean us–Americans–still engaging in the activity of colonialism even today. I uncovered old treaties and understood how we had not honored the terms–how the Black Hills are sacred to the Sioux and, by rights of the Laramie Treaty, should be a part of the Sioux Nation. I read laws about mining for minerals and how, at least to my 17 year old understanding of law, it seemed as if the Sioux owned the surface of their land but not what was underneath it. I read laws about fishing rights and toxic waste from our industries that pollute their waterways. And most baffling was the notion that they were autonomous…. but also totally not, otherwise the Bureau of Indian Affairs would not be a thing.

I wrote all of this down, and then paused, just as I’m going to pause right here to do. Some part of me realized then that I had to write myself alongside this paper. I didn’t have the words for it at that time, but I do now–the trope of the White Savior is a very real stumbling block to decolonial work. Without writing myself into the paper, I come off as having all the answers to the problems that had previously been unsolvable by Native people and very much engage in the activity of objectifying an entire nation of people, or at the very least, romanticizing them, flattening them to caricatures that exist in old stories while we all lament that “all the Indians have disappeared.”

So, I wrote about Wounded Knee, and the horses, and the daycare, and the dinners. I wrote about swinging a little girl named Duanna around and around outside while she giggled. I wrote about the experience of reading Russell Means’ biography alongside a report of it, about reading fiction novels about Native Americans alongisde a report about why there were so few Native voices in my “official” sources; I wrote about the feelings of watching Smoke Signals, a movie wrote and filmed on Pine Ridge, and I included photographs of my time in Pine Ridge alongside collage artwork I pieced together from album cover art, magazine clippings, and more. I wrote myself into the story so that my biases, struggles, and emotions could be part of the work and so I could hopefully understand myself and my experiences while also amplifying Native voices and Native stories without taking over. In engaging in this assignment in this way, I was practicing cultural rhetorics.

I had no idea that’s what I was doing, though. It was pure instinct. And now, I can look back on this project and shake my head at all of the flaws and failures of my allyship. The places that would make me cringe now. The times where I did romanticize, where I did Save, where I did flatten and objectify even if in the next sentence I tried to work my way out of it. It was far from perfect, but it was a start. That’s the thing about doing decolonial writing and work–by the time you’re done with it, the activity of doing it was so instructive that you read-through and realize all the new things you’ve learned and want to change moving forward. But, we write most of the time to publish, and so publishing should not be seen as the exclamation point of wisdom it is, but an evolution of a long conversation during which–hopefully–we all benefit from our collective wisdom and learn and grow beyond our present selves. Everyone should read-through their old stuff and shake their heads; that means you’re doing it right. It’s the process that matters more than the outcome.

For years this experience stayed with me as I struggled to find myself. I kept writing this way–placing myself front and center into the text, even if it was an academic paper and that was not “academic writing.” Most of my teachers and professors let me get away with it. It wasn’t until I got into graduate school and met my thesis advisor (turned close friend/work partner/and boss) that I encountered the term “cultural rhetorics.” But it spoke to me. This is what I’ve been trying to do–imperfectly but earnestly–since those paragraphs written into a journal during the bumpy bus ride in South Dakota. I can trace a clear, straight, wondrous line from that experience to my master’s thesis, which is why, in the introduction to it, I acknowledged it and briefly retold this story.

Cultural rhetorics is a discipline. We research, publish, and conference as any discipline would. But it’s most importantly–above all of that other stuff–a practice and an orientation. It is a way of being and doing in the world. It seeks to recognize the relationships between people, places, things, events, and experiences, forcing us to make connections and deconstruct binaries and narratives to get at the more complex meaning hidden so often from our views. Our biases get in the way. Our own experiences get in the way. Our emotions can get in the way (but at the same time they also instruct). It’s only when we write those in to the work and put them on the page next to the story we’re writing about that we can see that. We see how we are implicated in the story; we see how we can change and grow. We see how our changing and growing can create actions to make change in the story. Everything we think, feel, and do writes a story we all write together; rippling out and weaving together–crafting what we call reality.

I made no secret of the fact that I was looking forward to sharing Pine Ridge with my children on this trip in my previous post about this. I was cognizant that they might not have the earth-moving moments I did, but nonetheless, I felt it was a way to take the line from a straight path into something more purposeful and strong–like a circle. I wanted to draw a circle.

We pulled into the reservation, the Oglala and Lakota welcome sign greeting me, and I smiled and held my arms close around me, hugging myself with disbelief. I was returning. This place that had changed me and I had dreamed of ever since. I was about to touch it and smell it for the first time in 24 years. And then came the checkpoint. In that moment, I swallowed my disappointment and decided the best way to honor my past experiences would be to honor and respect the boundaries being enacted by the Sioux Nation right now. I would not disrespect or disagree. I would not react in any way, in fact. I would nod and wave and talk to my children about border rights and Native lands, and use this moment as another spark in what, I hope, is a long line of sparks I have and will continue to stoke as they grow-up.

We pulled in to our campsite, a reservation COVID-19 warning border sign not 500 feet away from us. I could see the rolling hills and imagine those were the same hills where I saw the herd of wild horses. Close, but not quite there. And it had to be enough. The next morning I did some research online. Less than a week prior to our arrival, tribal president Bear Runner had re-issued shelter-in-place orders and what was termed “border monitoring.” After reading through some council minutes on Facebook, it became clear that border monitoring meant anyone who had been off the reservation for more than 24 hours, and especially those who are outside travelers and tourists. I did some more digging, determined to take action–to honor the boundaries and borders while also finding ways to reach across them, even if only metaphorically, and found the Friends of Pine Ridge Reservation website. We plan to donate when we get home.

Today, on our sixth day of our trip, we visited Tatanka: Story of the Bison just outside Deadwood at my request. Chloe wanted to see Deadwood for her birthday (well, her actual request was “a town like Gatlinburg in the the Smoky Mountains” and the closest thing I could think of was Deadwood); Brian wanted to see a nearby waterfall; Liam was happy to do anything, and I wanted to visit Tatanka because I knew Kevin Costner had funded it and that it would likely be really interesting because Dances with Wolves was amazing. I also thought it might provide a bit of the perspective we weren’t able to access on Pine Ridge Reservation.

Deadwood was extremely busy and not very many people were wearing masks, so we didn’t stay long.
Bridal Veil Falls was beautiful!

I wasn’t wrong. We walked in and were immediately greeted warmly by the Director, Susan, then met Truman, a Lakota cultural interpreter. Truman escorted us back to a museum room, filled with cultural artifacts and pieces from the movie. He spent the next 15 minutes or so telling us about the Lakota story of the bison, about how the Lakota view everything as a circle that is connected and related–this all should sound familiar to cultural rhetorics, and indeed, cultural rhetorics as a discipline was primarily founded by Indigenous scholars. He also talked about how General Sheridan had ordered the mass killing of the bison as a way to force the Lakota onto the reservation, answering a question I hadn’t been able to as a 17 year old senior in high school: the story of how we got an entire nation of people onto “a reservation.”

Truman then took my family and two friendly older gentleman outside to a nearby field where targets were set-up. We got to spend around an hour throwing hatchets and learning to use a bow and arrow. Truman patiently letting my children try and try again until they had it right, guiding them along the way and even asking his son to help my daughter with the bow and arrow. He clapped enthusiastically when they succeeded, and gently pushed them to try again when they failed. He talked of a time when he had visited another nearby tourist attraction and had been pained when a group of young children were dressed-up as cowboys and hollering that they wanted to kill “the Injuns,” and their caregivers had encouraged them to do it.

Truman helping Brian throw a hatchet

After hatchet throwing, we walked around the path from the target practice field to view the sculpture Kevin Costner commissioned to sit on this site after his experience riding with 3,000 buffalo while filming Dances with Wolves–the first group of people to do that in 100 years. The bronze sculpture is impressive. It’s the third largest bronze sculpture in the world. It moves with you as you walk around it, viewing it from different angles, seeing different parts of the story. You feel the anguish of the buffalo first and it seems horrific. And then you notice the restraint on the Lakota faces. They are not smiling or laughing or even grimacing all that much. They are doing what they need to do to survive another winter. The Lakota warrior at the back of the pack eyes the numbers, knowing when to stop, knowing when they had enough, knowing when to send the warriors in to divert the rest of the herd away from the cliff.

The sculpture is so big I preferred capturing it in vignettes, butt his is a wider angle, attempting to get most of the sculpture into the frame (though it’s so large that this is difficult to do while still being close enough to see any details).

This experience at Tatanka felt authentic, not unlike the pow wow I watched all those years ago, except this time I did not feel like an outsider. I felt invited in. I felt reciprocity: I wanted to learn and they, the Lakota interpreters, wanted and offered to do the emotional labor necessary to teach me. My children watched, listened, experienced, and appreciated. They both loved it. Both of them kept turning to eye me at important moments throughout because they know–I’ve talked with them about colonialism, racism, white privilege, and the complex lived and embodied experiences of many minority groups, including Native Americans before. I’ve also talked with them a lot about how this experience on Pine Ridge and my other experiences have changed and shaped me. But, listening to their mother blabber on about something is one thing; hearing this from a powerful Native voice is something else entirely. They felt that. They asked questions. They were engaged. And they both told me they really loved that experience. I wasn’t expecting them to. I wasn’t asking them to. I was hoping they would and now they have. Together we have closed one circle and started another. Truman would say that, according to the Lakota, that means we’re stronger.

Recipe Post: Vietnamese-Inspired Chicken Quinoa Salad and Mongolian-Style Turkey Meatballs

Ah summer. I always crave food with fresh, vibrant flavors and textures this time of year. I also like to cook and eat food that isn’t heavy, did not take me an hour of standing over a hot stove to make, and doesn’t necessarily need to be piping hot to be delicious. To that end, this week I’m featuring two easy and tasty recipes full of bright flavor and crunchy texture. First up is a new quinoa salad I threw together one night recently and that really hit the spot after a long day of garden chores. I’m always on the hunt for more quinoa salads, and this one will definitely stay in my “go-to” rotation.

Vietnamese-Inspired Chicken Quinoa Salad
Yield: about 4 adult servings

2 chicken breasts, poached
1 C quinoa, cooked
1/2 t crushed red pepper
2 T sesame oil
1 C cilantro stems (not the leaves)
1 t ground ginger
1 lemongrass stalk
3 cloves garlic, minced
3 limes, juiced
2 T honey
2 T sugar
1/3 C soy sauce
1/3 C coconut milk
combine with:
cilantro leaves
mint leaves
matchstick cut carrots
shredded cabbage

In a small skillet, heat sesame oil to hot. Add the red pepper, ginger, lemongrass, garlic, and cilantro stems. Cook 1 minute until fragrant. Add the lime juice, soy sauce, coconut milk, honey, and sugar. Strain through a fine mesh colander or sieve to remove the solids.

In a bowl, combine the cooked quinoa, the cilantro and mint leaves, the matchstick carrots, and the shredded cabbage. Add dressing and toss to combine. Serve immediately or chilled for a few hours. Taste is best on the first day because the dressing will be absorbed by the quinoa. If you want to portion this for lunches throughout the week, reserve the dressing to toss just before serving.

This next recipe is an old family-favorite. It takes the classic American Chinese takeaway flavor and puts it into a family-friendly and easy medium–the meatball. I first came-up with the idea when my daughter (now 12) was a toddler and meatballs were like, so cool. I wanted her to explore new flavors while also exciting the palettes of my husband and I, and this one hit the spot all around. We’ve been making and eating this ever since! You can use ground beef, of course, but I tend to use ground turkey more than ground beef in my cooking.

Mongolian-Style Meatballs with Basmati Rice
Yield: 4 to 6 adult servings

1/2 C hoisin sauce
1/4 C tamari reduced sodium soy sauce
1/4 C brown sugar
1 t garlic powder (I was out of fresh garlic, but didn’t mind the powder frankly)
1/2 t ground ginger
1/4 to 1/2 t red pepper flakes (adjust the heat to your taste)
1 egg
1/2 C plain bread crumbs
1 pound ground turkey
1 C basmati rice
2 1/2 C water
2 bunches green onions, sliced on the bias into 1 inch pieces
1 C matchstick cut carrots
olive oil oil

In a mixing bowl, combine the hoisin, tamari soy sauce, brown sugar, garlic powder ground ginger, and red pepper flakes.  You should have 1 liquid cup.  Remove all but 1/4 C from the bowl and set aside.

Whisk 1 egg into the sauce in the mixing bowl, then add the ground turkey and bread crumbs.  Combine with your hands as you would a meatloaf or other meatball, then shape into ping pong ball sized meatballs.  You should get 24.

Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven on a parchment lined baking sheet for about 20 minutes until done. 

Meanwhile, make the rice by boiling 1 C basmati rice with 2 1/2 C salted water.  Bring to a boil, stir once, cover and reduce heat to a simmer.   Cook 20 minutes, or according to package directions, without opening the lid to stir.  Simply turn off the heat under the pan and remove it to a cooler place when the timer is up.  DO NOT OPEN THE LID UNTIL READY TO SERVE.  When ready, open the lid, dish out the rice with a wooden spoon and it should be perfectly steamed, fluffy, and just a little sticky – perfect.  🙂

After meatballs are done in the oven, in a large skillet, heat one turn of the pan of oil to rippling hot.  Add the carrots and cook 1 minute.  Add the green onions and cook 30 seconds.  Add the meatballs and reserved 3/4 C sauce, toss to combine, and cook for 1 minute more, until hot.  Serve immediately with the cooked rice.  Garnish rice with finely chopped green onion, if desired.