Monthly Archives: October 2011

GF Fruit Cobbler (Easy!)

Well, it’s really Wednesday, so this probably shouldn’t be tagged “If it’s Tuesday, it must be gluten-free!” I’m a day behind myself this week. We’re passing a cold around, and this morning I woke up to discover I’m it.

Something comforting is in order, I think.

The basic idea for this cobbler comes from More-with-Less by Doris Janzen Longacre. I’m on my second copy, and it’s getting pretty tattered, so I handle it gingerly. It’s not a gluten-free cookbook, but I’ve been able to adapt some of the recipes so far. The recipes are pretty simple and basic, and this is the cookbook (along with Laurel’s Kitchen, during a mostly vegetarian phase) that taught me most of what I know about cooking from scratch. This is the cookbook that taught me to make chocolate pudding without the pudding package from the store. This is also the cookbook that fueled our love affair with cobbler — especially made with fresh-picked wild blackberries, but also great with blueberries or peaches or any combination of berries and peaches.

My quick-and-sloppy GF flour mix works well in this recipe. (See below.)

Fresh, canned or frozen fruit, it doesn’t matter. This cobbler always comes out right. You make the batter first and pour it into the baking dish, sprinkle fruit over the top, and bake. The fruit sinks to the bottom, the batter rises to the top, light and fluffy, and bakes to a lovely golden brown while filling the house with an enticing fragrance. I doubled the recipe to serve the five of us (people around here are greedy when it comes to cobbler), and it disappears quickly. I cut it up into six portions and put one away for Dad’s lunchbox.

Easy GF Fruit Cobbler
based on Quick Fruit Cobbler from More-with-Less

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 10″ x 13″ baking pan. Mix the following ingredients, beat until smooth, and pour into pan, spreading to the edges. It’ll make a thin layer.

1 cup sugar (I can cut this by almost half and still get a fairly decent result)
1 cup GF flour mix
1 cup milk (I’ve tried regular milk, raw milk, coconut milk, almond milk, and rice milk by turns. They all work.)
2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 to 1/2 tsp. salt

Now it’s time for the fruit! You can make an all-one-kind cobbler (we often do, especially when we’ve just come back from berry-picking), or you can mix different fruits. This recipe is very forgiving — it takes fresh, canned, or frozen fruit. I’d drain canned fruit first, if I were you. If you use frozen fruit, your baking time is going to be somewhat longer. How long? I can’t tell you. We pretty much tell when it’s done by peeking in the oven when we can’t stand the wonderful smell any longer. When it’s golden-brown-and-delicious (is that Rachel Ray?), it’s ready to eat.

We haven’t tried this with apples, yet, as we usually make Apple Crisp or baked apples or apple pie with those.

You want your fruit in somewhat even pieces, although I’ve been known to slice peaches (or use canned sliced peaches) and lay them in a pretty pattern, before sprinkling with blueberries or blackberries.

Scatter about 4 cups of fruit across the surface of the cobbler. Bake about 40 minutes. It’s really good served warm with cream, whipped cream, or ice cream. In the unlikely event you have any left over, it makes a great breakfast, cold.

Quick GF Flour Mix

My quickly cobbled-together flour mix, that works well for simple scratch recipes, contains approximately:

1/2 cup rice flour (white or brown seem to work about the same)
1/4 cup tapioca or corn starch
1/4 cup sorghum flour or millet flour

Mix these together before you add them to the rest of the ingredients.

What’s quick about it is that it seems to work well even if I don’t measure carefully. GF flours can be unforgiving. You don’t want to pack them down in the measuring cup. You don’t usually want to scoop them from the flour container with a measuring cup; you want to scoop them gently into the cup and level off, not pack down. However, with this mix I just stick the 1/2 or 1/4 cup measure into the flour/starch I’m grabbing and lightly scoop it up, scrape the excess off the top of the cup with the blade of a knife, and dump it into the mix.

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TOS Crew: Say Anything from Northstar Games

Some reviews practically write themselves (especially when we’re enthused about a project!) and some are difficult to write — either we’re really excited about something and I’m afraid the written word won’t do it justice, or it didn’t work for our family… but let’s not go there, because that certainly isn’t the case today!

When the TOS Crew learned that Northstar Games would be participating in this year’s cruise, you should have heard the cheers!

You see, last year our family reviewed Wits and Wagers, and had a blast doing it. What fun!

(Don’t just take our word for it. You can find this year’s Crew impressions of Wits and Wagers at this link, by the way.)

It was a different kind of game, in that it evened out the playing field. Youngest had just as good a chance of winning as anyone, and sometimes better! (She knew, not guessed, the number of Disney princesses… and other unique trivia questions, and when she guessed, her guesses were as good as anyone else’s, and she soon figured out a strategy that worked very well for racking up the points.
One fun thing about NorthStar Games is the Meeples. We’ve fallen in like with these cute little “people” who populate the games, serving as game tokens, or decorating the boards (more about the boards in a minute). They make fun mascots!

Say Anything! — a new family pastime — is another game where you don’t have to have a storehouse of trivia at your fingertips, and if (like Youngest) you struggle with spelling, it’s okay because creativity trumps spelling in this game. In other words, even if your handwriting is hard to read, or your words are oddly spelled, just so long as other players can read your writing, you can play. Younger players may want to team up with older players to get around the “8 and up” (which helps assure the player can write) suggestion.

Here’s how the game works. You each have a dry erase writing board and pen. The person who’s “It” (the “Judge”) draws a question from the stack of cards and reads a question aloud. (“What’s the best way to spend a rainy day?” is an example I just thought up out of my head, but with the stack of questions included with the game, it may well be in there. There are six questions on each card. Having a choice of more than one question gives the reader a little latitude. For example, if you’d be uncomfortable with the topic “What would be the weirdest secret to hear about my mother?” or you don’t know what an A-list celebrity is (“Which A-list celebrity is most likely to be forgotten in 10 years?”), you can fall back on “What’s the best thing about living in the country?” — a sampling of one card.)

All the other players write down an answer to the question, wacky or serious as you wish. The Judge secretly selects one of the answers and then everyone else tries to guess which answer the Judge likes best. You place your tokens on one or two of the answers and when all bets are placed, the Judge reveals the winning choice.

You get points for choosing the winning answer and also for writing the winning answer. There can be a lot of jockeying for position and strategy involved. Knowing the Judge well (and everyone gets to take a turn at judging) is a definite help!

Materials are sturdy (well, fairly sturdy — we almost wrecked the Judge’s secret choice recording device until we realized it wasn’t supposed to be used as a spinner — memo to self: read the directions before trying to play the game for the first time and don’t count on a kid who says she read the directions already…), colorful, and convenient. All play is done on dry erase boards, even scorekeeping! Pens are provided with the game, but when they run out (and ours haven’t yet), you can probably use dry erase crayons or any dry erase markers. However, if you’ve had the game for less than a year, they have a fantastic replacement policy.

From the Northstar Games website:

Free Parts Replacement – Don’t let a lost or broken component stop you from playing. If any of our game component(s) should fail (or even be lost) within the first year of ownership, we will deliver an identical or comparable replacement to your door free of charge! Requesting replacement parts is a breeze… simply e-mail us the requested part(s) along with your mailing address. We’ll send the parts out within two weeks.

Suited for 3-6 players (and you can have more if you play in teams), ages 8 and up (but again, younger players can team up with older players) Say Anything is available where games are sold and retails for $19.99.

Be warned. This game is addictive. (And fun!)

Check out more TOS Crew reviews of Say Anything here.

Disclaimer: Our family received a free copy of Say Anything for review purposes. No additional compensation was involved.

Free printables!

While perusing this week’s Subscriber Exclusive from Homeschool Freebie of the Day, I followed a link that led to a link that led to free printables from Life Your Way.

They have more than 150 free printables available for download here, including a room organizer chart (I don’t know about you, but with the change of seasons we’re moving our furniture around into new configurations) and a Home Management Notebook.

So if you feel the need to scratch that “get organized” itch, check out Life Your Way, and if you haven’t heard of Homeschool Freebie of the Day, take a look at that site, too, where every day there’s a new free download of PDF e-books or mp3 files or links to free resources.

Could you do me a favor, please?

If you are subscribed to, or following this blog (Google, Yahoo, Networked Blogs, etc.) could you please hop over to the new blog and subscribe/follow there? I’m in the process of migrating over there and I’d love to keep in touch with you!

Home Sweet Home(school)’s new home!

If you’re not subscribed or following, I’d be glad to welcome you, too!

(Sadly, the “Followers” widget isn’t working just now, but hopefully that’ll get cleared up soon.)

Thanks! Hope to see you over there. I’ll keep updating both blogs for awhile, but I hope to transition entirely to the new blog eventually.

If you prefer the look of this blog to the new one (this one is plainer than the new one, without a lot of color) please let me know.

Visual Latin — great discount, but hurry!

Visual Latin is offering a great discount on their products!

From their FaceBook page:

Here’s a little October gift: use the code OCT$10 and get $10 off any Visual Latin product. Use it quickly – it’s only good through this Friday, Oct 21!

TOS Crew: e-Mealz

Back in January, I confessed my meal-planning woes. You see, we went partially gluten-free (GF) about a year ago — this meant I was cooking regular meals for the family and modifying things to make Eldest’s meals completely GF. We had a menu-planning and cooking system in place that had been working pretty well. At the end of each month, we “girls” would plan the next month’s meals. We cooked on a rotation basis, meaning each of us (mom and daughters, that is) ended up responsible for cooking, washing dishes, and kitchen clean-up about twice a week.

With Eldest’s gluten sensitivity, I sort of took over all the cooking once again. Oh, if a meal was naturally gluten-free, one of the girls could manage. But I was paranoid about cross-contamination, and so if a meal contained gluten ingredients, I took it upon myself to do the cooking.

Two months later, DH was diagnosed with a severe gluten sensitivity, and I made the decision to go completely GF, at least at home. (The younger girls and I still get glutenous food on occasion, when we’re out and about.) Now, GF cooking is not as difficult as I thought it would be, but it was different enough that I — still learning — took on all the cooking. (I know. I should have included the girls in the learning and exploring. My only explanation is that I felt like I was in over my head.) I had kind of a mental block against menu planning. It all seemed overwhelming. We got into a rut of rotating the same few meals, and I was doing all the cooking once more.

I made a couple of feeble stabs at GF menu planning, but it was pitiful. Just pitiful.

Enter The Old Schoolhouse Review Crew, and the opportunity to review an online menu-planning service. When I heard they had a gluten-free option, I jumped up and down (virtually, anyhow) with my hand up in the air, yelling, “Pick me! Pick me!” Anything had to be better than what I was doing.

Choosing a plan

When I found out our family was on the e-Mealz list, I went to the e-Mealz website and read everything I could find about their menu plans. They have so many plans to choose from, including store-specific and special diets (low-carb, low-fat, low-cal, vegetarian, and yes, gluten-free). There are even small-family plans if you’re cooking for just one or two people. The store-specific plans take into account the stores’ weekly sales. We’re talking Wal-Mart, Aldi’s, Kroger, and Publix for specific stores. We don’t have Aldi’s and Publix for sure, so it was easy to eliminate those choices. But for the rest… it was tough! I went through all of their sample menus.

I finally settled on the Wal-Mart gluten-free plan. It appears to be identical to the “any store” GF plan, except that it includes prices on the shopping list. Oh, but I’m getting ahead of myself…

How it works

You select a meal plan from the options available and sign up. A three-month subscription is $15 (which works out to $5 a month, as you probably already noticed), billed to your credit card or debit card. Your subscription is automatically renewed, or you may cancel at any time.

By the way, I’ve found from personal experience that when I plan my meals and stick to my plan, I save money on groceries (for one thing, it cuts way down on impulse buying, and since what I buy is on the plan, it gets used and doesn’t end up forgotten, in the fridge), as well as time. No more last minute trips to the store for forgotten ingredients! No more last minute trips to the store, period, just because the fridge and cabinets are reasonably full of ingredients but “there’s nothing to eat.”

Every week a new menu is available for download. (You can actually download two weeks’ worth of menus, “this week” and “last week,” so our first week, I got two weeks’ menus to work from.)

My gluten-free e-Mealz menus have each been three pages: two pages of menus spanning seven days, plus a shopping list which includes what I need to buy in a weekly shopping trip, prices, space to write additional items, and a list of pantry staples that I need to have on hand (or buy, if they’re not in my pantry) to fix all the meals for the week.

Our meal plans usually included at least one of each of the following:
– fish
– Mexican
– chicken
– pork
– beef
– meatless

For each day, there’s an entree and a side in the menu plan, with a list of ingredients and preparation instructions. We’ve made some substitutions; for example, when a recipe calls for quick-cooking brown rice, I substitute regular; we don’t do fish on a weekly basis as one of the girls won’t eat any fish except canned tuna, and we only eat pork about once a month, not once a week.

The recipes are pretty easy to make, and the results have been, for the most part, delicious. (Remember, I haven’t made all the recipes because of food preferences.) The GF menus average on paper about $90 a week. Some weeks we spend less because we have a supply of meat already in our freezer. Some weeks we spend more because when we do buy meat, it’s the hormone- and antibiotic-free kind, which costs more.

But what about other allergies?

Because gluten is our main concern, these menus have worked fairly well for us. (I say “fairly” because of our fussy eater, who prefers her food pretty plain.) If your family has other food allergies (for example, corn or dairy) you might not fare as well (pun not intended but it certainly works well, doesn’t it).

In summary

Click on any of the meal plans at the e-Mealz website to see a summary of that plan, and to find a link to a sample menu/shopping list for that plan. Check out a variety of plans — you’ll get an idea of how it works. You can sign up and choose a plan, and if it doesn’t work you can switch plans once every three months.

I think I’ll stick with the Wal-Mart gluten-free meal plan. I don’t always get to Wal-Mart, as sometimes I have to consider the cost in gas compared to the grocery savings, but I like having the prices and the option. I like having menus planned out for me, and with the easy-to-follow recipes, the girls are finally able to learn to cook gluten-free. This one’s a winner for our family.

Read more TOS Crew reviews of e-Mealz here.

Disclaimer: TOS Crew members were provided a free 3-month subscription to e-Mealz for review purposes. We receive no monetary compensation for offering our opinion. Opinions offered here are our own.

TOS Crew: Visual Latin

We’ve tried a few different approaches to Latin over the years, and so when the girls heard that we were reviewing Visual Latin, I’m afraid there were a few groans.  Youngest was already happy with the Latin she was learning with a group of friends. She wasn’t interested in trying something else. Her older sisters are up to their chins in Biblical Greek, a college level course with lots of homework. They weren’t all that interested in adding Latin to the schedule.

I’d heard good things about Visual Latin, though, and especially wanted to see how Youngest, our wiggliest learner, would take to the course. It looked like this was going to be a tough review to manage, with nobody (except me) interested in this course.

And then I put the DVD in the computer drive and started watching. Pretty soon there were people watching over my shoulder, talking back to the screen, laughing, calling out responses. Youngest said, early in the first lesson, “Let’s switch to this Latin course, Mom. He makes things so easy to understand!”

What’s special about Visual Latin?

This is a video-based Latin course, for one thing. It’s not a textbook-based Latin course for which you, if you are a parent who never learned Latin in (or out of) school, can buy videos to teach the course for you. The videos themselves drive the course: You watch a presentation and complete a worksheet. The lessons are short and lively (or maybe I should say the instructor is lively, but more about him in a minute). Many of the worksheets combine explanation of the material covered in the video with application of the concept learned in the lesson (“practice on paper”).

There are ten lessons on the DVD, each lesson in three parts: Grammar, Sentences, and Reading.

Grammar: Introduce the concept covered in the lesson. Concepts are broken down into small, manageable bites. You learn a lot about English grammar, too. (Not surprisingly. I didn’t learn much, if any, English grammar in school until my first high school foreign language class.) Mostly lecture, although “lecture” is such a boring, mundane word it doesn’t really fit with what you get on the video.

Sentences: This is where the teacher applies the grammar, working through examples on a chalkboard.

Reading: This was a fun part! The teacher reads aloud a short, easy story which draws a lot of its words from material presented earlier. After the explanatory Reading section in Lesson 1, the Reading sessions are all in Latin. You hear the teacher read the story all the way through, then a sentence at a time, and then you read through the same story on a worksheet and translate what you read. The stories build on each other, beginning in the Beginning. Literally! By the end of Lesson 10, you’ve worked your way through the Biblical account of Creation, up to Day Seven, and all in Latin.

You watch a part (which takes less than ten minutes, sometimes as little as four minutes) and then do the associated worksheet. You could easily fit Latin in at the rate of a lesson a week, for example, setting aside 20 minutes or so on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday to watch a video segment and complete a worksheet.You could whiz through all three parts in one sitting, I suppose. We did that with the first lesson, just because the material was easy and familiar and the girls were enjoying the presentation so much.

The teacher, Duane Thomas, is not only an experienced Latin teacher, but he’s a homeschool dad. This (along with his teaching style) makes me think that he understands wiggly kids like mine.

Watching the video, you feel almost as if you’re taking part. Our girls were calling out answers, and not because I told them to, but because the instructor has a deft sense of timing, a way of engaging the camera that makes it seem as if he’s talking directly to you. He’s good at keeping up the interest level, with jokes and unexpected moves. (Just wait until you get to the lesson where he loses his chalkboard eraser…) However, learning is going on the whole time.

Duane is constantly throwing in English words derived from the Latin words he’s using as examples. He’s real, and not afraid to make mistakes and own up to them. As a matter of fact, Middlest commented during an early lesson, “I like this guy. He’s real. They’re not constantly cutting and editing the video to make it look perfect.” Somehow, his easy manner makes Latin simpler to tackle, less scary, and mistakes less dreadful.

There are several free downloads on the Visual Latin website. Four introductory videos plus the first two lessons in the program are available to download for free. You can also watch a sample lesson online, and download the associated worksheets.

Visual Latin is available on DVD or as a download. Latin I, Lessons 1-10 (which is the DVD our family received) costs $30 for a single family purchase, or $150 for a group license to use the material with a class of five or more students. A single-family download version costs $25.

Lesson video formats include High Definition (HD) mv4 files usable with Apple iTunes on a Windows PC or Mac, an iPad or iPhone 4.0; and iPod mv4 for use with Apple iTunes, iPod, iPhone, and iPad. Worksheets and answer keys are also on the DVD in PDF format, or available to download free from the Visual Latin website.

In case you were wondering what material is covered in Lessons 1-10, here’s a list from the vendor’s website:

1. Being Verbs Basics | To Be and Not to Be
2. Being Verbs Basics | Predicate Nominatives and Adjectives
3. Gender | Boy Words and Girl Words
4. Singular and Plural | E Pluribus Unum
5. Declensions | Meet the Cases
6. Adjectives Learn to Agree with Nouns
7. The Case Files | Nominative and Genitive
8. Counting to 10 in Latin
9. Active Verb Basics | Indicative Mood
10. The Case Files | Accusative

Once you finish lessons 1-10, more lessons are available. Latin I consists of 30 lessons, suitable for a full year of Latin instruction at the rate of a lesson a week, or a semester if you do two lessons a week. A Latin II course is in the works, with the first ten lessons available now and more to come.

I wasn’t sure what to think of Visual Latin before I actually saw the lessons. I thought it sounded easy. Too easy. I was wrong. As Duane Thomas likes to say, Latin is easy! (A whole lot easier than I ever thought it could be…) But don’t take my word for it. Check out the free lessons available for download, and see if you agree with me.

Read more TOS Crew reviews of Visual Latin here.

Disclaimer: TOS Crew members were provided a free DVD or download copy of Visual Latin, Latin 1, Lessons 1-10 for review purposes. We receive no monetary compensation for offering our opinion. Opinions offered here are our own.