Saturday, June 22, 2013

Ingi Cooks - crunchy lemon muffins!

It's winter. It's raining outside (again - we have had a LOT of rain lately - I blame those big low pressure systems sitting off the coast of New South Wales). It's cold (I've even had to put the heater on).

And yet, despite these bleak conditions, I have lemons. Life has given me lemons (literally and figuratively, lately), and I should therefore make lemonade, but it's cold. So I made lemon muffins instead.

The family rates these VERY HIGHLY! The sugar and lemon juice drizzled over the top, after baking, gives them a tangy flavour and a yummy sugary crunch. Give these a burl, and eat them warm, almost straight from the oven. I guarantee that your day will feel better, even if it's not actually.

2 cups of self-raising flour (I should buy this in bulk, I've made so many muffins lately)
3/4 cup sugar (I used caster sugar - I believe this is called "superfine" sugar in the US)

75 grams of butter (2.5 oz - is that right? Doesn't seem like a lot, but I'm a metric girl)
1 cup milk
1 egg
grated rind of 1 large or 2 small lemons

1/4 cup lemon juice
1/4 cup caster/superfine sugar

Measure the flour and sugar into a bowl and toss to mix.

Melt the butter (how good does melted butter smell?) and add the milk, egg and lemon rind and beat well with a fork to combine.

Om nom nom...
Look at our cute eggs!

Add the liquids to the dry ingredients and combine only until the dry ingredients have been lightly dampened but not thoroughly mixed. This is the magic trick of light and fluffy muffins - do not overmix!

Divide the mixture evenly (or as evenly as you can manage) between 12 medium-sized muffin pans that have been well coated with oil spray.

Bake at 200C (390F) for 10 minutes or until cooked (which in my crappy oven with the door that doesn't close properly was at least 15 minutes).

Stir together the lemon juice and sugar WITHOUT dissolving the sugar (I emphasise this, because I didn't read it carefully enough and happily dissolved the sugar. The muffins still turned out yummy) and drizzle over the hot muffins as soon as they are removed from the oven. Leave to stand in the pans only for a few minutes, in case the syrup hardens as it cools and sticks the muffins to the pan (or use silicon pans like sensible cooks do).


Saturday, June 15, 2013

The green stuff

We have been busy here "planting lots of seeds" since we got back from our big holiday. One of the things we have been studying is the wonderful world of all things green (and sometimes purple or white or...) - plants!

Generally speaking, when we do a unit of science, I find Video Boy knows HEAPS of stuff and Wombat Girl knows a bit. And generally speaking, we don't have heaps of written work lying around to show our homeschool inspector guy, so I take the chance to get the kids to write down a bit of their knowledge.

So what works for us (mostly) is lapbooks. It can be tricky finding appropriate lapbook/mini-books for highschoolers, but I found this great one on Botany (all scientific like) which was linked to a book we actually owned (and I highly recommend) the Usborne Internet-Linked Science Encyclopedia, which has way more than just plants!

I supplement the lapbook work with worksheets I have collected during my years as a high school science teacher (which is great if I have to work outside the home - I can just print off one or two and leave them with the book and BAM! Science done).

In biology, we need the kids to understand the relationship between the structure of a living thing and the function of a particular part. A table is often a useful way to display this information:

While we were looking at leaves, I got the kids to colour (is that art?) and glue together this fabulous 3D leaf model, which I could not find anywhere on the interwebs, so you get my PDF copy (you're welcome).

We also enjoyed watching some great videos on plants:

Apart from all this "knowledge" we used plants as the basis for doing more science. The scientific method. Cows Moo Softly.

What? Change one thing, Measure something as a result of that change, keep everything else the Same.

We looked at what seeds needed to germinate. We brainstormed and came up with a couple of testable hypothesis and then designed an experiment that would test these.

Turns out plants need water to germinate and they don't need light, but they will need light to grow once they've germinated

We then used this website to write up our results in the standard scientific report format.

We also did some "follow the recipe" practical activities:

Slice a celery stalk up the middle, to about halfway.
Put in pretty coloured water (use food colouring).

Wombat Girl's hypothesis was that she would get orange leaves (red and yellow mixing)

But the dye only travels up the side the xylem vessels are one - half blue and half red!
Or half red, half yellow.
We also observed germination in borlotti beans:

And I found this FANTASTIC resource on botanical drawing (art really ticked this time!). We have drawn leaves, flowers, used shading, stippling, done watercolour and lino cuts (remember them?). (part two is here!).

I ordered in a beautiful botanical drawing book from the library:

And it wouldn't really be plants unless we actually went out and looked at some in real life. Don't forget, every living thing can be named scientifically with two parts - Genus (always capitalised) and species (never capitalised) (binomial nomenclature or informally known as Latin name). They should be italicised when in normal text (bit difficult on Facebook!).

Allocasuarina littoralis (black or coastal sheoak)

Banksia ericifolia (heath banskia)

 Baeckea sp.

Epacris microphylla (coral heath)

Drosera spatulata (rosy sundew) 
Lambertia formosa (mountain devil)
Banskia spinulosa (hairpin banksia)

Eucalyptus haemostoma (scribbly gum) - it was Mother's Day!!!

We had such a lovely time on the walk and learning about plants in general. Hope you found some good resources and inspiration too!

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Back in the saddle again!

You can take my lack of blogging here that things haven't been going so well in the weight-loss/maintenance stakes and you'd be right.

Since my last post (many, many weeks ago you will note), I have been for zero runs and pretty much eaten (and drunk) what I liked.

OK - it hasn't been THAT bad!

I don't really have any good answers as to why I've fallen off the wagon. I just have made not so great choices. I know that eating potato chips won't be good for my waistline. I know that wine contains a billion kilojoules. I know these things.

I know I feel better when I exercise. I know the dog is better behaved too. I know these things.

And yet...I lapse into old, unhealthy habits.

And so here I go again. Time to lift my game and start treating the old bod a bit better. I've downloaded the first week's Weigh It Up 3 Week Winter Challenge. I am going to just Freaking Do It and start run/walking again. There's a pretty good view from the Sydney Harbour Bridge in September, I hear...

So here is my new starting point:

73.9kg - 162.9 lbs
And away we go again!

Thursday, June 06, 2013

PS: Maths and Beauty, a postscript...

Isn't it always the way? You press the "publish" button, reasonably happy with the story you've told and then a bit later (a minute, an hour, a day...) you find something or think of something that would have gone perfectly in that post, except by now you've have 50 hits and 3 comments and you can't go back and edit, or people might miss it.

So I found this video - I watched this afternoon, and it is PERFECTLY about what I was talking about in this mornings rant about maths and beauty. Do watch - I think you'll like it.

Mathematics, beauty and the real world

I'm about to get my ranty-pants on...No, not about the shoes that certain members of this household leave lying, not about the fact that my Hubby leaves his dirty clothes on MY side of the bed even though I have asked multiple times for him not, even about the deplorable state of Australian politics!

No - I'm about to get all ranty about those people who loudly, proudly even, declare that they "hate maths" and "don't get it".

Memes like these have done the rounds of Facebook, and yes, I've even shared them:

All amusing stuff and even I had a giggle. But you know, I get a bit sad because apparently it is cool to hate maths. Admit you hate maths, and you get a bunch of people joining in and saying "hey, me too!". This disturbs me somewhat, because in general, you don't get the same sense of collective pride from admitting you hate reading (or can't read) or don't value literacy.

I had this response from an English teacher on Facebook yesterday when I dared to be different and declare my love for maths:

"Maths has never been beautiful for me. Beauty doesn't exist in an x = mc 2"

I can't tell you how sad this statement, made so vehemently, made me feel (apart from the fact she got the world's most famous equation wrong). It wasn't just that she didn't get it. It was that she was proud to say it out loud. And that she was so shut off as to what "beauty" could be.

She has obviously never played with patterns of numbers:

or explored the golden ratio or Fibonacci:

or done origami:

or played with proportions:

or seen a fractal:

or watched a Vi Hart video:

Maths is not easy for everyone. I totally get that. I don't totally get the above video, but I love it! I don't pretend to be a mathematical "genius" - my daughter is infinitely faster and more perceptive about maths than I am! But I can appreciate it. I have my eyes open to glimpse the beauty and my mind open to new possibilities.

I'd like to think that just because my strengths are in science and maths that I don't exclude language arts or humanities or creative arts in my world outlook and even in the other interests I pursue. Hell, I can even appreciate physical achievements (marathon runners, gymnasts, weight lifters), even if I have issues with organised team sports and the over-emphasise our society places on them.

I think we actually teach Maths Aversion and Maths Phobia much more effectively than we teach mathematics! Maths is soooo much more than arithmetic, but you wouldn't know it in our average classroom (and by default, largely, in the average homeschool home). We don't teach creativity and inventiveness in maths - the answers are either right or wrong and there seems to be a never-ending stream of drill and kill arithmetic stretching onwards forever (and the prospect of getting more wrong as you build on stuff you never learnt properly in the first place).

I find this really sad, this concept that maths doesn't contribute to human society in the same way as poetry or music or art does. Oh, but it does! So much of our world is a result of mathematical thinking - creativity and inventiveness and "playing" with numbers. What a pity so many people don't view it that way.

So I leave you with this thought, from the inspiring words of L.M. Montgomery and Anne (of Green Gables fame):

So are you a maths phobe? Do you openly or even sub-consciously pass on your fear and dislike of maths to your children? Or is it something you don't think about much? Or is it something you love and feel should be defended?

Saturday, June 01, 2013

Ingi Cooks! Crispy Soy Roasted Pork Belly

Vegetarians - look away now! My love affair with pork belly knows no bounds. I adore this piece of meat, and I'm particularly loving an Asian influence. I also have yet to master really crispy crackling, so it was with great anticipation that I tried Kylie Kwong's recipe for Crispy Soy Roasted Pork Belly.

Oh - a quick heads up - start doing this the day before you actually want to eat it!

This recipe promised really great layer of crispy crackling! So I very carefully followed her instructions precisely. Well almost - I deviated from her very first instruction - free range pork from the butcher. Mine came shrink-wrapped from Coles. BUT - it was scored, which is great, because my knives are really blunt. 

As an aside - have I told you that I need to go to the Knife Man to get them sharpened, but I'm frightened of going to him, because he gets cranky at you for having blunt knives - not a great tactic to employ to get you to go back in a hurry, I'd have thought....

...anyhoo. First step: place that scored pork belly skin side up on a rack and pour boiling hot water from the kettle all over that baby. This kind of cooks it a bit and supposedly removes "impurities" (I don't even want to think about what they could be). Oh, it is supposed to help make the crackling crispy. Then get paper towel or a tea towel if you like washing and dry that sucker all over. Then pop into the fridge all naked-like to dry out even more.

While my pork was drying out, I made up the marinade:

  • 2 tablespoons of brown rice miso paste (or use the only miso paste they sell at Coles)
  • 1 tablespoon of five-spice powder
  • 1 tablespoon of brown sugar
  • 1 tablespooon of light soy sauce
Mix 'em up so it looks as attractive as this (trust me, it smells heaps better than it looks):

Get the pork out of the fridge and put it skin side up on a chopping board. Think of the worst thing that happened to you this week and get your (preferably sharp) knife out and stab all over, making little holes all over the skin, being careful not to go all the way through (uh oh). Then turn it over and make cuts about 2cm apart and 1cm deep.

Grab your marinade and massage deeply into all those cuts:

Yeah baby...

Once again, pop your pork back into the fridge all naked, but this time put a tray and some baking paper underneath to catch all the drips of marinade. Leave overnight this time.

The next day, preheat your oven to 150C, rub the skin of the pork well with sesame oil and sprinkle lots of sea salt on it. Roast for 1.5-2 hours, until tender (a skewer should meet with no resistance when inserted).

Meanwhile, I was just going to add applesauce and gravy, until I came across this recipe for caramel citrus sauce from the Spirit House in Queensland (OMG I love them!!) (the original recipe is here)

  • 4 coriander roots
  • 50g ginger (I cheated and used 1 heaped teaspoon of the stuff out of a jar)
  • 30g fresh tumeric (or cheat and use 1 heaped teaspoon of the powered stuff)
  • 500ml of fresh citrus juice (I used an orange - it also suggests mandarin, but I've never juiced one of those)
  • 150g palm sugar
  • 4 kaffir lime leaves
  • 2 star anise
  • 1 cinnamon stalk
  • 100mls water
  • 1 lemon grass stalk (or 1 dessert spoon of the paste stuff)

Pound the coriander roots, ginger and tumeric into a rough paste. Fry it off for a few minutes in a little oil over a medium heat until it starts to colour. 

Add the water and sugar and stir until the sugar dissolves. Add the rest of the ingredients and bring to the boil, then turn down to a fast simmer until it goes all syrupy. The smell is amaze-balls! Strain the chunky bits out and leave the sauce to cool down for a bit.

While you are doing the sauce, bump up the heat in the oven to 220C and continue roasting for another 15 minutes. This final blast of heat will turn the skin into crispy crackling.

Unfortunately for me, I have a crap oven. It doesn't get really hot because the door doesn't close properly, so my crackle was not like in the pic:

Kylie's pork

I tried to rectify the situation a little by whacking it under the grill on high. I got smoking-hot pork and I'm again grateful I don't have a smoke alarm in my kitchen. It had burnt bits on the edges, but it did crisp up the crackling a little.

Anway, I cut it up, served it with jasmine rice and buk choy and the caramel citrus sauce. It was pretty yummy, considering my oven-fail!

On a friend's (who knows about such things) recommendation, we paired the pork with a Mornington Peninsula Pinot Noir (the $17 bottle, not the $32 one). It was yummy too!

Bon appetite!!

52 Ancestors - Unusual Name

In this week's post, we have been asked to look behind an "unusual name" and I've chosen my great-aunt's husband, Fred...