Monday, July 18, 2011

Simple pasta with spinach, garlic, and cherry tomatoes

This was inspired by a video with Giada de Laurentiis making a pasta and spinach dish.  Her's involved goat cheese and cream cheese.  With a dairy allergy (the protein molecules in goat's milk are so similar to that of cow's milk that I can't have it either), that is a no-go for me.  But, it looked so good, I had to make an alternative version!  Her dish also made me think of pasta with pesto, but I didn't have all of the ingredients for a true pesto.

Here is my version:

* 1 pound of pasta (I had cavatappi on hand - corkscrew shaped)
* 1 to 2 Tbsp olive oil
* 1 large clove, or 2 small cloves garlic
* 3oz (half of an average size of bagged baby spinach) spinach
* dash of salt (to taste)
* 10 to 12 cherry tomatoes, sliced in half
* either a bit of parmesan cheese, 2 Tbsp cream, or 2 Tbsp rice (or soy) milk (optional - my garlic clove was huge, and I used rice milk to tone down the flavor, but you might just like the addition of one of these others add ins!)

Cook your pasta according to directions on the package.

While the pasta is cooking, add your garlic to your food processor and spin.  Then, add the spinach, a bunch at a time, alternating with a drizzle of olive oil, until all of the spinach is has been added.  At this point, stop your food processor, scrape down the sides, and take a taste.  If it is too garlicky for you, add your cheese, cream, or milk, and spin until incorporated.  Also, add a dash of salt (or salt it to taste).  Your mixture should look like very fine bits of spinach and garlic that hold together like a paste.

Put your spinach-garlic mixture into a bowl.  Wash and halve your cherry tomatoes, and add them to the bowl.  If your pasta is still cooking, put the bowl in the fridge.

When the pasta is done, drain it, reserving a bit of the cooking water - maybe 2 Tbsp or so.  Add the pasta to your spinach-garlic mix and tomatoes.  Add the reserved pasta water (it will help to prevent the pasta from sticking to itself, and allow the sauce to stick to the noodles instead), and toss until the sauce is evenly distributed.

Yum!  I would imagine that this is delicious either hot or cold.  Tonight we ate it cold.  I added the pasta to the spinach mix, and waited for it to cool enough to put in the fridge.  Chill until it is either the desired temperature, or until you are ready to eat!  In hindsight, I realized that if you want to eat this cold, you should probably cook the pasta first, cool, and refrigerate.  Make the spinach-garlic sauce right before you are ready to eat.  Just pull the pasta out of the fridge, add the sauce, mix it up; add the tomatoes.  Yum!

You could also add diced ham, salami, or some other meat for protein.  I don't like meat very much, and feel awful if I eat much protein.  For me, this dish was delicious, and satisfying.  My son would prefer it with some diced meat.

I also had enough that we have two more meals worth of leftovers.  I have one meal in the freezer, just to see how well it will hold up to freezing and thawing.  UPDATE: The portion from the freezer? Ewww...I recommend you only make one meal's worth of this.  It is really yummy when you first make it, but the next day, or out of the freezer? Not so much...

As you can read HERE, I am trying to be very careful with our budget, and making use of leftovers will go a long way towards that goal.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

But, how do you work and homeschool? Seems impossible...

Perhaps the most common question I face when people learn that I am a single, homeschooling, graduate student, working mom is: HOW?  How do I do it?  This post is in response to another one of those types of questions.  The particular question was "How do you homeschool and work? Unless you have a husband that stays home, it seems impossible..."  Here's my response: 

My son is 13 next month, and super mature. If I need to, I can leave him home and be confident that he will be ok. We also have several neighbors that I trust if he needs anything while I'm gone, not to mention that we are in contact via our cell phones - he has criteria everyday about when he has to call or text me, why he has to call or text, etc.

Before we moved cross-country, my mom, sister, and a few friends helped with childcare, and for a while I paid a sitter on Mondays. I worked part-time at a major hospital as a unit clerk, and then as an office assistant. When I worked night shift, my son either stayed at my mom's or my sister's house. When I worked days, I worked Saturday, Sunday, and Monday. Over the weekend, JP was with my mom or sister (and he had friends and cousins to play with at both places), or sometimes he went to hang out with other friends. On Mondays, when I was on day shift, I paid a sitter until he was old enough, and mature enough, to be home alone. Working at a hospital generally pays pretty well, with good benefits for part-time, so a half-day of daycare every week was easily affordable.

Since moving, a lot has changed! I am now a graduate student and a private tutor. Some of the families I tutor for allow my son to come with me (one even insisted), and he has become good friends with my students and with their siblings. When I see the other families, my son is able to stay home - I'm usually only gone for 2-3 hours for those families anyhow. It has also worked out for my son to have golf lessons and go to the driving range at the golf course while I tutor for one family - the golf course caters to children, and the coaches and staff are awesome, and know my situation. They've been very generous in helping out - when my car battery died one afternoon, the staff stayed late in order to make sure my son was safe until I could get there.

I think that a lot of people have misconceptions about how to work while homeschool. When we break down stereotypes and start to look outside the box, we can find options that work. My son and I do not do school during traditional hours. And, I do not do traditional work right now, nor do I keep traditional work hours. By adjusting when we do things, we manage very well in both my working, and in homeschooling.

Also, I think a lot of homeschooling moms are afraid to ask for help - actually, a lot of moms in general. If you need to work, but can't figure out a way to make daycare feasible, talk to other moms and family. You may find someone in a similar situation. If you split the cost of childcare and alternate your home and theirs, it will cost a lot less. Or, if you find someone working opposite your schedule and you watch each others kids, you could work it out so you both have free childcare.

Making homeschooling and work WORK requires flexibility, humility (to ask for help), and a willingness to be honest about what you can do, are willing to do, and are already doing.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

FREE Art History Resources - Frida Kahlo and Pablo Picasso

A few art-related resources for you - as with all things, as a parent or educator, use your best judgment in deciding whether any materials are appropriate for your children or students.  When possible, I suggest previewing readings, art, and so on before using the material with children.  Disclaimer over, carry on...

When I logged in to Facebook today, I saw this in my newsfeed: The Life and Times of Frida Kahlo.  Since Kahlo is one of my favorite artists, I clicked on the link which took me to the PBS website, and all sorts of wonderful information and links related to Kahlo and her painting.  You will find education guides and activities on the documentary page.

One of many self-portraits done by Frida Kahlo
The documentary is available on Netflix, but only on disc.  You can watch it in bits and pieces on YouTube HERE - each chunk is about 10 to 11 minutes long.  Please note: not all parts are appropriate for all audiences.  PLEASE PREVIEW THIS BEFORE HAVING YOUR CHILDREN WATCH IT! The documentary covers numerous topics related to her art and life, including issues of sexuality, miscarriage, and shows nudity in her paintings.  Many of her paintings also include bloody depictions of her miscarriage, of her own body after a horrible accident, and more.  I love the art of Frida Kahlo, and given her history, her imagery makes sense.  I would have no problem sharing her work, biography, and the documentary with my nearly 13-year-old son as I feel he is mature enough to handle the material well.  Your child may be the same, or entirely different.  I would never want to dissuade anyone from learning about, and appreciating great art and artists, but at the same time, thought it would only be fair to be honest with you...

The Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo, NY has a terrific group of art lesson plans HERE. Most have art lessons, writing suggestions, suggestions for discussion, and brief audio clips relating to the artists or art styles.

The Museum of Modern Art in New York City has a wide variety of resources and ways to access art and art history.  Click HERE for links to lesson plans and more!

The Guggenheim, also in New York City, has some great online arts curriculum as well.  However, they do specify that their curriculum is best used in conjunction with on-site exhibits.  But, most of the curriculum can be used at home as well.  It just won't be the full experience that you would get if you visited the museum.  Click HERE.

Child with Dove by Pablo Picasso

For a bit of extra art fun, visit Picassohead! This website allows you to create a Picasso-ish self-portrait.  You can even upload your masterpiece to an online gallery! For a great, short (about 5 minutes) video about Picasso, samples of his art work, and more click HERE.  As stated, you may want to preview the video and website as there is discussion about Picasso's extramarital affairs. Also, please note that the examples of his art on this site are also posters for sale, thus there are prices on each example (sorry about that).

You can watch a documentary about Picasso HERE.  It is in 9 parts, each about 10 to 11 minutes long.  Like the Frida Kahlo documentary, it is in parts, and you should PREVIEW THIS BEFORE HAVING YOUR CHILDREN WATCH IT! The Picasso documentary does talk about his infidelity and more.

Guernica by Pablo Picasso
I would also like to encourage you to visit the websites for any local art museums and see if they have educational curriculum online.  If not, call and ask if they have educational materials that they could send to you either by mail or e-mail.  Most do...

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Part II: Boston and the Freedom Trail - walking through history...

You can read Part I of our Boston adventure HERE.  After seeing the British march down the street, and standing below the balcony where the Declaration of Independence was first read publicly, my son, my uncle and I continued further along the Freedom Trail in Boston.

We wandered along and passed several interesting, but crowded sites.  We were going to go into the Paul Revere House, but there was a presentation happening, and as a result, it was PACKED.  Put that on the list of things to do on a weekday, off season!  I did take a picture of the sign though...

Along the path, we came to a statue of Paul Revere on his horse, and we also found a lovely, well shaded courtyard, where we stopped to have a snack and rest.  While we were sitting and eating, we were approached by a group of young teens who were on a scavenger hunt.  They needed someone to say "One if by land, two if by sea."  My uncle was willing, and he said, "One if by land, two if by sea, three if by air..."  The group of kids didn't get it, but JP and I were laughing...if you don't get the joke, google "One if by land, two if by sea..."
At the end of the courtyard, we also came across this monument to soldiers who lost their lives in Afghanistan and Iraq.  My son is a big military history buff, and this was a very important stop on our tour as a result.

After our rest, and checking out the war memorial, we moved on, passing The Old North Church, and heading towards Copp's Hill Burying Ground.  We didn't spend a whole lot of time here as there was something huge coming up on our tour, and I wanted to surprise JP with the next stop...

He looks thrilled to be at a cemetery, doesn't he (we had already explored a different one the day before...)...

And, on we walked, and walked, and walked...and finally came to....are you ready?  THIS:

and THIS:

You haven't seen a happy boy until you've seen JP spotting these bad boy ships!

The U.S.S. Constitution (aka Old Ironsides) is actually still in use the US Navy, so we had to go through security go on board.  Apparently they use it for training exercises...  But, the destroyer is out of commission and in dry dock.  There was no security check for that.

Can you just see his mind at work? " one will notice if I fire this thing, right?" Heeheehee...

After the two ships, we moved on to the Bunker Hill monument.  From the Boston National Historic Park website:  ""Don't fire until you see the whites of their eyes!" This legendary order has come to symbolize the conviction and determination of the ill-equipped American colonists facing powerful British forces during the famous battle fought on this site on June 17, 1775. The battle is popularly known as "The Battle of Bunker Hill" although most of the fighting actually took place on Breed's Hill, the site of the existing monument and exhibit lodge. Today, a 221-foot granite obelisk marks the site of the first major battle of the American Revolution."

Next post will be the less-historical aspects of our weekend trip!

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Part I: Boston and the Freedom Trail - walking through history...

Over the Fourth of July weekend, my son and I had the opportunity to travel to Boston.  Since it was a weekend to celebrate the independence of our great nation from British rule, it seemed like a good idea to take a walk down the Freedom Trail.  Don't know what that is?  The Freedom Trail is a walking route through Boston which highlights many of the important sites in the early history of our nation.  Come along with us as we relive that walk through our photos...

For convenience, the Freedom Trail is marked with a red line and these medallions set into the sidewalk.  The red line is mostly brick, but in some places is just a red line painted on the ground.  It took us through many fun and interesting neighborhoods, through the middle of a farmers market, and into the heart of Boston.

The Trail starts at the Boston Common, part of which was undergoing some sort of construction.  Today, commons exist in many towns and cities in the Northeast, and really throughout the country.  But, do you know what they used to be?  Now most of them are nice parks where we stroll along, and maybe have a picnic.  But, originally commons were developed in the center of towns and villages as a communal grazing ground for cows. 

We avoided the construction at Boston Common, and walked past the State House (closed on the day of our visit), poked around the Park Street Church, and saw the grave of Samuel Adams at the Granary Burying Ground.

Samuel Adams was a statesman, political philosopher, and one of the Founding Fathers of the United States.  He was a signer of the Declaration of Independence, helped draft the Articles of Confederation, and was eventually elected governor of Massachusetts. Our trip was planned somewhat last minute, and we didn't explore the cemetery all that much, otherwise we would have also visited the grave of Paul Revere.

As we were walking by the cemetery, we heard music coming from down the street.  When we stopped and watched and listened, we realized THE BRITISH ARE COMING! THE BRITISH ARE COMING!  Along came a group of period actors dressed as British soldiers.  A bystander began yelling at them, "Go home Tories! Go home!" which added to the historic significance.

The next stop along the Freedom Trail is King's Chapel, which was founded by Royal Governor Sir Edmund Andros in 1686 as the first Anglican Church in New England.  The original King's Chapel was a wooden structure which was demolished.  In 1749, a new stone structure was built, which is the building standing today.  Interestingly, according to Wikipedia, the stone structure was built around the old wooden church.  The wooden church was taken apart, and the pieces were removed through the windows of the new church.  The wood was then shipped to Nova Scotia and used to construct a church there.  During the Revolutionary war, King's Chapel was vacant, and did not reopen until 1782.Paul Revere was a member of King's Chapel, and the family of Louisa May Alcott, author of Little Women, attended as well.

There were a number of other stops along the Freedom Trail between King's Church and the Old State House, but I will reserve those for another post.  Right now, I want to jump to the stop that I found to be the most important, even if we didn't actually spend a lot of time there...the Old State House.  Why is this site so special?  Because, it is where the Declaration of Independence was read publicly for the first time.  Unfortunately, the building was closed during our visit.  But, put yourself in 1776.  Imagine standing in the street with your friends and family as the Declaration of Independence was read aloud.  The birth of a nation and freedom from British rule!  What a time to have been alive!

On July 18, 1776, from the east balcony, Col. Thomas Crafts, one of the "Sons of Liberty", emerges with Sheriff William Greenleaf, after having read the document in the Council Chamber.  Greenleaf attempted to read the Declaration but could get no more than a whisper.  Crafts took over and read it to the crowd.  Imagine the feelings sweeping through the people below, listening to the document that would shape the country?  It is estimated that 2/3 of Bostonians supported the revolution.  What joy and revelry there must have been on that afternoon!


Next post, I will cover several other significant stops along the way.  The post after that will be a few interesting asides from the same trip.  Stay tuned!

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Just a small sampling of photos from our trip to the Harvard Museum of Natural History this weekend!  We also walked the Freedom Trail in Boston.  Overall, a busy, exhausting, FUN weekend!  More posts throughout the week with details and photos...  My son loved the geology specimens at the museum so much that we decided to scrap plans for chemistry in the fall as part of his homeschool curriculum, and to do geology instead!