Monday, August 15, 2011

New Blog

I have started a new blog geared towards writing. I am in the process of writing my first novel and decided to blog about the experience. If you're interested you can follow along at www.carissabannister.com .

I plan to delete this blog in the near future after I have salvaged all of the posts I want to keep.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Adventures in Wild Yeast Catching

The past week has definitely been an adventure! I thought my sourdough starter was doing well. It had developed quite a bit of hooch on top by about day 5 or 6.

I've read so many differing opinions on the hooch and whether or not it's good to pour off or mix in. I decided on day 5 or 6 to dump it out since my starter was very liquidy. I finally attempted to make a loaf after about a week. The main issue is that it just didn't seem to rise much at all. I've read that bread made with sourdough starters can take a lot longer to rise than breads made with yeast. But, after several hours, I decided to just bake it. It tasted good, although not very sour.


I've been doing more research online to try and figure out what's going on with my starter and how to help it. It smells great - sour and yeasty. But, it doesn't seem to be doubling in size like it should. Today I broke down and added a bit of yeast to it. We'll see what happens. If all else fails, I'll use the rest of this starter to make pancakes or waffles and then start over.

I'm currently attempting a new bread technique. It's from the book Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day. It provides a very simple basic whole wheat recipe that you mix up and then store in your refrigerator. The dough lasts for two weeks and you can quickly make up a loaf as needed. The book also contains recipes that build on the basic one. The dough is currently rising so we'll soon find out how good the bread tastes. I'll update next time.

Our farm share begins next Wednesday and we can't wait. We've been enjoying fresh strawberries from up the street the past couple of weeks. Yesterday we went and picked a bucketful with friends. I don't think we've ever tasted strawberries as good as these.



The last adventure I have embarked on recently is making my own yogurt. I made my first batch yesterday and I'm not completely happy with it. But, we all ate some this morning and didn't get sick so I guess that's a start! It's all about learning new techniques and getting better each time. I'll post more about making your own yogurt soon.

Book Basket Thursday

I thought today I would let Owen give his reviews of the first two books in the Secret series by Pseudonymous Bosch. All three boys have accounts at Goodreads. They keep track of the books they've read, are reading, and want to read in the future. After they finish a book, they go to the site and write a brief review. I am going to share Owen's reviews here.

The Name of This Book Is Secret - "It's a great book. There are 2 main characters who are teens. There is a girl named Cassandra (Cass, for short). Her main traits are her pointy ears and her "predictions"(I think she just imagines it). The other main character is Max-Ernest. He's called that because one of his parents wanted to name him Max and the other, well, you get the idea. His main traits are his not that hilarious jokes, his "I just can't stop" talking, and his decoding skills. I'm also pretty sure that the magician from the book is, 1: still alive, and 2: Pietro Bergamo. But I guess that I won't find out until I read the next book: If You're Reading This, It's Too Late. And this my review. Enjoy!" 

If You're Reading This, It's Too Late - "This one is even better than the first. Cassandra, Max-Ernest, and their new friend Yo-Yoji (That's just his nickname. His real name is Yoji.) go hunt the homunculus, a 2 foot tall man grown in a bottle that sat in horse (How should I put this...) dung. Meanwhile, an evil organization called the Midnight Sun (I should have mentioned them in the first review) is trying to find the homunculus themselves so they they can find the secret to imortallity. If you read it, there is no way you won't find your way into brain popping action. I hope you enjoy it! And afterwards, make sure to read the third book, This Book Is Not Good For You."     

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Adventures in Wild Yeast Catching

A year ago I was involved in a full fledged plan to change how we eat. I had been reading The Omnivore's Dilemma and watching documentaries like Food Inc. They completely changed my view of food and how we had been eating. I started buying organic and participated in our first farm share. Sad to say, but as time went on, I began to get lazy and forgot how important a change in our eating habits is for all of us.

Fast forward to recent weeks and how I have noticed how poorly I have been feeling. I realize how much of that is due to my diet. It is time to once again make an attempt to forever change how we eat.

One of the things I have decided to do is start making my own bread. I've been hearing about making one's own sourdough starter for many years, but was always too nervous to try. Yesterday I happened to read a passage in The Omnivore's Dilemma where Pollan mentions that there is yeast all around us and it is possible to simply "catch" that wild yeast yourself. This is how bread used to be made before brewer's yeast came to be. So, feeling adventurous, I decided I wanted to try and make a starter myself.

From all of my reading online, there appears to be many different ways to make your own sourdough starter. One of those involves using commercial yeast, but I fail to see how that is really making sourdough starter. Another way is to get some starter from a friend or purchasing a starter from a company. I have chosen to do it the old fashioned way by simply using flour and water.


There are many techniques, recipes, directions, and theories out there for the best way to make a sourdough starter. This is an experiment of sorts so we shall see what works best. I decided to make my starter in a glass jar. It can be done in plastic containers (no metal bowls), but I'm trying to stay away from plastic these days. I'm using organic stone ground whole wheat flour and filtered water.

I added 1/2 cup of flour and 1/2 cup of warm water to my glass jar and stirred with a wooden spoon (again - no metal spoons). I plan to run to the store a bit later and see if I can find some cheesecloth, but for now a clean dishtowel should suffice.

This is what it looked like after the mixing:


I'm storing it on the window sill for now. We'll see if it's warm enough to make things happen.


Our farm share begins in less than two weeks and I hope to be better about posting pictures each week showing what we got and how I used our produce. Stay tuned for updates in Adventures in Wild Yeast Catching...

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Book Basket Thursday


I am going to try to consistently post what we are all reading every Thursday. The boys all read independently for an hour as part of their school day. This is not counting the book they all read aloud from as part of their curriculum or the books that I read aloud to them. They also read for half an hour before bed.

Before I list what we are all reading, I wanted to mention a blog I just discovered called Boys Read. It lists books that boys might be interested in.



Sullivan (10) is reading The Emerald Atlas by John Stephens. This one just came out and I am excited to read it as well. It is the first in the series.





Owen (8) is reading the first in the Secret series called The Name of This Book is Secret by Pseudonymous Bosch. Sully has read the first three and suggested to his brother that he might enjoy the series too. Owen loves it and is anxious to start the next one.






Connor (6) is reading his first chapter. He has been reading at a very high level for a couple of years now, but had no interest in chapter books until he spotted this one. He is reading The Genius Files: Mission Unstoppable by Dan Gutman. I'm hopeful that he'll continue to read chapter books now that he realizes how much fun they can be. 






I am currently reading Juliet by Anne Fortier. It is a new twist on Romeo and Juliet. The first 100 pages were quiet interesting, but I'm finding the story has slowed down a bit and I'm having a difficult time continuing. Hopefully it'll pick back up again soon.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Outdoor Enclosure for Our Russian Tortoise


A year and a half ago, we embarked on an adventure and became owners of a reptile. Darwin is a Russian Tortoise. I remember when we first got him, we dreamed about one day owning our own house and being able to build an outdoor enclosure for him. I can't believe that day has actually arrived!

My husband built an indoor enclosure for Darwin that has served us well. However, there is nothing that keeps a tortoise healthy as a secure outdoor area. Chuck and I began working on the plans for the structure as soon as we found out we were buying a house. This past weekend, my personal handyman began the huge task of building Darwin's new home. I'm not sure how many hours he spent working on it, but let's just say I have never seen him work so hard in all of the years we have been together. He spent almost his entire weekend measuring, cutting, and drilling. Yesterday came the difficult task of digging out the area we were going to put it. Below are some pictures of the process (click on a picture to see it larger).

Chuck with his little helper

the enclosure is 6 X 4



The enclosure is filled with dirt that was dug out of the ground
and then a mixture of play sand and plain top soil. This picture shows his hide.

I planted some grazing tortoise seed mix that I purchased last year.


A lid is essential to protect from animals (especially our dog Baxter).

I think Darwin will be very happy outside in his new home. Now comes the fun task of cleaning up the mound of dirt around the enclosure. *whistle*

Monday, April 25, 2011

A Fresh Start


It is a bit odd to be back in the blog world after so many months away. I decided to take a break from social networking and deactivated my Facebook account. After a comment from a friend, I realized I could get back to writing in my blog as a way to keep my friends and family informed on the happenings of this adventurous, homeschooling mom.

There are many reasons for my decision to leave Facebook, but the biggest one is that I want to focus my time and energy on my family and our new home. We recently purchased our first house and the experience has been wonderful. I cannot express how ecstatic we are to finally have a home of our own.

I thought I would take this first blog entry of the new year to share a few pictures of the flowers blooming on our bushes. I feel a bit silly admitting the joy I feel watching each bud blossom, knowing that it is mine (okay - ours). I was thrilled to find out we had rose bushes! We have added some new mulch around the bushes and plan to put some sort of border around the area to make it stand out.



We love our neighborhood. It is very quiet and the boys and other neighborhood children can ride bikes in the street without cars rushing past. One of my favorite ways to spend our evenings is walking Baxter while one of the boys rides along. Tonight I had the pleasure of Connor joining me.




The most sacred place dwells within our heart, where dreams are born and secrets sleep, a mystical refuge of darkness and light, fear and conquest, adventure and discovery, challenge and transformation. Our heart speaks for our soul every moment while we are alive. Listen... as the whispering beat repeats: be...gin, be...gin, be...gin. It's really that simple. Just begin... again. 

 Royce Addington

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Storybook Travels


Don't you love it when you accidentally stumble across something that is totally you? I was at the library yesterday looking for a storybook cookbook that contained a recipe we'll be using Friday for a book party. Instead I found Storybook Travels: From Eloise's New York to Harry Potter's London, Visits to 30 of the Best-Loved Landmarks in Children's Literature by Colleen Dunn Bates and Susan La Tempa. This wonderful little book combines two of my favorite loves -- books and travel.

An imaginative writer is able to transport readers to a whole other world. Wouldn't it be great if we could literally visit the location of some of our most beloved stories? Bates and La Tempa have done just that. They created a book that looks at the setting for 30 wonderful children's stories. They traveled to the different locations as a family field trip, making the stories come to life. The first story they presented was Pinocchio. I have always wanted to read this classic aloud to my boys and after reading this book, that passion has grown to include a visit to Italy!

Even if you, like me, won't be making a trip to Italy, London, or Germany anytime soon, Storybook Travels is an interesting read and a great way to get you thinking about more local trips you could take with your family. I have been reading Misty of Chincoteague to my children. We have been to Assateague and have seen the wild horses. But, it would be even better if we could go visit in July during Pony Penning Day, when they swim the wild horses across the Assateague Channel. Bringing literature to life for children (and adults) helps instill a lifelong passion for reading.

Have you or your family done any storybook traveling? If so, I'd love to hear about it!

Saturday, November 13, 2010

What Has Running Done for Me?

Many months back, I mentioned that I had taken up running. I listed some tips that I had picked up for beginners like me. Now that I have been running for 10 months, I wanted to share some of the things that this activity has done for me.

1) Help me lose weight when I watch what I eat and allow me to maintain when I am not very diligent. To date, I have lost roughly 25 pounds since I began my journey in January. Most of that was lost in the first few months. I've kind of plateaued since this summer. I admit that I haven't been very good about portion sizes and making healthy choices, nor have I always been consistent with my work out schedule. But, I do know that if I continue running on a regular basis and start watching what I eat, the weight will continue to come off. What other reason do I need to keep running than that? If I did need another reason, then the health benefits would do the trick.

2) Tone muscles in my legs that I never knew I had. I have never liked my legs and can't say that they're now top on my list of favorite attributes. However, I do love being able to feel the muscles in the back and side of my thighs. If I keep with it long enough, I might even feel comfortable in shorts some day.

3) Appease my guilt when I go to the doctor's office for a check up and get asked how much I exercise. I can proudly say that I run three times a week in addition to other physical activity and not have to lie!

4) Introduce me to a whole community of wonderful people. I have always heard that runners are some of the nicest, most supportive people you'll encounter and I have come to find that to be true. If you haven't already, check out Daily Mile for a wonderful community. It allows you to post your workouts and links up to Facebook, too.

5) Given me confidence that I can do anything I dream up. This is probably the best gift that running has given me. I never imagined that I could be a runner, let alone actually compete in races. Running isn't about competing against others -- it is about challenging yourself, setting goals that you believe might be impossible, and then pushing yourself to meet those challenges. It is a truly empowering experience. And that right there is why I continue to run.

My very first race - Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure 5k - Virginia Beach
2nd race - Blue Moon Wicked 10k - Virginia Beach

Monday, April 12, 2010

Homemade Granola Bars


I promised a post with a homemade granola bar recipe and here it is. My first attempt created a crumbly mixture that, while delicious, ended up as plain old granola. Today I used a different recipe and we have success! I found the original recipe at All Recipes.com and then changed it up to suit my needs.


~ Homemade Granola Bars ~


Ingredients:

2 cups organic oats

1/4 cup turbinado sugar

1/2 cup ground flax seed

2 teaspoons cinnamon

1/2 cup slivered almonds (I just buy raw almonds and give them a quick grind in my food processor.)

1 cup organic whole wheat flour

3/4 teaspoon sea salt

1/2 cup organic raw honey

1 egg

1/4 cup natural, organic peanut butter

1/4 cup organic unsweetened applesauce


Directions:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F and grease a 9 X 13 baking pan.

Mix the first seven ingredients together in a large bowl. Make a well in the center and add the honey, egg, peanut butter, and applesauce. Mix well using your hands. Spread the mixture into your baking dish and press firmly.

Bake for 20 minutes or until golden brown. Cut into bars while still warm.
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