For our first year of homeschooling, we wanted to finish up US History, since that is what the schools in the area were doing–and my daughter had started US History the previous year, so it made sense to just keep going for the sake of continuity.

I spend a lot of time looking at textbooks. I’ve planned enough college courses to know that the right book can make all the difference, so a lot of time went into all the books we used. While I have a degree in history, American History is just not my thing, so I couldn’t just wing it.

In the end, we settled on the final volumes of Joy Hakim’s History of US. I read a lot of good reviews, there were student workbooks and teacher guides for us to use, and it seemed to cover all the requisite events and time periods. Now that we are coming to the end of volume 10, I can confidently say that we made the right choice.

The three books cover Reconstruction to the present, and they cover “typical” history (politics, wars, presidential elections), social changes (Constitutional amendments, Civil Rights, women’s rights, environmentalism), and popular culture (music, literature, and the arts). Does it cover everything? No–that would be close to impossible. There are topics that are glossed over, and there are others that are simplified. Part of that is that the books can be used at the elementary or the middle school levels–there are different ancillary materials depending in the grade. Not every topic is appropriate for all age groups, but the series strikes a happy medium. I didn’t feel there was anything truly neglected.

My daughter liked that the chapters were short–typically 3-5 pages. That made them manageable, and she typically did a chapter a day, and 3-4 chapters a week. There were often several chapters on significant figures that each focused on a specific period of his or her life–showing how a person’s childhood, for example, shaped the things he or she¬†did as an adult.

I did supplement with other things. Novels and other literary works were brought in to add more information and different perspectives to a topic. For example, she read The Book Thief and Anne Frank: Diary of a Young Girl when learning about World War II, and A Raisin in the Sun when learning about race issues in the mid-twentieth century. We also watched films, TV shows, and documentaries. The CNN series The Sixties has been particularly useful for study of that decade, and we are about to start the companion series The Seventies and The Eighties.

That does bring me to my one complaint about the Hakim series. The most recent history is more skimmed over. I would have liked a bit more depth as we get closer to the present, but I did live through a lot of it, so I can add first-person knowledge–and maybe that is why those years are a bit more under-developed.

Overall, the series was a success for us. In junior high and high school, I never got much further than the Civil War, so I learned a lot too. My daughter has even expressed disappointment that Joy Hakim doesn’t have a similar series for world history, which has got to be a pretty high compliment from a student–the desire to read more.


Technically, we have been homeschooling throughout the summer, and subjects have been worked in throughout the month of August, but this is our first week of full-on homeschool with all subjects.

We tried embracing the full-on unschool philosophy: just follow your bliss and school will happen, but that was an abject failure. Weekly goals also didn’t work–everything was left until the end, and then there was a mad panic. So, we had a talk and agreed that an actual school schedule would be best. She needed class periods and daily assignments. So I went to work to figure that out.

Since I am a college professor, I think in terms of how college classes are laid out, so we have a MWF set of classes (US History, Algebra, and Literature) and a TR set of classes (World Religions, French, and Physical Science). On Tuesdays, there are music lessons, and on Thursdays, we are going to try to learn some Chinese. This way, there is some balance between types of classes.

In addition to planning the classes, I also created an actual schedule with daily goals or assignments, so, for example, US History is 7:30-8:30, then a 15 minute break before the start of Algebra, and so on. When 8:30 hits, that class is done, so any work that is not completed goes into the Overflow times right before lunch and in the afternoon.

For today, at least, it worked splendidly. She finished all her work on time, then we had lunch and took a 15 minute walk before instrument practice. After practice, we went over some past assignments and talked about the first 150 lines of Beowulf, which was her literature reading today. I read some of it in Old English; we looked at some pictures of the Sutton Hoo ship burial; we talked about how Tolkien’s scholarship on Anglo-Saxon literature found its way into his fiction–all the things one thinks off when they think “homeschool.” We even got in an episode of TV while we were eating our lunch.

Right now, I think she is watching cat videos. Considering how well today seemed to go, I think that is OK.

So it looks like this is happening. Our daughter has asked repeatedly to try homeschooling next year, and circumstances have aligned to have that be the best option for her. Our reasons are academic and financial for choosing to homeschool, not religious. Unfortunately, that is the market a lot of companies target with their materials, so resources have to be vetted very carefully.

So far, trying to come up with a plan has been the hardest part. How do we approach this? On our own, with an online school, with a Co-op? In the end, since I have a background in higher education, I decided I can figure out most of the curriculum on my own. So I took to planning this the same way I would plan any other class I was going to teach–with lots of time on Amazon and various publisher websites.

My daughter’s current United States History class will end around the time of Reconstruction, so we will pick up right around then next year. I found the series The History of US, which seems to be pretty good, so we will be using volumes 8-10 of that. Several literary works will also tie in, for example, The Diary of Anne Frank (not the actual title, I know, but that is how everyone knows it), War Horse, by Mike Mopurgo, the young adult version of Unbroken, by Laura Hillenbrand, A Raisin in the Sun, To Kill a Mockingbird, and, probably, Code Talker, by Chester Nez (just need to check that for age appropriateness, but I imagine it will be OK). There are also several movies that we can incorporate, both film versions of books we are reading and others. 

So, at least that is all set!

The wonderful folks at Fair Winds Press sent me some new cookbooks to review, and I have been hard at work sampling recipes! That is part of the reason I haven’t posted too much–I have been saving it all for the review.

So, the first book I have to talk about is Fusion Food in the Vegan Kitchen, by Joni Marie Newman. I wanted to sample at least one recipe from each chapter before I reviewed the book. I haven’t yet made anything from the dessert chapter, so I will update when I have!

The recipes are divided into seven sections: Sauces and Condiments, Starters, Soups and Salads, Main Dishes, Sides. Beverages, and Desserts. The Introduction is shorter than I have seen in most vegan cookbooks, so some knowledge of vegan food and cooking is assumed. What the intro does focus on is explaining fusion food and going over some ingredients one might want to have on hand for this style of cooking. There were only one or two things I had never heard of before, so it isn’t an obscure list. There is also a key explaining the the recipe/allergy notations that will be found at the start of each recipe.

From the Small Bites and Starters chapter, I made the Orange Tempeh Kebabs, which also required a batch of the Garlic Orange Sauce from the first chapter. I am the big tempeh fan in the family–the others blow hot and cold depending on the recipe. This one was a hit all around. I opted to not serve it as kebabs, or even as a starter, but, instead, as part of the main course. We had baby bok choy and some adorable, gluten-free, duck-shaped pasta I found a Whole Foods to go with it. I used the rest of the Orange Sauce on the bok choy and pasta–it was so good!

Orange Tempeh with GF Duck Pasta and Baby Bok Choy

Orange Tempeh with GF Duck Pasta and Baby Bok Choy

I love chowder, but haven’t had it too often now that I don’t use dairy, so I was excited to see a recipe for Coconut Curry Pea and Potato Chowder in the Soup and Salad section. I love Indian food, but my husband is often not a fan, so I did halve the amount of curry powder the recipe called for. I also had fewer frozen peas in the freezer than I thought I did, so I added some corn. It was creamy, thick, and totally yummy. I claimed most of the leftovers for myself, but it was a hit with everyone when I initially served it.

Coconut Curry Pea (and Corn) and Potato Chowder

Coconut Curry Pea (and Corn) and Potato Chowder

From the same chapter, I also made the Chinese Style Macaroni Salad, which also required a batch of the Sweet Chile Sauce. The recipe invites creativity, so I played with the veggies I included. I didn’t have any green beans or scallions on hand, so I added bell pepper instead. I opted to not include the sesame seeds, and I also reduced the amount of red pepper flakes by half. Even doing that, it was quite spicy–I will probably tame the sauce a bit the next time I make it. However, it was still good–my daughter even asked for it as her lunch that week, which is a definite sign of success!

Chinese-Style Macaroni Salad

Chinese-Style Macaroni Salad

Also from the Soups, I made the Sloppy Joe Pho. When I served this and said what it was, my husband almost refused to eat it–he is not a fan of anything “sloppy” when it comes to food. However, he did give it a try, and it was an all-around hit. It was warm and just spicy enough.

The Pho is one of only three recipes in the book that call for TVP, and the other two have wheat gluten as a main ingredient, so I almost didn’t try them. But they sounded so interesting, I wasn’t going to give up. The Kofta Kebabs recipe is in the Main Dishes section, and I decided to give it a go. At first, I was just going to cook the TVP with the spices and make a sort of scramble with them, but I did some poking around online for an alternative binder. I happened across the blog My Real Food Life, and a recipe for gluten-free meatballs. Taking inspiration from there, I used a blend of tapioca starch, flax meal, and rice flour until I got the consistency I wanted. I shaped the Kofta as burgers instead of kebabs, and the result was fabulous. The taste was unaffected by my gluten-free tweaking, and we all got to enjoy it! All the other recipes I made were gluten-free from the start or included g-f options in the recipe.

Kofta Burgers

Kofta Burgers

From the Sides and Snacks chapter I made the Nori Roasted Potatoes. I used a blend of white and sweet potatoes, and it was also quite good. I love roasted veggies in pretty much any form, so this was an easy choice.

When I was trying to figure out what to try from the drinks chapter, I mixed up a couple of the recipes in my head when I was buying ingredients, so I ended up making a combination of the Ice Blended Mexican Hot Chocolate and the Banana Bliss–it was fabulous. I made a half recipe since I am the only coffee drinker in the house, and it came out fine, and I had a little party of my own!

I have several cookbooks by Newman, and they all have been hits. This is another. The recipes are, for the most part, familiar bases with global twists–and the ethnic cuisines included cover just about every continent. Fusion cooking is a good way to dabble in international cooking without making anything too scary for picky eaters. While there are some ingredients that may be harder to find, there are plenty that are right there on any grocery store’s shelves. I look forward to remaking some of the ones listed above, trying some new ones, and getting to that desserts chapter!


This Week’s Yumminess

March 5, 2014

Sunday was my big cooking day, as usual. However, I didn’t make a big dinner. Instead I opted to make some Tempeh Tuna Salad I found the recipe for in The Best Veggie Burgers on the Planet. It was really good and disappeared quickly. Yesterday, I made some mayo so I could make some more–used up the jar mayo I had on hand Sunday. That recipe came from The Complete Guide to Vegan Food Substitutions–I make the no-cook soymilk variation, and it is super easy.

Tempeh "Tuna" Salad

Tempeh “Tuna” Salad

Also made the Blackberry Cornmeal Muffins from The Allergy-Free Cook Bakes Bread that I thought were tasty–daughter disagreed. So today I had to pick out the berries in order for her to eat it. Upside–I got to eat the berries!

GF Blackberry Cornmeal Muffins

GF Blackberry Cornmeal Muffins

For supper, we had Pumpkin Pancakes, which also didn’t stick around long–didn’t even get a picture!

Yesterday, I got some cookbooks in the mail to review, so I look forward to some new recipes to try out–which I will then report here!

My daughter’s birthday is coming up, and to celebrate the occasion, Toys R Us sends her a $3 gift card. Not that you can get anything there for $3, but it is the thought that counts, I suppose, and the fact that the recipient will want to spend it, and inevitably spend more!

Anyway, we took her there on Saturday to see what she could find. She wanted something Harry Potter, but I warned her they were unlikely to have anything, and that was proved correct. Despite the staying power of the books, the ancillary market seems to have died out after the final movie. Then she wanted something featuring Wonder Woman. Nope–lots of Spiderman, Batman, and Superman, but no Wonder Woman. Then she saw the Star Wars section, and asked if there were any Princess Leias. Again we struck out.

Finally we found ourselves in the Star Trek section, and she saw a Mr. Spock action figure. This is from the classic series, not the reboots, which she has not seen. We have been watching Star Trek on TV, and she thinks Spock is cool, so that is what she wanted. We did another lap of the store to be sure, but Spock it was, and now he stands, ready for action, between her photo of President Obama, which he sent in answer to her letter, and a Harry Potter action figure. I have had trouble finding a Hermione one.

I have no problem with Spock–as I told her later that morning, I thought it was cool that she liked him. However, it would have been nice to come home with a female figure. First, I have to note that all this looking we did took place in the boys’ section of the store. The girls section was pretty much limited to Barbie, My Little Pony, and Disney Princesses. None of which she finds appealing. But as I walked past the pink Easy Bake Oven, I was reminded of the petition started by the girl whose brother wanted said oven and didn’t understand why it only came in pink. My daughter wanted a cool superhero toy, and there was nothing specifically for her. It’s bad enough that we still perpetuate the cars and tools sets are for boys and kitchen sets are for girls mindset in the toy industry. But can’t girls even get the tiniest bone thrown their way?

I left the store wanting to open a toy store of my own and stocking it with cool, non-traditional toys for girls, and maybe boys too. It is unrealistic, but I was annoyed. I don’t think my daughter really realized she was shopping in the boys’ department, but she did notice that the store didn’t have the things she wanted. In the end, however, I am happy she found something she liked.

As always, the end of the school year brings with it an over-packed schedule! That is part of the reason it has been so long between posts–just too much going on! Of course, the over-packed schedule means lots of events and lots of cooking for me. And now that camp has begun, that is not going to end anytime soon!

So, to recap–

My daughter participated in an after school club called One Hen, which is a micro-finance site for kids sort of like Kiva. She really enjoyed it, and they raised quite a bit of money through various events. One was a bake sale, and I was persuaded to make cookies. Phoebe loves the Cowboy/girl Cookie recipe from Vegan Cookies Invade Your Cookie Jar, so that is what I made. I experimented with the recipe and made it gluten-free–they were still great. I had to freeze them so there were still cookies for the bake sale! And once they were sent it, none made it home!

Cowgirl Cookies

Cowgirl Cookies

Since my daughter’s birthday is over the summer, she brings in a birthday snack around the right date in June, so she can celebrate with her whole class. This year, she asked for cookies–Chocolate Snickerdoodles and Lazy Samoas, both from Vegan Cookies Invade. The latter is a vegan version of the Girls Scouts cookie, and I made it gluten-free as well. They were delicious! Again, they almost didn’t make it to school! Unfortunately, the chocolate cookies were shy and didn’t want to be photographed.

Lazy Samoas

Lazy Samoas

Her class had an end-of-year party, and the parents were tapped to provide the buffet. How is it that the kids get to celebrate and the parents have to do all the work! Anyway, I was also making something for the school picnic after the moving up ceremony, so I turned to an easy stand-by–the Jam Bars recipe from The Vegetarian Family Cookbook. I used cherry preserves and called them Cherry Pie Bars. Sadly, my daughter failed to pass that info onto the rest of the class and most of them came home–but she has been able to take them for snack! For the all-school picnic, I made the Maple Pound Cake recipe from Have Your Cake and Vegan Too. However, with all the rain we had been getting, we opted not to go to the picnic in the end, thinking the park would be a mess. So we have that for snacks as well!

Cherry Pie Bars

Cherry Pie Bars

The last end-of-school baking requirement was for the class field trip, which I had offered to help chaperone. We went on a river cruise, which was nice, and I wanted to make something that was gluten-free so I could eat it to and not dependent on refrigeration. I decided on some Crispy Rice Treats from The Gluten-Free Vegan. I worried about the puffed rice that the recipe called for, but they were fabulous. I used dried cranberries instead of the raisins/currants. It was a challenge to eat just one!


Crispy Rice Treats

Now that camp has started, we have gone back to Vegan Lunchbox to find more fun menus. The first week she picked one featuring Mini Wellingtons, which had a yummy filling wrapped in puff pastry. I sampled some of the filling before I made the Wellingtons! Since it was Harry Potter camp, I tried making lightning bolts in the pastry, but they didn’t all show up after they were baked. My daughter still thought it was cool though!

Mini Wellingtons

Mini Wellingtons

This week we decided on Chickpea Salad Sandwiches from Vegan Lunchbox. The salad is made using the Cheesy Roasted Chickpeas recipe, which came out quite tasty and would make a wonderful snack on their own. I also made some Strawberry Muffins for snack, using one of the variations for the Basic Muffins, Seven Ways recipe in Vegetarian Family.

Yesterday, my cooking moods continued, helped by the fact that I had gotten snacks out of the way Saturday. We received cabbage in our CSA box, so I made the Cool Slaw recipe from Appetite for Reduction. When making the dressing, I soaked the cashews like the recipe said, but I didn’t blend for the full five minutes–I am too impatient. As the recipe predicted, it was a little grainy, but it was barely noticeable, and it tasted great.

I also switched back to the Masala Baked Tofu recipe in Appetite for Reduction this week, getting a little bored with the Basic one. I wanted to make Buffalo Tofu, but I also wanted to make tempeh, so I compromised and made the Hot Sauce-Glazed Tempeh recipe from Veganomicon. As seems to always be the case, the marinade was more than enough for double the tempeh.

Cool Slaw

Cool Slaw


Cool Slaw with Hot Sauce-Glazed Tempeh

After all of this cooking, I think tonight will be low key–mashed potatoes from the box and Gardein Chick’n patties (a burger for me!). Just need to add some CSA veggies to go along with it.

Kim Harrison

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