DIY Egyptian Cookie Map

Whenever we kick off a new unit of a place, we start out by watching a few YouTube travel videos and studying maps.  The kids love maps.  They love trying to determine what the weather might be based on the location’s proximity to the equator, what sort of animals might live there, and even to speculate about what daily life might be like.
We began to study Egypt about two weeks ago, and we decided to kick our map study up a notch:  Instead of reading other people’s maps, we made our own out of cookie bars.
This might sound complicated, and it did take longer than I expected, but the kids loved it.
The kids began by mixing up a double batch of our favorite cookie bar batter.  The kids are good bakers and were able to do this entirely on their own.  (This also required my Big Helper to practice adding mixed numbers as I didn’t double the recipe for her.)
Then they each retrieved the paper maps we’ve looked at and studied the basic shape of the country.  I gave each kid a cookie sheet covered with parchment paper and half of the batter.  They used a spatula to spread the batter out into the general shape of Egypt.  My Little Man wanted to create the topography of Egypt with hills and valleys but then sadly decided that the desert was probably pretty flat.  My Big Helper actually used her spatula to carve the Nile River and its delta with tributaries into her batter.
After baking, we mixed up a batch of simple cookie glaze.  We colored some blue, some green, and left the rest white.  The kids used our cookie paintbrushes to paint the Nile blue and the fertile land near it green.  Then they crushed graham crackers and sprinkled them over the white icing to represent the desert sand.
Next they moved on to labeling.   They made small flags out of toothpicks and scrapbook paper to represent major cities and monuments.  The kids shared a small package of M&Ms to designate these places on their cookie and then stuck a flag in next to each one.  My Big Helper color-coded her candies to signify the capital city, monuments, and other places of interest, and then made a map key so share that information.
Their personalities shine through on each one.  My Little Man wanted to have lots of glaze on his map and as much of the color orange as possible.
My Big Helper wanted everything to be neat and orderly and as close to a printed map as possible.  She was exact and precise as she worked and really enjoyed making her Egypt, as she calls it.  She’s already planning how to make the map for the next country we study!
Now, after supper each night, the kids eagerly ask for “a piece of their Egypt.”  Who knew that Egypt was such a yummy country?  

What’s your favorite way to kick off a new study?

Chinese New Year Party with Winter Promise

I received a free copy of Winter Promise’s Children Around the World curriculum in exchange for a series of posts about how we are using it.  This is one such post.  For my complete review and disclosure policy, click on the ‘Full Disclosure’ tab above.
 We recently spent several weeks studying China for our homeschool Geography Fair (more about that to come).  The kids were super excited when we read in our Winter Promise materials that extended family is typically invited to a Chinese New Year dinner, and so our simple homemade dinner morphed into a full-fledged dinner party.
Fortunately for me, Winter Promise made this easy.  With menu ideas, customs, and much more all included, this was an easy way to add an element of fun to our study.
My Big Helper created a beautiful invitation on red paper, written with a golden-inked pen.
My Little Man made these beautiful lanterns for on our chandelier.  He decorated them with that same golden pen, and the effect was quite stunning.
After quite a bit of research, we planned a menu that we felt incorporated many of the traditional Chinese elements we were reading about.  We made sure to include as many of symbolic foods as we could, and there were lots.  For example, we served long noodles, which is symbolic of the hope for along life, and seafood, which is symbolic for the hope for wealth.  This made our table look somewhat like a buffet, but it gave us a good opportunity to try new things.   
Despite our research, our food was not exactly authentic.  I don’t have the right sort of pans or kitchen set-up to cook many dishes at once, so we planned semi-correct things – dishes that would give us the right flavors but prepared a different way.  The kids prepped the main dishes, Mongolian Beef and Sesame Chicken, and while My Little Man had a blast doing it, My Big Helper decided that raw meat is ‘yucky.’

Despite our lack of woks, everything came out well.  Most of the Mongolian Beef was devoured.

There were even fewer appetizers left – apparently dumplings, egg rolls, and rangoons are a bit hit with this family.
We had a great time at our Chinese New Year feast and discovered several new talents.  My Little Man is an expert chopstick user.  Egg rolls are easier to make than I thought.
The best part, though, was talking afterwards.  We talked about how the Chinese culture was lots of fun to study, but about how happy we are to know that our futures are not dependent upon serving the proper foods or appeasing the right gods.  We can’t change our future by eating long noodles or short ones, but we do know the One who holds our futures, and there’s freedom in knowing that He’s planning a good one for us.
Although, as good as those long noodles were, we’ll probably eat them again, anyway – just for fun.
Thanks, Winter Promise!

World Tour – Italian Lasagna


Lasagna isn’t something I make often, simply because my family just isn’t that fond of noodles.  I love it, though, so when we began our study of Italy, I knew it had to be on the menu.


After collecting all of the ingredients, I started planning out our day and realized something:  this was a meal that my children could make almost entirely by themselves.  They both love to help in the kitchen, but they are both at that stage where they are really proud to be able to tell Daddy that they made a dish entirely on their own.  I determined that this meal would be theirs.


To prep it, I browned the meat for the lasagna and allowed it to cool a bit.  I set out all of the ingredients for the pasta dish and then called my Big Helper.  She put up her hair, tied on an apron, and set to work.




First, we mixed one egg with a 15 ounce carton of ricotta cheese.  We opened a jar of tomato sauce and added a oregano, basil, and garlic, crushing the first two between our fingers in order to release the flavors.  She added a teaspoon of sugar to cut the acid, then stirred it up and pronounced it ready.



After spreading the bottom of the baking dish with a bit of sauce, she grabbed a lasagna noodle and used a child’s table knife to spread it with the ricotta mixture.  I measured and cut several noodles and then let her have at it.  When she had a layer ready, she laid them in the pan and topped them with more sauce.  Then she added some of the browned meat (we used sausage, but ground beef works just as well), a sprinkling of mozzarella, and then began again with the noodles.  Repeat four or five times.


After topping the whole dish with another layer of cheese to top it off, we covered it with foil and put it in the oven at 350 for about an hour.  At that point we removed the foil and gave it a few more minutes to brown the top.


I had fully prepared myself to be cleaning sauce off the ceiling by the time she was done, but not so.  Aside from a bit of ricotta that had dripped from the noodles, the counter was in very good shape.  Impressive!

When the lasagna was nearly finished baking, I called my Little Man to come make the salads.  He pulled a chair to the other side of the counter, and as I chopped the veggies, he arranged everything on each person’s plate.  (I think he ate as much as he distributed, but still.)  He was quite proud of his efforts, and we all got our salads made to order that night.

Having stuck the makings of Italian herb bread in the bread machine that morning, we were soon ready to eat.

My Big Helper’s lasagna was excellent, and she was so excited that she passed up her usual sandwich the next day at lunchtime in order to have leftovers.

This meal was perfect for her to prepare because everything (barring the meat) was assembled cold – and with a bit of prep beforehand, that could be, too.  I definitely need to get more meal plans ready that they can do – they were so excited to help,and they’re learning valuable kitchen skills at the same time!

What do your children help you with in the kitchen?

France – Chicken Cordon Bleu

Each week I try to have at least one nice dinner where we can all eat together and not be in a rush.  We generally are all home and eat at the same time, but often someone’s hurrying off somewhere or bathtime is approaching.

I decided this week to make our French dinner our fancy one, and we served chicken cordon bleu.

This isn’t difficult, and it tastes great – but it calls for ingredients we don’t always keep on hand, and it makes a mess getting it ready for the oven – but after that, it’s easy as pie.  Well, easier, maybe.

Here’s my easier American version:

–  Slice open boneless, skinless chicken breasts.

–  Lay a thin slice of ham inside and top that with a slice of Swiss cheese.  Fold the chicken closed and secure it with toothpicks.

–  Give the chicken a bath in melted butter and then dredge it in seasoned bread crumbs.

–  Lay on a greased baking sheet (I lined mine with foil for easier clean-up) and bake at 350F for about an hour.

Next, we made a simple bechamel sauce to go with it.

– Melt two tablespoons of butter.  Stir in two tablespoons of flour.

– Slowly pour in milk – maybe a cup? – and stir slowly over medium-low heat until sauce is thickened.

– Add shredded cheese of your choice to taste.  Swiss would be yummy! but we were out, so we used cheddar.

– Pour over your cooked chicken.

Our finished plates looked like this:

Voila!  Chicken cordon bleu!  

We all liked this dish.  I used to stuff chicken with cheese and broccoli often but quit doing that when the kids came along since it’s a bit more labor intensive.  This was so popular, though, that I may have to start doing it again!

Do you stuff your chicken?  With what??

World Tour – European Castles

While studying Germany and France we looked online at webshots and saw some amazing pictures of castles.
When we began to study the United Kingdom, we decided that this was the time to really dig into the history of castles:  how they were built, who built them, who lived in them, what they looked like, and what castle life was like.
We started out by reading a few good books for background information:
  • The Knight at Dawn by Mary Pope Osborne
  • The Best Book of Knights and Castles by Deborah Jane Murrell
  • Ms. Frizzle’s Adventures:  Medieval Castle by Joanna Cole


Of course, now that we knew all about castles, we had to build our own.
We hit up a local grocery store for some boxes and completely lucked out.  They let us take as many as we wanted – and they had really big paper towel cartons that hadn’t been broken down yet!
After getting them home, the kids carried them down to the back yard.
And soon the assembly began!
My Big Helper was much more interested in the construction than the little guy, and she developed a plan for how to build it.  We broke out a knife, and after she drew the lines for the cuts and for the drawbridge, I started cutting.
We lined up the boxes and used heavy tape to cover the seams, inside and out.
Then they used smaller boxes that we had been saving to construct different things inside – beds, bathtubs, etc.  They both got really excited about planning the interior layout!
Next, the kids decided to embellish their castle with paint.  We broke out some ancient clothes we didn’t mind staining and a few old buckets of paint leftover from various household projects.
My Little Man didn’t stick with painting in one place for long …
My Big Helper got a bit more creative and used both colors to paint doors, window panes, and decorations on the drawbridge.  
The whole thing never did get painted, but they had a blast – and they were so creative!  We had loads of fun learning about castles – and the whole project was completely free, too.
Who knew you could have so much fun with some old cardboard??
Do your kids play with old boxes?  What do they do with them?

World Tour – An English Tea Party

Who can study the UK without studying tea?  We read about tea traditions online, and then we chose a date and time for our tea party.

My Big Helper created an invitation for her friend, and we delivered it to her mailbox that night.

We chose to have our tea party on an early release day from school – so the Big Helper and her friend were finished at noon.  My Little Man and I picked them both up, and then they played while I added the finishing touches to our table.

I covered the table with a simple tablecloth and used a cake plate to arrange our treats.  We planned our menu after studying the recipes on this site.   We learned that it is standard to have a few sandwiches (usually with a cream cheese base), to have a few sweets, and to have something fruity.

We made our menu be a kid-friendly version of this.  We served cheese and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, with the crusts cut off and in different shapes for easy identification.  We also made simple cream puffs, brownies, blueberry muffins, and crumpets.  We served everything with strawberry jelly and honey.  Instead of tea (to avoid the caffeine and sugar), My Little Man chose to have sugar-free strawberry juice.

When the time arrived, our trio decided to “dress” for tea.  I”m not quite sure how they think the Brits appear for tea, but they were having too much fun for me to rain on their parade.

Studying England:  An English Tea Party @ A Nest in the Rocks

My Big Helper took her role as hostess very seriously, and she practiced pouring for days leading up to the party with a miniature tea set.

All three children found this small set difficult to use, but they got a kick out of using it – and they loved holding onto the lid to keep it from flying off!

Tea didn’t last long – the kids were too hungry and too excited to try everything to linger.  They inhaled several pots of ‘tea’ and sampled everything on the platter – which I refilled several times.  We decided that English crumpets are not quite for us, and they weren’t fond of cream puffs, either, but they loved the idea of different sandwiches in shapes according to a certain identification ‘code.’

While I thought they might have eaten enough to warrant a very small supper, they were true to the tea party spirit and were ready for another meal just a bit later.

I’m definitely seeing more tea parties in our future – and we’ll be checking out the UK section of Epcot to see what tasty treats they might feature!

Do your kids have tea parties?  How do their parties work?

Field Work Friday – Egyptians in the NC Museum of Art

This week we traveled to the North Carolina Museum of Art for a tour of the international collections.  This worked well for us since we are studying Egypt, and they have a pretty neat Egyptian collection.
Guest posting for me today are My Little Man and My Big Helper to share what they learned on this trip.
This ship from Egypt. This is the ship that would carry the Pharaoh to the Afterlife.  The person in front is playing a drum to tell the rowers to work together rowing.  The Pharoah is sitting under the shade.
This coffin was made for a queen. There were hieroglyphics and pictures all over.  
That is a coffin.  A dead person goes inside the coffin.  It is called a sarcophagus in Egypt.
These are gold plates.  They go on the mummy, plus a death mask.

This door was the door of a tomb. It is made out of stone.  The Egyptians believed that the spirits would come out of it. 

These are gifts because the Egyptians believed that in the Afterlife they would need their things.

Our tour guide was wonderful about explaining things in terms that everyone could understand.  We had a great time on our tour, and seeing real Egyptian artifacts was pretty cool, too!

What interesting things have you found in an art museum?

Field Work Friday – Ice Cream in a Bag

June is National Dairy Month, and with the heat we’ve been having, I’ve been craving ice cream!  We decided to head to a local park and make some.

First, though, we had to get some energy out and work up a good sweat.  Who can eat ice cream when they’re as cool as a cucumber?

Next, we had to hike over to the new dock and throw a few rocks and pine cones in the lake.  Really, who could possibly concentrate on cooking when all that cool water is beckoning?

Finally, we were ready to make ice cream.  This recipe is super simple and can be prepared in about 20 minutes.  You can make it one of two ways:  in nested freezer bags, or in nested coffee cans.  The cans are my favorite because you can then roll the cans back and forth and make the work into a game – but the bags work just as well.

First, in either your small can or one quart freezer bag, pour 1 cup of whipping cream (or any non-homogenized cream), 1/2 cup of sugar, and a splash of vanilla.  Seal it tightly and put it into the larger container – either the larger coffee can or a 1 gallon freezer bag.

Layer ice and rock salt in the outer bag or can and then seal that.  If you are using the cans, start rolling them back and forth.  If you’re using the bags, turn on some music and have a dance party!  The idea is to keep that cream moving, moving, moving, until it thickens up into ice cream.  Don’t let the cream stop moving!

This guy turned his bag over and over and over and … well, you get the idea.

When it has reached the consistency you like, open the bags very carefully – you don’t want to get the salty water from the outer container in the ice cream! – and scoop out your ice cream.  Add any toppings you like – but it’s really great plain, too (and I don’t even like vanilla ice cream!).

I meant to take a picture of the finished product … but we were too busy eating it.  I forgot.  It was really yummy.

Next time your kids are hot and a bit bored, get out some bags, crank up the music, and make some ice cream!

Book Club, Girls’ Edition: “Understood Betsy”

Understood Betsy
When I was a little girl my grandmother gave me a copy of “Understood Betsy” by Dorothy Canfield Fisher.  As winter approached and we began to make plans for our January book club, I knew this was the perfect choice.
Understood Betsy is the story of Elizabeth Ann, a young girl who is being raised by her maiden aunts – at least, she was until one of the aunts takes sick and needs to go to a warmer climate to recover.  Elizabeth Ann is sent to live with other relatives nearby, and when their circumstances change, as well, she is shipped off via train to live with those Putney cousins in Vermont.  On this mountainous Vermont farm, Elizabeth Ann begins to think for herself – and has all sorts of adventures.
Undestood Betsy is a fantastic story – one you’ll want to read again and again.  We had a great time celebrating this book Betsy-style – and we hope you will, too.   
After talking about the book, we built a fire with a flint and steel.  Since there was a polar vortex happening outside our Southern home, this was quite appropriate, and we appreciated the warmth of the fire.  It made our meeting extra special to be cozied up to the fireplace!
 Next we made butter from cream.  None of the other girls had done this before, and they quickly got tired of shaking the jar. 


They appreciated the finished product, though, and enjoyed squeezing out the buttermilk like Betsy did, although they didn’t like the taste of the buttermilk!

Since we weren’t sugaring, and it wasn’t snowing, there wasn’t an easy way to recreate Betsy’s waxing of the maple syrup in the snow.  I did learn a few things about New England and maple syrup from visiting my grandmother as a kid, though, and so we churned our own vanilla ice cream.  While the churn was going, we did a blind taste test of real maple syrup and a fast food restaurant’s syrup.  (The real stuff was identified by nearly every child by appearance alone, and every single one choose it in the taste test.)  After our ice cream was ready, we topped it with maple syrup, New England-style, and headed back to the fire for our snack.

In the book, Betsy and her friends make a new outfit for a little boy in the hopes of helping him get adopted.  While we’ve taking on several simple sewing projects, I opted not to try to make pants.  Instead, we knotted scarves for a scarf mission in Scituate, Massachusetts.

When each girl finished making her scarf, she decorated a simple card to go with it.  They were really creative with these!

We had a great time celebrating Understood Betsy style, and we really packed a lot into the few hours that we had.  This is the perfect winter book – and since it takes place about a hundred years ago, there are many skills to practice throughout the reading.

Have you read Understood Betsy?

Book Club, Girls’ Edition: “The Smuggler’s Treasure” An American Girl Mystery

Disclosure Pic

Smuggler's Treasure

 It’s book club time again!  We ate well this month after reading The Smuggler’s Treasure, an American Girl History Mystery set in New Orleans during the War of 1812.

I had the chance to visit New Orleans a few years ago – back before Katrina – and so we talked about the culture and what makes the city unique – the Cajun culture, the heat and humidity, the architecture – and then we talked about the food.  Food is always fun to talk about, but especially when the book you’ve read is set in a bakery!
Our club meeting just happened to be scheduled for Fat Tuesday, or Shrove Tuesday, and while that wasn’t mentioned in the book, beignets were – and since I come from an area where doughnuts are the traditional way to fry the fat and sugar out of your cupboards before Lent, we decided to do the same.
First we got our dough ready.  Beignets use yeast, so we talked about the science of how yeast makes bread rise as we watched it wake up and act.  The girls seemed to think that was pretty cool.
 When the dough was ready, we rolled it out and used a pizza cutter to shape the squares.  I wasn’t sure we’d have enough at this point, because we really wanted to be able to share outside the club, so we started on another batch.


Then we moved them to a tray so we could roll and slice the second batch …

and while all of the dough was rising, we headed off to talk future careers.  The main characters of our story were torn – one wanted to run the bakery someday, while the other wanted a different life.  After the girls each shared their dreams for their own future, they thought about how they would market their bakery – if they had one.  Each girl came up with a name and logo for her bakery – except for these three.  They decided to work together and did the project jointly.


Next it was time to fry the beignets.  The girls watched from a safe distance, and then after they drained, we dropped three into their bags on top of a small pile of powdered sugar, just as they’re served in Cafe du Monde now.


Then it was time to do the happy beignet dance and shake that sugar all over the hot pastries!  My Little Man couldn’t bear to be left out of this fun, so he grabbed a bag, designed his own logo, and hopped in line.


The girls polished off these beignets and some wanted more, so we tried them in the more traditional Amish style, dusted with regular sugar:

Both were great.  This was definitely a fun way to bring a bit of New Orleans’ culture into book club – and it’s one we’ll be repeating again. 
What are your kids reading now?
Bring the culture of New Orleans to your event with these fun products: