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Category Archives: Geography

Geography Studies: Iceland

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Iceland was the last European country that we studied before our school year ended right before Christmas.  It is also a regularly forgotten member of the continent.  Sometimes it isn’t even included on maps of Europe while you’re looking for one to print for school.  Even better is the fact that my mother lived there for a while because my grandfather’s job moved them there.

While we did listen to the national anthem online and read books from the library, this study ended a bit differently than our others.  Grandpa lent us his slide projector and boxes of slides from their road trips through Iceland.  We set up a screen made from a white blanket for our slide show.  It was lots of fun to watch the kids try to guess which family member was which, not to mention the great pictures of the Icelandic countryside.

My aunts and uncle insisted that we must try to find pylsurs, Icelandic hot dogs made of pork, beef, and lamb.  However, I never found a place to buy them in the States, and I imagine they’d be expensive anyway.  Another option mentioned in our books was hamburgers, but though it may be a regular option in Iceland, it didn’t seem to be a memorable option for our schooling.  So with that in mind and other unique options such as puffin, walrus, and whale equally unattainable, we decided to go with lamb.

We seared lamb chops in my cast iron skillet with salt and garlic.  Then I served it with salad, rhubarb compote, and Icelandic potato salad.  Rhubarb apparently grows very well in Iceland.

Rhubarb Compote

1/2 cup water
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup frozen chopped rhubarb (fresh would work)

Bring the water and sugar to a boil in a small sauce pan.  Add the rhubarb and simmer until reduced and thickened, about 15 minutes.  Serve warm or chilled.  It also makes a good jam for toast, or warmed as a thick syrup on pancakes.

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I used the last of out Hungarian Dill Pickles for the potato salad.  Click on the links below for the recipes for the mayonnaise and sour cream that I use.  I simply substitute vinegar for the lemon juice in all the recipes.  Not everyone in the house can have eggs.  Instead of mixing them in, I sliced them to top the potato salad of a select few in the house.

Icelandic potato salad and Lamb chops with rhubarb compote

Kartoflusalat (Potato Salad)

1 3/4 lbs red potatoes
3 eggs, hard-boiled and sliced
2 pears, cored and chopped
1/4 cup chopped pickles
1/4 onion, small diced
3/4 cup mayonnaise
3/4 cup soy-free, vegan sour cream (scroll to the last recipe in the post)
1/2 teaspoon Ruth’s Special Blend Curry Powder
salt, to taste

Boil the potatoes until tender.  Cool and cube the potatoes.  Chop the rest of the ingredients as noted above.

Mix all of the ingredients in a large bowl and chill for at least six hours before serving (At least the original instructions said to chill the dish.  I didn’t plan that far ahead, but our slightly warm potato salad was good!  The leftovers were even better).

St. Lucia Day Soup and Buns

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Growing up I read about St. Lucia traditions in this book.  I have loved this Swedish tradition since childhood, but last year was our first year to celebrate it.  This year we made almost traditional St. Lucia Buns with a gluten free, vegan twist for our homeschool co-op yesterday.  Tonight the kids took a few extra St. Lucia buns to the neighbors while dressed up.  Buster made the props for himself and Little Man.

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Yesterday at our homeschool co-op I read this book about St. Lucia, and the children made St. Lucia crowns.  The boys had the option of crafting and decorating spruce trees in to remember St. Herman who shares this feast day.  One of the moms graciously made both recipes from this blog post about St. Herman Day to share alongside our St. Lucia buns and soup.  Here is a great book about St. Herman for your bookshelf.

The soup we made during class yesterday, so today my family ate the leftovers.  This is a Sicilian St. Lucia soup that I modified only slightly to make it allergy friendly for my family.  The original recipe calls for wheat, but we use brown rice instead.  We also had to leave out the pepper for Buster. Moreover, the original recipe has you cook each ingredient in separate pot, but I’ve streamlined the instructions to just use one large soup pot.  Use one that holds at least seven quarts because this recipe makes a lot of soup!

St Lucia Soup and Buns
Every time I make this soup the leftover components of this soup absorb almost all of the broth, so add more water when you reheat or be content to eat it as beans and rice the next day.

Cuccia – St. Lucia Soup
1 lb uncooked brown rice
1 lb dry fava beans
1 lb dry ceci (garbanzo beans)
3 cloves garlic, minced
3 bay leaves
1 Tbsp salt, to taste
1/3 cup olive oil (optional, I’ve always forgotten this ingredient and nobody seems to mind)
Lots of water

Soak the beans in separate bowls over night.

About three hours before dinner drain and rinse the fava beans and place them in a pot covered well with water.  Add the garlic and bay leaves to the pot.  Bring to a boil and reduce to simmer for one hour. Stir occasionally,  skim off any foam, and add water as needed to keep the beans covered.

After one hour add the garbanzo beans with additional water.  Bring back to a boil and reduce to simmer for another hour.  Stir occasionally,  skim off any foam, and add water as needed to keep the beans covered.

After this hour add the rice and the salt to the pot with 4-6 cups of additional water, so that the rice will have enough water to cook while still leaving you with soup.  Stir well and place the lid on the pot.  Bring to a boil, and reduce to simmer for 45 minutes to an hour.  Add more water if necessary.

Adjust salt to taste and pour olive oil over the top as desired.

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I started with the St. Lucia Bun Recipe here and worked to make it vegan.  Last year I tried it with yeast, and this year I resorted to baking powder.  It was missing the yeasty flavor, but we liked the outcome.

Gluten Free – Vegan St. Lucia Buns

1/4 cup coconut oil
3/4 cup almond milk
1/4 cup warm water
1/2 teaspoon saffron threads, crumbled
2 1/2 cups all-purpose gluten-free flour
1 teaspoon guar gum (omit if using a blend that already includes xanthan or guar gum)
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 Tbsp Ener-G egg replacer powder
raisins, as garnish

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees F.

In a small microwave safe bowl combine the coconut oil, milk, water, and crumbled saffron threads. Heat in the microwave on high for 30 seconds and stir. Microwave for another 15 seconds, and stir. If the oil is not melted, heat for another 15 seconds until it is. Set the milk mixture aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the dry ingredients, and mix well.

Add the liquid mixture and mix until the dry ingredients have incorporated the wet ingredients. Turn the mixer up to high and allow it to beat for a minute or so. Some of the dough should begin to pull away from the sides of the bowl and should be relatively smooth, but tacky to the touch. If the dough seems too stiff, begin to add a little bit more milk, a tablespoon at a time, beating in between additions until the proper consistency is reached.  If the dough is too sticky, add more flour a tablespoon at a time until it fits the above description.

Turn the dough out onto a very lightly floured surface, and divide with a bench scraper into 10-12 equal portions.

For each portion of dough sprinkle very lightly with flour and roll back and forth into a rope about 9 inches in length that tapers slightly at each end. The dough should be pretty easy to handle. Place the rope of dough perpendicular to your body, and curl one end of the dough toward the right and back on itself in a coil. Curl the other end of the dough back on itself in the opposite direction in a coil (see photo). Repeat with the remaining pieces of dough.

Place the pieces of shaped dough on a nonstick or parchment lined rimmed baking sheet about 2 inches apart from one another.  Place the raisins in the center of the two coils at the end of each roll.  Brush each roll with a little almond milk.

Place the rolls in the center of the preheated oven and bake rotating once during baking for 12-15, or until cooked throughout. Since these are vegan, they won’t brown the same as other baked goods, but they will taste great anyway.

St. Andrew the First Called – Geography Studies: Scotland

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While we were reading our books from the library, we discovered that St. Andrew was the patron saint of Scotland.  Coincidentally we also discovered that we began studying Scotland during a week that culminates in the commemoration of St. Andrew.  As a unanimous decision, the children declared that we must plan our Scottish meal for St. Andrew’s Day.  I believe that this meal will become a tradition for our family on this 30th day of November.

When I knew that we would be studying Scotland during the fast, I asked my Scottish friend Sophia for ideas.  Cock-a-Leekie Soup was her suggestion.  And while some recipes of this soup call for chicken, I found a vegan recipe here that I modified slightly to fit the ingredients that I had on hand.  That link also includes a vegan haggis recipe.  Even when it isn’t a fasting season, vegan haggis may be all my family could muster.

Here are a few other links from our Geography Study:

National Anthem

Coulter’s Candy

The Bonnie Banks O’ Loch Lomand

Edinburgh Military Tattoo

Coloring Celtic Knots – While we could have made kaleidoscopes or terrariums, we opted for a simpler print and color option for this cold holiday week.

Cock-a-Leekie Soup

Cock-A-Leekie Soup

2 Tbsp safflower oil
1 bunch leeks, cleaned, trimmed & chopped
3 medium carrots, chopped
2 medium potatoes, quartered & chopped
3 cups vegetable broth
4-5 cups water
1/4 cup long-grain rice, uncooked
6-8 prunes with stones removed, chopped
1/2 tsp thyme
Salt to taste

In a large thick-bottomed soup pot heat the oil; then gently sauté the leeks in the oil for a few minutes.

Add the remaining vegetables to the pan along with the rice. Continue to sauté for another 10 minutes stirring frequently to stop the rice from sticking.

Pour in broth and water.  Bring to a boil; then simmer gently for 20 minutes.

Add prunes and thyme to the soup then simmer for another 20 minutes.

Add salt to taste.  Serve.

Geography Studies: Norway

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We kept our study of Norway simple these last two weeks.  We read our books from the library and finished our notebook pages.  However, we didn’t spend much time online looking up interesting information and videos.  Mostly we just listened to the Norwegian folk song on our Wee Sing CD and the national anthem.


Sami felt designs – 

In my craft book they call these Lapland felt squares, but the term “Lap” comes from a racial slur on the Sami people.  So I think that we will avoid the use of that term.  The Sami are reindeer herders from the far north portions of Norway, Sweden, and Finland.  Their beautiful embroidered clothing patterns are what we tried to mimic in our craft project.

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You could also try your hand at Rosemaling, or Norwegian rose painting.

For our Norwegian recipe, we chose a dessert since Norwegian meals are quite similar to Swedish meals that we tried before I started this blog.  This recipe was also quite simple for the children to help prepare.  They were able to do most steps on their own with minimal supervision.  Their favorite part was mashing the berries through the sieve.

Red Fruit Pudding

Red Fruit Pudding

2 lbs assorted berries (we used 1 lb fresh sliced strawberries and 1 cup each frozen blueberries and blackberries)
3 cups water
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup tapioca starch (or cornstarch)

In a medium sized pot slowly heat the berries, water, and sugar over medium heat.  Cook for five to ten minutes until the berries are soft.

Strain and press through a fine mesh sieve.  Reserve all the liquid in a large bowl, and discard the pulp and seeds.  Unless of course your eight year old offers to eat the pulp and by all means let him.  All that fiber is good for him.

In a small bowl whisk together the tapioca starch and about one cup of the reserved liquid.

Return all of the liquids to the pot and whisk them together.  Bring the pudding to a boil and reduce to simmer for five minutes.

Chill for several hours before serving.  Enjoy!

Dairy-Free Beef Stroganoff

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When we were studying Russia last week, I knew that I wanted to try a dairy free Beef Stroganoff.  I couldn’t fit it into last week, so I penciled it in for my birthday.  Today not only is my birthday, but the Nativity Fast (our Advent) starts tomorrow.  We begin 40 days of preparation for the Nativity of Christ.  It is a time of prayer and alms-giving; a time for quiet and simplifying life; and a time for vegan meals.

Each year before the fast comes, we get the opportunity to celebrate!  This year Buster made me a pinata and invited friends and family to help us “bust it up.”  My mom and a few neighbors congregated in our garage to reveal the contents of his “Toro.”  Buster spent days making the pinata while attempting to keep it secret.  He even bought the contents with his own money.  I am now the proud owner of a pink matchbox truck, a drawing, a honey candy, and a plethora of unused balloons.  The bull, a shell of his former self, has been relegated to a home in the recycle bin.

Toro Pinata
No, there was not a proper cake.  When the birthday girl has to bake her own cake, sometimes it doesn’t happen.  I was, however, interrupted at the beginning of this paragraph with an offer of carob pancakes before bed.  That is an offer that you don’t turn down!

Back to dinner…

In my opinion, this recipe is better without any dairy replacements.  Long ago, I would stir in goat’s yogurt with good success, but I do not like the results with the non-dairy alternatives.  Trust me on this one.   While it is not a traditional Stroganoff without sour cream or yogurt, I think the sauce is creamy enough on it’s own without the replacement dairy.

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I served this sauce over Tinkyada Brown Rice Spirals, but fettuccine would work well, as well as cooked brown rice.  The sides are a simple salad and sauteed mixed greens from the garden.

Beef Stroganoff

1 1/2 lbs pasta, cooked  (or brown rice)
3-4 Tbsp olive oil
1/2 onion, sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1-2 tsp salt, to taste
1 lb steak of your choice, sliced (or ground beef if you want to keep it simple)
1 tsp thyme
8-12 oz mushrooms, sliced
1/3 cup garbanzo or millet flour
3 cups chicken broth

In a cast iron skillet over medium heat, saute the onions, garlic, and salt.  Saute for about 5 minutes.  Until the onions are beginning to be translucent.

Add the beef and thyme and cook another five minutes until the meat is almost cooked through.   Stir in the mushrooms, and continue to stir until they have softened.

Sprinkle the flour over the meat mixture and whisk until completely combined.  Pour in the broth and stir well.  Bring to a boil and simmer for 3-4 minutes until the sauce is thickened.

Adjust salt to taste, then pour over pasta or rice with your choice of sides.

Geography Studies: Russia

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This week we are finishing our study of Russia.  Many years ago I got to spend the summer in Moscow.  It was a wonderful experience.  Especially now that I am Orthodox in a parish with Russian leanings, those pictures, places, and experiences mean so much more now.  The children have loved looking through my pictures and hearing about the markets, parks, churches, and museums.  I got to teach English while I was there and Snuggle Bunny is partly named for one of my students.

We could have gone two ways with the craft this week.  We could have painted our own stackable matryoska dolls, but I wasn’t up to putting out the money for that quite yet.  Maybe when everyone is older we will invest in this book and give it a try.  Until then, my souvenir set will be stacked again and again.  Snuggle Bunny has these measuring cups and the matching spoons too.  They make baking so much more fun!   Then there is The Littlest Matryoshka that is well worth reading if your local library has it available.

We decided to make Faberge eggs instead.  We just cut ours out of construction paper free hand, but I’m thinking a little more structure might be good for the future.  Either blown out eggs or wooden eggs might give a better outcome.  Can you tell that Buster’s is supposed to be the Titanic in sequins?

Fabrige Eggs
Here are a few other links for studying Russia:

Russian Language – Snuggle Bunny asked to study Russian earlier this year so we have been learning a letter a week.  She will know the whole alphabet by Thanksgiving!  Here are our favorite YouTube Channels for learning:  Cyrillic Alphabet  &  Numbers.

National Anthem

Folk Music and Dancing – Dance around the room together.  See who can dance like a Cossack.

Church Slavonic – Some of the traditional music of our church.  Though we hear a little of it woven into the service every week, this song has been putting Little Man to sleep regularly since he was two months old.  Somewhere I have a video of him calming to this song and then singing along in little baby coos.

Borscht

For our Russian food, I debated between borscht and beef stroganoff , but decided that this week I will make borscht and next week I will try a dairy free stroganoff.  I learned how to make both meals while I was in Russia, so they hold a special place in my heart.  I made the borscht in the crock pot for lunch at church on Sunday, so the kids didn’t get to help.  I’m thinking we may try Kasha so they can help.  We love porridge for breakfast, and modifying some of these recipes will be very easy.

Borscht

1 cup onions—finely chopped
2 cloves garlic—peeled and chopped
1 cup celery — thinly sliced
2 cups beets—coarsely grated
1 cup carrots—peeled and grated
1 tablespoon salt
½ teaspoon sugar
¼ cup red wine vinegar
2 quarts beef or chicken stock (or half water half stock)
1 pound potatoes—cubed
1 pound cabbage—coarsely shredded
1 pound stew meat
2 tablespoons dill
3 bay leaves
Olive oil

I had beef soup bones with plenty of meat, so I trimmed them, saved the meat in the refrigerator, and tossed them in the slow cooker on low over night with two quarts of water and a dash of salt.  If you are using broth that has already been made, you can skip this step.  I also prepped all the vegetables the night before to streamline the morning.

Early the morning:  In a large skillet heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onions, garlic, and celery stirring frequently until they are soft and lightly colored. Add the stew meat and brown for about 5 minutes.

Skim out the broth and discard the bones.  Add the bay leaves, salt, sugar, vinegar, and browned meat an vegetables.

When I arrived at church (My lid doesn’t lock down so I waited so the borscht would stay in the pot for the drive): Stir in the cabbage and potatoes and turn the crock pot to high.  Pray that the potatoes cook through in time for lunch.

Right after Communion (Since I was already out with a two year old):  Fish out the bay leaves.  Stir the beets, carrots, and dill into the soup and Cover until coffee hour.

Geography Studies: Hungary

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I’m trying to kick the last of this cold so that we can make it to a family reunion this weekend.  I declared today a day to rest and ate leftovers around our house since we’re planning picnic meals for being on the road on Saturday.  Hummus and veggies, fruit salad, chips, and meat to grill when we get there–simple fare.

We have been studying Hungary in our geography the last two weeks.  We read plenty from the library on Hungary and listened to the national anthem and folk music over breakfast.  Maps were marked, flags colored, and notebooks appended.

The art project from Global Art was simple.  Did you know that ball point pens were invented in Hungary?  We followed the instructions to make a large scale ball point pen model from things around the house and drew with our “pen.”  It was no surprise that Buster drew a rendition of “The Titanic.”  Snuggle Bunny drew a princess, while Little Man’s contribution was the selection of green ink in a work that fits his abstract style.

Ball Point Pen Drawings
Hungarian food presented itself as quite a challenge for our diet.  Paprika plays a prominent role in Hungarian food.  Goulash, Chicken Paprikash, and even Hungarian Stuffed Cabbage are all supposed to be dominantly flavored with paprika.  The little peppers decorate houses alongside garlic while they dry for use throughout the year.  I was at a loss.  Take out the paprika and Goulash turns into something very close to the Irish Stew from two weeks ago.  Yes, maybe with noodles or dumplings it would have been different enough.  Stuffed cabbage wouldn’t be too bad, but then I found this:

“‘Kovászos uborka’, home-made pickled cucumber with a hint of dill, is best-served chilled. The secret is in the preparation; natural fermentation is preferred to vinegar, giving it a unique tangy taste. It is so popular that a Hungarian summer would not be the same without the sight of huge pickle jars placed on sunny window sills and balconies. In the winter months when fresh produce is at a premium, pickles fill the void.”

Dill Pickles

Remember all those pickling cucumbers that I have from our CSA?

We learned that true Hungarian pickles are held under the brine with a thick slice of rye bread while they ferment, but rye has gluten.  Instead, we used a small ramekin.  It fit just perfectly in the top of my gallon sized jar.  I used this recipe for a starting point.

Buster chopped the cucumbers into chunks of varying sizes.  It was enough to fill a gallon jar, so it was probably 3-4 lbs of pickling cucumbers.

Snuggle Bunny helped measure these spices into the bottom of the jar:
3-4 cloves garlic, peeled and gently smashed
a pinch of black tea, for the tannins described in the aforementioned recipe
1 package of fresh dill from the store
2 Tbsp Mustard seeds
3 bay leaves

Then she warmed 5 Tbsp of salt in 2 quarts of water on the stove, until it was fully dissolved for the brine.

Once the cucumbers were chopped and the brine cooled, we filled the jar to the top of the cucumbers with brine, weighed it down with the ramekin until all the slices were submerged, and the lid was tightened.  It took ours 4 days to turn cloudy which is the sign that the pickles are done.  Be sure to keep the jar on a plate or in a shallow dish to catch any brine overflow that may happen even when you left the proper “1-2 inch head-space.”

Once the pickles are done, open the jar over the sink to remove the ramekin.  Store in the refrigerator and enjoy a slice or two whenever you like.