Monday, 22 December 2014

Food at Christmas Time

As we have been going on "Victorian" this December (well, as much as humanly possible), I have been serving up Victorian dishes to my family - much to the dismay of my husband, who is not very adventurous when it comes to trying new food.

The dishes above are mostly taken from the receipes found here:
1.  Roast Goose with Apple and Herb Stuffing (I substituted goose with duck)
2.  Kedgeree
3.  Baronet's Curry

They were very well received by the boys.

However, I cannot claim the same for the other three dishes though:
4.  Roast Goose (duck) with Stuffed Baked Apples
5.  Chestnut Soup
6.  Winter Salad

The recipes come from the following book.  The boys tolerated dishes #4 and #5, but they could not bear the chestnut soup even though they both love chestnuts generally.

It's all going horribly wrong....!!

Oh well, at least I tried to give them an authentic Victorian experience... although, I must admit that my one-woman effort at creating a Victorian dining experience is a long way off what a team can create:

Where I fail at in the historic department, I hope to make up for it in the contemporary division.  Remember my quest for the tastiest commerically-made mince pie in my vincinity?

I did try all I could get my hands on.  Gasp!  Don't even start on the calories!  Here's a list of what I ate:
  1. Lidl's luxury brand
  2. Sainsbury's bakery
  3. Aldi's own brand
  4. Farm shop
  5. Tesco's own brand
  6. Sainsbury's Taste the Difference
  7. Tesco's Finest
  8. Marks and Spencer's luxury brand
Here is the verdict:

Each brand is scored out of a total of 5.  There are a few interesting things to note in the result:
  • For the sake of completeness, I would just mention that this year I have not bought Waitrose's mince pies (the 'Duchy' brand) which would have been endorsed by Prince Charles, no less.  However, I remember from last year that we were not wowed by it, as we had expected to for its price and its royal association.
  • The biggest surprise this year is that we find mince pies from Lidl (a German supermarket selling discounted items) should be on par with that of Sainsbury's 'Taste the Difference'.
  • Usually the food baked fresh from Sainsbury's bakery is superior to that sold on its shelves but this year we find the bakery made mince pies to be so terrible (too sweet, not enough mince meat, crust too hard) that we only managed to share half out of the pack of four and had to throw the rest in the bin.
  • Tesco 'Finest' was unanimously our favourite last year but this year it has not done as well.  There seems to be a subtle difference between last year's and this year's mince pies so we wonder whether any subtle alteration have been made to this year's receipe.

With only three days to go before Christmas, I have some last-minute shopping and Christmas baking to do so I am taking a blogging break from now until the new year.  I wish every reader

A Very Merry Christmas and a Very Happy New Year!

This post is linked up to:
  1. History and Geography Meme: Original Illustrations, Example Using Beowulf
  2. My Week in Review #17
  3. Collage Friday: A Birthday, Buildings, Concerts & Christmas
  4. Weekly Wrap-Up: The last one of 2014

Sunday, 21 December 2014

A Victorian Christmas

This December we have been gearing ourselves up for a Victorian-themed Christmas to go along with our reading of A Christmas Carol.  Since the Victorians are part of the UK National Curriculum, there is an abundance of related activities and events to attend all year round, so we went to one at Audley End House that is conveniently themed Victorian Christmas.  We attended one at the same venue last year too, so it probably is an annual event that is held there at this time of the year.

You know you're off to a good start when you see Father Christmas around and you hear joyful carols being sung.  Not only did we hear the popular Victorian carols, we also learned about the wassailing practice that used to take place.  As a bonus, we got to hear one of the popular wassailing songs:

In the main kitchen, we saw how busy the servants were at preparing food for Christmas dinner:

We even saw pheasants being grilled in the very authentic Victorian kitchen:

Outside the house, we learned about the history of falconry, a popular sport of the upper-class in Victorian times.

There were live demonstrations by the hawks and the falcons of their superb hunting skills:

 Dotted around the place were the old-fashioned carousel:

and a few Victorian games where people can have a go at.

The Victorian games look deceptively easy, what with the entire game consisting of a few balls, poles, buckets and rings.  Tiger soon found out for himself that these games are not as easily played well as he had initially thought them to be.

No Victorian event would be complete without Punch and Judy!

This post is linked up to:
  1. History and Geography Meme: Original Illustrations, Example Using Beowulf
  2. My Week in Review #17
  3. Collage Friday: A Birthday, Buildings, Concerts & Christmas
  4. Weekly Wrap-Up: The last one of 2014

Friday, 12 December 2014

Don't Blink!

With a child who reads books like the ones below for 'leisure',

and who gives 'lectures' on the the differences between a Sherman tank and a Cromwell tank

by addressing their technical specifications,

I often forget that he is only 10 years old... that is, until he reminds me of his real chronological age by playing in a big box for days, pretending to be a (rather giggly) tank driver.

With only a few weeks left to the end of the year, I am feeling rather nostalgic.  The old photographs (taken when Tiger was two to four years old) are a poignant reminder to myself of how rapidly time passes.  See what has transpired during that time when I blinked...

1) By the sea




2) On the bike


3) Gardening




4) In the kitchen
Then: Tiger worked his way up, starting from washing vegetables at age 3.


5) Art


5) How and what he learns


6) Dressing up for lessons

Now: Still dressing up but slightly more understated than before.

6) Reading
Then: Dr. Seuss books were highly popular.

Now: Hours spent in the Military History section of a bookstore is a very common occurrence .

7) Writing
Then: Learning to hold and control the marker pen.

Now: Completing a three-page written narration.

8) Toys
Then: Toys for small boys.

Now: Toys for big boys.

9) Between mother and son
Then: "I'll go wherever you take me, Mummy!"

Now: I don't have a photo for this, but a very recent declaration made by Tiger sums it all up. 
"I will NOT submit to my mother!"

This post is linked up to:
  1. Hip Homeschool Hop - 12/9/14
  2. Laugh & Learn - Week 10
  3. Finishing Strong - Week 40
  4. My Week in Review #16
  5. Collage Friday: Serving with Teens
  6. Weekly Wrap-Up: The one with another birthday

Saturday, 6 December 2014

Here We Go!

For us, the Christmas season starts when the following items appears in our house: mulled wine and mince pies.

Tortoise and I plan to train ourselves to become mince pies connoisseurs this year by tasting all the commerically available mince pies and then making a comparsion chart to show our results by Christmas.  If this isn't an excuse for gluttony, I don't know what is... but at least our intention is to come up with a really useful chart at the end of our exericse to enable us to make a more informed decision about which brand of mince pies to buy next year.  There is some good to this over-indulgence, really.

As for the mulled wine, it is my private acknowledgement of the arrival of the Christmas season.  Tortoise can't stand mulled wine.  He says it's because he doesn't like spiced drinks, but I suspect the real reason is because he doesn't drink cheap wine (that means anything less than £25 per bottle).  To be honest, the quality of red wine used to make mulled wine is indeed sub-standard, but the mulled wine was introduced to me the first time I spent Christmas in England many years ago so for me, the drink has a very strong association with Christmas in this country, even though the first glass of mulled wine I had was ghastly due to it being over-heated.  Every December since, I have drunk it purely for sentimental reasons and this has become my little private festive ritual.

Before anyone leaves this post in digust at our over-indulgence, let me just clarify that:
  1. the one bottle of mulled wine (750ml) is to last me for 24 days, so a quick division reveals that, at an average of 31.25ml per day, I am grossly under-qualified to apply for membership to the AA.
  2. I only do this from December 1st to 24th, not any other time of the year.

Luckily, it's not all gluttony and drunkeness here.  We only indulge in the above in the "after hours", i.e. after Tiger has gone to bed.  In the day, I continue my role as a hardworking, responsible parent by participating in wholesome activities such as:

1) baking

Our gingerbread family turned out whiter than normal because we used a traditional Victorian Christmas recipe for the "White Gingerbread" and we had used a combination of coconut flour and almond flour for our base instead of the usual wheat flour.  The substitution did not go smoothly as the mixture was too crumbly at first so we had to tweak the recipe even more to make the dough hard enough to cut.  In the end, the activity that should have taken us at most 30 minutes took two hours to complete!

All this time, I wasn't just standing around taking photographs.  I actually helped to turn what was destined to become a crumbly mess into something edible.  I bought two Christmassy aprons to put us in the mood of Christmas cooking -- one for Tiger, one for me.

2) making cards
I was originally very excited about the prospect of us showcasing different card designs this December.  However, when we made a list of everyone that Tiger is to make cards for and the count totalled to 15 (aren't we popular?), we decided to be more realistic about our capability and stamina, and settled for learning to do one design very well.

We followed the instructions found here, with some modifications.  Next year, we might attempt more design varieties but I am happy that, after mass-producing 15 cards of the same design, we have now added this design to our crafts repertoire and can produce it with our eyes shut, almost spontaneously.

3) music
This week we started to immerse ourselves in Bach's Christmas Oratorio.

Tiger was curious about this piece of music and its form, so we talked a little about the background of the music as well as its structure.  Tis piece of music has been our background music this week and will continue to be so for the next two week.  I am slightly surprised that Tiger does not object to having this piece of music playing in the background as he works, since we usually have no background noise when we are working.

We have also been very good about learning our first Christmas carol, Joy to the World:

Another surpise here is how enthusiastic Tiger has been about learning to sing it and the fact that he asked to sing it several times throughout the day!

4) Christmas stories
I found a gorgeously illustrated book to go with learning the carol, a good summary of which can be found here.

Tiger and I read the book together and had a little discussion about the basic elements of literary analysis (such as: setting, characters, conflict, rising action, climax, resolution, conclusion).  Then our discussion took on a broader, somewhat philosophical scope to include:
1.  homelessness
  • where we have seen homeless people
  • the fundamental causes of homelessness
  • where do homeless people go
  • how homeless people are treated or perceived
  • what, if anything, can people do if they become homeless
2.  charity
  • whether it is universally applicable
  • different circumstances under which people choose to apply or not to apply charity
  • how charity can be manipulated or exploited
3.  idealism versus pragmatism
  • given the current social climate, whether it is advisable to invite strangers into our homes, and if not, how else can they be helped
  • under what circumstances, if any, is the idea that "They brought it upon themselves." ever justifiable.

We are just beginning to discuss books in this way, as Tiger starts getting to an age when he is able to consider such questions in a meaningful way.  Like the baking this week, our discussion took way longer than it would have been had we just read the book, but I feel the time was well spent and Tiger relishes at the new challenge of having to think a little deeper and harder about what he reads.

However, not all books are to be discussed as such otherwise the process becomes tedious so Tiger also read the following for his own enjoyment.

5) Christmas STEM
We looked at a few maths problems from the Chrismaths book that I mentioned in the Christmas curriculum post.  The book's problems cover a wide range of ages (KS1 to KS3) so we started in the middle where the problems look more suited to Tiger's current ability but found them not overly exciting so we switched to working out the problems from this year's primary maths advent calendar.

One advent calendar led to another.  We also looked at the 2014 Chemistry Advent Calendar to get our daily dose of chemistry snippets.

This post is linked up to:
  1. Hip Homeschool Hop - 12/2/14
  2. Finishing Strong - Homeschooling the Middle & High School Years Week 39
  3. Virtual Refrigerator
  4. My Week in Review #15
  5. Collage Friday - Choosing December Activities Wisely
  6. Weekly Wrap-Up: The one with the new Christmas tree
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