Saturday, 20 July 2013

Sourdough and Baked Alaska

We've almost finished our latest project.

This one was originally going to be Where Food Comes From, but quickly evolved into a general Food project.
 It turns out that food is a brilliant topic for home ed: apart from all the cookery (with attendant reading recipes, following instructions, weighing and measuring, etc) we've fitted in geography*, history, biology** and some general-purpose safety and hygiene rules along the way***.

We've been on a few field trips, some of which involved actual fields, and generally had a lot of fun.
 And of course we did a lot of craft activities****.

Two of our activities, though, seemed to sum up the way we go about home education.

The first was making sourdough bread.
I came up with this one very early on and planned it meticulously: we were going to make a starter, feed it and eventually make bread with it.
Ellie would write down what we did each day and how the starter reacted.
 I was fairly sure it was going to be one of those experiments where you have to sit down and ask, brightly "So, why didn't that work?" as if you'd planned it that way.
In fact, I sort of did plan it that way.
 My plans however never quite go as I intend, and this was no exception.
Despite faulty advice causing poor Bamba***** to come perilously close to starving to death, he survived to become a really rather decent loaf of bread.
Jeremy, his successor, lives on in a cupboard, eating flour and water twice a day, and providing us with fresh, if somewhat chewy, loaves in return.
To put it plainly: the experiment was an unqualified success, drat it.

Then there was the Baked Alaska.
This was not in my original plan.
I spotted the recipe in a book Ellie got out of the library and thought, in a vague sort of way: "Oh, that would be a good one to do, we must make that".
This week, as we finally got to the sticky, sugary, pointy bit of the food pyramid, I remembered that thought and make it we did.
 I hadn't really planned for it, I had no expectation of it working out, we just assembled the ingredients, threw them together****** and hoped.
We didn't even have a recipe as the book had gone back ages ago, I just worked from memory: line bowl with slices of swiss roll, add raspberries, fill hollow with ice cream, freeze, top with meringue and bake*******.
 I got Ellie to guess what would happen to the ice cream then, when it didn't, she had to figure out why.
Surprisingly, as before, the laws of physics were not suspended for our amusement and everything worked out perfectly.
 Ellie's theory, as written, was that "The ice cream stayed cold because it had a blanket" which may not be the usual definition of insulation but wasn't bad going for a four-year-old.
 So, exciting and delicious scientific discovery was hers.
Not bad going, really.

Most of our activities work out like one of the above: either I plan something ages in advance and we try to follow a prescribed pattern, stopping several times to patch it up, changing direction if it doesn't work out, and eventually doing something completely different*********, or we come up with something on the spur of the moment, jump in blindly, and surface some time later, amazed by whatever it is we have just done.

One way or another it all works out.

*That'd be the Where Food Comes From part, with a side order of Food Miles and the environmental impact of various foods.

**Why we eat, how we eat and what we eat.
Where shall we have lunch? is geography, of course.

***I imagine a school would call that PSE or PHST or some other collection of initials that stand for Don't Smoke, Don't Drink and Please Don't Get Pregnant.
I call it common sense which, some may argue, amounts to the same thing.

****Every project we do involves craft activities, I could come up with a project called Theoretical Calculus For Under Fives and it would still involve coloured paper, glitter and cardboard tubes.
...and now I want to do that.

*****Our starter for ten.

******You're expecting me to say "literally" or something here, aren't you?
Well, snooks to you: we did it perfectly.
 Ok, Phoebe ate some of the cake.
And quite a lot of the raspberries.
But no-one threw anything.

*******If I could have called this pie I would have.

*********In this case actually making, writing about and eating the sourdough instead of having to work out why our starter was now a nasty-smelling blob.

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