Tortellini Soup

You can tell the change of seasons has arrived. Suddenly the humidity is gone, the nights are cool, and the breeze seems a bit chilly. Fall is definitely here, and along with it I suddenly have a craving for soup. We eat lots of soup during the colder months, one of our family favorites is this Tortellini Soup recipe that we discovered at a favorite restaurant in Chicago years ago.

The simple list of ingredients includes olive oil, baby spinach, garlic, onion, chicken base, and of course Tortellini. We like the three cheese variety Tortellini the best.
So, first swirl some olive oil in the pan, don’t be afraid of using too much. I really don’t think there is such a thing…
Add two teaspoons chopped garlic….
Saute over medium heat, until it starts to brown.
Then add the chopped onion.
Saute with the garlic until the onions become translucent.
Then add 8 cups chicken stock. I use water with two tablespoons of my favorite chicken base.
Bring to a boil. Meanwhile, chop the spinach, then set it aside. For a big pot of soup I used about 4 cups. You can add more or less if you wish.
After the soup begins to boil, throw in the tortellini.
My kids love it, so I used two of the small bags. The manufacturer claims each little bag will serve 3-4 people. Who are they kidding? My kids could eat it all in one sitting if I let them. That’s why I use two bags. Cook for about 13-15 minutes until the pasta is tender.
Then throw in the spinach and cook for about 5 minutes more. You can also add seasonings at this time. Salt and pepper, perhaps a bit of dill, basil or oregano. It doesn’t seem to need much.
Then serve with a bit of grated Parmesan on top.
If you don’t have one of these nifty graters, you simply must get one. Nothing compares to the taste of freshly grated Parmesan. You will never go back to canned again. Trust me on this.
Designer Mom

Friday: Team Pizza

It’s been a crazy week. I worked overtime last week, and we moved over the weekend. I have been in bed sick most of this week, and today am finially beginning to recover from it all. To celebrate, we decided to make pizza. Pizza is usually accompanied by a movie, but tonight we are blessed with the Packer game. Go Pack!
So, here we have the players (yes, I realize there is a little player who sneaked into my photo at the last minuite):

Crust: Unbleached flour, corn meal, olive oil, yeast, salt.
Toppings: Chopped garlic, tomato basil sauce, fresh tomatoes, peppers, onion, Italian seasoning, and shredded mozzarella cheese.
This is my favorite dough recipe. It comes from The New Basics Cookbook by Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins. It’s the simplest one I have found that is quick and easy to make. I usually turn on the oven to preheat, start the dough, then prepare the toppings while it rises. It’s important to preheat your oven at 450 degrees for at least 1 hour for a great crust. 
Basic Pizza Dough
1 c.warm water
1 package yeast, or 2 1/4 tsp. bulk yeast
2 1/2 to 3 c. unbleached all purpose flour
2 tbsp. olive oil
1/2 salt

Combine water, yeast, 1 1/2 cups of flour. Mix well, add remaining ingredients. Knead for 5 minutes. Cover with an over turned bowl on your counter top or return to a bowl coated with olive oil to rise until doubled in bulk. Mine takes an hour, sometimes longer if the house is cooler. After rising dough can be divided into two or more balls. This recipe will make two twelve inch pizzas. 
While the dough is rising I chop the veggies and shred the cheese if needed. I also prepare the pizza pans by sprinkling a bit of corn meal in the bottom. This keeps the pizzas from sticking and adds a bit of texture to the dough. Although I use several styles of pans, including stainless deep dish, stainless with holes and clay pizza stones, my favorite by far is the clay. It produces a crispy evenly cooked crust, and keeps the pizza warm while serving. 
After the dough has risen, I roll it out. Have your pans handy to slip underneath the dough, and then add the toppings. I prefer to put all the toppings on with the cheese last. It helps hold it all in place. Then I bake them for 20 minutes on the lowest oven rack. Sometimes I move them up to the top rack for the last 5 minutes if they need to brown more.
Here is our line-up:

This is our turkey, onion, and peppers combo.
This is our extra cheesy pepper, onion, tomato combo. I also threw on a bit of crumbled bacon I found rattling around in the fridge.
Yummmm! Let the game begin!
Designer Mom

Visual Learning Resources

About a year ago, we had two of our sons tested for learning disabilities. We had know for years they had issues, but they were gradually making progress so we didn’t worry too much about having them tested a young age. But, since they were entering high school and middle school, we decided it was time. I was sure that after having home schooled our children for the last 11 years, I knew exactly how they learned. Boy, was I wrong.
Our second oldest child, Ted we knew was dyslexic, among other things, but I still thought he was an auditory learner. I knew he was often attracted to colorful pictures or cartoons, so I thought he was visual, but things were pretty cloudy from there. He just struggled to learn no matter what. I am sure you know what I am talking about, every home schooling family has a struggling learner.
Because of his dyslexia, Ted has always struggled with workbooks and notebooks. It is typical of a dyslexic child to have difficulty reading, writing and spelling. Although he struggled to learn to read, he still enjoys reading and will eagerly dive into any book I give him. I always try to get books on tape or CD from the library if they are available for him to listen to because he seems to really enjoy them.
Imagine my amazement at his test results showing that he was actually not auditory AT ALL, but completely a visual learner. What??? 
I felt like the worst Mom in the world. How could I not know this after all these years? How could I have been so blind? No wonder he has always struggled with school, I had been going about teaching him the wrong way.
It was hard to change my thinking process at first. What had worked for my other kids would not work for him. Our oldest sons, Alex and James, were both auditory learners, and have never had any learning challenges at all.
Ben, we discovered during testing, was completely auditory and not visual at all, I had completely misjudged his learning abilities too. But we will talk about him another day.
At first, I tried to order video curriculum that went with the things we were already studying. The only problem was, not all curriculum comes with videos. We were already using Math U See, so that one was easy because it came with a video.
Apologia Biology also a rather simple fix, I just ordered the computer CD’s that went with it. But, after receiving them I found they were not as complete as I would have liked. Certain topics were never covered in the video segments, and with his reading difficulties, it was difficult for Ted. Listening to the auditory CD was not enough for him to really comprehend the material.
Some of the other courses he was taking such as English, Art History, Economics, Logic, and Literature had video material available, but it either required purchasing completely new curriculum or was very expensive. I didn’t want to spend a lot of money because I wasn’t sure our other kids would really use it later.
One of our friends recommended an online resource called the Kahn Academy. It was started by a former hedge fund trader who began tutoring his family and friends remotely by computer in his spare time. Then, he started making You Tube videos of himself teaching various subjects.  Today he has more than 2,400 lectures COMPLETELY FREE on the web. He is supported by numerous corporations who use his videos for teaching and training their employees. Bill Gates is one of his supporters, and the Microsoft Corporation uses his videos. It is a great thing.
Ted loves it. He has found videos on nearly every topic he has studied, and many that I never thought to challenge him with. We had the most amazing conversation one day on Fractional Reserve Banking. He often watches these in his spare time. They are colorful, entertaining, and well written. Best of all, they are only 12 minutes long. Even a child with ADD can sit and watch for 12 minutes.
Just breezing through the list of subjects on their website, Kahn also offers SAT Prep, Singapore Math, California Standardized Tests, Algebra, Geometry, Physics, Calculus, Statistics, Biology, Chemistry, Astronomy, Logic, History, it goes on and on. There is so much material, you could practically use it exclusively for high school.
Here’s what Bill Gates has to say about it:
Millionaires and geniuses can’t be wrong.
Designer Mom

Wine and Cheese

A while back I read an article about a woman and her husband that made time for a wine and cheese course once a week. No kids, no interruptions, just the couple with their favorite wine and cheese. I loved the idea.

Cheese is very important to our family. My husband’s family has been in the Wisconsin cheese business for more than 30 years. We regularly eat Wisconsin cheese, and typically have about 10 or 20 pounds of it in the refridgerator at any given time. No lie. We always have tons of cheese. Except, I can’t eat it because I have an allergy to dairly products.

Determined to make a good thing work, I began to search for alternative cheeses. I discovered through my research that European cheeses are made with out the pasturization process. This not only changes the flavor of the cheese, but enhances the nutritional value.  Europeans cheese makers would never use pasturized milk because they know how it alters the flavor of the cheese. American cheese manufacturers are required by law to use the pasturization process, since the early 1900’s. It is unfortunately, the most common cause for allergic reactions in dairy products. I have found that I can eat cheese made in Europe without having an allergic reaction. Also, American cheeses aged for more than 60 days are not required to have pasturized milk in them. We also regularly enjoy goat or sheep cheeses which are great for those who have allergies to dairy.

Thus we have formed a habit. Every Saturday night, we sit down with a select bottle of wine and at least 3 different cheeses. I like to choose a Wisconsin cheese (this we usually have in the refrigerator), but then add a European cheese, and a goat or sheep cheese (sometimes they are made in Wisconsin, and sometimes they are not).  I also try to vary the color of the cheeses (white, yellow, etc.), as well as the texture (soft,  or semi-soft). Don’t forget the fresh seasonal fruit for a complete course.

It was feeling very tropical here this week with the heat and humidity, so I selected a unique orange, coconut wine by Coco Bay. It was delightful! Light and tropical flavors, just what we needed to go with our fresh strawberries, mangoes and banana slices. For the cheeses we enjoyed Jarlsburg Swiss, Co-jack (a Colby and Monterrey Jack combination), and my favorite Chevre goat cheese.

The wine is available at Aldi’s stores. You can purchase the other cheeses from Costco or Whole Foods, or you can order them from my husband’s family business: Crystal Creek Dairy, W7790 Hwy 33 East, Beaver Dam, WI 53916. Phone is 920-887-2806.

Designer Mom