Wednesday, February 26, 2014

In defense of Home Ec 2

I attended a parent informational meeting about Common Core implementation in our school district. I saw the district superintendent from In defense of Home Ec. The scene was too, too funny and brought to mind Tom Wolfe's classic piece, Mau-Mauing the Flak Catchers.  If you are not familiar with that piece, I recommend reading it here.

Imagine a room with a very tall white male boss sitting silently while putting three women (flak-catchers) up at the front of the room to deliver bad news to a room full of hostile suburban moms.  All three women hold EdDs and went by Dr So-and-So; two of them are women of color.

I sat in the back, as did many of the other moms I know to be skeptical about the latest educational reforms that would solve world hunger, bring about world peace and an expanding economy for all.
He wants to implement an integrated curriculum?  Let's talk again about how Home Ec can be part of the educational renaissance.

It may not surprise readers that I recycle ingredients in my kitchen as well as in my sewing room.  While we don't eat much meat, I save the bones in a freezer bag.  When we receive a CSA box, I wash and trim the produce as I put it away in the refrigerator.  The scraps go into another freezer bag.  When they are full, I throw them in a stock pot along with garlic, a quartered onion, some aromatic vegetables (carrots, celery, parsley family), herbs and half a lemon.

The acidity from the lemon juice helps dissolve the calcium in the bones, making a calcium-fortified broth.  It also helps bring out the nutrients in the bone marrow.  (I am a lapsed Buddhist; I feel strongly that, as long as you are going to eat dead animals, you should use as much of them as possible.)

Your grandmother didn't need to be taught this.  Recall how many chicken soup recipes include lemons.

When I make stock, I use the pasta insert in my 8 quart stock pot.  When everything has cooked down, I just lift up the solids in the pasta insert to drain and throw them into the compost bin.  Then I strain the liquid concentrated stock.  Yum.

A friend brought back a gift of Herbes de Provence after bike touring in Provence, which I used often in lieu of a "bouquet garni".  Rather than buy more when that supply ran out, I snipped rosemary, thyme, garlic chives, and bay and lemon leaves from my backyard.  I call that "Herbes de Redondo Beach" or "Herbes de Felony Flats" depending on the mood.

I don't have a recent picture of stock-making.  But I snapped a picture when making chicken-cilantro soup recently.  Notice I browned the quarter chicken, skin-side down, before adding the onions.  After the onions browned, I added water and the other ingredients.

When I worked in a chemistry lab, we read the experiments and planned our laboratory time so we can multi-task, yet focus on one thing at a time while other things were on a burner, cooling, or drying in an oven or on the roto-vap.  I do the same thing in the kitchen.

I gathered extra ingredients from the garden and washed then at the same time to make salad dressing while the soup simmered.

As Mark Bittman explained in this video, you can make myriad salad dressings with the formula: a fat, an acid, and flavoring.  I use olive oil and juice from a Meyer lemon from our back yard.

The dressing after blending.

Notice the yogurt maker behind the blender?  I heated the milk in the microwave before starting the soup.  After I got the soup going, the milk had been held at a warm temperature long enough for the remaining steps.  If you don't let the milk rest at a high--but below boiling--temperature for a sufficient amount of time, your yogurt won't set.  That's a lesson in polymer chemistry.

My sister knitted the fair-isle hat for Iris before realizing that Kauni is too scratchy for Iris to willingly wear. Fortunately, the hat fits my EasiYo yogurt maker.

Making yogurt is a good biology project to learn about microbes in different environments.  The air is damp by the beach and contains a little bit of mold.  Yogurt can pick up microbes from the air.  If I keep using the old batch for a starter. they develop a yeasty bread smell.  Not unpleasant, but not yogurt-y.

I need to use 1/4 to 1/3 of a packet of yogurt mix to add fresh L.bulgaricus, S.thermophilus, Bifidobacteria, and L.acidophilus to compete against the local micro-fauna.  The yogurt mix also contains milk powder from free-range cows in New Zealand, adding omega-3 fatty acids to our diet.  By using both milk and milk powder, I add calcium and protein, too.

A morning in the kitchen can provide lessons in project management, geography, ecology, chemistry and biology.  A science experiment you can eat!


  1. We have the same kitchen. I make stock every week, bread dough (which keeps for two weeks in the fridge and develops personality) and salad dressing. I keep bags of bones in the freezer. I think we had the same Home Ec training. Maybe one of the problems here is that the the parents themselves did not have this, so they don't know how necessary these skills are, because no one taught them.

  2. Bess05:46

    I made both chicken and beef stock over the course of the past two days. I save chicken carcasses from our meals and buy beef bones in bulk from our butcher (10 lb bag for $10, usually, although this time around I used free bones from the half cow we bought from a friend). When I need to make stock (either when we run out or when the chicken carcasses threaten to overtake the freezer), I set the pots on low heat overnight. The next morning I strain and freeze the stock in ice cube trays. The stock ice cubes are close to exactly 1 oz each and get stored in gallon ziploc bags in the freezer. Whenever I need stock, I thaw the requisite number of stock cubes. It takes very little work to make the stock, and it's both healthy and delicious. Although I add a couple of tablespoons of vinegar to help dissolve the bones -- it never occurred to me to add lemon juice instead!

    Also, thanks for linking to that yogurt maker. I have yogurt cultures stashed in the freezer but have never used them because I don't have a yogurt maker, all the yogurt makers I've seen take up too much room, and the tricks to keep yogurt warm without a dedicated yogurt maker seemed like too much work for a family that doesn't eat much yogurt. But your yogurt maker looks like the size of a thermos; I should be able to find room for that.

    1. I purchased one complete set w/ the thermos and the 1 liter yogurt container. Then I purchased an extra 1 liter jar so I can make a new batch when the other one is low.

      The thermos comes with an insert that holds the yogurt jar snugly, and suspended in the water. I couldn't find a substitute jar that fits.

      The yogurt packets are hard to find in the US so an Australian friend brings them to me on her annual visits. 1/4 to 1/3 bag plus 1 liter milk and 2 tablespoons old yogurt provides sufficient beneficial bacteria for the next batch.

  3. Oh my, much like my kitchen as well. My freezer always contains bags of bones and trimmings and I make stock frequently. I've been making my own salad dressings for decades and don't really understand why people buy the commercial kind. Before I learned I was celiac I made my own starter, starting with wild unsprayed grapes from our yard and used it to make all of our bread. The dough ages well in the refrigerator and develops flavor and texture from the aging process. In fact I'm thinking of fermenting a gluten-free starter this summer as my grandson has been learning about fermentation of yeast and bread baking in his second grade classroom, but they grew their starter using wheat, and my grandson is gluten-free.

    I also make my own yogurt with milk from local free-range, organic, cows. Since I prefer the texture of greek yogurt, I strain it and save the whey which I also use in the kitchen for fermenting various vegetables, soaking beans and grains, and general cooking (adding to soups etc).

    As to the point about children who do not learn this at home, I don't think Home Ec would help. Granted I took Home Ec 40 years ago and it may have changed, but the class basically concentrated on convenience foods and I almost failed as I already knew how to make biscuits from scratch that were better than the bisquick biscuits we were supposed to make, and my parents had taught me to season foods by taste, so I didn't really follow the exact measurements in the recipes.

  4. Thanks a lot for sharing your tricks! I knew some of them, but definitely picked up some ideas! :)
    As for Home Econ class... I think there is always a problem between what a class can be with a good teacher and what it usually is in reality. I agree, that with right attitude that can be a fantastic experience, that ties up everyday life with math, science, economics, history, you name it. Obviously, you had a great teacher, and I can imaging if you ever decide to teach this class, your students' lives would be enriched in many ways. However, this is the case for almost any class!

    My daughter has a chance to "taste" home econ class for a quarter during 6th grade, and after that we both agreed that taking these classes (there are two of different flavor offered) is a complete waste of time. According to her, the only thing they did was watching some videos and cupcake wars shows. "Cooking" segment consisted of baking the cinnamon rolls - from the can! And I think students were not allowed to put in into or take them out of the oven. The main problem with this class - the teacher don't really care, and don't really tries.

  5. when it comes to Common Core, I'm a hostile suburban dad.. hm. In our school district, the board wants to opt out of CCSS so they can implement their own fatuous testing and evade responsibility. It turns out my enemy's enemy is not my friend.

    Never took chemistry, too busy with physics and math.. pity, it could have made me a better cook I see ;-)
    My son's chem teacher (Phd in chem) has them cooking things as part of their labs. She is a wonderful teacher.


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