A Geography Project You Can Sink Your Teeth Into

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Our family is studying U.S. Geography this year for Cycle 3 of Classical Conversations. I like to bake and anytime I can come up with a way to use food in our school work it always feels like a huge score. I must admit at times I get a little ambitious with my ideas.  Scrolling through Pinterest I saw a poster board project with the U.S. map and its geographical features.  Thinking out loud I said, “Wouldn’t it be cool to make a huge U.S. map out of cookies and we could put in all the geographical features with candy and sprinkles and…and…and…”  Well, in my house once I say something there is no turning back.  A cool idea was now going to have to become a cool reality.

I must begin these instructions by saying this project is not for the faint of heart.  It took us 2 days to work on the project with a 2-year-old at home.  It was a lot of work, but I must also say that it was really fun and the kids loved every minute of it! I did get a little twitch at times with flour and sugar flying everywhere, but it was so worth it!

First we had to come up with a sugar cookie recipe my son could eat.  We realized we would end up with 4-5 dozen cookies once it was all said and done.  There was no way we could have that much cookie dough that he would not be able to eat.  We did in fact make Oat Flour Sugar Cookies! Now everyone would be able to gorge themselves on cookies. Yay!

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Next we needed to find a map large enough to trace.  We had a few options that were going to be a little small when you start thinking about Rhode Island and Connecticut.  Luckily, one of our map puzzles was the perfect size.

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The kids put the puzzle together.  We then placed a piece of parchment paper on top and I carefully traced the states.

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Once we were satisfied with the map, I let the kids take turns filling in the states with their respective abbreviations. Yet another review!

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We then rolled out the cookie dough.  The oat flour dough is not as stiff as my wheat flour dough, but we made it work.  It feels more like regular cookie dough when it’s warmed so you have to work quickly and carefully.

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We placed a piece of waxed paper on top of the dough and then placed the parchment paper with the traced map on top.

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Then the cutting began.  I originally planned on making impressions in the dough and then cutting by hand.  At the time it seemed it would end up being double the work, so I cut through the papers to get the shapes of the states.

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We peeled away the papers and it looked pretty good.

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We carefully separated the states, placed them on cookie sheets and baked as you would any sugar cookies.  Once the cookies had cooled, we created various colors of icing.  We essentially dipped them in a glaze of powdered sugar, corn syrup, and milk.  You could also use water instead of the milk.  We added in a bit (about 1/4 tsp) of almond extract.  And started piecing our puzzle together.

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After we had the entire map assembled.  We began to add the geographic features.

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We pretty much cleaned out our pantry for this part. We used mini chocolate chips for mountain ranges like the Cascade Mountains and the White Mountains.  We used regular sized chips for major mountains like Mt. Rainier and Mt. McKinley.  For the major rivers we drew lines with royal icing and covered them with sprinkles.  For the trails we used candy pearls and marshmallows.  We used sunflower seeds for deserts and swamps.  Okay, we started running out of edible decorations that were small enough to fit, but we made it work.

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For the last part of the project, the kids had to present the map to their father. They did a great job pointing out all their handiwork.  Their father is a bit of a geography buff. They were so excited that he knew all the features they were showing him.

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My children love their father and I have proof.  After everything was said and done, AND they were given permission to eat a state, they decided to give Texas to their father. Now that’s Hill Love for ya!

 

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Oat Flour Sugar Cookies Anyone?

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Yes, that is the United States you see made out of cookies.  I came up with the recipe for these cookies because my children and I were working on a project and needed two batches of cookie dough. In the middle of us making dough, my oldest stopped me and said, “Mommy you can’t make it with wheat!” How quickly my Mommy brain seems to forget some days. She politely pointed out that we would have a TON of cookies her brother would not be able to eat. What was I thinking? My son then looked at me and said, “Weren’t you supposed to make a special recipe for me?”
Indeed I was. This recipe makes roughly 5 dozen cookies depending on size. The dough is not as stiff as wheat dough, but you can make cut out cookies. You have to move quickly and work carefully because the dough is delicate. We were so pleased with the texture and taste of these cookies. You can’t tell they are not wheat! These were made especially for my sweet boy, but everyone in the house loves them. My babydoll takes such good care of her little brother.
Huge Batch- Makes about 5 dozen
Ingredients:
• 1 lb. butter, softened
• 2 c granulated sugar
• 1 c powdered sugar
• 4 large eggs
• 4 tsp vanilla extract
• 5 c oat flour
• 1 c corn starch
• 1 tsp salt
• ½ tsp baking powder
• 1 ¼ tsp xanthan gum
How to:
Cream the butters and sugars together. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Add vanilla extract and mix well. In a separate large bowl, combine the oat flour, corn starch, salt, baking powder, and xanthan gum. Add the dry mixture slowly to the butter and sugar. You may have to scrape down the sides to make sure all the flour is well combined. Remove the dough from the bowl and wrap in plastic wrap. Place in the refrigerator for at least an hour and a half. Remove from the wrapping and roll out the dough on a flat surface or board heavily dusted with cornstarch or oat flour to about 1/8 in thickness. It will rise a little more than wheat cookies. The dough is very delicate and soft. You must be gentle. Cut into your favorite shapes and bake on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper at 350 degrees for about 14 minutes or until browned around the edges.

I Wanted a Do-Over

A few days ago all I could think was, “I want a Do-Over!” The last couple of weeks had been really busy and stressful.  Add in a sick whiny toddler, 2 grade schoolers who had spent 5 days cooped inside and at each others’ throats, and  a slightly hormonal mommy and it was over.  I didn’t want one more person pulling or screaming or crying unless it was me!

I looked at our schedule for the day and felt defeated from the beginning. My original thoughts were an adjusted schedule. We could postpone our normal schedule and devote the day to a geography project I had planned.  This seemed like a great way to slowly ease our way back  into school after being on the road last week. My wonderful plans soon came crashing down with a toddler who was not cooperating and the fact that I had completely forgotten that I didn’t even have milk in the house for the second day in a row!  That meant I would have to get to the store at some point. Heading to the grocery store in the middle of our project would be a “no, no”.  Heading there with kids when everyone’s tired and cranky? Oh, forget about it. I would rather chew my own toenails.

We somehow managed to get out the door and made it to our Home school Basketball Class without me crying too much. We were late, but we were headed there.  We put on praise music in the car and sang the entire drive there.  Listening to Damita sing “I Won’t Turn Back” gave all of us some energy and started adjusting our spirits. “This race is not given to the swift or to the strong, but one thing I know is that I’m still holding on.”  Oh, how I needed to hear that!

In spite of me normally considering myself somewhat sane, I decided to head to the store AFTER basketball…at lunchtime! This is usually the absolute worst time to attempt grocery shopping, but as my mother in law says,  “God protects children and fools.”  It was amazing.  All 3 kids were kind to each other and helpful in the store.  We made it out without any raised voices or lost privileges.  My 6-year-old helped unload and unpack the groceries without being asked.  My 8-year-old took care of her youngest sibling by getting her washed up and even fed her lunch, also without being asked.  No one griped.  No one complained.  Everyone worked together.  Were these the same children I asked earlier, “Do you hate each other?”

Something happened between leaving home, basketball class, and the grocery store.  Yes, the kids finally got to run off some steam and play with their friends, but that wasn’t it.   The “do-over” I was looking for was a way to hide my head under the sheets and start the day over again more put together and organized, more in control.  God blessed us all with what we needed. God had given us a “do-over” of the spirit.

The morning struggles with my toddler “stole” a lot of time from our morning. Instead of trying to force us to “catch up” the rest of our day, as I might normally do. I made an uncharacteristic decision to take a break.  My big kids were just as surprised as I was, but the lyrics from earlier kept playing in my head, “The race is not given to the swift or to the strong”.  I didn’t have to have everything done today! And it was okay. We really needed the break.

When my toddler went down for nap, I told the big kids they could have an extended quiet time because I needed some down time myself alone with God.  When nap/quiet time was over, I walked upstairs to find my big kids quietly playing a puzzle together.  They were quiet and content and more loving than I had seen them in days.  They intentionally chose something they could do quietly together.  The slowed pace of our afternoon worked wonders for us all.

My “do-over” for the day came when God slowed me enough to allow me to stop thinking about what I “needed to get done” and helped me remember what I “need to understand”.

I need to understand that nothing is in my control. The more I try to control things, the more out of control I feel.  God’s in charge and I am supposed to simply rest in him.

I need to understand that being busy does not equate to being about God’s business.  I must stop to hear what he wants me to do.  When I stop to listen, he can direct me and restore my spirit.

I need to understand that sometimes the best thing you can do is nothing at all.

When I stopped that day, our entire house stopped.  It was my husband’s night to work late, but our evening was still relaxed and peaceful. It was full of hugs, kisses, play, and prayer.  It ended up being a great day.  I’m so glad that God didn’t give me what I wanted. I would have missed out on so much.  Instead he gave me exactly what he knew I needed. A day to hear his voice.  A day to feel his presence.  A day to enjoy his blessings.