Tuesday, November 8, 2011


One afternoon, shortly before we moved, a group of us parents sat around avoiding the summer heat under a big weeping willow at Park Day. A new member had joined us that day, and one of the dads present was explaining the makeup of the group. Pointing to each of us in turn, "Unschooler, unschooler, unschooler, unschooler, classical."

As the penultimate member of the list, I responded with something along the lines of, "Actually, we're more on the classical side." This raised some expressions of surprise, as I suppose we come across as being rather relaxed. 

Are we classical? We follow a 4 year history cycle, and occasionally do narrations and stuff. We do a little Latin and I intend to order some more of that sometime soon in hopes of interesting LemurBoy a little more. But we're certainly much less rigorous than my good friend who was the last member of that list.

I definitely wouldn't say we're unschoolers, except maybe we kind of are right now. We do a lot of "life learning" at this point because we have a lot around us to learn (I suspect my children are more familiar with the structure of the standard organs of vertebrates than your typical college Anatomy student), and are a bit light on the formal academics in favor of interest-driven activities.

But we still follow the 4-year history cycle! Though we might well not if LemurBoy wasn't a history buff, but I credit Story Of The World with making him one.

Anyways, I've called our style ADHD-Classical. Tidal homeschooling is a rather more eloquent way of stating it. "Eclectic" works, too. Somewhere in the wide spectrum of possibilities between extremely rigorous and completely lax.

When I mentioned homeschooling in a recent Diaspora post (want an invite? Let me know. I'd really like it to actually go somewhere), a friend asked about how we structured our lesson plans.

Uh, lesson plans? We're supposed to do that? That's one of those responses that probably makes homeschoolers sound bad, isn't it?

I guess I do lesson plan to some extent. I have a basic outline of what chapters I want to read when for a few subjects, and various supplemental readings, videos, and so forth associated with the subject. And I have the supplemental readings for the next year scheduled into our wonderful library system, set to go on hold a few weeks before we need them. That's awfully organized, isn't it? It thrills me to no end that I can do that, which is why I mention it constantly. 

But most of the time, we're pretty much seat-of-the-pants types.

I'm not trying to claim this is ideal. I'm sure we'd get much more academic done if I made a weekly schedule like this for all subjects. And I'm sure that the schedule is the only reason we keep reasonably on track with history.

At the same time, there are sometimes benefits to seat-of-the-pants. 

NCERT, the National Council of Educational Research and Training in India, offers their textbooks as free downloads. I find them to be engaging, and an interesting look at a different culture, so we use them to shake things up a little, especially for math.

This week we read the story of the old man who tries to pull up a giant carrot. He can't, so he gets his wife to help. They can't together, so they get their granddaughter, dog, cat, and finally a mouse, who provides the extra bit of pull to remove the stubborn carrot. And this version ends "And then they made Gajar Ka Halwah".

Gajar Ka Halwah - what's that? So we looked it up. It is, essentially, carrot pudding, though a rather more complex and elegant version than the one I invented.

We looked up recipes, and noted the we had everything important for it (or a reasonable substitution) on hand. So we made it, and it was good.

This totally could have happened with a less seat-of-our-pants approach. And it could have gone wrong if, say, we didn't have a kitchen already stocked for cooking Indianesque food and a penchant for buying the 25lb bags of carrots. I imagine that if I'd had to take a trip to the store for cardamom, it would have ended up being forgotten.

However, the journey was worth something educationally. We learned about looking things up, and about adapting recipes to fit our dietary preferences and pantry. A trip to the store for cardamom might have proven even more educational. as I suspect that, around here, that would have meant a trip to an ethnic store, where perhaps we would have found something even more new and interesting. None of that would have happened (or only in a contrived form) if I'd been a good lesson-planner and actually read ahead in the book and figured out in advance that this would be an Excellent Learning Experience.

And if we'd stuck doggedly to our scheduled math curriculum rather than tossing it out the figurative window because it was provoking frustration (temporarily, anyways. We spent good money on it and I imagine I'll give it another stab sooner or later), we wouldn't have been using the books that led us to find this recipe.

Gajar Ka Halwah (gluten/soy/egg-free, can be dairy-free)

  • 2 cups grated carrot
  • 2-3 tbsps ghee/clarified butter (See notes)
  • 3/4 cup milk (we used coconut milk without problem)
  • 2 cloves
  • 3 tbsps applesauce (in place of condensed milk, use condensed milk if you have it and do dairy. Smashed banana might also work well, too.)
  • Sweetener to taste (original recipe called for 2-3 tbsp sugar, 1 was plenty sweet for us, and we probably could have gotten by with half that and still had it be dessert.)
  • 1/2 tsp ground cardamom
  • few raisins, almonds, cashew nuts, and/or pistachios lightly roasted in ghee (optional, but probably good. We didn't have them, so we left them out.)
  • few strands of saffron mixed in a tbsp of milk (I'm not going to say "optional", since it's probably fairly essential for truly authentic taste, but don't let lack of this scare you off the recipe!)
Heat 3 tbsps ghee in a heavy bottomed vessel, add the grated carrot and saute for 8 minutes on low to medium flame. Add the milk and cloves and cook until the milk is almost absorbed (this took about 20 minutes for me). Add sugar and cook further for another 15 minutes. Add applesauce/condensed milk and keep stirring till it leaves the sides of the pan.

Remove the cloves (or leave them in and warn the kids not to bite them if you can't find them easily), add the cardamom and saffron and mix. Garnish with toasted nuts and raisins.

Serve warm or cold. I think it's best warm, but you don't have to reheat any leftovers before serving!

Notes on ghee: Ghee is a form of clarified butter. Clarifying butter removes the milk solids, which raises the smoke point, making it healthier for frying things. It also makes it edible for most people with dairy intolerances, as the casein and lactose are removed (I'd still avoid it if you have a life-threatening allergy). I've been making small quantities on the stovetop, or you can make it in a slow cooker.

If you don't desire to use clarified butter for whatever reason, plain butter is fine. Coconut oil or any other oil with a high smoke point and pleasant flavor should work too, but butter, clarified or otherwise, adds flavor.

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