Ingredients Matter

Welcome back to the series on Becoming a Homeschool Baker, this week we are continuing the metaphor while looking at the role of the ingredients. When it comes to baking ingredients matter but not in the way you might think. You don’t need to use organic spelt flour to make the best bread. You don’t need filtered water from the freshest springs to get the yeast to rise. Sometimes if you read enough food blogs or watch enough baking shows you may notice that some cooks get a little particular about the exact kinds or quality of ingredients used to get the best results every time and that is not at all what I am focusing on today.

Becoming a Homeschool Baker

Ingredients matter because baking is at its most basic form scientific. It is about the chemical reactions that occur when you combine specific kinds of materials with other materials in a certain environment. If you are trying to bake cupcakes you are going to need sugar. If you are trying to bake brownies then you will need to add chocolate. You can’t make banana bread without bananas! But it goes deeper than this more obvious form of ingredients matter. Can you bake without a liquid?

When it comes to homeschooling, ingredients matter too. What you put into your homeschool is going to matter. It does not need to be the best, most popular thing ever but every choice you make is forming the end product, so Ingredients matter.

I may not know what scientific reason there is behind the different kinds of ingredients but I do know that each one has a role to play in the overall process. After all, ask anyone with an allergy. Chances are there is a recipe somewhere where someone has tinkered with ingredients enough to replicate the idea of the original.

ingredients matter

In order to get acquainted with the intricacies of the homeschooling ingredients that we use it is important to see how the metaphor plays out. Our homeschool recipe is made up of a starter (which we talked about last week and won’t get into this week), flour ( I use this loosely to mean any binding agent  or combination thereof that holds the whole thing together), a liquid (again this could be any liquid), flavorings (from the simplicity of salt to the more divisive chocolate & mint), and in all but the most simple recipes, a fat (oil, butter, banana, buttermilk, chia seed – whatever works). How we use these ingredients will depend on our visions regarding outcomes, our current needs, our budgets and our abilities. Each family is going to order their ingredients differently based on their needs. For some families finding these ingredients is like heading to the store and trying to find a kit, not all of the ingredients are there but the recipe is printed on the back and the basic dry goods are provided. You can follow the directions but unless you understand the basics, like the need to turn on the oven, or how to measure the milk or how to crack an egg, the end result still won’t turn out right. For others the recipe process is more like a scavenger hunt, you know what you have in your pantry and you just need some basic ideas to help you mix them together in the right proportions.

We aren’t going to get into the crazy comparison game regarding the quality of ingredients. What matters is what are you putting in the mix? Because honestly, lets face it, sometimes boxed birthday cake is exactly what you want and no amount of specialty cake flours or all natural ingredients is going to give you the nostalgic flavor of a boxed yellow cake and canned chocolate frosting. In that case the question is also more one of why you are baking the cake.

The results are directly related to the ingredients put in, love it or hate it. Some people are passionate about their ingredients and to each their own, but why you are baking is going to affect the kinds of ingredients you use. Ina Garten is pretty amazing. The Barefoot Contessa is one of my favorite cooking shows, but so many of the ingredients she uses are way out of our pay grade! She offers substitutions that are far more reasonable in price but I’ve always wondered how that changes things. On the other hand I love Ree Drummond too and The Pioneer Woman’s recipes are so easy to make because the ingredients are so accessible. Think about these two amazing Foodies as you read on. The genres are very basic but the components can be as homemade or boxed as you need, they can be as complex or as simple as you need. The point is that you’ll find each of these in a well rounded recipe.

  1. Every homeschool has an academic proponent, this is your flour, your binder. After all, this is the whole point of homeschooling. We want to teach our children. We want them to love learning. Are you going to use a textbook? Are you going to use Living books? The internet? Drop off Classes? Online communities? Hybrids? Mentorship? How do you teach a child all of the academic things? Oh, I actually get that one a lot. I also get this next one often: What happens when they need to learn things that I don’t understand? These are the ingredients that we need as a foundation for the entire experiment! You can mix and match with textbooks and living books and a handful of classes thrown in for good measure, you can have just one and only school in online communities, you can go grain free and unschool it all. There is freedom in this. Do what works for your family. Experiment. Get feedback from your children and your spouse. Try new things. Do what needs to be done when it comes to the academics but remember that no recipe relies entirely on flour and no homeschool is healthy with just academics, at the end of the day you are a family first.
  2. The liquid of a homeschool recipe is the Emotion we deal with everyday. This is one we often don’t think about until something goes wrong. We love our children, we are their biggest fans. Yet as homeschoolers we are both teachers and parents. We have to be the challengers and the safe space to land. We have to make room for their needs while also pushing them out of their comfort zone. We are the ones who will recognize if there is something wrong and we are the ones who have to implement change when we recognize that things are not working. We have to become experts in a hundred fields all while maintaining our expertise in the personhood of our children. If our children are neurodivergent then our job is three fold because now we are not only parents and teachers but also counselors as we help them learn how to cope with huge emotions in a world not made for them. Not only do we have to be careful about how we respond to things and the emotions that we are expressing in a moment but we also have to be aware of what emotional issues we keep away from our children and for how long. We each deal with the details of these questions differently. There are conversations that my family have that another family might deem inappropriate, there are ways that we handle stress that may seem foreign to another, there are ways that we talk about emotions that may not be helpful to another family who process emotions differently. However, how you deal with emotions is a major part of how your relationships develop and how your homeschool functions. Talking through things and learning how to communicate your emotional needs both for the parents and the children is an important part of helping things run smoothly so that the stress of everything doesn’t get in the way of the learning or relationships. This is such an integral part of homeschooling but if its mixed in at the right proportions then the only evidence that it is there to begin with is that the recipe is not falling apart or inedible. 
  3. Flavorings are up next, the Traditions that flavor your homeschool. This is the fun you add into your homeschool. This can be anything from the salt that adds depth to your simple artisan loaf to the chocolate mint combo that you love but your neighbor hates. What do you do as a family simply because you enjoy it. Educational or not, you do this thing because it is a part of your family’s traditions and culture. If you were to analyze these things you could probably figure out a way that these things are learning opportunities, but I bet that you don’t even count them as a part of your school. Do you hike as a family? Read? Play table top games? Do you Garden? Do you watch Sports? In my family we get really into video games, anime, international food, and museums. Some of those are more obviously educational than others.  Do you have any idea how many really deep conversations we’ve had about prisoners dilemma, right to rule, business ethics, oligarchies vs monarchies, citizen rule, the role of ethics in technology and so many other topics just because we play video games or watch anime and talk about it together? Add in International TV or Museums and our children have had more social studies and literature lessons brought on by an anime reference than they have because of a literary one, and we read a lot too. One of these days my artsy, anime and video game loving kids are going to get into Cosplay, I know its coming… we just aren’t there yet. This is just a part of our family culture. It is the sweetness of our homeschool. Other families use other options. After all, each family culture and dynamic is different and what you do for fun is going to add to the dimensions of your homeschool in their own way. 
  4. The fats are the next part, your Creativity. Too much fat makes the recipe fail but not enough can make a recipe tough. There is a balance to maintain but it is necessary piece in the balance of the whole. These are your creative pursuits. Creative pursuits are not always the artistic displays we might originally think of. It is not just painting, drawing, or photography but also baking, knitting, quilting and for some this is more STEM based with their creativity shining through experimentation and tinkering. For others this is more physical, like with glass blowing, pottery, wood working or blacksmithing. For others this is more heady and requires a chance to write or act or perform. Sometimes people don’t see themselves as creative at all and yet they enjoy organizing and creating organizational systems or creating fantasy sports teams for their favorite sports. Everyone needs a creative outlet as well as time and space to allow that burgeoning interest to grow. We don’t always need to pay for these lessons and we don’t always need great amounts of time for these periods of release but we do need time to allow our brains to reset. This is the fat because rarely, when things are tough or you are in survival mode, this is the part that disappears. Your homeschool can still hold, it can still work, but there are a million other recipes that you’ll probably want to eventually try out that require some kind of fat, even if its a chia seed.

ingredients

Each thing we either put in or leave out affects the final product. I don’t say that to impose guilt. It’s a realization that we each have to come to. What we leave out of our recipe is just as important as what we put in. Sometimes, it’s more important. Too much flour makes the recipe dry. Too much liquid and it won’t bake through. Too much flavoring and you can’t even enjoy the finished product, sometimes it makes it pretty gross. Too much fat and it won’t settle properly. Figuring out the proper times and proportions is a big part of the experimentation required of a baker. Anyone can follow a finished recipe, made from scratch or from a box, but a baker has learned how to work with the materials and environment to get the best product for that recipe.

As Homeschool bakers we need to figure out how the ingredients work for our current recipes. Are we making brownies this term? They use less flour and more fats. Are we making an artisan loaf with mostly flour and no fats at all? Are we making scones with a balance of oranges, cranberries, buttermilk, flour, and butter? Are you reevaluating the needs of your family occasionally so that you can see if its time to switch from a dessert to a savory side?

As we prepare ourselves for Thanksgiving, it is also important to remember that not all recipes are every day recipes. What is working for us today may not work tomorrow and that doesn’t mean we are failing. It means that it is time for a new recipe. Sometimes we mix everything together in the perfect balance and nothing is coming together the way we think that it should but we are missing time. Which brings us to next weeks topic. Ingredients matter, the end result is dependent on what you are putting into the whole, but without time the ingredients are only a mess in a bowl.

Homeschool baking-2

See you next week, as we dive into the importance of rising time with Let it Rise.

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