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Teaching Kids Life Skills

8 Aug

So, I’m crafting a “Life Skills” curriculum for my kids which would include the basics in cooking/baking/kitchen skills, laundry care, car care, household handyman tasks, and personal finances. I may throw in some basic first aid, gardening, and household organizing for good measure. These are the skills I have thought of so far:


  • meal planning
  • grocery shopping (including selecting fruits, vegetables, meat)
  • reading a recipe
  • timing the different components of a meal
  • boiling water (very basic, I know, but definitely a needed skill)
  • cooking pasta
  • steaming vegetables
  • cooking eggs (boil, fry, scramble)
  • chopping vegetables
  • making a salad
  • making a vinaigrette
  • boiling chicken
  • roasting meat & vegetables
  • using a crockpot
  • sauteing vegetables
  • baking: cake, cookies, biscuits, pie


  • reading labels
  • sorting
  • treating stains
  • folding
  • ironing
  • sewing on a button
  • hemming


  • checking & adding fluids
  • changing the oil
  • changing a tire
  • washing exterior & cleaning interior


  • drive a nail
  • hang a picture
  • use a drill
  • paint a room
  • clear a drain
  • fix a squeaky hinge


  • creating a budget
  • living by that budget
  • managing bank accounts (checking & saving)
  • paying bills (paper & ebills)
  • giving
  • saving
  • using a credit card wisely

Some of my kids already have a handle on some of these skills, but none of them have them all.  I know there are other life skills that they will need to know like how to shop for insurance, how to buy a used car, how to shop for an apartment/house, etc., but the ones above I can teach even to my 10 year old.  I figure if my kids leave our house knowing these fundamentals, they’ll be able to navigate many of the basic challenges of living on their own.  (Plus, I’ll be brushing up on my own skills in the process!)

If you were compiling a list like this, what would you include?


Cooking Adventures Lesson 1: Searing

27 Oct

Our Cooking "Textbook"

So yesterday, Bravo, Charlie and I tackled the first kill lesson in Alton Brown’s book, I’m Just Here for the Food. As you know, we didn’t have the called-for skirt steak so we used sirloin tip steak.

Getting the "hardware" and "software" ready

The recipe called for only a few ingredients, or what Alton calls “software”: steak, oil, salt, and pepper.  The “hardware,” or equipment, he recommends is cast iron pan (which we happen to have thanks to our friend Emilie who gave it to us before moving out of the country).

Seasoning the meat

As per Alton’s directions, we let the meat sit out for 15 minutes to bring it up to room temperature and decrease the difference between the temperature of the meat and the temperature of the pan.  We lightly coated it with oil, seasoned it with salt and pepper and then gave it a good rub.  The girls both thought that was a little weird but did it anyway.

Massaging the meat (really!)

After allowing the pan to heat up for a five minutes we carefully put the meat in, being careful not to move it once it hit the pan so we didn’t compromise the crust on the meat.

Is it supposed to smoke this much?

The first thing we were hit with was smoke.  And I mean A LOT of smoke.  Like Smoke-Gets-In-Your-Eyes smoke.  Like Smoke-On-The-Water smoke.  Like, the-fire-trucks-will-be-rolling-up-any-minute-now-because-our-neighbors-saw-smoke-pouring-out-of-our-windows smoke.  Seriously.  The photos don’t do it justice, but we almost couldn’t see the cabinets on the other side of the kitchen because it was so smoky.  We were a bit worried that the smoke detector never went off (which it has under much less smoky conditions—not that I am saying I burn things alot—so I think I will check the batteries on that thing today!) I don’t know if the pan was too hot or not seasoned enough or this is normal or what…but we had to supplement our oven’s exhaust:

Clearing the smoke

We concluded that our cuts of meat must have been thinner than a typical skirt steak because we followed the directions and cooked the first piece three minutes on each side, which was definitely too long.  By the third piece, we found that a minute on each side was enough.

Although some of the pieces were a little too charred, we enjoyed our seared steak with mashed potatoes.  Not bad for a first attempt.  Now we just have to clear that smoke.

Next week: Cast-Iron Duck.

Chasing Skirt Steaks

26 Oct

OK.  So the first recipe in Alton Brown’s book calls for skirt steak.  I have spent the past week and a half checking practically every grocery store and butcher in this city only to get the same response, “Yeah, that’s a hard cut to find.  You should check at [insert name of some other store on the other side of town].”  Aargh.  Not only could I not find skirt steak, but I came up empty on the acceptable substitute of flank steak.  Needless to say, I gave up on skirt steak and the dream of following Alton’s recipes to a T.

So, in my fridge sits a nice thin sirloin tip steak.  Not quite what the recipe calls for, but we’re flexible here, right?  This afternoon (finally) we will tackle the first skill: searing.  I’ll let you know how it goes.

Embarking on a Cooking Adventure

4 Oct

Our whole family loves Good Eats and Alton Brown.  I can’t remember exactly when we got hooked , but my daughter said it was his episode about ribs called “Pork Fiction.”  We’ll choose to watch that show over almost any other, although it is in competition with two of our other favorites, Mythbusters and Top Gear.  For me, Good Eats harkens back to my Bill Nye the Science Guy addiction in the 90s.

My girls, Bravo and Charlie, have been wanting to incorporate a cooking class into our curriculum.  The boys haven’t been quite as insistent, even though they are Alton Brown fans, too.   Once they have the ability to cook good food on their own, I think they will appreciate this undertaking a little more.  Anyway, I decided to buy two of Brown’s books as our textbooks: I’m Just Here for the Food 2.0 and I’m Just Here for More Food (Baking).

If you are not familiar with Alton Brown or his show Good Eats on Food Network, here is a review for his first book as posted on Amazon:

Alton Brown, host of Food Network’s Good Eats, is not your typical TV cook. Equal parts Jacques Pépin and Mr. Science, with a dash of MacGyver, Brown goes to great lengths to get the most out of his ingredients and tools to discover the right cooking method for the dish at hand. With his debut cookbook, I’m Just Here for the Food, Brown explores the foundation of cooking: heat. From searing and roasting to braising, frying, and boiling, he covers the spectrum of cooking techniques, stopping along the way to explain the science behind it all, often adding a pun and recipe or two (usually combined, as with Miller Thyme Trout).

I’m Just Here for the Food is chock-full of information, but Brown teaches the science of cooking with a soft touch, adding humor even to the book’s illustrations–his channeling of the conveyer belt episode of I Love Lucy to explain heat convection is a hoot. The techniques are thoroughly explained, and Brown also frequently adds how to augment the cooking to get optimal results, including a tip on modifying a grill with a hair dryer for more heat combustion. But what about the food? Brown sticks largely to the traditional, from roast turkey to braised chicken piccata, though he does throw a curveball or two, such as Bar-B-Fu (marinated, barbecued tofu). And you’ll quickly be a convert of his French method of scrambling eggs via a specially rigged double boiler–the resulting dish is soft, succulent, and lovely. But more than just a recipe book, I’m Just Here for the Food is a fascinating, delightful tour de force about the love of food and the joy of discovery. –Agen Schmitz

Our plan is to work our way methodically through his books, learning both the science behind the cooking as well as actually attempting the recipes given for each cooking method.   This week we will read through the introductory information in I’m Just Here for the Food and compile a list of required equipment and ingredients for the first chapter, “Searing.”  I haven’t decided if we will record our efforts on this blog, or start one dedicated solely to that end, but I’ll keep you posted one way or the other.

First Day

23 Aug

This morning was our first official day of the new school year.  Since we have been keeping late hours over the summer, I decided to gradually work our way back to early mornings, so I let them sleep until 8:00 (our goal is 7:00 for the kids, 6:00 or 6:30 for mom).  We ate breakfast of crepes,

did morning chores, and headed to the school room.  We spent the first hour in our “Monday Morning Meeting,” going over schedules, courses, chores, etc.  We passed out everyone’s books and got desks organized.  Then several started on their Quote Journals.

We started Quote Journaling last year.  Here are the guidelines:

  • write at least one quote a day
  • the quote can be from a book of quotations, the Bible, a song, a poem, a speech, or something a friend or family member said
  • use neat handwriting

Since we were having a “soft start” today, they only had to tackle two subjects besides their Quote Journals and Bible.

I found that we are missing a couple of required books (have no idea how I overlooked that) and still need to sit down with some and work our their personal weekly schedule.   Now, Alpha has gone to band practice, and the other kids are in the pool.  All in all, a good first day.